Monday, July 25, 2005

blind faith




Today I returned to my home after almost a full week away! I missed my family so much and it was so nice to see them again. I am also excited to get a good night’s sleep. I’ll give you a quick run-down of my week of shadowing first. About half of us left on Tuesday afternoon for Morogoro, which is a big city about 3 hours away from Kilosa. We spent the night there because we had to leave on buses early the next morning for our shadowing sites. Morogoro was great and we went to a restaurant that serves pizza…we were all thrilled to taste cheese for the first time in over a month. Early on Wednesday morning, Megan and I boarded a bus to Moshi. The trip was uneventful; we arrived after about 8 hours on the bus. We met the PCV whom we were shadowing with at the bus station; her name is also Megan. We spent that night in Moshi town, which was cool. Moshi is full of tourists from Europe and even the USA, because Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti are so nearby. It was odd to see so many tourists since there are none whatsoever in Kilosa. We had a mellow night and got up early the next day to visit a few NGO’s. There are a handful of organizations in Moshi that do good work in relation to HIV/AIDS education and working with youths in the surrounding areas. We then took a small bus about 2 hours to Megan’s village, which is on the north side of Kilimanjaro, facing Kenya. It was very remote and there were very few people, even compared to Kilosa. It was absolutely beautiful, though. Lush vegetation, banana trees, green everywhere you looked…and the view, if you could see through the trees, was amazing. It was nice to see how a volunteer lives in her village: her neighbors were her friends, she had learned to speak some of the local language (Kichagga), and she seemed to be doing some amazing work. We also visited the local hospital, looked over her materials, and took some time off to try the local brew, which is a beer made from fermented bananas.

On Saturday, our fellow trainees Matt and Imani came from their village nearby, and we hiked up the mountain with the aim of trying to find where Megan’s water is piped in from (she had always been curious to find out). We met two men on the mountain who proceeded to escort us up to a large fenced in area that contained a huge cement water tank. It turns out that one of the men actually works for the city as the person in charge of the water facility. After we were brought beyond the fence and the guard, this man allowed us to climb on top of the cement water tank. Then, as our mouths dropped open in awe, he opened up one of the manholes on top of the tank and allowed us to climb down inside, one at a time, to see the water rushing in around us (the tank was about halfway full so we could easily climb down about 8 feet). It was scary as hell and pretty amazing down there…but even more incredible was the blind faith that this man showed by allowing 5 foreigners who were complete strangers to climb into the water supply for the entire district surrounding the nation’s most famous national treasure. I don’t imagine visitors to the USA would ever be so lucky… or would escape the notice of the FBI for very long.

We soon had an opportunity to return the trust he had shown us. First he taught us all about the water and how it is managed. (It comes from two rivers up the mountain and is piped into this large storage tank. It is filtered a little bit as is comes into the tank, and a small amount of chlorine is added in order to make it safer. Then it is piped down the mountain to the entire district.) He next offered to show us one of the rivers that supply the water. It was a 5-kilometer hike up the mountain and into the jungle, and we followed him the entire way. It occurred to me after about 45 minutes that I would never be able to find my own way out of the 10-foot high ferns, thick vines, and barely visible trail behind me. Yet I trusted this man completely, and was rewarded by seeing a small river in the jungle and going to a part of Kilimanjaro that no tourist hikes in. In case you were wondering, the only payment he wanted or received at the end of the day was a plastic cup of banana beer ... and he had led us for about 4 hours on a pretty serious hike. This was the second time we started a mountain hike and found friendly local guides along the way (remember the first was a few weeks ago…I wrote about it).

We also enjoyed cooking some American treats while we were up in the mountains. It was nice to be able to experiment with making my own food from scratch. I can now make my own tortillas, salsa, spring rolls, green mango salad, amarula pudding, and banana bread. It was great to learn that, if I put in a whole lot more effort, I can make very similar food to what I ate in the USA. Anyway, early Sunday morning we took the bus back down to Kilosa. It turned into a very long trip since we had to change buses twice… we arrived back at our training site after 14 hours of traveling and we were extremely tired.

Not much has happened since then, although things are speeding up considerably and the pressure is starting to build. We had individual meetings today with our trainers to assess our progress and to discuss what preferences we have regarding our permanent placement. As I had expected of myself, I am confident that a more urban placement would be ideal for me. Unfortunately, they do not have any placements in real cities, because logistically they are more complex and these sites also tend to have lower success rates. However, there are a few town placements available and I am hoping to get one of these. I know that on a professional level, my experience largely lies in working with urban adolescents, and that I am interested in working with out-of-school youth and NGO’s, both of whom tend to congregate more in towns than in cities. On a personal level, I generally prefer to be surrounded by people and action all of the time, and so I think a town would be better for my sanity. However, I did tell them that I could be very happy in a village if I was doing good work and was at least close to a town or city. We find out next Tuesday, August 2nd, where we will be placed for the next 2 years. Finally, all of the waiting and preparation will be over. I cannot wait.

In the meantime, we have a big Kiswahili oral proficiency exam on Friday and then our CBT is doing a Training of Trainers (TOT) Seminar all day on Saturday. We have about 14 local teachers coming to our seminar, where we will teach them about HIV/AIDS and Life Skills and will give them the skills they will need for teaching these subjects to their students. This is something I may find myself doing often, and on my own, if I am placed in a town… so I am interested to see how it goes. Next week, after we find out where we will be placed, we go to Dar for the first time since we arrived in Tanzania. We will be there for about 4 days, learning about the city and finishing up some administrative tasks before we come back and eventually swear-in as official volunteers on August 17th.

Which reminds me… I had to return my cell-phone last week because it didn’t work properly. I am going to buy a new one when we get to Dar, although I am not worried about rushing to do it because I didn’t get any overseas calls when it was working, regardless. Anyway, it will be the same number as before and will be working on approximately August 4th… In case you feel like saying hello. Also, some new suggestions regarding packages:
1) Send everything in padded envelopes instead of boxes, even if you have to send multiple envelopes. 2) Declare some money, but a small amount please, on the customs sticker.

Alright that’s it for now. Wish me luck for Tuesday.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

mikumi





I have officially been in Tanzania for one month now. It feels amazing. I love this country! I had a great weekend. On Thursday, our group of Manzese girls had dinner at Allison’s family’s house. A current PCV was visiting the district in order to help out with our training, so we invited her to dinner and she taught us how to make brownies. It’s pretty easy to make your own version of an oven so that you can bake them. All you do is take a very large pot, put three small rocks in it, and place in on your charcoal stove. Then you put your smaller pan of brownies on top of the rocks in the pot, and cover the whole thing. This basically creates an oven and the brownies were a big hit with Allison’s family. I have promised my family that I am going to make brownies for them in a few weeks…I can’t wait!

Early on Saturday morning, we headed out for our safari trip to Mikumi National Park. We crammed 32 of us into 2 minibuses and drove for about 3 hours to the park. We drove the last 10 minutes on a paved road and we were all amazed at how we had already forgotten how lovely asphalt is compared to the bumpiness and red dust of the dirt roads. We went through the park that afternoon, and I saw giraffes, elephants, baboons, zebras, a crocodile, birds, and hippopotamus’s. We then stopped at a lodge there for a beer while we watched the sunset. It was stunning. We all got a little bit giddy because it was so amazing: we broke out in a stanza of, "can you feel the love tonight" before bursting into laughter. It was just such a positive moment. After that, we headed back to town where we had already arranged hotel rooms. “Town” is basically a strip of hotels and restaurants along the side of this main paved road that heads into the park. There were a lot of trucks passing through on this road, and a lot of them were just pulled over on the road so that the truckers could eat or sleep…so the area was very busy with Tanzanians also. It had a vaguely unpleasant vibe, at least in relation to my peaceful and perfect village. We all went out for food and drinks and ended up having a great night… Most people woke up at 5:30am for a sunrise drive through the park, but a few friends and I had only just gone to sleep and so we stayed in our beds and slept in until 9:30 am (the latest I have slept in a month!) A number of people said upon their return that they wished they had stayed in bed also: I do think they saw some more animals, but basically it was the same as the previous day and they were almost too tired to enjoy the drive.

I feel as though I have spent way too much time talking about the poverty and health problems here, and not enough time explaining what a fantastic place I am living in. I think I would do the same if I were writing about the USA: I would spend most of my time complaining about our current leaders and would forget to mention all of the amazing things that happen to me every day in NYC. It’s important to keep things in perspective: dumping money in Tanzania wouldn’t solve all of the problems I see here, any more than electing a different president would solve every problem I see back home. The difficulties facing people all over the world are complex and can’t be solved or even explained quite so simply. When we were at Mikumi, we met a couple of American college students who were on a 3-week home-stay in Tanzania. They have been staying in Dar es Salaam, and one of them commented to me that what he has seen in Dar has shown him that “Tanzania is 14 years or more behind the US” in everything. When I mentioned that our families cook on small stoves outside and use pit latrines, he seemed shocked and almost…full of pity. I found myself getting angry with him for not understanding. This country isn’t “behind” the US. People here live their lives in the same way we do back home: they raise families, go to school, decorate their homes, have jobs, plant flowers, fall in love, enjoy a drink after work… I don’t mean that we are the same culturally or that we share all of the same values, but at base all do live in the same way. I agree that Tanzanians, at least in the village, definitely do not have the modern appliances and conveniences that oftentimes we cannot imagine living without. But they don’t place as much value on material goods and conveniences. They are so full of joy, so friendly and welcoming and kind and so…happy. And it isn’t true that Tanzanians eat with their hands because they cannot afford to buy forks… they eat with their hands because that is who they are. Does that make sense?

I don’t want what I am writing to inspire others to pity Tanzanians. Obviously I want people to think about the issues facing African countries… and to consider what systemic changes could make a real difference in the lives of others. But my Mama isn’t depressed that she doesn’t have a TV or a washing machine. And I don’t want to buy her one either. She loves her life and her family and her world. And I love it too. As we drove to the national park this weekend, we went through some small villages that surely don’t often see Americans. I was sitting by the window, watching the mud houses and the people sitting outside of them. And almost every single person who saw us gave us a big smile and a wave. Some stood up and raised a fist salute, or called out a greeting. After a while, I wanted to close my eyes or to just stop waving: my arm was tired. But I could not bring myself to ignore the friendliness of complete strangers. Twice, we stopped the cars to stretch our legs in village areas. Both times, a crowd of small children appeared within moments, standing silently and giggling. Inevitably, there was at least one boy holding a ball made of plastic bags. After a signal from one of the Americans, both times an impromptu game of catch started up. Where else in the world can you make friends, without saying a word, within 30 seconds? Tanzanians are so full of joy that I wonder how so many people back home can seem so sad and stressed out when in reality we have so much there. I know that our world moves much faster and has more room for stress and confusion…but I hope that when I come home I won’t let myself forget the kindness and happiness of the people I have met here. I am quite guilty of wanting things that I do not have and cannot really afford: clothes, household appliances, and gadgets… I hope that I can learn here, from these people, how to live more simply and not always feel as though I need more than I have.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

life-skills




check out my new outfit! and a picture of my house with my baba standing outside. It is the nicest house in the village...we are "rich". it is very new and is even painted!


I am not going to have dinner with Mama #2 after all. My Mama spoke privately with my teacher and explained to him that it isn’t a good idea. The reasons aren’t important enough for me to discuss here but I am feeling a mixture of relief, confusion, and disappointment. It’s not a big deal but it can be tough to feel like you are in the middle of complicated family stuff that isn’t your business even though it surrounds you all the time.

I am working on my indirect communication skills, which will definitely be useful in this culture. I now need to indirectly tell Isaac that I will not come to dinner with him and his mother. Luckily Tanzanians are experts at indirect communication so he probably wont push me very hard once I tell him that I just won’t have time to go.

On the other hand, I had a great conversation after dinner tonight with Isaac about sex and condoms and HIV and gender roles here in Tanzania. The younger kids were around and although they didn’t understand what we were saying, I brought out my HIV/AIDS textbooks and information and the kids were flipping through it for a little while. It was the first completely open conversation I have had with a Tanzanian who wasn’t one of our trainers. It was interesting also because Isaac is a 24 year old male, and he is also about to become a secondary school teacher so will have a chance to educate the next generation. He brought up some of the points that I have heard since I have been here but didn’t want to believe. For example, some men think that women are to blame for HIV’s prevalence because they are wearing more revealing clothes these days, and men cannot resist wanting sex when they wear clothes like that. On the other hand, some women get offended when a man wants to use a condom because they feel as though the men think they are prostitutes or “loose women”. And most frightening of all: there are thousands of extremely young girls in Tanzania who have sex with men in exchange for money to pay school fees, buy school books, or to buy the food that they will eat that day. Isaac told me that some young girls will actually beg a man to become their “sugar daddy”: they are desperate to eat or to go to school…and in situations like this, HIV seems like a distant concern. We aren’t immune to this either: all of these scary things are also unfortunately happening in the US, albeit maybe on a smaller scale. Isaac seems to have a very good grasp of the issues, and to be very well educated, so I am happy about that. Of course, as we all know from our own experiences, education doesn’t necessarily guarantee you will make healthy choices. What does?

The Peace Corps philosophy on health education for adolescents centers around this question. How helpful can it be to know how to use a condom if you don’t have the guts to make your partner use one? We had a technical training yesterday on demonstrating condom use. It was a riot: 17 people taking turns putting condoms onto large wooden phalluses. We also practiced demonstrating (with a water bottle) how to use the female condom, which is accessible in the bigger towns and cities here. And of course, in Kiswahili class, we have recently learned how to say all of the steps to using a condom properly in this language. Some of the schools we work in will not allow us to do condom demonstrations, but others will…and we may do these demonstrations for teachers, out-of-school-youth groups, or any other willing population we can find. But there is a lot more to our work than that. The problem is that showing people how to use condoms will never be enough. We have to empower youths (and girls in particular) to feel the freedom to say no to sex, to expect their partner to be faithful, or to demand that they use protection when having sex. (ABC: Abstain, Be Faithful, use a Condom). We do this through teaching Life Skills in a fun and interactive way, mainly through games and group activities. The three main components to this are Communication Skills, Decision-Making Skills, and Relationship Skills. I won’t bore you with the details because I am sure you can figure out what these entail. It is actually interesting stuff though…and is useful for all youths, not just those here in Africa. It reminds me a bit of the self-advocacy seminar I taught in NYC before I came here. Some of the information is second-nature to children who are raised with it, even though they may not be able to articulate what it is all about. But there are other kids, in the US and elsewhere, who missed out on some basic life-skills and can really benefit from thinking about them now.

Monday, July 11, 2005

tragedies and triumphs


Here are some of the local kids who hang around by our school. Scroll down to previous posts to see photos which I will add on right now if I have time (including the "marble photo" which I wrote about).

I have had a very intense weekend. I want to tell you all about it but first I want to answer a couple of people’s questions that have come up in emails. The first is how I get internet access. Basically, my village (Manzese) has no stores or anything: just a bunch of cement or mud houses and dirt paths. There are a few places to buy things: neighbors come to our house to buy some milk from our cow, we walk down the street to buy some veggies from a neighbor’s garden, there are a couple of houses that have a small window that they sell necessities out of (like matches, pens, soap, etc) and a couple of houses that run little “restaurants” out of their kitchens. However, in general, if you want to buy something or go meet people, you need to walk to Kilosa. Kilosa is about a 25 minute walk along the main dirt road. It’s a nice walk and you get used to it: we probably walk it almost once per day. Our classroom is in Manzese, but whenever we do technical training or visit the dispensary, etc., we do that in Kilosa. Kilosa is also where the Catholic church is, and where the internet café is. The internet is basically a tiny storefront with 3 old computers in it. I think it must be an ethernet connection…at least, it isn’t dial-up…but it is still incredibly slow. Plus, between the other volunteers and the occasional local who uses the computers, it can be very hard to get online more than once per week. I have been trying to do it more often than that but it has been driving me crazy so I am going to cut back a bit. One major difficulty is that it isn’t safe for us to be out walking alone after dark, and so if we are in Kilosa, we have to leave by 6:30pm in order to get home before dark. The earliest we might finish training is at 4pm on a lucky day…so it’s tough for us to get on the internet but still, I guess, a bit easier than some people expected.

Another friend asked me to explain a previous statement: “Worldwide, more births are prevented every year by breastfeeding than by all other forms of contraception put together.” Basically…when a woman is breast-feeding, her body is focused on producing milk and keeping the current child healthy, and so she will rarely ovulate. Since she doesn’t ovulate, she cannot get pregnant! There are millions and millions of child-bearing aged women worldwide who do not have access to birth control, or whose beliefs and traditions prevent them from using it…and so experts estimate that more births are prevented every year from breastfeeding than from all of the other methods of birth control, combined. Apparently, it isn’t foolproof or anything, since some women will ovulate anyway, so birth control is still a good idea if the mother wants to wait before having her next child.

Now I will tell you about my weekend. I’ll start from Thursday, when we met with four people from a support group for People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA). It was so intense. The face of AIDS, staring at me and telling me the details of losing their children and being abandoned by their loved ones and yet being determined to continue and have a productive life. All of this, mind you, without the medications that we hear about in the US. They take some antibiotics in order to keep opportunistic infections in check, and some of them may one day get Anti-RetroVirals once their T-cell count drops below 200 (which means that they officially have AIDS). But in general, they are trying to eat well and stay fit, which will help them to live longer with HIV. They have just received funding for their support group to begin educating in the villages nearby…which is such a great thing. It was shocking to hear about how their lives have progressed since finding out that they have HIV…including the fact that one man said that his family still doesn’t believe that he is HIV+. I guess it’s easy to deny it when someone doesn’t have outward symptoms of disease.

That night, I needed a bit of cheering up and I got it! The previous night, Wednesday, I had heard some very loud drumming coming from the house behind ours. My Mama told me that it was a Kaguru wedding ceremony…but we didn’t go over. On Thursday night, we heard some women dancing to a stereo, and Mama brought me over to see what was happening. I ended up getting dragged into their courtyard and danced with the women for a good 30 minutes. I don’t know if they were still celebrating the wedding or what, but some of these ladies were all drunk! The ladies there were of all ages: from little children dancing with me to ancient old women sitting regally on the side, watching us dance. One of the ladies who danced with me, who was probably in her 50’s, had certainly had some pombe (home-brewed alcohol). She grabbed my breast at one point, and then later rolled onto the floor and flailed her legs in the air (with a skirt on). My Mama did a good job of protecting me but I was laughing so hard…I kept thinking that these women were just like my friends back home in NYC despite the obvious fact that they look completely different and live in a very different world. Appearances can be deceiving! But when I first got there, only a few women were dancing outside and the rest were in the house. When they heard that the mzungu (white person) was here, they all came out to watch. They even had me pose for a photo with them. It’s so odd to get so much attention due to the color of my skin. I have never been so conscious of my whiteness in my life. Sometimes I just wish I could blend in. I am lucky, though, that it is generally good attention rather than anything negative. This is so different from the attention that too many black people still feel in my home country. If anything, the people here might be laughing at me, but generally in a good-natured way. Which I guess is something to console me, at least.

The next morning I heard about the bombs in London from Jessamy, who had listened to her shortwave radio. As most of you know, I am both American and English, and have a lot of family and some friends in London. I was therefore rather distracted all morning and definitely an emotional mess. It brought back a lot of the fear and apprehension that I felt on 9/11 in Brooklyn…and reminded me of how hard it is to be away from those whom I love. When I moved to Australia in January 2002, I found it impossible to fall asleep at night until I had checked the NYTimes on the internet to make sure that my friends and family were safe. I still hate being away from home, but now I feel that same fear for my family in the UK. It’s just so unknown. You might remember that the US Embassy here in Tanzania was bombed back in 1998 (I think it was) and a few hundred people were killed. It was a huge tragedy, as is this most recent event. Ninatumaini kwa amani siku moja. (I hope for peace one day).

When we arrived at school, our teacher told us that a woman who lived in the village had died yesterday, leaving behind 4 children for her parents to raise. As community members in a tight-knit community, we were expected to pay our respects even though we did not know her. She died “of a long illness”, which could mean AIDS because people are not very open about that diagnosis anywhere in the world. We went to the family’s compound, which is where people gather after a death. The men sit together outside, away from the hut, and the women sit together in and around the hut. The women who were family were inside…we could hear their wails as we sat outside the house in silence with about 15 other African women. We could see through the dark doorway the figures of another 10 or 15 women sitting and squatting inside the mud hut, but we did not go inside. After sitting for 10 minutes, we donated some money for the funeral (as most community-members will) and we left.

We then spent the rest of the day learning how to talk about STD’s in Kiswahili. I have a rather large vocabulary now of words that I would prefer to never use. What a hellish day! As a consolation, I bought myself a cell-phone. Pretty much every volunteer in Tanzania ends up getting one, although I got one a bit earlier than most. I’m hoping to eventually get a call or two from the US, in addition to using it to communicate with my friends over here.

Friday and Saturday nights, I went with my Mama to weddings in Kilosa. It was fun- my friend Allison and her Baba came to the same wedding on Friday night…we didn’t go to the church wedding but instead just came to the reception afterwards. It was uneventful except for when the MC of the party started saying “mzungu” and we knew straight away that she was talking about us since we were the only white people there. She made us get up and dance by ourselves in front of everyone! It was humiliating and everyone was laughing at us. That is what I mean by good-natured humor: we were able to make fun of ourselves so it wasn’t so bad, but it was definitely a spectacle and it sucks to have people laughing at you when you aren’t trying to be funny. At least I was able to get a few beers in me, so it wasn’t quite as embarrassing as it could have been.

Saturday night was more fun. About 5 other volunteers were there with their families, and my brother Isaac came with me and my Mama too. We had a handful of beers and danced and just hung out with everyone. We went home around 2:30am. And guess who I met at this wedding… my other mama! Isaac introduced me to his Mama! It was great. I only talked to her for a minute but when we were walking home, my Mama said to me, “So you met Isaac’s mother?” and I said “yes....” and then we were distracted by some other people we were walking with so we didn’t talk about it any more. My Baba was away for work all week and didn’t come to the wedding, but I saw Isaac and him have a long talk today and then tonight at dinner he suddenly busts out in English with, “Isaac told me today that his mother is going to invite you over for dinner sometime. Please feel welcome to go.” And I was stunned but said… “Thank you”. I didn’t know what to say! And I don’t know how my Mama feels about this because she doesn’t speak English so I don’t think she knew what he said to me. It just feels so awkward, and not because I am personally uncomfortable about the situation… it’s because he didn’t call her his wife. And because I don’t think Baba will come when I go to dinner. I guess it would be odd for me to see him with this part of the family…but if he doesn’t come, it won’t even feel like his family to me. So complicated.

Today we got a huge group of PCV’s and family members together to climb the mountain behind our village. PCV’s from 2 other villages walked out to meet us in our village, and my brothers Isaac and David and my sister Neema came too. We hiked up for over an hour but we didn’t get to the top because we hadn’t planned enough time: someone had told us that it was a 25 minute hike, but it was much more. The view was stunning though and it was so nice to get out in the bush! We are going to try again in a couple of weeks, and make a whole day of it so that we can reach the summit. Apparently, we might seem monkeys next time! We thought we might today, but we had such a big group that I think we scared them off.

Also, we just got our assignments for our 4 days of “shadowing” next week. We are traveling, in pairs, to stay with current PCV’s throughout Tanzania. It will be our first chance to really see what work we might be doing. I feel so blessed: I am going with my friend Megan, who is really cool....and we are also getting sent to a village called Rombo, right next to Moshi in northern Tanzania. I think this is the absolutely best spot for shadowing. It is apparently right near the border with Kenya, in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro...near Serengeti National Park....I am just unbelievably excited. Also, my family is originally from a village right down the road. Moshi is home to a lot of Chaggas, who are now my tribe!

For those who asked, please see my phone number and address are now entered on the right, underneath my email address. Feel free to call me or send me things anytime. I have free incoming minutes so I can talk for free as long as you call me! And letters usually take about 2-3 weeks to arrive to send them on over if you like! Although, I would put all postcards into an envelope if you want me to receive them.

If you send me a package, generally that should be OK. I will have to pay for the package to get through customs, which I will happily do for any presents! I guess if you are thinking of sending something heavy, then maybe ask me if I need it/want it before you send it, because they charge based on weight. I already know of a couple of things that I would love to have, so if you are thinking of sending me something I could definitely suggest a thing or two. Also, I will only be here in Manzese for another month, so you would have to send it airmail (probably expensive!) for it to arrive here before I leave. Otherwise, go ahead and send it surface mail, which will take 2-3 months…but by then I should be settled in at my permanent site and will be craving any memories of home.

I don’t know if I will get online before I get back. This weekend we are off to our first National Park, to see elephants and lions and giraffes at Mikumi National Park. Then I leave for Rombo on Wednesday and am not back until Sunday. So until then... you can always call me!

Also, you will see that I finally got a couple of pictures up! And now that Blogger has added this feature, I can get them up on my actual website rather than the link to the right. Due to the time it takes, I won’t load very many, at least until I get to Dar. But enjoy for now!

Thursday, July 07, 2005

sisters



I have been given an unofficial nickname. Kali. It is Kiswahili for fierce or wild. Ha! We’ll see if it sticks. Also, I have been inspired by my friends who are photographers, by my new camera, and by the amazing people of Tanzania. I am going to do a photo project about sisters in Tanzania. I already have a few choice shots. Here is the first!

We learned more about HIV today. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 1 in 5 pregnant women is HIV+. For Tanzania, the official prevalence rate in the country is just over 7% of the population. When you look at it by region, it is as low as 3% in some places but just over 10% in Dar. Also, if you follow the route of the main highway between Dar and Malawi and Zambia, the surrounding areas are also upwards of 10% (this is due to the high traffic in these areas).

Some good news: a new government program is starting up that offers free RetroViral Therapy (RVT) for every Tanzanian, which is awesome and much-needed since people here are so poor. The actual infrastructure for the testing and drug maintenance still isn’t in place unfortunately, and of course getting people to agree to testing is still an obstacle, but the plan is getting started, which is good. And something to make you feel all warm and fuzzy: your tax dollars are paying for much of it. Its PEPFAR, created by GW Bush: the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. One minor problem is that the US Government stipulates that all medications bought with US-donated money must be brand name and FDA-approved, and therefore the affordable generic drugs made outside of the US are off limits. However, the government of Tanzania had to make a decision: spend more and end up with much fewer drugs than you need for your people, or spend less and get drugs of a similar quality. I believe that some type of memorandum or other is being worked out whereby the PEPFAR recipient countries will be allowed to buy the generic drugs after all. Let’s hope so because the sooner this program gets moving, the better.

And while I am giving props to the current administration (I assure you, this doesn’t happen more than once in a very long while)….another recent initiative of our government is increasing funding for malaria prevention and education and treatment, specifically in Tanzania and maybe 4 or 5 other African countries. It’s a sizeable chunk of money: of course, we could do so much more if we weren’t spending billions on the current war and on building our arsenal of tanks and bomber jets, but I guess any money going to the right places is a good thing.

The most useful thing I brought with me to Africa: my headlamp. I don’t know what I would do without being able to read in bed at night, being able to walk in the dark down a dirt path, or being able to brush my teeth without holding a flashlight. So great. Least useful thing: now this is a tough one. There are so MANY. We actually had to repack our bags while we were in Dar for 2 days, so that one of our bags got left behind at the PC office there and we only have one with us. So the absolutely useless stuff got left behind there already. But of what I have here with me…. I did bring this white skirt that is probably the dumbest color I could have chosen, ever. Even my white shirt is OK, but the skirt just gets covered in red dust every day that I wear it. Other things that aren’t completely useless but are kind of silly: q-tips and mascara and a bathing suit. Ha!

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

willy



I’m finally able to speak enough Kiswahili to have an actual conversation. Granted, it’s usually with Willy, who is 10 years old…but still. Last night we were making the fire to heat the water for our bathing (we gather nearby wood and twigs and make a regular wood fire outside in the courtyard- we need the charcoal stoves for cooking during that time of day) and Willy asked me how long I am staying in Tanzania for. I don’t necessarily think that his parents explained to him exactly what I am doing here (actually, I am not sure they even know the details really). When I responded in Kiswahili “2 years”, he kept on trying to correct me to “2 months”. We went back and forth like this a few times until I worked out how to say that I am at his house for 2 months, but will then move to some other, unknown place in Tanzania for a further 2 years. Just to confirm, he went through the months of the year (starting with July), two times, just to illustrate what I was claiming. I chimed in with him and we sat there naming all of the months that I will be here. It took a while and it finally occurred to me that this is awfully permanent, at least for me. Willy seemed pretty shocked too. But he smiled a lot after that—we have really bonded and I am excited about keeping in touch with him. One of my first nights here, after his older sister Mary showed me her photo album (that is how I found out about Mama #2 and the other kids!), I asked Willy if he had any photos of his father or family or friends. He doesn’t. But he has sure been having fun learning how to use my new camera! So I have told him that I am going to get him a little photo album and will print out some pictures and send them to him (he is in most of them anyway!). I can do that in Dar eventually, and it will be a great gift to someone who has been an amazing friend and guide to me.

I’m starting to feel a little bit of guilt about my family situation and how much help I do around the house. I know that the money the family is earning is enough to take care of me by far (in fact, they bought a new, larger dining table that fits 8 people, which is almost the whole family…and new chairs….and Mama told me that it was “Jen’s table” because it was bought thanks to my money) but I also know that I am supposed to be a real member of the family. But I am in school 8 or 9 hours per day, and then have 1 or 2 hours of homework, plus I want to play soccer or aerobie with the kids some days, and I also need some time to hang out with my American friends and process all that we are learning. And when I go to the internet café or just to buy something from the town (Kilosa), I have to walk almost 30 minutes each way. Sometimes I don’t get home until 7pm. As I have described, cooking is a very time-consuming process here: by 7, it is practically all taken care of. And I just don’t have the energy to get up before 6:30am to help with boiling the eggs and milk for morning chai, especially since I am up late hanging out with the kids and then writing in my room for a bit every night.

I have come to a realization, though: if I really wanted to help out with all that needs to be done in a day, I would have to drop out of school, end all friendships, and stop sleeping. There is literally no end of work to be done for the girls in this family, and also although a bit less for the boys. Willy doesn’t ever do any of the cooking, but he is hand-washing laundry, sweeping the yard, cleaning out the cows’ pen, or running errands during his time off. Although, comparing the family-work done by Mary and David wouldn’t even be a contest, because Mary is always helping to cook dinner every night and David is often off with his friends. David still has plenty of hard work to do, but since cooking is so work-intensive, it definitely adds up. So I am just trying to compromise and do what I can: I make a point to come home right after school a few days a week, and I let Mama know when I am going to be late due to a trip to the internet café or having a Coke with the girls. Regardless, the entire family is incredibly kind to me and I don’t think they are sick of me quite yet, which is always a good sign.

I have got to try to shorten these entries. I am sure that will happen naturally eventually: I will get sick of writing so much and will just start writing down random thoughts in a shorthand type of way. In the meantime, I hope you are bearing with me and my multi-page rants about poverty in the developing world. Also, a number of people have asked me about photos. I keep on trying to do it but it just isn’t happening because the computers are too slow. Literally, I ask for an hour at the internet café and end up spending 45 minutes trying to upload pictures. Then I don’t get enough time to respond to emails, which sucks. So I am going to keep on working on it, but I am thinking about sending a CD home to a friend and having her post them on my site for me. They will be there eventually! And when they are, they will take your breath away. This place is amazing.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

politics and Live 8

Happy Fourth of July! The 4th is such a tough time for me to be away from home. I have such great memories of hanging out with my friends on roofs in Brooklyn, watching the fireworks on the East River…and even of years ago, at Waveny Park in Connecticut. I miss home- and everyone there- so much on days like today. I only remembered that it was the 4th a couple of times today, and other than that it was a normal day.

Yesterday turned out to be an interesting day. I woke up with a funny pain in my belly which progressed into the “G thing” by the time I was walking to church. My first parasite! Anyway I sat through a rather uncomfortable Roman Catholic service for 2 hours before heading home. I spoke to the PC Mecical Officer, who dispatched one of the drivers to drop off some medicine. I took it around lunchtime and felt better almost straight away. I am lucky I took care of it straight away—I didn’t find it to be as bad as some of my friends, who waited a whole day before calling Edith, had described it.

Since I was feeling better so soon, I went ahead with my original plans of playing soccer with a handful of PCV’s and some local kids, including 4 of my siblings. It was a great afternoon- we pulled maybe 10 people per side onto the field for a rather unorganized game. The only bad part: I started out in my sports sandals. I can’t believe I haven’t told you about my sandals yet! I only brought flip-flops with me at first, because I thought that they were all people wore over here. When I got to Philadelphia for staging, I found out that we aren’t allowed to wear them except at home, because flip-flops are “bathroom shoes” for Tanzanians. Some people do wear them all the time, but that is because they cannot afford to buy anything else. Therefore, it is sort-of offensive for an American who obviously can afford other shoes to wear flip-flops. So, I rushed out in Philadelphia and found a pair of Nike sports sandals (like Teva’s). They are so funny- I hate sandals like that but I wear them every day! I feel so ridiculous!!!

Anyway I don’t know why I decided to play soccer in them. Within the first 5 minutes of the game, I ran into my friend Meghan and possibly broke my big toe. The bruise and swelling is pretty massive and it hurt pretty badly. You can’t do much about a broken toe, though, so I’m not going to bother with it. The pain isn’t too bad anymore so I will just wait it out for now. But it was funny that Sunday turned into a dramatic day, with both the broken toe and the Giardia.

Let’s talk about the water in Tanzania for a minute. Most of the diseases that we are getting are spread by food or water that is contaminated. The water is contaminated by poor sanitation at all levels of waste disposal. I never realized how much I took the water in the US for granted: clean, safe drinking water comes straight out of a tap in our house. Granted, after a few times, the body usually develops an immunity to Giardia (as we PC’s like to say, “One down, two to go!”) Some Tanzanians boil their water before they drink it, as do all foreigners who want to live. But this is just crazy: how can piped water be just as dangerous as that in an untreated river? I want to say that pit latrines and the cultural practice of using water rather than toilet paper to cleanse after using the toilet may contribute to disease. But I am sure those practices spread far fewer diseases than the water that is piped into homes, courtyards, and public water pumps in every rural village. An explanation about the toilet water thing: there is a bucket of water next to every pit latrine, and never toilet paper unless it is somewhere foreigners frequent. Every PC I know carries a roll of t.p. at all times)

Which brings me to a subject that I could talk for hours about, but will abbreviate for tonight because I need to get some sleep. Live 8. Go! Listen! Support it! A friend of mine emailed me asking me what I think about it. I do think that debt relief for Africa is incredibly needed. Tanzania is one of the 20-odd countries that would benefit directly, and substantially, from the debt cancellation proposed by Tony Blair and tentatively agreed upon by GW Bush. If these countries could stop paying back the debt (which, I would argue, has been caused by hundreds of years of slave trading and colonialism, and is now being perpetuated by neo-colonial economic policies that ensure continuing domination of the African continent, although only economically rather than politically for a change), then they would be able to make the changes that they desperately need and want for Tanzania. More money could go to schools, to health clinics, to sanitation facilities, to clean drinking water, to fighting AIDS, to building infrastructure. I don’t think it will be perfect, or will be enough money to make all the changes needed, or will solve all problems. To get closer to that ideal, we would have to not just cancel the debt, but also take a look at our protectionist trade policies that cripple African exports and businesses. But I will save that for another day. In the meantime, I think Live 8 is a great idea. If it gets people’s attention, and makes them think about Africa for a few minutes, and interests them enough that they end up learning who the G8 is, what their summit will entail, and what debt relief could do for millions of people living in poverty, then it’s a great idea. I mean, the people at the summit are the leaders of the 8 most industrialized nations. Most of them are democratically elected! If the citizens of these 8 countries stand up and say that they want debt relief, then it’s more likely to happen. So I support it 100%, whether or not a lot of the money ends up going directly to Africa. It’s more about raising awareness in the industrialized world, to me. Getting people to pay attention.

While we are on the topic of politics: I literally got tears in my eyes last week when I went on the internet and read through my Planned Parenthood Action Alert Emails that Justice O’Connor has resigned. I am very afraid for the future of my country. I assume—I hope-- there will be protests or that SOMETHING will be done to try to stop a socially conservative judge getting confirmed to the Supreme Court. I wish I was there with you to help in the fight—I feel very helpless all the way over here. It’s so frustrating.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

saturday night!






What a rockin’ Saturday night. It is about 10pm and I am in my room, typing away. I could be out in the living room hanging out with the family, but I just feel like having some “me” time right now. Also, there are (as usual) so many things that I want to write down that I just couldn’t wait to get typing. The problem is that I get up at 7am, if not a bit earlier, every single day. 7 days a week. If you know me, you know that this is probably the most ridiculous thing you have ever heard. I would give almost anything to sleep late tomorrow morning. Just once. But…not a chance. And therefore I need to be ready to go to sleep by at least midnight, since I will be cooking, etc. all day tomorrow. Most nights I do hang out with the kids and play cards or at least do my homework while they are talking to each other, so I don’t feel too bad about taking a break tonight.

You have to be really careful what you say when you are speaking another language. Do you know what the difference between these two sentences is?
1) Basi ni wapi? Ninataka kwenda kununua unga wa ngano.
2) Buzi ni wapi? Ninataka kwenda kununua unga wa ngono.

The first sentence means, “Where is the bus? I want to go buy some wheat flour.” And the second means, “Where is the pimp? I want to go buy some sex powder”. Geez.

I want to update you on a few small things. The first is my remark last week about how more than 1 in 10 kids under the age of 5 die every year in Tanzania. I feel like I can’t just throw out numbers like that anymore without an explanation. So, you should know that the exact number is 1.67 in 10 (live births) children will die before the age of 5. Of what? The leading cause of death in my district (Kilosa) is malaria. Second leading cause is Pneumonia/ Acute Respiratory Infections, followed by Diarrheal Diseases, Anemia (which is often caused by malaria or dysentery, which is a diarrheal disease), malnutrition, and a few HIV/AIDS cases. Keep in mind that some AIDS cases are almost certainly not reported as such because the child was never tested and people generally would prefer not to know if it is already too late. 8.8% of the Tanzanian population, according to statistics, is probably HIV+.

Malaria is a huge problem here, as it is in a number of developing countries. When I arrived in Africa, I was given a mosquito net, taught how to do a malaria slide, given medication to take if I suspect I have malaria (I wouldn’t want to wait until the slide results came back if I was that sick), and given a weekly dose of Larium (Mefloquine), which is a malarial prophylaxis medication. All PC volunteers in Tanzania MUST take an anti-malarial medication while they are in-country. Some volunteers take a different medication than mine because they have problems with Larium (you may have heard about it---it gives some people crazy dreams or nightmares, and makes some people depressed and has other odd effects). I, luckily, have had no problems thus far. Which is good- I only have to take one pill a week, but the others have to take one per day. Also, Larium is 95% effective at stopping malaria, but the others are only 80% effective. Technically, I can still get malaria from a mosquito, but there is a 95% chance that the medication will prevent the parasite from leaving my liver, where it will die if it is trapped there for 4 weeks. Awesome. I’ve been wearing a lot of Deet, as you may imagine.

Obviously, kids who live in Africa are not given anti-malarial medications as a preventative tool. Actually, most Africans have some level of immunity to malaria, at least as adults. (Although, looking over my statistics, I can see that malaria is also the leading cause of death of people OVER the age of 5…and it was also a leading cause of both inpatient and outpatient hospital admissions for adults last year.) Certainly, educating community members about using mosquito nets on their beds, clearing standing water from their backyards, and seeking immediate treatment for their symptoms is something that I will be doing a lot of. Of course, when there isn’t enough money to buy the nets, to buy insect repellant (which is virtually never used by locals) or to pay for the required medication to treat malaria, simple education will inevitably fall short. It will help, though. This is not to say that health centers are not already trying to educate people about preventing malaria infection. Of course they are, although it can be hard to reach the most rural villages and to spread the word effectively (again, where the PC comes in).

I wanted to tell you a bit about what things cost here. One US dollar is approximately 1000 Tz shillings. So, using the internet for one hour is 1000 shillings ($1). A glass bottle of Coke is 250 sh ($.25). A cheap soccer ball that I bought for my siblings cost 2000sh ($2). I can travel to Dar on a 5 hour train ride for about 5000sh ($5). From now on I will just use US $$ when describing prices, for your convenience. But that’s pretty good, huh? How about these numbers: minimum wage according to the law: $30 per month. What many house-girls get in addition to free room and board: $5-10 per month. What a teacher gets: $100 per month. A doctor, of whom there are very few: $250 per month. The cost to attend secondary school (ages 13-19), which is NOT free: $20 per year, or $70 per year for boarding school.

I just made a funny calculation. If I spent every dollar I earned on Coca-cola, at my old salary as a community worker in NYC, I could have bought about 1500 bottles of coke per month (at 1.25 ea). If I were a teacher in Tanzania, I could only buy about 400 (at .25). I don’t know anything about rents here, and it’s not really fair for me to make a comparison based on soda…so take that calculation as the very unscientific one that it is.

I still haven’t gotten sick. In fact, I feel great. Almost half of the 32 of us have been “stricken” with something—many with giardia, but some with dysentery or various other gross diseases. We have taken to calling giardia “the big g” or “g thing”…. As in, “It ain’t nothing but a G thing, baby...” (and of course, we sing it rather than say it). It’s funny how open PC volunteers get about talking about using the toilet. Speaking of which, I am going to take a photo of my friend Tait’s pit latrine soon. It’s pretty scary and I want to post a photo. I am still trying to get my photos online and am having serious trouble because the connection is so slow. But, I will keep trying, and eventually I will go to Dar and should be able to post a bit quicker from there at the very least.

Are you wondering what kind of stuff the PC gave us when we arrived? We were each issued with a big bucket for showering, along with a small pitcher to pour the water over ourselves. We were also given a towel, a set of sheets, a malaria net, a first aid kit, tampons, Swahili-English dictionaries, a ceramic water filter, and a bunch of books. One amazing book we got is “Where There is No Doctor”, an incredible community health book with almost every disease in it, and simple diagnoses and treatments for people who live in places without access to the resources of the industrialized world. I read the book for fun sometimes and have started diagnosing my friends’ diseases. “That rash looks like scabies…” ha!

My family is still fantastic. Last night they invited the 4 other girls in my CBT group (oh yeah! Another volunteer joined us last week…Jessamy just finished 2 years in the PC in The Gambia, West Africa, and is doing a 3rd year Extension here in Tanzania. She speaks Mandinka but is now trying to jump into Kiswahili…) and our teacher, Jumapili, over for dinner. I splurged on the $4 to buy 14 bottles of Fanta and Coke for everyone, and me and my mama and my sisters spent hours in the kitchen making all kinds of food: rice, beans , spinach, cabbage, cooked bananas, homemade steak-cut french fries, and some meat for the others. It was a great night. The dining table was really small—usually Mama, Baba, Isaac and I sit at the table and the other kids eat in the living room—so we made it buffet style and got our food from the table and then all sat in the living room together. Then we hung out and drank our sodas. Respect for elders and for gender roles is big here: mama was very much the host in charge but wanted me to be the host too, so she told me what to do: made me offer baba and my teacher dinner first, then her, then my friends, then the other kids in my family. Also, due to the fact that Tanzanians eat with their hands often and that there usually is not inside plumbing, many households have a small bucket over which one person holds a pitcher of warm water. As people put their hands over the bucket, you pour the water over their hands. Mama put me in charge of this task so I had to wash everyone’s hands in that same order that I described above. Of course, the sodas were handed out in the same order later, also.

It’s funny: some people seem to get really upset by the little things like that. I have difficulties sometimes with certain issues like when women are not treated as equals within romantic relationships and familial work responsibilities, but as far as showing respect for my Baba by washing his hands and inviting him to eat first, and in general showing respect to my elders, I think that is an absolutely great aspect of Tanzanian culture and have I no problems. I also insist on helping out with clearing the dishes, etc. and the younger boys help out too, which I think is important. Anyway, so the night was a huge success and I had a great time. My Baba and Mama still haven’t mentioned the other mama or the other kids. I just wish I could tell him, without admitting that I know, that it is okay with me that he lives his life the way he sees fit. It is his culture, and his world. Although I wouldn’t want to be in a relationship like that, and would not want my daughters to be in one either, I am not going to judge him or his awesome family. I am going to do my best to be a positive, empowering influence on his daughters Neema and Mary, and Georgina, of course—but I would do that regardless. The funny thing is that, by hiding his second wife from me, he seems to be judging himself more than I would.

About religion in Tanzania: some still hold traditional, animist beliefs. Islam and Christianity were brought to Africa centuries ago, though, and these religions have very strong and devout followings. When we were preparing for our home-stays, we were warned that it would be difficult for us to explain or to be understood if we feel that we have no particular or common religion. This is partially because religious background is thought of so strongly as a part of your culture, your traditions, your family, and your heritage…and partially because saying that you don’t believe in the monotheistic God is almost akin to saying you worship satan (at least, this is what I was told). Certainly, we were all asked straight away what our religion is. Most people were content to name their family’s religion, which is what I did. I am Anglican by birth and culture, if nothing else, and therefore it was easy for me to say and leave it at that. I think I am going to the Catholic Church tomorrow with the family for a service, which should be interesting.

So last night, after dinner, Isaac, Willy, Neema and I walked Allison and Jessamy home. Tait and Imani walked with our teacher since they live in the other direction. All of the Tanzanians are pretty adamant that we should not ever be walking alone without Tanzanian escorts at night, even in the village. Which seems rather ridiculous and will certainly infringe on my weekend beer routine (I wish!). Actually, though, it is probably a great idea. We are targets, whether we like to admit it or not. And we also get lost easily and have a hard time finding our way around at night. When we walked the girls home, we dropped Allison off first. Then, as Jessamy was going into her house, she offered to lend me her flashlight, since I hadn’t brought one. It was just a five-minute walk in a straight line, down the main dirt road for our village but through a big cornfield area so there were no houses around. I said, “No way, I don’t need a flashlight, I am a Tanzanian now!” and ushered her inside. Then we walked home. The stars were absolutely amazing, and the night was beautifully clear and even kind of chilly, so I was shivering just a little. It was so incredibly peaceful to walk with my brothers and sister, all alone down this road where there wasn’t a streetlamp in sight. Nonetheless, within a minute, I was practically tripping over my own flip-flops in the inky blackness. Neema and Willy quickly but casually sidled up next to me, practically pressing against my hips on either side. I put my arms around them and laughed out loud at myself as my 10 and 13-year-old siblings walked me home. It was humbling and so unbelievably comforting, and I stopped shivering right away. How am I ever going to do this all alone without my family to look out for me?

I should get to bed so that I am rested for my potato-peeling and hand-washing laundry 7 hours from now. There was a wedding today in the village: all these women in full African dresses, waving palm fronds as they marched from the church to the house for the party….I can still hear them outside my bedroom window off in the distance. Drums, singing, and dogs howling at who-knows-what. Exactly what you might imagine—it almost seems too “African” for Africa. Too staged, too perfect…except I am the only one around here who doesn’t think that this is what every Saturday night in June and July sounds like. Amazing.

Salama.

Friday, July 01, 2005

health in tanzania


This was our first week of health training. We took a great trip to a Maternal and Child Health Dispensary today: a dispensary is like an outpatient health clinic that serves a handful of the local villages. Some women walk an hour or more with a baby on their backs in order to reach the clinic. It does a great job, though, of taking care of the local pregnant and parenting women. They have health education sessions, an immunization program, baby-weighing, and some testing facilities. The one shortfall is that they don’t test for HIV status here. (Do they automatically test a pregnant woman’s status in the US?) For that, you would have to go to the District Hospital nearby.

Interesting info, to me anyway: It doesn’t matter if you are HIV+ or not: you should always, and EXCLUSIVELY, breast-feed your children until they are 6 months if you live in a developing country. Sure, if you live in the US or another wealthy nation, and you are HIV+, you reduce your child’s risk a bit by formula-feeding. But if you don’t have the access to clean water and an uninterrupted and affordable supply of formula, you are putting your baby more at risk by not breast feeding. Only 25% of babies born to HIV+ mothers end up having the virus. It is hard to tell how they get it from their mothers, since they will test as + for the virus for their first 18 months even if they aren’t infected (they still have mom’s antibodies in their blood, which is what the test detects). However, they could get it from mom if the placenta is damaged in the womb, during birth, and from breast milk: but the thought is that only 10% of babies who end up being + after 18 months get it from breast milk. On the other hand, a child deprived of breast-feeding in the developing world is 25 times more likely to die than a breast-fed child. This is mainly due to the diarrheal diseases and malnutrition that are caused by unsafe water and poverty. Furthermore, if you breast-feed exclusively, your baby’s stomach lining remains intact, which can help to keep the virus from infecting the baby. As soon as foreign foods or water enters the baby’s stomach, the lining starts to deteriorate and puts the baby at risk. Another reason to breastfeed: “Worldwide, more births are prevented every year by breastfeeding than by all other forms of contraception put together.”

Which reminds me of another thing that I learned at the clinic: Some men in Tanzania are very reluctant to use condoms or to allow their partner to use birth control because they feel that the woman they are with would be more likely to cheat on them if she didn’t have to worry about pregnancy. Therefore, the most common birth control method here is the injection, because they don’t even have to tell their husband that they are receiving it. Of course, HIV cannot be prevented this way. I have talked to a couple of Tanzanian men (my 23 y.o. brother Isaac for one) who have explained that this belief/reluctance stems from a lack of education. This is my theme for tonight: education.

We had a chance to speak with a few young mothers while we were at the clinic. They were fantastic and let us ask them all kinds of personal questions so that we could gauge their needs more. At the end, we asked them if they had any questions for us (through our Kiswahili teacher). Our teacher hadn’t really explained who we were, so the women responded with questions like, “How long should I wait before having another baby?” and “What should I do if my baby gets sick?” We had to explain that we are in training to become health educators, and so passed off the questions to the nurse to answer (I do know that you should wait 2 years between pregnancies, to allow the previous baby a chance to get strong and to let the mother’s body rest). However, it was interesting to have them ask those questions. It made it clear that the health education session at the dispensary is not detailed enough (it is really just an introductory session on the absolute basics for women who have never been there before). It also allowed me to see, for the first time, what type of work I might be doing, and where I might be useful. It’s not that the doctors and nurses here don’t have the education to do these sessions themselves: it’s that they don’t have the resources to hire those people, so volunteers are needed. I wouldn’t necessarily run the sessions: I could organize it however I liked, whether I found someone from the community and taught them about maternal health, or started working closely with a small group of motivated mothers, or even with a local school.

I learned some scary stuff recently about the number of doctors and nurses in this district. There are 0 specialist doctors, and only 1 Medical Doctor (like a GP) in the whole district of 515,000 people. There are about 50 mid-level Clinical Officers spread around the district instead. There aren’t even enough Trained Nurses to guarantee one for each dispensary (65 dispensaries and only 57 nurses, some of whom must be at the 2 hospitals). The funding just isn’t there for the medical personnel—or even to train the medical personnel in the first place. Which brings me to the state education system:

Of the youth in school in Tanzania today, 88% of them are in Primary School (ages 7-14). Another 7% of them are in pre-school for ages 5 and 6. This leaves the other 5% for Secondary School. That’s right: 5% are in Secondary School (their equivalent of high school). Which means that the overwhelming majority of youth finish schooling at the age of 14 and do not continue at all. One reason for this is that the Tanzanian economy is based largely on farming: 85% of Tanzanians are farmers. So maybe these kids don’t need a great education. Another reason is that while Primary education is free, Secondary costs money (only about $20 per year for day school, but that is a lot for many people in this country). Certainly there aren’t the facilities for every child to go to Secondary school: the President of Tanzania recently made Primary school free and mandatory, and now there is a major shortage of teachers and of classroom space (schools can have up to 100 kids in one class), although they are building more schools and training more teachers every year. If more youths continued in secondary school, there wouldn’t be room for them and the quality of education might decrease. On the other hand, until more kids are educated, the economic conditions here will probably not improve drastically.

Alright, sorry for boring you tonight with stats. I am doing technical training these days so it might be like this for a bit. I’m just glad that there really is work for me to do here, and that I am starting to see a need for it.

Salama.