Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Reading is Fundamental!

I was an only child for 13 years.

What this means is that I often had to find a way to entertain myself that did not require the presence of another person. (With the exception of cousin-visit days) this pretty much ruled out board games and even simple outside games like hopscotch and tag. I enjoyed my fair share of television, swingsets and solo jumprope, but my most beloved independent pastime was reading. By age 7 I had already become a bona fide bookworm.
I would often fight the weight of my eyelids, reading late into the night. I would finish assignments early and sneak peeks at Goosebumps books under my desk at school. At night in the car I would hold my book up in the back seat trying to make out the next paragraph in the headlights of the cars behind us. Anytime I earned a reward I would ask for the next book in whatever series I was reading. The book fair was my favorite day at school.
My love for reading was unhealthily intense. I would carry books with me into the bathroom, using one hand to assist with the process of doing my business and other to hold the book in front of my face. On weeknights I would cry if we pulled into the library parking lot only to find that it had closed 5 minutes earlier. On weekends I would wake up, roll over, put my glasses on and start reading. I had to be reminded to get dressed, bathe, eat.
High school all but ended my obsessive love affair with reading. Back then I would much rather spend my time cultivating my social life than reading. My primary interests switched to spending every waking moment on the phone, cheerleading practice and going to all my boyfriend's football games. Although there were a few rare moments of voluntarily reading, the majority of my literary intake resulted from AP English assignments.
When I graduated, effectively breaking the "American teenager spell", I began to miss the mother-daughter trips to library that I begged for as a child. I would walk past Border's and bestsellers would wave to me from the storefront like neglected old friends. But then I started Princeton and I was assigned so much reading that my hands were constantly covered in paper cuts from turning pages all the time. I could barely finish all the required reading, much less fit in a word I actually wanted to read.
Now that Princeton Univeristy is shrinking in my rearview mirror I'm readjusting to the concept of free time. I don't know if I can ever make up for the way I discarded such a dear old mate who kept me company through many a childhood hour, but I'm attempting to mend the fences by indiscriminately reading anything I can get my hands on and discussing it with anyone who will listen.
When I packed my life into two suitcases I made space for seven books despite Ethiopian Air's ridiculous weight limit. This is not nearly enough to tide me over for a year but I'm working on amassing a small collection. Books are super expensive in TZ but I hope to trade, borrow, barter and generally wheel and deal myself into some new additions. So far I've been given a Ralph Ellison novel by a friend who is putting her luggage on a diet and I've been loaned the autobiography of a British comedian by a friend who hasn't found the time to read it yet. One of the Princeton kids has a copy of "Lolita" and I wish I could buy it off her but she hasn't finished reading it yet and they're all leaving at the end of this week. I've been wanting to read that book for years and I kept putting it off. Good luck finding a copy of "Lolita" in East Africa. Nonetheless, I am excited about the books that I do have, but I'm torn between devouring them voraciously and savoring them slowly. After all, I do have to make them last for a year.
Anyway, I've decided that the quest to rekindle my love affair with reading is important enough to deserve it's own space on the page so I've added a little box on the right where I will list all the books I read this year. Here's to hoping the list grows quite lengthy.


Monday, July 27, 2009

Adventures on Public Transportation Volume IV. "The Cheater"

Every evening I take a bus and a dala dala to get home from work and this day was no different. After work I followed the winding dirt road to my bus stop and waited for the bus that I already knew would be full. When the bus pulls up I shove my way as far in as possible but still end up with half my body hanging out of the open doorway. I notice the conductor staring at me and see the glint of recognition is his eyes. Something about my appearance has tipped him off that I am a foreigner. The driver pulls off and I squint my eyes against the smoggy breeze and watch the city roll by. A few stops later enough people have gotten off for me find an empty seat. I plant my feet and wiggle my buttocks into the narrow space between the wide hips of two Mamas. The conductor informs us that it’s time to pay up, by way of his usual method of making kissy noises and jingling change at the passengers and we begin to dig in purses and shirt pockets looking for busfare. The conductor shakes his handful of change at each passenger one at a time. I watch as each person pays their 250 Tshs and get change if necessary. When he gets to me I hand him a 500 Tshs note because I haven’t got anything smaller. He hands me back a single coin worth 200 Tshs. I wait patiently for my other 50 Tshs.

The conductor continues to collect the fare from the other passengers and I watch his hand, counting at least five 50 Tshs pieces. Wondering why I haven’t received all the change due to me I get the conductor's attention and tell him, “Bado hamsini.” (You still owe me 50 shillings.) He turns and goes back to collecting change from the other passengers. When I repeat myself loudly he pretends not to hear.

I put two and two together and realize I am being cheated. The conductors thinks that he can take advantage of me because I am foreign. I don’t know if he thinks I don’t know the cost of a bus ride, or that I won’t recognize I’ve been shorted on my change but anger bubbles up my back and steams out of my collar. I’ve had a long day at work and it’s already been an exercise in patience to try to keep my mood even while cramming myself into an overcrowded bus that offers the scent of body odor instead of air conditioning. I am not in the mood for bull shit. My mind races as I try to decide what to do and I vow to myself to get the rest of my change. The coin is only worth about three American cents but I will not be taken advantage of. I know the other people won’t understand why I’m making a fuss over 50 shillings, so I decide to wait until we pull into the station at the end of the line and everyone clears out, then I’ll confront the guy. When we reach the station my legs wobble with anger when I stand up to crawl out of the bus. When the other passengers have cleared I decide on complete aggression, set my jaw and approach the conductor demanding,“Nipe hamsini yangu.” (Give my my 50 shillings)

“Sina” he lies. (I don’t have it.)

“Mwongo!” I accuse (liar!)

He reaches into his pocket and shows me a handful of coins in an attempt to “prove” his lie, but I spot a 50 shilling piece and plunge my hand into the pile of coins. I snatch the coin from him and shove it in his face.

“Asante” I say sarcastically. (Thank you). He is rude enough to laugh at my anger.

I am taller than him and I stand there for a second staring him dead in the eye. I let him feel the anger radiating off my form and hope that he has the decency to be ashamed. I look him over from head to toe and shake my head at the sight of him before I walk away. I am still angry as I blow past the men trying to sell me second hand clothing and look for my connecting bus, but I am proud of myself for speaking up. I sigh. It's going to be a long year.


I am slightly ashamed that it has taken me so long to get to the beach. I've been in TZ for about a month now and I took my first trip to the beach yesterday. I went to Kipepeo Beach in Kigamboni for the first time and had an unbelievable day.

The sun was on duty, the breeze was pleasant and the Indian Ocean was as blue and beautiful as always. Seeing it again felt like visiting an old friend. The shore was full of an interesting mix of tourists and local people and it was definitely alive but not annoyingly overcrowded. Within minutes of arriving we witnessed two local men herding their cattle across the beach. I got quite a kick out of seeing cows on the beach so we took a few pictures. After the cows blew through we decided to move down the beach to get closer to the music coming from the bungalows and bars linked across the shore. Marnie and I stripped off our clothes, spread out our kangas and kitenges and settled down in the sand. It wasn't long before we made a friend.

She asked us to watch her things while she went for a swim. When she got back we discovered she lived in Mozambique doing humanitarian work but was originally from Brazil. She was about 30 years old and had a charming Portugese accent. The three of us had ice cream and chatted about Brazil, TZ, and life in general. I finally got tired of squinting and flagged down a man selling straw hats. I've always been weary of wide brim hats b/c I've always felt like they're for moms, but my face was beginning to hurt from being squenched up and the sunglasses seller was nowhere in sight. I shelled out 3,000 Tshs for a straw hat that Marnie described as "Amish style". To my surprise I felt cool with it on. The hat man was also selling kangas, so Angela and I began to search through them for good saying and patterns. I chose a blue and yellow zig zag striped one with a black polka dot border (busy! I know) that read "Nakuvika pete yangu, uwe mchumba wangu." (I'm giving you my ring to wear, be my fiancee." Angela settled on a green and black one that reminded her to never undertake difficult tasks alone.

Angela shared with me a bit of local wisdom she had picked up- the person may think he chooses the kanga, but really the kanga chooses the person. The message we get on our kanga is the one we need at the moment. We were evaluating our own kanga choices when a man approaches riding the infamous camel. I had heard the tales of 2,000 shilling camel rides at Kipepeo beach and I had long ago decided that if I saw the camel I would indeed ride it. I almost melted into the sand with excitement when the camel actually materialized. I stayed with our stuff and snapped pictures while Marnie rode first, then I climbed up into the damp saddle settled atop the camel's hump for my turn.
"Shika vizuri!" (Hold on tight!) the camel man told me and I saw why when the camel stood up pitching my body at a sharp 45 degree angle. After the initial effort of hoisting itself up, the camel strolled up and down the shore and looked out at the people littering the beach. Small children offered the camel ice cream cones and adults stared like I had lost my last shard of common sense. I just held onto the Amish hat with one hand and grinned until I thought my cheeks would crack into pieces and fall off.

We were supposed to be meeting a group of the Princeton kids there but one of them had stepped on a sea urchin and been rushed to the hospital before we arrived. Consequently, Marnie and I had decided against venturing into the water, but after chatting with Angela about the Brazilian goddess of the sea and the healing powers of the ocean, I decided a dip in the warm, salty water might be exactly what I needed. Keeping an eye out for sea urchins and jellyfish, I waded in up to my ankles hoping it would be enough to cleanse my soul. I stood there soaking in the rush of the ocean, the tide sucking my feet into the sand, the sun warming my skin and the laughter and music carrying on the breeze and I couldn't resist going out farther. Sea urchins or no sea urchins I went in up to my neck and in a few minutes I was surrounded by a friendly circle of local people wanting to know where I was from and what I was doing in Dar es Salaam. Before I knew it I had a local girl holding each of my hands (a sign of friendship) and asking for my phone number. I just smiled and chatted away in swahili, bobbing up and down in the ocean and watching the sun settle lower in the sky.

After drying off on the shore and exchanging numbers with all my new friends it was time to go. Angela, Marnie and I piled into the back of a Bajaj and headed back to the ferry. At home I stuffed myself with good food, chatted about the sea urchin mishap, washed the sand out of my crannies and tucked my drowsy little self under my mosquito net to dream about floating in the indian ocean with a camel.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

On the second day give him a hoe...

There's a swahili saying that says "A visitor is a guest only on the first day, but on the second day give him a hoe (no, not a ho').

I was coasting along at work for the first two weeks, spending all my time sucking up the bandwidth on my office's internet connection, but then I had a meeting to "define my scope of work and come up with a viable work plan". It turns out this really meant "bury me under a hefty to-do list."

All of this to say I love and miss you guys and promise to update very soon...

Monday, July 13, 2009

Dodoma Cont...

Day 2- Driving to Kondoa

After hours of meandering through the African desert, I am amazed when we pull up in front on New Dodoma Hotel. There’s a restaurant and fountain and the rooms even have television. Later I let out a sigh of relief when I realize my bathroom not only has indoor plumbing and running water, but hot water at that! I awake bright and early the next morning and sidle on down to breakfast in the hotel restaurant. I stand in the doorway looking for the program manager or the finance manager, or even the driver. When I don’t see them I turn around and go to look for them elsewhere. I stop short when I feel a hand on my elbow.

“Why you leave?” the driver says to me.

“I didn’t see you guys.”

“We there,” he points to the gingham covered table in the corner. “You sit here.”

I wonder why I’m sitting by myself instead of at the table with the three of them, but not wanting to be a burden, I put my things down quietly and head to the buffet. I decide that baked bean, ambiguous meat, and soup are too heavy for breakfast. Instead I choose two slices of bread with jam, a couple slices of pineapple, and a banana. (I stopped being a “breakfast person” when my Mom stopped making it for me around middle school age.) I sit by myself balling my bread into little misshapen spheres and stealing furtive glances at the men’s table.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

We arrive at the Dodoma C.O.P.E office an hour behind schedule. That is, of course, right on time in Swahili time. We cram into a small office with too many desks and begin the introductions. When it gets to me I stand and clear my throat, “Hi. I’m Krista. I’m an intern working with Africare for a year. I’ll be documenting the implementation of the COPE project.” The room falls silent.

“I’m American,” I explain.

“Ooooooh,” they exclaim. “You not Tanzania person. Your family from Malawi?” I get this a lot.

“For Krista’s benefit we will conduct this meeting in English,” the program manager chimes in. I am halfway grateful that I won’t have to juggle both understanding Swahili and filling the gaps in my knowledge about the COPE project. But I am irritated at the program manager for underestimating my Swahili. Uneasy glances fly around the room.

“We have come to check on the shortcomings of the project,” the program manager says in his thick African accent.

“Ok. Let us begin,” someone in the office replies. They discuss the project for 15 minutes in broken English supplemented with Swahili, until finally they tire of the effort it takes to remember the English they learned in secondary school and revert to Swahili. I don’t have the vocabulary to follow a Swahili conversation about “income generating activities”, “sub-grantees”, and “micro-lending” so I withdraw any possibility of contributing to the conversation and sit quietly doodling in my Croxley South African notebook.

When I develop a headache halfway through the meeting, I give up doodling and switch to counting my mosquito bites and wonder if I’ve contracted malaria already. Thirteen. Hmm. Note to self: keep an eye out for other symptoms and buy Panadol for headache.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

After a three-hour drive we’ve arrived in Kondoa, the rural town where we will gauge our project’s impact on the villages. Although it’s only 4 p.m., the program manager tells me it’s too late to venture into the bush. We’ll have to pass the evening at the hotel and go early tomorrow. We look around for a way to pass the time in the small, rural town. Cow tipping crosses my mind, but we settle on drinking sodas from tall glass bottles and talking in the small diner near the hotel. Well, they talk. I sit idly nearby. Finally, I grow tired of staring into space and excuse myself and go to retrieve a novel from my room. When I return dusk is settling and I am thankful for the flashlight function on my phone. I point it at the page and hunch over the Jodi Picoult novel. I am so into the novel that I barely hear the program manager calling my name a few hours later.

“Did you bring another novel with you?”

“Yeah. I brought one other.” Please don’t ask to borrow it.

“May I borrow it?”

No. “Sure,” I say, forcing a smile.

The thing is, I don’t know if this guy is a borrower-non-returner and it is very important that I get my books back. Each one of the books I have was given to me by someone special. Each of them represents a piece of my heart left stateside. They are inscribed and given in love. The one he is asking to borrow is the most special because my mother loaned it to me. I promised I would bring it back in good condition. With a heavy heart, I trudge to my room and retrieve “The Number One Lady’s Detective Agency.” I return to the diner and hand it to him hoping that he won’t break the spine or smear ugali on its pages. He places the book on the table and continues chatting. When I finish “My Sister’s Keeper” I look up and notice he’s barely passed page five.

“Let’s trade,” I suggest. He hands the book over. Inside I let out a sigh of relief and I slide the other book across the table.

“I think I’m going to retire for the night,” he says. I watch longingly as he tucks the book under his arm and saunters out of the diner. I say a little silent prayer that I won’t have to hunt him down to get it back. Something tells me I will.

Day 3- “It takes a Village…”

Our convoy jiggles over the crude, rocky path until the first white truck turns off onto an even more ragged “road”. Dusty children clad in mere rags appear beyond my window. My heart leaps a little. When the truck stops I climb out and approach the children.

“Shikamoo,” they great me. (Respectful greetings, Elder.)

“Marahaba,” I reply. (Thank you for the respectful greeting, young ones.)

I turn at the sound of footsteps on the dry leaves and see a tiny woman about my mother’s age emerging from a crude structure made of sticks and wild grasses. A young child clambers about the spot where I know her knees must lie under the torn and poorly mended wrapper.

“Shikamoo, Mama,” I pass the greeting to her.

“Marahaba,” she replies. One sooty eyelid peeks from behind her.

She and the program manager exchange words and she gestures for us to follow her. We walk around the back of the hut and she points to a small lean-to.

“Karibu. Ingia.” (You are welcome. Enter.)

I’m easily the tallest person amongst us and I have to curve my spine severely to fit under the porous roof. I hear strange noises and when my eyes adjust to the dim haze I see I’ve been ushered into the village chicken coup. The Mama explains that the family has used the resources they’ve received from COPE to start a small chicken farm. She shepherds us into an even smaller section of the structure and points to a spot under a makeshift bench.

“Nini?,” I ask her. (What?) She clasps her hands under her chin and grins ear to ear.

“Mayai,” she tells me proudly. (Eggs). I light the flashlight on my phone and sure enough there are nine ivory eggs perched in a delicate pyramid. I close my eyes and say a silent prayer of gratitude and when I open them again, they threaten to spill over.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

HUUUUGE update! Part III

III. Dodoma

On Monday I showed up at my office ready to begin my first workweek. Within half an hour of my arrival I was told that I would be accompanying a program manager and a finance manager on a trip to the field. They were checking up on some projects and they thought it would be a good idea for me to tag along and witness the actual impact of all that bureaucracy and grant writing. I admit that I was worried when I realized we were headed to a rural area, but I figured that even if the trip was terrible it would be better than being alone with my thoughts (especially when those thoughts were becoming increasingly negative.)

On Tuesday I showed up to work at 8 a.m. with my big black duffel packed full of comfortable clothing and hand sanitizer and sat patiently at my desk waiting for our 9 a.m. take off time to roll around. Of course, since I’m in Africa, 9 o’clock came and went w/out so much as a mention of the trip. After my third cup of chai maziwa (tea w/milk) I decided to venture out of my “office” to find out what was going on. I ran into the program manager and he explained that the company car we were taking was having some trouble and had been taken to the garage by the driver. The program director directed me to the finance office where I was told to sign on the dotted line and handed 340,000 Tshs (Tanzanian Shillings) for accommodations and sundries. By 1 o’clock I was strapped into the front seat of the company’s Land Cruiser next to Jamaal, our driver. Because the steering wheel is on the right, I’m sitting on the left and I can’t get used to it.

Vignettes from the field

Day 1- Driving to Dodoma

As we get farther and farther away from the familiar parts of the city, my mind begins to race. I imagine every what-if scenario possible. I ask my co-workers to describe Dodoma. It’s between 6-8 hours away they tell me and since it’s a desert its very cold there. To my American mind this makes no since. Cold in a desert? “Just wait. You’ll see,” they say. I wonder if the clothing I packed will be warm enough. I close my eyes and sit back in the seat. I pray that we won’t stay in some unrefined bush hotel with no electricity or water. The program manager takes a break from chattering in Swahili to address me in English and it’s like he read my mind when he says, “You look worried. Don’t worry. We’re not going to sleep under a tree.”

When we get out of the congested heart of the city Jamaal takes us up to 140 km/h (87 mph) and the car falls into a comfortable silence. We begin to brake when we come up on a tractor trailer moving so slowly that it seems to be sleepwalking. Jamaal eases the car to the right, closer to the double yellow lines separating us from oncoming traffic. Then driving on the wrong side of the road we pass the truck. No one else in the car seems surprised and I realize that this is normal TZ driving. Passing on the wrong side of the road. Ok, cool. I get used to it and it’s a good thing too, b/c we do a lot of it in the days to come.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

“Have you eaten lunch?” the program manager asks me from the backseat.

“No”, I answer. I hadn’t eaten anything that day except for the three cups of tea I had in the office.

“Would you like us to stop for food?” he follows up.

“No”, I repeat.

“Are you sure? It’s not a problem.”

“I’m okay. I’m just not hungry,” I say.

I look at the driver for help, but he just stares straight ahead, driving on the wrong side of the road. The program manager gives up and sits back in his seat. The air conditioner in the car is not working, and between the moist heat building up and the men’s steady stream of Swahili I begin to nod off. I’m sleeping lightly with my novel dangling from my hand when the program manager frantically shakes me awake shoving a package of cookies into the front seat.

“You must be so hungry. We can’t have you fainting on us. Here eat this biscuit. I’m a medical doctor. You must eat.”

I start to explain that I was only sleeping but I think better of it and stuff a cookie into my mouth. When we stop at a roadside market thirty minutes later he buys me a Coke with Arabic writing on the can.

“Drink this. It’ll bring your blood sugar up.”

My blood sugar is just fine, but I comply.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

When I look up again I find that the sights of the city have given way to the wonderous pinks and oranges of an African sunset. The roadside vendors have been replaced with women carrying babies tied to their backs with colorful kangas and kitenges. The women are weighted to the ground with buckets piled three high, bundles of firewood, and tubs full of fresh fruits and vegetables for sale. Dusty old men wheel bicycles topped with oranges, or mountains of foam padding, or muslim women riding side saddle with their hijabs blowing in the wind. Beyond the foot traffic at the edge of road, blurred fields of wild sunflowers, tobacco crops and baobab trees roll by. I remember that they told me Dodoma is cold and I glance at the thermometer on the dashboard. The outside temperature has dropped from 35degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) in the city to 25 (77 Fahrenheit) and I wonder how much further it will go. The program manager pipes up again.

“Have you ever been to Tanzania before,” he asks.

“Yeah. I spent two months is Dar last summer,” I reply.

“Do you speak Swahili?”

“ A little. I studied it for five semesters. I can get around the city by myself.” I tell him.

“Do you understand what we’re saying in the car?”

“Parts of it,” I say. “You guys are speaking really fast.”

“Have you traveled around Tanzania a lot?”

“I’ve only been to Dar, Morogoro, and Zanzibar,” I answer.

“That’s not a lot. You must have a really hard time not knowing anything about the country,” he tells me.

He pauses then adds, “I don’t envy you.”

His comment reeks of complacency. If you don’t envy me, brother, you’re cracked. This is the biggest adventure of my life. I’m living independently in a country I really love—a place with such a rich culture and a deep history. Every day is a mystery and the novelty never wears off. I might be feeling my way around in the dark but I’m hardly afraid, and the light that does seep in is beautiful.

Doesn't he ever get that restless feeling that sneaks up on me? Doesn't he ever feel like he's in a cage that's a little too small?

“Have you ever been to the U.S.,” I ask.


“Aren’t you curious about the rest of the world?,” I try again.


No, then. I suppose he doesn't.


HUUUUGE update! Part II

II. Adventures on public transportation:

Volume I. “The Crotch”

On Sunday I took the bus from my house in Msasani to visit the family I’ll be staying with over by the University of Dar. A male co-worker went with me. It started off innocently enough. Since I live at the end of the bus line the bus was empty when my friend and I got on, but after a few stops it became sardine-can full. My friend was sitting with the window on his right and me on his left side. I had my friend on my right side and the aisle on my left. As the bus became more crowded people began to stand in the aisle and hold on the bars overhead. The bus stops at Namanga and even more people get on. A man standing in the aisle shifts closer to me to make room for the other passengers, effectively positioning his waist/ crotch area about a foot away from my head. I tell myself that he can’t help it b/c the bus is crowded, but still I turn my head and look across my friend and out the window so that I won’t have to stare at this guys crotch for the whole ride. Then it happens. Even though no one else gets on the bus the guy shifts so that his hip is touching my shoulder, then—no lie—he takes a step to his left and pushes his pelvis forward so that his penis is in FULL CONTACT with my arm. No bullshit.

So I’m squirming and shifting in my seat trying to get away from this man, but since the bus is already like safety hazard full there’s not really anywhere for me to go. My friend asks what’s wrong but English is not his first language so whispering discreetly is out of the question and I’m not about to inform the whole bus that this man has his junk on my arm. After about 3 min of trying unsuccessfully to maneuver myself into a less offensive position, I start to realize that this is no unfortunate result of overcrowding. This man is purposely rubbing his penis on my arm. Great, just great. So I turn to face the guy’s crotch then look up and try to make eye contact.

“Samahani, Bwana,” I say quietly, “Unaweza kusogea kidogo?” (Excuse me, Sir. Can you move a little bit?)

He looks down at me, and then right back out the window without answering. I’m trying to think of the Swahili word for “penis” so that I can ask my male friend to intervene when the bus stops and “penis guy” shimmies out and walks off into the dust cloud surrounding the bus. I am left sitting there, next to my clueless friend, fuming at the audacity of this man.

Volume II. “The Baby”

On the same day, on the same bus, a few stops later, more people get on. (What’s new, right?) The door closes, and a guy in his mid twenties, with a toddler loosely slung over his right hip runs along side the bus, which by this time has begun to pull away from the stop. The conductor opens the door and several sets of African socialist hands grab onto the man’s clothing and hoist him and the baby into the bus. The man is able to wiggle himself into a space large enough for him to place at least one foot on the floor of the bus and with one hand holding on to the overhead bar and one arm supporting the shy toddler, the man looks around the bus. His gaze falls on me and he says, “Eti, dada. Chukua mtoto, eh?” (Say, sister. Would you mind holding my baby?) I take so long to reply that my friend thinks I’ve failed to understand this man’s Swahili.

“He say he need you to hold baby”, he translates for me. Looking at the man standing on the tippy toes of one foot and struggling not to spill the toddler, my sympathy mechanism kicks in and I shift my own things to my friends lap and reply, “Haina shida. Unimpe.” (No problem. Give him to me). He swings the toddler down by one arm and I catch him in the ample skirt of my dress. His curly hair tickles my nose and even though-- judging by his size-- he must be old enough to walk and talk by now, he stills smells of delicate baby. I can’t help but cradle the child to my chest. At first his abs tighten in resistance, but then he nestles into my embrace and lazily slips a pudgy little arm around my waist. He locks his big brown eyes on mine. My heart bubbles up and spills over like a shaken soda. I feel my feminist motherhood-is-a-patriarchal-ploy-to-keep-women-subordinate ideologies breaking down, and just as I’m thinking that maybe I will have babies of my own (somewhere is the very distant future), the kid burst out crying.

“Baba? Baba?” (Dad? Dad?)

He turns the brown eyes to his dad and stretches both of his fleshy little arms upwards. Although the dad is wobbling around the bus like gelatin, his eyes go all soft and sympathetic and he swoops the kid out of my lap onto his bony hip and just like that my wrinkly, slightly sweaty lap is empty. As if I don’t feel guilty enough for sneaking cuddles off someone else’s kid the toddler creases his brow and stuffs his thumb in his mouth, locking his eyes on me in an accusatory glare. As punishment for the non-consensual snuggle I must endure the kid’s stare all the way to the Mwenge bus station. I guess “no” really does mean “no”, —even if he acts like he wants it.

Volume III. “Walking”

Today I walked home from work. I walked until I felt pain the size of oranges glowing in my joints, and then I walked some more. Enough coins to pay bus fare five times tinkled in my pocket but I didn’t flag down any of the buses speeding by. It was a slow wandering gait. I took me nearly an hour to get home. The secret to walking along the bumpy, sandy, dirt roads of Africa is in the hips. After stumbling several times I look around me and begin to imitate the lazy but graceful walk of TZ ladies. You have to not need your knees so much. Pull the weight from your ankles up to your waist and let the gentle rocking of your hips swing your long legs out in front of you. Swish yourself right over the pitiful road.

“I’m sorry,” the road says if you listen closely. “I’m sorry for the sand and pebbles in your shoes and my broken places where you stumble. I’m sorry, Sister, to add to your load.”

I feel sorry for the road. It serves as a path, bed, table, waste receptacle, and seat to every passerby. No wonder it is worn and crumbling.

When the men start to call after me I know it is time to shake the clouds out of my hair and quicken my pace. I don’t exactly know the way but I just keep looking for the buses coming from Msasani and sure enough I reach the corner with the big sign for the Irish Pub.

I unlock the door to my room, sit on the bed and fold my feet under me on the white sheet. I look down at my feet swathed in thick dust and sigh. At least I’ll sleep well tonight.

HUUUUGE update!

So I’m back from my trip to Dodoma and of course I’m going to talk about that (at length) but first, some updates. A lot happened in the past few days, but since I didn’t have my computer with me I have a lot to catch you guys up on. If you were looking for ways to procrastinate, you’re in luck b/c today you guys get the 3-for-the-price-of-1 blog post special :~) If not, then pick and choose the parts you want to read from the bolded headings.

This update is sooo big it needs a table of contents:

Post I. Updates

Post II. A little segment I like to call "Adventures on Public Transportation"

Post III. All about Dodoma


Housing situation:

I’ve decided I just really didn’t like where I was living and I didn’t want to stay there all year so I got in contact with the family I stayed with last summer and now I’m going to live there. I’m moving on the 13th and I can’t wait. Their house is super nice (esp. compared to where I’m staying now) and I’ll get to come home to nice homemade meals instead of eating out every meal (like I’ve been doing) or having to hustle groceries on the crowded bus and cook dinner after a long day at work. Plus—wait for it—they have a washing machine!!!!!! I can’t tell you how happy I am to be saved from a year’s worth of laundry done by hand! Also, there’s a maid, guard, etc. Basically all the same amenities as the place I’m staying in now but in a much nicer house, with nicer (read: less creepy) inhabitants, slightly cheaper rent, and in a part of the city I prefer. The only drawback is that it’s a little farther from my office so instead of the 5-10 min taxi to and from work, it’ll be a 20-30 min bus, but I have a co-worker who lives nearby and can accompany me on the commute. But really, either way it’s a sacrifice I’m more than willing to make. Now…I just have to work up the nerve to tell my landlord that I’m outta here after only two weeks….

That whole sadness/ loneliness thing:

Since I was on a five-day business trip I didn’t have much time to sit around and think about how lonely I was and how much I miss you guys. Five days of constant company and activity have gone a long way in terms of improving my mood. In addition to the trip, several heart2hearts with my best friends in TZ also helped tremendously.

On Sunday evening my best guy friends from TZ came over to hang out and he wanted to see pictures of my friends and family. At first I was a little wary b/c I thought looking at them might make me upset all over again. But I took a deep breath and scrolled through my iPhoto library with him. For the first time since I got here looking at pictures and videos of you guys doesn’t make my heart ache. Instead of having my chest tighten and my eyes fill with tears a huge grin spreads across my face. After my friend left, I decided that I’m finally in a place to read the bundle of cards and letters I couldn’t look at before w/ out getting choked up. So I spent an hour reading over the notes, poem, letters and memories you guys sent with me and I smiled the whole time. The panic and yearning induced by thoughts of home have been replaced with simple non-threatening nostalgia.

So after a low period I’m back to being super excited about living in Dar. I’m even starting to feel like a year might not be long enough to take it all in. I’m back to feeling like the luckiest person on earth. The gratitude I feel at being given this opportunity is almost too big to fit in my heart.


I started work last Monday but then I went on a five-day trip the very next day so I haven’t actually spent much time in the office yet. Today (Monday the 6th) was my second day in the office. I got my first assignment today. I’ve been asked to create a brochure/pamphlet outlining one of Africare’s programs. I completed all the text today. Formatting and images are left for another day. Tomorrow is a public holiday called “Saba saba” (“seven seven” as in July 7th) so my office is closed. (Yay for a day off in the middle of the week!) Saba saba is a fair trade market day where vendors come from all over Africa to sell goods in a ridiculously huge open air market. Since I’ve been not feeling so great I doubt that I’ll venture into the crowds. I’ll probably just invite some friends over and hang out at the shore all day.

I’m excited about getting my first assignment. It’s a chance to prove myself. Although it’s just creating a brochure I’m hopeful that proving my competence by going above and beyond the call of duty on this project will earn me more involved projects in the future. I pitched my draft to the program manager today (an hour after he assigned me to it) so I’m just waiting for feedback. More work updates to come.