Saturday, September 24, 2005

first month at site

So I have been at site for a month and a week now. I have been travelling every weekend for the last month and it has been great to get a better understanding of my fellow volunteers sites and now am refreshed and ready to return back to Makondeko to get down and dirty and prepare some hard core lesson plans and bear down on my own personal lessons in kiswahili and kimakonde (the local tongue).

My travels have included going the first weekend to Tandahimba where a fellow education volunteer, Brian, threw a "karibishwa" or welcoming party for us newby volunteers. We played a little softball and met the other volunteers in the region, ate some delicious homecooked Tanzanian-style food and even finished the evening off with partaking in cake to celebrate Jen and Jessica's birthdays (Jen is the volunteer that trained with me and lives only 10K away from me and Jessica is the Peace Corps volunteer liason of the deep south).

The second weekend we went to Masasi to see Josh's site and meet Chris, a philipino VSO volunteer who lives and works in Masasi. VSO is an international volunteer organization similar to Peace Corps that (I think) is based out of the UK. We got to see our closest internet cafe (three hours away) and eat chipsi mayai (a local favorite dish of fried eggs and potatoes omelet-style-- covered in Tanzanian tomato and chilly sauces-- yum...). We met three super friendly english medical students who are here for internships for the next few weeks and even got to see a wedding party drive through the bus stand on its way to the reception, the bride in the cab and the young girls of the wedding party decked out in purple satin shakin' it with the mariachi-style band, who was also crammed in the back of the pickup serenading while travelling.

The third weekend I got to go to Newala and visit Jen and go to the Pit of God, or the edge of the Makonde plateau. From her house, Marisa, Jen and I walked about 45 minutes through village scenery: houses constructed of sticks and mud with thatched roofs, children running while chasing hoola-style hoops keeping the hoops rolling, women "choting" necessary items on their heads, like five gallon buckets full of water, baskets full of the local variety of spinach to sell, stacks of branches or even whole logs, or woven sacs full of "mkaa" or charcoal to sell or just store for cooking at home (which can weigh hundreds of pounds!) We walked past several of the local secondary schools, which I was surprised to see on their entry gates slogans in kiswahili that warn that AIDS kills. We got to the edge of the plateau right at sunset and enjoyed the scenery from a tree house constructed by a previous PC volunteer years ago.

Last weekend Jen and I went to Chidya to visit Andy, another education volunteer who finishes in December. Chidya is an isolated village about six hours from Newala and we got to see the boys secondary school where Andy teaches. Many well-known Tanzanians have attended this school, including the current president, Mkapa. I am in the "capital" of the deep south (Mtwara) this weekend for a mock consolidation. The Peace Corps has an emergency evacuation proceedure in case of a country-wide crisis that calls for us volunteers to evacuate. They say this has not ever happened as of today in Tanzania, such as a national political rebellion or natural disaster, but we are told we need to practice the proceedure anyway to ensure we are familiar and comfortable with the protocol. It is fun to travel and great to see the other volunteers in the region. I am starting to feel a bit guilty for not focusing on work and feeling inspired and refreshed to head back to our village and bear down on needs assessment in Makondeko.

Some pretty exciting news... I have been blessed with a new friend in my life: Kaya (a beautiful puppy). Jen and I asked around and a lab technician at the hospital in Newala (Mdeka) had several litters, one of which was what they said almost eight weeks old. She and I could not resist the wet affectionate kisses (that my Tanzanian friend wants to clarify are licks, not kisses) of the little ones. Kaya (home in Kiswahili) is my girl and Kweli (truth) Jen's boy, are brother and sister, beautiful tanzanian mixed breeds, that have dusty tan bodies with black around their nuzzle and between their shoulder blades and are about the size of 16oz beer cans, though the mother is a couple of hands tall to the top of her shoulder. Many muslims in Makondeko seem to not be terribly excited about the little one following me around the village, and some tend to be very scared of her (even though she is harmless at her two pounds and the size of two fists). My house girl tells me she thinks Kaya is going to be "kali sana" or very fierce. One of the duka or store owners warned me not to bring her in town with me, due to people in town not liking dogs. This suggestion didn't make me very happy, but I listened anyway and left her home the next evening and ironically, as I walked through the sokoni, or market, many villagers asked about her and wanted to know where she was and told me they wanted to see her. I am finding this is just another lesson on the importance of finding a balance of being sensitive to others' concerns and still finding an acceptable venue to express myself and my own cultural tendencies.

More on the focus of work and responsibility... A huge milestone for the last few weeks was teaching an HIV/AIDS class at the local health clinic on Tuesday. Picture this, a room of capacity 50 people, full of 70+ mothers sitting shoulder to shoulder with babies on their laps, nursing to keep them occupied. Dads and husbands are peering through the doorway of the adjacent room which is jammed packed. There are two other doorways through which community members peer in from outside the clinic, waiting to catch as much as they can on the monthly lesson that preceeds vaccinations and baby weighing to ensure maternal and infant health. I struggled to convey the modes of transmission of HIV/AIDS to the audience, though the lesson was in Kiswahili and thankfully I was very comfortable with the lesson since my language ability is mediocre at best. Overall I think it went very well, thanks to the other nurse and community member helping to team teach with me. This lesson is going to be a monthly assignment, so I am definitely excited to already have had the chance to experience this facet of my opportunities to educate. Afterward I got to help record the immunizations to new infants and even admisiter polio vaccinations (two drops of liquid given orally by mouth).

I am also busy with community assessment, which is really an ongoing activity for now and throughout the next two years, but definitely concentrated in the first three months at site. I am meeting with the "big potatoes" or community leaders to try to better understand how to go about mobilizing people and groups for health education. I have visited three schools in the immediate surrounding areas, two of which are elementary schools and one which is the only secondary school in my area. Jen, Marisa and I have put together some questionnaires for the health clinic officials, teachers, and students and in the next few weeks will be distributing them to better understand the knowledge base and potential health education initiatives in the area.

I went to the secondary school to talk with a select group of students and was really surprised at some fundamental health misconceptions. We played a game where each student compiled a health question to which they did not know the answer and put the question in a pot. Then we split into two groups, on of girls and one of boys, and competed to see if the groups could answer the questions correctly, the judges being the other students of the opposing team. There were general questions concerning the definition of health, and more specific questions about sexual intercourse and STI's and other diseases affecting Tanzanians, like Malaria, for instance. I was most suprised about the understanding that having a headache means one has AIDS, in addition to the understanding that males must have sex once they reach puberty due to a protein build-up inside their reproductive system that must be released through intercourse. At first hearing these misconceptions were discouraging and a bit overwhelming with the work load feeling immense (I have so much to teach-- where do I begin?) when I don't even feel like I speak the language well enough to teach a class without the aid of a translator. Since I have gotten a chance to recover and am feeling excited that I am needed and I have an array of discussions and topics to cover... For a few "secondary projects" this secondary school is also very excited to look for funds for some materials and uniforms for sports teams (net ball for girls, which is similar to basketball, and soccer, or "football" for boys) and may even need a coach for the girls... I am up for any suggestions for funds available (less than $300 US Dollars) if anyone knows of any international orgs or even companies producing sports equipment that would like to get involved.

I am going to visit with the elementary schools this week to meet the teachers and students and talk with them about their current efforts as well as ideas for future health education in their schools. I have letters of introduction to distribute to ask for permission to work in the community (a formality required in Tanzania for the officials to know that you are serious and professional).

That is the latest scoop and more to come in the next month. Until next time, I hope all is well back home and please feel free to write:

Thais Berglund
Peace Corps Volunteer
PO Box 9123
Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania
East Africa

Saturday, September 03, 2005

First week at Makondeko

Hello, again. I do apologize for having taken so long to post again, however I have realized that internet is three hours away via bus, that is, if the bus doesn't break down. I will hopefully be updating at least every month, so Karibu tena...

I have been on the move since my last update. All the new graduated Peace Corps trainees (we are officially PCVs, or of volunteer status) said our final goodbyes to our homestay families and the training staff and those of us stationed in the deep south went to the capital, Dar Es Salaam, for a few days before flying to Mtwara. We stayed in Mtwara town overnight at a volunteer's house and then Jen, Marisa, and I travelled west to Newala town, where we stayed in a "guesty" or tanzanian-style bed and breakfast for two nights while we travelled to and from our sites to ensure our houses were safe and up to PC standards before we moved in. This was a fun time had by all. We got to travel together with the PCVL (just one of the many acronyms used by peace corps- Peace Corps volunteer liason) who lives in Mtwara and acts as the regional bridge between the volunteers and the administration. She and the three of us newby volunteers visited each of our houses and they were indeed, as they say in Kiswahili, safi sana, or very cool.

I am amazed, actually, at how cute my house is. I drew a picture of what I had invisioned it looking like the night before we went to visit and astonishingly the drawing was dead on acurate even though it had been drawn from a brief descrption which basically just described it as "cute". I put the picture with a description of the house and the first three months at site into a letter and put it into an envelope that I am going to send to a fellow volunteer and have her send back to me after our three month in service training, or IST, so I can look back and laugh at my expectations.

The house sits between two houses that are a spitting image, with a big field of sand in front, separating the three houses and the district water supply. You drive up to the house via a dirt road but you can't stop directly in front or you will get stuck in the sand, according to Mashala, my new best friend (who is also the driver for the district water supply). As we drive up to the house, we see that it shares a huge garden with the neighbor house. There is actually not a back yard, but instead the whole back yard is green, cultivated garden, with several fruiting papaya trees, a lemon tree, rows and rows of cassava, tomato, onion, garlic, an african spinach called mchicha and eggplant! I suppose that it is ironic that Jen, who lives in Newala town just ten minutes away, faces water shortages and I happen to have a lush and productive garden for a back yard. I guess that is the kicks of living across from the water plant.

The house is of round red, brown and black stones and dark mortar on the outside, with a small, covered front porch of cement which doubles as an entry way. The layout is very simple. It is a square house, with two bed rooms, a living room, a store room, dining room, kitchen and two wash rooms, one for the "choo" and one for the shower. The inside walls are cement and the decor is simple; every room is painted in bright, chartreuse green paint, the floors are untextured grey cement and the ceilings are white. There used to be a chimney, but it has been filled in, though the chartreuse green painted cement protrusion that once acted as a hearth is still there. My favorite parts of the house (besides the garden) are the front porch and the kitchen. The kitchen is in the back corner around which the garden wraps so from the kitchen I look out of big windows on each wall and see greenery. I did have to buy several african sarongs, called khangas, which I took to the local fundi, or handyman, to sew into curtains so that all the neighbors don't have a view of my kitchen supplies everytime they come to buy vegetables from the gardener.

Did I mention I have a personal gardener? This is just one of the perks of Peace Corps. He used to live at my house and, actually, still had all his stuff there when we went to visit the site the day before I was supposed to move in (which I guess is why we went to visit beforehand). I also have a personal chauffeur, who I mentioned earlier. There is also another local, whom I refer to as my escort, who has been showing me the ropes of the village. His name is Hakika. He is thirty something, with two wives and a baby and has been bending over backwards to ensure that the locals don't make me pay halacious prices for things just because I am the prized "mzungu" or foreigner in town. He has told me that the manager of the water supply, Mayombo, warned him that this would happen, so he has taken it his responsibility to ensure I get fair rates for my purchases. He has told me that in return for all of his efforts he would really appreciate me helping him accrue some funds to finish his chai banda, or tea stand. I have gotten really excited about starting some microfinance efforts. However, since I told him that I would love to help him out he has chosen to deliver, sand and varnish my newly purchased bookshelves (which he made sure were a good value by taking me to a neighboring town to buy the wood, then to a fundi to refine the surface, and then to another fundi to make the shelves) in addition to offering to move and add to my fence so that the new pit he has dug for me to place my trash is inside the boudaries of my fence! Incredible.

That is the summary of the habari, or news, of the house at Makondeko. My days have been filled by purchasing locally made products for my house, like curtains made from khangas with kiswahili proverbs written on them, bamboo and braided straw mats, a solid wood 4'x6' bed and a 6' "string" couch, made of 2" diameter tree limbs and woven straw rope. Besides making my house "safi", I have visited the two "shule ya msingi" or elementary schools that are in my town, and have been meeting with neighbors and friends in my travels with Hakika as we are searching for the best prices around town. I am excited to have our supervisors meeting Monday through Wednesday. I am also looking forward to a tentative appointment to go to the house of a neighbor "mzee" or wise elderly woman, to have a personal lesson on cooking ugali, the local equivalent of grits, a must at every tanzanian meal. Until next time...