Thursday, September 29, 2011

Keeping busy...

I'm sitting on my bed in the middle of the afternoon savoring a small piece of my Hershey's Symphony bar and wondering if it will really be 9 more months before I taste solid chocolate again.  I figured I better stop lamenting over melted chocolate and catch up on my blog.

Where to begin?  Some things haven't changed - or have changed and then changed back again.  For example, within 24 hours of my last blog post I was informed we finally had running water; only to lose it again the next day.  The day we lost water again also happened to be the day I returned from a beautiful trip to Prison Island just off the coast of Stonetown.  We took a small dhow boat to the island, spent the day in the sun, ate lunch on the beach, got to pet the giant turtles...and then took the dhow back to town.  I spent pretty much the entire trip back trying to keep down my lunch.  Outcome = unsuccessful.  For the next 3 days I was sick in bed.  No food, very little water.  I couldn't keep much of anything down.  Being sick is bad enough, but being sick in a 3rd world country where clean bathrooms do not exist and laying on a cold bathroom floor is definitely NOT recommended is terrible.  Almost all of us on this adventure have been sick in one way or another.  We're all just hoping we are through the worst.

Aside from physical exhaustion, we are pretty much all mentally exhausted, too.  This portion of my fellowship is a pilot program and, well let's just say, if we were keeping score there have been more losses than wins.  Fortunately, while we all seem to lose our sanity from time to time, my friends and I have managed to try to find the humor in everything and we are surviving.  Classes are inconsistent and often not as beneficial as we would like.  Time is always a-wastin'.  The food is hard to adjust to.  Transportation is unreliable.  Homestays are not always easy to deal with.  And we seem to be lost more often than not.  Just finding a place where we can all crowd around a laptop and watch a football game is a challenge.  Personal space is a concept that is hardly understood and finding someone who will wash your underwear is pretty much unheard of.

Thankfully, last weekend I got to travel back up to Moshi to visit my friends up there.  I can't clearly convey how great it was to be back - and it wasn't just because the weather is so much better there!  I found myself taking time during the weekend just to enjoy the moment I was in.  On Friday I stood in the kitchen just staring out the window to the backyard.  In that moment of quiet I was reminded how much I do love Tanzania.  I think I'm just still in the process of learning to love all of it!  We didn't have running water in Moshi, our car broke down on the way from the airport in Arusha, and some other surprising problems came to light during my time there.  Despite everything, I loved every minute of my time in Moshi.  We went to the market, watched movies, played pool, went back to some of my old haunts, ate good food and slept in.  Plus, Saturday night I got to make dinner.  I taught Fatuma how to make the filling for chicken pot pie and then we dumped it over mashed potatoes.  It was just what I needed - a little comfort food (with a bottle of riesling)!

I told myself from the very beginning not to forget that the first 30 days are always the hardest.  Sometimes I still seem to forget.  The good news is that I'm almost to the 30 day mark and I've survived...maybe only by a shoestring, but I've survived.  It will only get better from here!

Dhow boats we took to Prison Island

Turtles on Prison/Changuu Island

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Learning to Live with Gratitude, Not Attitude

I haven't written a blog post for a week - and for good reason.  I wasn't sure how I would manage to write a post without complaining.  Classes are hard.  My schedule is packed full of requirements: language partners, field trips, 4 hours of class in the morning, grammar lessons in the evenings.  Not to mention I no longer have running water which means bucket "showers", sweaty nights and cranky mornings.  Having a toilet to pee in is a luxury that is never guaranteed.  The food is sub-par.  Upset stomachs are abundant.  Getting lost is becoming the norm and timeliness is not a concept that is understood here.  Even when we go away on the weekends to chill out and gather our wits we encounter one obstacle after another before we are able to finally find a place to unwind.

This weekend my friends and I went to Bwejuu, a small town on the east coast of Zanzibar for the weekend.  Somehow, in the middle of paradise, it is easier to slip back into complaining about life in Stone Town rather than enjoy the beauty of where we are at.  This morning when I awoke I found that I was already in a less than ideal mood.  I had just woken up and I was already dreading returning back to life in the "projects" (the nickname we've given our humble little neighbor'hood').  On the one hour daladala ride back to town this afternoon, I put on my headphones, turned on my favorite playlist and took some time to just chill out.  I've decide to commit to focusing on the things that I am thankful for here.  I am living my dream.  Receiving a Boren Fellowship is a huge honor - one that was given to me.  Looking at the people around me, the villages we passed and the landscape I am privileged to see, gave me a little perspective.

I want to share with all of you some of the things that I am thankful for so far:

First and foremost, I have an amazing family and strong group of friends back home who I can always count on.  You have supported me, encouraged me to follow my dreams, prayed for me and cheered me on.  And you haven't forgotten about me now that I am halfway around the world.  I don't know what I would do without you!

Second, only to my friends and family back home, are the new friends I have made here.  To the gang I went to Nungwi with our first weekend in Zanzibar:  Judging by our first weekend together, we have a pretty incredible 3 months ahead of us.  We are so lucky to have plenty of crazy stories, DQ moments, good meals, cheap rooms, and even cheaper drinks to look forward to.  Here's to Ashley learning how to brush her teeth, Jenn chatting up the locals, Keavy avoiding any future run-ins with sea urchins, Roger remembering to pay for his meals, Kate avoiding any future food poisoning, Rusty finishing his Thank You's, and Stacey finding a better role model than her new big sis'.  Can't wait for the Full Moon Party, guys!  Thanks for joining me in the insanity.

Scaling a private wall in search of a place to crash in Page...

First afternoon out with the girls.

My sista from the 'hood

Keavy and Jenn - back from a run

Teaching the gang how to play Hold 'Em

Jenn getting a sea urchin removed with local "medicines"

I have plenty more to be thankful for.  Although living conditions are less than ideal, I have a house mom who loves having me.  She cares about where I'm going and what I'm doing.  My teacher at the university here is, in my opinion, the best teacher at SUZA and my class couldn't be better.  I have a huge room with plenty of closet space to hold all of the little luxuries I was fortunate enough to bring from home:  granola bars, Off Botanicals bug spray, plenty of summer outfits, a year's worth of Caudalie skin care products, magazines and candy bars from my girl (who just sent me a picture of herself with my Grandma!), photographs from home, beef jerky, room spray, extra laptop batteries, sound proof headphones, Starbucks Vias and 14 pair of shoes.  I have my pillow pet to sleep with every night and a necklace I wear every day to keep my sis' close to me.

On top of all of that, I am living the life I had always hoped I could live.  How amazing is that?  I get to live in Tanzania for a year and build new friendships that I already know will last a lifetime.  I have been given the chance to see parts of the world many will only ever dream about seeing.  I have the opportunity to explore issues that I am most passionate about.  I get to travel and better understand how people here live; to learn what their needs are and to hopefully discover what I can do to help.  And at the end of it all, this fellowship provides me with priority hiring status and a leg up into the federal government.

I am humbled and blessed.  I am reminded that life really is what you make of it.  By choosing to focus on what I am grateful for, rather than what isn't quite what I expected, I already feel better.  Thanks for listening...and if you're feeling the same way I was earlier today, give it a try.  Make a list.  We have been given so much more than we realize.

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Somber Mourning

This past weekend myself and 7 other Boren students went up to Nungwi on the northern tip of Zanzibar for a much needed getaway.  We were exhausted after all of the travel, orientations and introductions to our new "home" and decided to hit the beach.  Fortunately, we quickly found a great place to stay - Jambo Brothers - bungalows on the beach.  I've added some pictures to my Zanzibar pictures page to the right.

We all went to sleep relatively early Friday night, but were awoken around 4am Saturday morning to a lot of yelling.  Ashley (my bungalow-mate) and I, assumed people were being loud and drunk and went back to sleep. When we finally got up and went outside later that morning (much later), we learned that the over-night ferry from Dar es Salaam sunk on its way to Pemba Island.  The sinking occurred 14 miles off the coast from where we were staying in Nungwi so most of the rescue operations were launched from here.  UNICEF arrived, South Africa sent divers, the Brits sent helicopters, the local military police and even the President showed up.  Throughout the morning locals were seen carrying bodies on stretchers through the villages to waiting ambulances, buses and taxis.  Zanzibar itself is a very small island (about 67 miles long and 20 miles wide).  The communities are interconnected and, as a result, almost everyone we know or met this weekend knew at least one person on the ferry.  Many people lost several friends and family members.

The story as to what happened is still somewhat unclear.  Many different accounts have been reported in the news and by the locals.  Journalists were actually told not to report the incident by local government officials.  We believe the ferry hit a reef and began to slowly leak water in.  When the passengers saw the water they panicked, rushing to one side of the boat and it capsized in the early morning hours.  Several of the passengers on board used cell phones to call the mainland which alerted first respondents to the sinking.  We also know that the ferry had a capacity of 600, but officials likely boarded nearly 800 ticketed passengers (some reports are up to 1000) including many children who had boarded that do not require tickets and were therefore not counted.  The death toll is unofficially at 240 right now with approximately 500 rescued.  Among the rescued were only 20 children.

As merely an observer to these events it is difficult to come to terms with what has happened here in Zanzibar.  Many small injustices appear to have added up to one indescribable tragedy that has affected hundreds of thousands of people.  The overnight ferry is the cheapest route from one island to the next and, therefore, the "local" ferry.  While the ferries are always crowded, I can say with confidence that one of the day ferries filled with western tourists would never have been filled so far beyond capacity.  And even if one of these ferries did sink, it is likely there would have been more survivors simply due to the fact that most westerns can swim and could have tread water until help arrived.  Not to mention the fact that the daylight alone would have helped rescuers locate passengers.

We've all spent a lot of time discussing what happened here this weekend...and we have come up with more questions than answers.  What I do know is that we have been warmly welcomed by the local Zanzibari people during their time of mourning.  They have handled this tragedy with a quiet spirit of sorrow.  Despite the horror of this avoidable event, they mourn in near silence, moving through their daily routines with a sense of somber pride.  They have shown me how to handle adversity with grace and they are all in my thoughts and prayers.  I hope they will be in yours, as well.

UNICEF tent providing support to locals

Locals still waiting for news of loved ones 36 hours after the sinking

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Life in the Hood

The past 7 days have been long and grueling - and that may be an understatement.  As if the journey here wasn't tiring enough, we've been thrown right into things.  I'll admit, after Day 2 in Zanzibar I started wondering what the heck I was doing here.  My Swahili is not nearly as good as the majority of the students in the program.  That in itself, doesn't bother me - many of the grad students here are at the same level as I am and we seem to humor ourselves with what we don't know!  The discouraging part is that everything and I mean EVERYTHING, is in Swahili.  Our teachers spent the first two days explaining the program, our course options and internship options in Swahili.  So, basically, I have no idea what my options are.  By default, I have decided that if I can't understand what they are saying when they describe the course, it is probably best that I don't enroll in the course.

Thankfully, my host Mama, Mwalimu Mariam (teacher Mariam), is an expert at teaching beginners.  Yesterday, after day two of orientation,  I came home feeling pretty lost and frustrated.  So many of the students are at different levels and I don't understand the point of spending a whole day introducing us to a program we know nothing about when we can't understand what they're saying.  Maybe that was their way of weeding out the students who aren't at the level the need to participate in the electives.  Anyway, Mwalimu Mariam said not to worry and sat me down and gave me a Swahili lesson.  She is funny and patient and never afraid to correct me!  I may have met my match.

I am living in Michenzani Block 5 - if you Google Michenzani you will discover that my apartments look more like the projects.  I'll admit, before I arrived, I was a bit hesitant about where I would be staying.  It's actually about a thousand times better than it looks from the outside.  The neighbors are friendly, the apartment is nice - though a bit hot and stuffy at times - and my room is great.  I had been warned that I would likely have a "bucket" shower or no running water at all so I braced myself for the worst.  When Mwalimu showed me the bathroom the first day my heart soared (western toilet!)...and then plummeted (no seat on the toilet - haven't quite figured that out yet - and buckets on the floor by a spicket).  I went to bed early that night and woke up at 3am hot and sticky.  I spent the next 4 hours laying in bed dreading my bucket shower and wishing that I had been lucky enough to have a regular shower.  In the morning I went out to the balcony and told Mwalimu I wanted to wash.  I wasn't quite sure where to put all of the water from the buckets after I used it so I figured I better get a tutorial.  Well, my translation was a bit off and she began showing me how to wash my clothes.  I mimed that I meant I wanted a shower and she laughed and pointed up to....yes; wait for it.....a Shower Head!!!!!!  The water pressure is pretty much nonexistent and it is a slow drip/stream, but I LOVE it!!!  Most of you may remember my first shower experience in Tanzania in January and this topped it.  I could not have been happier yesterday morning when I discovered I had a shower!

There are 6 of us girls living in the Block - which we have affectionately named "The Hood".  Ironically the 4 guys all live in beautiful mansion-like arrangements here on the island with personal bathrooms, running water, showers and even plasma TVs.  But the girls from "The Hood" and I have bonded - we walk to town together and have decided to embrace our living arrangements.  Our families are great and it is definitely an experience we will never have again.  We're gonna live it up!

It's just after 5am - the jet lag is still bothering me, but each day it gets a bit better.

Signing off from the hood....

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Good (but LONG) Safari...Part I

Hello all!  I am back in Tanzania and living in Zanzibar this time.  For those of you who don't know the details, let me back up a bit.  I received a National Security Education Program Boren Fellowship funded by the U.S. Department of Defense to study Swahili and Tanzanian foreign policy this year. The fellowship award was truly a dream come true for me.  It allowed me to return to Tanzania for a longer period of time to learn the language.  The fellowship also opens several doors for employment within the federal government upon graduation and in some cases provides preferential hiring status for certain jobs within the DoD and Department of State.  Not to mention I get to live in paradise (Zanzibar) for a few months!  I arrived yesterday and will be in Zanzibar until approximately December 10 at which point I will move to Dar es Salaam - Tanzania's largest city just across the channel from Zanzibar.  I will be studying at two universities while I am here.  First, in the fall I will take Kiswahili language studies at the State University of Zanzibar.  Then in the spring I will be taking a Kiswahili course as well as a course in Tanzanian Foreign Policy and one in Local Government Systems.  I plan to return to the U.S. sometime in June of 2012.

It is nearly 2am here in Zanzibar.  The jet lag is killing me.  I left for an orientation and training in DC on September 1 - and arrived only a few hours late after 2 plane changes and 2 delays.  After some quick sightseeing, a long (did I mention, long?) day of orientation in DC, and a "last American supper"  we left for Zanzibar on Sept 3.  Travel is never easy - especially African travel - and our last flight from Nairobi to Zanzibar was cancelled.  We arrived in Nairobi at about 9 pm local time on Sunday night.  After two hours our group (all 26 of us) made it through customs and got Kenyan visas.  We arrived at the Hilton Nairobi (where they use mirrors under your car to check for bombs before entering) and spent about an hour in the lobby trying to arrange rooms for the 5 hours we had to sleep before returning to the airport.  In Africa you can never give yourself too much time to allow for mishaps - and unfortunately we didn't give ourselves enough.  Monday morning we left the hotel at 5:45am.  We arrived to the airport, boarding passes in hand, and had to wait through a long line to get through security before even entering the Nairobi Kenyatta airport. After all 26 of us finally made it through security we got in another line for immigration.  About 10 minutes later this nice lady redirected us out of the airport and down to another terminal where the lines were shorter.  Unfortunately, she left our group (and about 25 others) and no one would let us get through the doors - so we got to wait through the security line again!  After another hour (and a small fib on my part to the rest of my group to convince everyone we could jump the line) we made it to our gate.  Amanda, our resident director, had convinced Kenyan Airways to hold the plane and we were all reunited on the plane about 15 minutes after our scheduled take-off.

Since we landed it has been go, go, go here.  We went straight to the school yesterday upon arrival - bags and all - and had a quick introduction to the university then left for lunch at a restaurant named Archipelago on the coast here in Stone Town.  The food was incredible - fresh caught kingfish, tuna steaks, and squid.  And the view was indescribably; like a postcard.  We had some time to roam around town, buy toilet paper, exchange money and get phone time before returning to the university to meet our host families.  The town is small and has a medieval feel to it.  The streets are narrow and winding and the buildings are tall.  It can be easy to get lost, but is small enough that eventually you will stumble upon one of the few main roads and find your way out.

I have so much more to share about my host family, the university, and friends in the program, but I am finally starting to get sleep again.  I'm taking advantage of this short window of opportunity and signing off.  More to follow tomorrow!