Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Schoolgirls, Visitors, and Winding Down

Yes, I'm still alive. And yes, I still suck at updating my blog consistently. Here's a peek at what I've been up to.

Towards the end of May I spent about a week in the field and although it was pretty sad to know that it was my last trip into the field, I also got to do some pretty cool stuff. I dropped in on two secondary schools and interviewed some students about their views on one of our major interventions and issues affecting their education. This was really exciting but also pretty intimidating for a few reasons. For one, TZ uses a different school system from the U.S. so most of these secondary school students were my age or sometimes even older. And secondly, I knew I would have to conduct the interviews in Swahili. Although my Swahili is pretty good I can sometimes be shy. Add to that having to talk about sensitive and personal issues, with people you don't know, and to do it all in a foreign language....I was a bit intimidated. But I pulled it off and I'm glad I did it because it was such a rewarding experience. The students were warm and friendly and opened up without hesitation about the roadblocks they face in getting their basic education.

One girl told me how she walks a long distance to school every morning because her grandmother couldn't afford the 250/= Tshs (about 18 cents) for bus fare. Once she reached school, she studies on an empty stomach all day b/c she has no money for tea during break time and her house is too far to go home for break, like most students do. Besides even if she could go home there would nothing there for her to eat. Although the school day ends at 2, she stays after until 6 studying with her friends and making sure she understands the material. She leaves the school around dusk to walk home alone. On the way she gets hit on by men old enough to be her father but she keeps to herself and arrives home just in time for dinner, the only meal of the day. Listening to her story was tough, but what was even tougher was realizing that, unfortunately, her circumstances are not unique. I heard a lot of the same story over and over again.
In preparation for our visits to the schools we had gathered the field staff the previous day for a meeting. Some of the major concerns that came up in the meeting centered around the lack of sexual/reproductive health education in secondary schools, cross-generational sex, and teen pregnancy, and the unfair domestic burdens placed on girls. A lightbulb went off. (If you know me, then you know that women's/girls' rights are kind of my "thing". You also know that I'm a strong proponent for educating girls about sexual/reproductive health, birth control options, informed consent and decision making as a way to increase their educational opportunities and likelihood for financial stability and independence down the line.) So when these concerns came up in the meeting it was right up my alley. I got to combine all my interests/passions in one exercise. I couldn't wait to head out to the schools and ask African schoolgirls how sexual health issues were affecting their progress in school. And they were, surprisingly, not very hesitant about answering.
They were quick to tell me that older men often pressured them for cross-generational sex and that they knew girls who slept with these men for money or material goods, as a way to take the edge off the extreme poverty they faced at home. They told me about several girls who had become pregnant and had to drop out before completing secondary school and they were quick to point out that the school offered no sex ed besides the very nuts and bolts basic information they learned in biology class. They also talked about how the long list of household chores assigned to girls made it difficult for them to find time to study, while there brothers got off pretty much scott-free. My chats with them were definitely the highlight of my trip and they really got me thinking about future directions for my own education and career.
That trip was pretty much the highlight of May.

As for June, I imagine it will be one of the best parts of this year, but also one of the worst. The best because, I'm expecting some pretty awesome visitors! One of my closest friends, T, is coming to TZ to learn swahili at the University of Dar es Salaam and I can't wait to hang out with her, especially after having not seen her for an entire year! And as if that wasn't awesome enough, another friend, M, is coming to do some stuff for her PhD and will be staying with me!! I'm so excited to see to see these two people whom I love very much! T will be here in 3 days and M will be here in 5, so I would say June has gotten off to a pretty baller start.

What I'm not looking forward to, however, is the end of June which is going to suck for several reasons. There are the obvious sucky parts like leaving my friends and boyfriend behind and leaving Dar itself, but there's also logistics like-- how the hell am i supposed to put all the stuff I've accumulated over a year into two suitcases?

Ugh. I guess I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. For now, I'm just going to enjoy my company! <3

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Still Hanging in There/ The Malaria Post

Sorry to have been M.I.A for so long. It’s a function of having fully adjusted to living here. Once you solve all the logistical problems like how to use a squatty potty and how to keep monkeys from stealing your clothes off the line life becomes pretty routine. And once you get used to being spoiled by fresh mangoes and ripe pineapples anytime you want, it stops feeling like a vacation and starts feeling like home. Homesickness has reared it’s head a time of two since my last entry in December, but mostly I’m hanging in there. I’ve just been swamped at work, with everything for visits from the organization’s president, to 1 a.m. nights in the office, to writing a million and one proposals simultaneously.

In February I contracted 3+ malaria. I was a little concerned about the high fever but mostly I was just pissed off. I had this lofty goal of spending a whole year in East Africa with no prophylactics and not getting malaria. Imagine my dismay at making it well past the halfway mark (almost to the ¾ mark, in fact) only to have to admit defeat. It’s still a lot better than my last stint in East Africa where I didn’t even last 6 weeks. Other than the typical symptoms (i.e., feeling like death, coughing up a lung, grandma-ish joint pain, etc.) I got some puzzling ones like earaches and debilitating dizziness. The absolute lows included cold sweats, shivers, and fevers well over 101, but on the upside I got a Friday off from work! The most annoying aspect of malaria was seeing an incompetent doctor who asked me what medication I should take (You tell me! You’re the doctor!!!), and then told me I should come back to the hospital if my fever went over 150. Not 105 but 150. Yeah...moving on…despite all of that, malaria did have it’s amusing moments like being overcome by dizziness on the way to the bathroom and smacking my forehead on a table on the way down. Yeah, I got to sport a nice little forehead knot that lasted long after the last malaria symptom were gone. L

Having had malaria before, I wasn’t all that worried (even though the malaria I had the first time was a little milder). All in all, I popped the 24 prescribed pills, slept a lot, drank a lot of juice and got better, thank God, but you better believe I’m still pissed about not achieving the malaria free year.

Of course it could have had something to do with this:

And, yes, I used repellant. And, no, obviously it didn’t actually repel anything L*sigh*

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Last one (in will be) standing

If you've never taken public transportation in Dar es Salaam then I don't know how to describe it to you. It involves lots of sweating, pushing, shoving, plotting, suqeezing, toxic exhaust, and street hawkers trying to sell you handkerchiefs or water or knives or magazines or cigarettes or towels or...well you get the point. It's the only time when your ELDERLY, PREGNANT, or DISABLED card is invalid.
While waiting for the bus you'd better offer your respectful greetings to the granny at the bus stop next to you, but when the bus pulls up its do or die. You and Granny will lock on to opposites side of the door frame, each of you with one foot on the first step. Your knees will jockey for position, your elbows will poke each other in the ear, slam each other's heads into the door frame. You'll bruise each other's hips trying to squeeze through the door at the same time. You might throw a slight elbow into granny's sternum. And when u manage to climb into the bus before Granny, you will quickly scurry into the last remaining seat and victoriously straighten out your trousers and arrange your briefcase in your lap. If you are strong enough you will avoid the struggle with Granny altogether and beat her to the seat by climbing up onto the bus's back tire and through the window.
Sometimes, when things get really dire (4:30 p.m. on a Friday or 6:55 a.m. on a Monday) pushing, squeezing, and elbowing pregnant ladies doesn't even get you a seat. Instead what you are fighting for is the last 1 ft x 1 ft x 5 ft space left in the bus. The prize of not having to wait the 10 minutes for the next bus.
And heaven forbid you're riding a popular bus to the end of line. Chances are you won't even make it off the bus before the impatient mob waiting at the station storms in through the main door, the windows, and even the driver's door. And let's hope you don't have a child or a package b/c even if you make it out anything not physically attached to your body will be lost in the struggle.
Desparate moms hand their children through the windows of the bus, into the laps of strangers and then work their way back to the main door to fight their way through the flurry of elbows, heads, bags, and buckets then struggle through the opening as the bus rocks violently side to side, helpless under the motion of the mob.
Personally, I don't think having a seat on the bus is worth the physical injury that usually comes with the requisite pushing and shoving so I usually stand back from the violent crowd and wait patiently until things settle a little. Then I admittedly squeeze past some grannies, press close to the person in front of me, and block the doorway as much as I can so that no one slides in front of me. Even though I still have to do my fair share of pushing and shoving, this is what passes for patience in comparison to the mob that throws punches and pushes each other off the bus steps. As a reward for my "patience" I get to stand up-- for 45 min to an hour, in a bus so crowded it feels like being a octuplet in your mom's womb at full term. Actually, scratch that, those octuplets probably have more space than I do. All of this in a non-air conditioned bus, with 3,000% humidity, in a completely stationary traffic jam, with someone's Grandpa breathing on your neck and someone's reeking armpit within 3 in. of your face. Fun, fun, fun. Not to mention the bus is a 30 year old stick shift, and the drivers are impatient daredevils who cut people off, tailgate, drive into oncoming traffic, and create lanes where they don't exist. Does this explain how I can pull muscles and break a sweat just trying to hold on for the ride?
And getting a seat is not much better. If you sit in the aisle seat, you get to have someone's butt/elbow/breast/handbag/briefcase either threatening to poke you in the eye or leaning directly onto your head. If you sitting in the window seat you get to be squished by the person sitting in the aisle seat as they try to escape the butt/elbow/breast/handbag/briefcase that is suffocating them. But hey, at least you get the window because you're really the only one can feel the breeze. If you sit in the back, good luck getting the conductor to hear you when you call out your stop. And if he hears you, good luck making your way up the aisle (a.k.a. birth canal) to get out the door. All of this presents the perfect environment to be pickpocketed or contract swine flu/cholera/TB which I why I usually rush to the nearest sink/tub for a bucket shower or arm scrub upon arriving at my destination.
For 4 months I put up with this every morning and evening thinking I had no alternative (taxis are too expensive for everyday, twice a day, use) until one day my commute buddy said "I think the Posta buses are running late today. Why don't we take the Kariakoo bus?" And that day my whole life changed. It was like to sky opened up and the angels began to sing.
Now I get a seat every morning, EVERY SINGLE MORNING. No one coughs in my ear, no grandmas press their saggy breasts into my back, no one rests their briefcase on my side or nuzzles my hip into their buttcrack. I reach my final destination without sweat stains, and still in a good mood. Why did it take my commute buddy sooooo long to mention this heaven of an alternate route? The Kariakoo bus had made a believer out of me. Yes, it cost a little more since the bus doesn't get as close to my office and I have to take another form of transportation to close the final distance. But I think an extra 2,000 shillings is worth the small bubble of personal space that almost lives up to American standards.

Friday, November 13, 2009

...'til it's gone

As the saying goes, you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. When I was still in the U.S. I used to dread the end of summer. Fall is hardly a fair substitution for long days of no school and all the swimming and ice cream you can handle. Yeah, the leaves are kinda pretty but they get old after the first two weeks, and they just give your Mom another chore to add to the list. (“Go rake the back yard!”) Since I was about 14, summer has been my favorite season. In fact, when I decided to move to Tanzania, I was psyched about what would essentially be a year of continuous summer. No school (although, there is a full time job involved), no cold weather, and lots and lots of trips to the beach.

Now I’m four months in, (only one month more than the length of the average American summer) and I’m already sick for fall. I never thought I would say this but I miss weather cool enough for boots and scarves. I miss the fiery colors of autumn leaves, the first day of school butterflies, back to school shopping, and even the knowledge that snow is around the corner.

But what I miss the most about the year-end season is the holidays. I have always loved Thanksgiving and New Years but somewhere around 13ish I stopped being wild about Christmas. The shrill cheerfulness of Christmas songs has long rang false in my ears, the endless mounds of pine needles always stick to the feet of my tights, and the sickeningly thick sweetness of eggnog always did give me a tummy ache. But these are exactly the things I find myself missing the most. Here we are in mid-November and its so weird to not be complaining about the draft in the living room or listening to my Mom scream defensive plays at the miniature Dallas cowboys running around inside the TV. It’s strange to not be visiting the mall over and over again to find that perfect present for Dad or trying to stretch my modest Christmas savings enough to buy a little thinking-of-you something for all 25 of my cousins. No fires in auntie’s fireplace, no shiny-eyed little brother cuddling me awake at 6 a.m., no Mommy laughing at A Christmas Story, yet again (Did you hear, Kris?! ‘A pink nightmare!’) Nope, those things won’t be happening this year.

And you would think the Grinch in me would finally be satisfied. No Christmas means nothing to complain about. But instead I find myself missing all those little things that are essential to the Ford family Christmas I’m used to. The flurry of wrapping paper and excited voices as everyone tries to exchange presents at once, the home cooked food with lots of Auntie Love and Mama Love stirred in, that lingering holiday smell—some mixture of pine needles, cinnamon and pumpkins--, the heat blasting in the car and Zachary asleep in the back seat on the way home from Mama D’s at 2 a.m. And yes, even the cold weather. But this year, instead of being there to experiencing these things, I’ll be thinking of my family and hoping they know I’m wishing I could be there with them. Maybe next year those Christmas songs won’t be so annoying and while I’m trying not to sweat to death in my wool sweater while navigating the Christmas-shopping mall traffic I won’t be concentrating on how frustrating it is. I’ll be cherishing it that much more because I’ll know what it’s like to spend a holiday away from home.

Thinking of you all,


Monday, October 26, 2009

My favorite Norwegians

Hiding out from the rain with my favorite Norwegians.

The Quiet Karen:

The Awesome HanneSophie:

Melkerull. Amazing Norwegian chocolate. Often featured in our "chocolate parties" :-). It also happens to be the only word of Norwegian I know :-D

I'm missing these lovely ladies! Can't wait to see them next weekend...

Photo Edition: Rainy Weekend

So Dar has been going through a drought, which means electricity is on the blink. Let me explain... Since Tanzania relies on hydroelectric power, no rain means no water and no water means no electricity. To avoid things becoming dire, Tanesco, the power company, has stepped in and set up a system of power rations to stretch the remaining water until the heavy rains show up. They divide the city into sections which takes turns being without power. For us that means as long as the dry weather continues we will have a lot of days without power and since indoor plumbing relies on water being pumped (by an electric pump) into the pipes from a huge tank, no power can mean no running water. The family I live with is used to this situation so we have tons of back up water stored in tanks and containers in an around the house. But as a spoiled American for whom lack of power and running water are extremely rare, these things can be maddening. My office usually runs on a generator so that we can still get things down with electricity but they are really expensive and they run on gasoline which means the produce lots of disgusting fumes and I read somewhere that gas cost something like $5/gallon here so most homes don't have one b/c its too expensive. We certainly don't have one.

Anyway, it seems like we might be looking at an end to the drought because on Saturday it rained and rained like crazy.

I had a 9 o'clock appointment that I was on my way to when it started raining. Ok, more like I was being stood up for my 9 o'clock appointment when it started raining. Needless to say, I was not happy. I had to wake up early after clubbing until 4 a.m. to travel through a typhoon only to be stood up! (The day only got worse as I paid a lot of money for disgusting food, lost my umbrella, had to pay a ridiculous price to get another one, got hit on by several creepy guys, and got begged for money by a street kid who has out-of-his-mind-high on God knows what, all within the same 6 hour period). My housemates and I had plans to head into town to do some shopping but when we saw that the torrential downpour wasn't going to let up we decided to head back home instead. We changed into dry clothes and spent the evening huddled in their room talking, reading, and listening to music (read: Tegan and Sara. I've got HanneSophie hooked). On Sunday they left for Zanzibar (where I will hopefully be joining them next weekend) and I spent the day preparing for Monday and hanging out with Sia. Being trapped inside for most of the weekend bored me out of my mind so I grabbed a camera and started snapping pics of anything that looked interesting. These pics should help you guys get a feel for what my house is like. Enjoy ;)

(The crazy multi-country adapter thingy my housemates use to plug their Norwegian appliances into the Tanzanian outlets).

The view from my back window during one of the rare breaks in the rain.

front window

stairs (pretty self-explanatory, huh?)

the dryer. lol.

upstairs hallway.

corner of the bathroom.

yes, the washing machine is in the bathroom. The big cylinder uptop is the water heater which makes hot (bucket) showers possible. In TZ the "bathroom" is usually only the tub/shower and a sink. The toilet and another sink are in a separate room. I thought it was weird at first but with seven people living in our house it definitely cuts down on traffic jams. (If someone's using the "bathroom", I can always use the sink in the toilet room to brush my teeth.)

lunch preparation.

most of the meat we eat is boiled in this pressure cooker. I'm still not sure how I feel about boiled meat. Both of my parents hate boiled meat so in my house it was always a no-no. Since I didn't grow up on boiled meat I would prefer baked, brazed, roasted, grilled or even fried but hey...I'm not the one cooking.

So I guess one good thing did come out of this weekend. I'm glad I got pictures of my house. I feel like in the future it'll be nice to look at them and reminisce about where I lived when I was in TZ. As for the weather the rain was a bit intense but I'm getting tired of the "power rations". I can't decide whether I'd rather have (more) consistent access to electricity or dry weather. We'll see what the rain gods think.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Photo Edition: Art and Fashion

Since I've been here the local fashion has really grown on me. I've made a few purchases including bracelets, earrings, clothing, traditional fabrics, etc. and today I've decided to share them here. Check it out:


These earrings are really cool because both pair are made out of banana leaves. I'm not entirely sure how they do it but the end result is pretty cool (and surprisingly durable). I paid 1,000/Tshs for each pair. That's about 77 cent per pair.

These earrings are made out of bull's horn. After they are formed into a shape they are dyed. It didn't really show up well in the picture but the ones one the bottom are a really pretty shade of purple. These also cost 1,000/Tshs per pair.

Both pairs of these earrings are made out of ebony. These also cost 1,000/Tshs per pair.

Just a closer look at my little baby elephants :~)

These bracelets are made from small plastic beads strung onto a wire. They are made by Massai ladies and you usually get about 5 for 1,000/Tshs. The Massai are famous for their intricate beaded jewelry. Here's another cool pic of Massai jewelry. Click here to read more about the Massai.

I'm not exactly sure what the gold-ish ones are made of but they cost me 1,500/Tshs each. The one in the middle is made of soapstone. I actually bought it last year so I don't remeber how much I paid for it but I'm almost sure it wasn't over 3,000/Tshs.

These anklets were also made by Massai ladies and they cost me 1,500/Tshs a piece. It is Massai custom to wear an anklet on each leg as some sects don't believe anything comes single. For them, everything comes in twos.


A friend of mine had this cool ebony statue made for me for my birthday. The giraffe is the national animal of Tanzania and she is also one my personal favorites.

He had the words "Happy Bday Krista" carved into the base for me.


In Tanzania you will find a mix of Western and traditional fashions. Many women choose to buy sheets of raw fabric (vitenge) at the market and take it to a seamstress to have it made into traditional clothing. I've purchsed a few different patterns with the intention of having clothing and other items made from them.

I like this one because it's so BRIGHT but I have no idea what I'm going to make out of it yet.

This one is also pretty awesome but...

... ^this^ one is my absolute favorite so far :~)

I'm kind of one the fence about this one. I bought it last week and now I'm not sure whether I like it or not :(


Kangas are very common in Dar and are native to East Africa. They feature bright colors, cool patterns, and a saying at the bottom. They come in pairs and here in Dar the going price is usually between 3,000/Tshs and 5,000/Tshs. Check out this link for more on kangas.

Kangas are pretty big (about 1.5 meters by 1 meter) so I enlisted the help of my housemates. The Mama and Baba at my house gave me this Tanzania themed kanga for my birthday. This particular kanga is pretty common among tourists b/c it sums up most of the pretty awesome parts about Tanzania. The edges are bordered by various wild animals since TZ is known for its game parks. The national animal, the giraffe, is also featured near the center.

Here's a close up of the center. Serengeti, Ngorogoro, and Mikumi are the names of some pretty famous national parks in TZ. The saying at the bottom says "Ubaya hauna kwao Mola nisitri njama zao." It basically translates to something along the lines of "God, protect me from their bad plans."

All of East Africa is psyched about Obama...but not for the same reasons we are. Most of them care less about the fact that he is the first black president in America's 200+ year history. For them the excitement is about his Kenyan ancestry. Obama kangas started popping up all over E.Africa after the election and they're being sold at 2 to 3 times the normal price. Nowadays the price is even higher since they're starting to become more and more rare. I got lucky because I got this one for my birthday. I don't own one but when Micheal Jackson died a Michael Jackson kanga also popped up on the market. It says "We will always remember you."

Here's a close up of the center of the kanga. "Hongera" means "congratulations".

The saying "Obama Chaguo la Mungu" translates to "Obama-- God's choice."
Here's another version of the Obama kanga. Instead of american flags it has Africa on either side of Obama and the saying says "peace and love. God cares about us."

This is the first kanga I bought this year. I mentioned it in the Kipepeo Beach post.

The message "Nakuvika pete yangu uwe mchumba wangu" pretty much translates to "I'm giving you my ring to wear. Be my fiance."

I must admit that I am falling in love with polka dots. I picked this one up at my local market.

The message says "Nyumba yenye upendo haikosi riziki." This translates to, "A house that has love is not missing God's blessings."

Besides Obama, I think this is my favorite one so far. I like brown a lot, I think the leaves are really pretty, and I really like the message.

The message ("Udugu mzuri mpendane sio mnyanyasane") translates to " A good relationship/kinship is to love each other not harass each other."

Kangas are usually worn like this:

Here's Anna Sophia wearing a kanga:

Here's a picture of me wearing a pair of kangas last year. One around my waist and one on my head:

Kangas are very versatile. Here in Dar a lot of women use them to carry babies like this:

or like this:
Notice that this woman is also wearing a pair on kangas as clothing, one on the head and one around her waist. In TZ, Muslim women often use kangas as hijabs. I told you they were versatile.


Here are some dresses I bought. They are long, loose and flowy which makes them quite popular with Muslim women because they in are compliance with the Islamic standards of modesty. Often times they come with another piece of cloth. Muslim women use the extra cloth on their head as a hijab and other women may wear it around the waist or drape it accross the shoulders if they get cold.

This one is my favorite.

Future Purchases:
In TZ, soda still comes in glass bottles like this:
A few of the craftsmen at my local market make really cool earrings out of the caps and I'm looking to invest in a pair of Coca-Cola earrings. When I get my hands on them I'll post a pic. I also plan to post pics of my traditional clothing after I have it made. More purchases and pictures posts to come...