Saturday, October 29, 2011

Little Victories

Midterms: complete.  All in all, I think I did pretty well on them!  While I was in DC for the Boren training several people told us what to expect when learning a language: highs and lows; a moment in which I would feel like I knew less than I did when I arrived; moments when I thought I would never be able to learn this language; and breakthroughs where everything just starts to flow.  I feel like I'm finally in the last phase (and yes, I've experienced all of the others, too)!  Don't get me wrong - I still pull out my dictionary every 5 minutes in class and I'm not exactly reading the Swahili newspaper - but the language is becoming easier every day and I can see how far I've come since I got here 8 weeks ago.  It's exciting to think where I'll be in another 32 weeks!

I've made significant strides in a few other areas as well.  For example, my house mom, Mariam, loves to feed me.  After a few weeks of waking up early to eat breakfast with her, I finally just gave up the facade.  Let's face it: I'm not really a morning person.  And waking up extra early to eat breakfast (which is something I don't usually do anyway) wasn't exactly starting my day off right.  Thankfully, she seemed to get the point and she began packing my breakfast for me to take with me.  Thus began a new set of problems.  Instead of the cup of tea, biscuit and 2 pieces of watermelon I would eat, Mariam began handing me a BAG filled with an omelet, 1/4 of a watermelon, 2 or 3 oranges, a couple of pieces of sesame bread, a few small bananas and a container of cooked bananas.  Plus, a bottle of fresh-made juice.  (Not gonna lie - I love the juice...I am just not too sure where the coke bottle came from that she pours it in and whether or not it was ever washed.)  In case you're thinking that this feast of a packed lunch may just be the culture norm here, it's not.  Last week I walked into class and another student, Liz, said I was the talk of her dinner table the night before.  Apparently, everyone was talking about the "girl who walks through town with a giant bag of food" every morning.  Moral of the story:  With every victory, comes a new battle.  It may be smaller than the one before, but it's still a battle.  I've now convinced Mariam I don't need the omelet, but I'm still working on cutting out a few other items.

I may have mentioned in another earlier post my concern about laundry.  Seeing as I live in the projects, I don't really have a place to wash or hang out my clothes.

Stairwell - I live on the 4th floor

I suppose I could try to hang my laundry like these peeps,
but I'm not sure I want my underwear hanging out for all to see!

My place is on the fourth laundry line.
Thankfully, with 2 pair of clean underwear left in my closet, Ashley came to the rescue. She walked into school one morning and proudly announced that she had just taken her underwear into the shower with her, washed it and hung it into her room to dry.  Genius!  The next morning I brought 3 pair in with me, hung them under the fan on a hanger in my room and by the end of the day I had clean, dry, underwear that wasn't hanging out offensively for all of Zanzibar to see.  I sat in my bed that first afternoon and every time I looked up at my drying underwear another huge smile crept onto my face.  Victory.

Next week I'm starting Matinee Movie Day on campus.  All of the students from the University, families, and friends are invited.  We are watching Justin Bieber's "Never Say Never."  (Another big smile.)  The Zanzibari's I've spoken with are pretty excited about it - as are (most) of the Boren students.  I'm starting - or maybe just spreading - BieberFever here in Zanzibar!  I'll post pics next week.

This weekend I'm laying low, taking a little "me-time."  I have a lot of ideas and thoughts to put down on paper and am still focusing on how to best spend my time here next semester.  I know I say it almost every time, but thank you for your notes, messages and emails.  I love hearing about what's going on at makes you all feel closer.  Love and miss you!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Change-up

It is Sunday morning here in Zanzibar and I'm enjoying the opportunity I have to just chill out.  My friends and I - apparently known as the traveling crew - left Friday after our language tutorial for Jambiani.  We've spent quite a few of our weekends in Bwejuu and figured it was time to venture out and try something new.  Both Jambiani and Bwejuu are small beach towns on the east side of the island, but word was that they had completely different vibes.  Bwejuu is pretty secluded, so we decided to head for Jambiani to enjoy a livelier weekend with the locals.

We arrived in Jambiani after a long and detoured daladala ride.  For those of you picturing the daladala picture I posted back in January, here is a picture of what they look like in Zanzibar:

They are open-air and packed with at least as many people as you see in the first picture.  Our daladala on Friday was also carrying bags of cement piled on top as high as the sticks you see in the second picture.  We took several deep breaths (every time the roof above us sank a bit and the poles on the sides began to buckle), looked at Roger (our resident expert in all things) for reassurance that we would survive the trip, and began our 1 1/2 hour journey to Jambiani.  After a few extra detours to deliver goods and pick up more people, we made it to Jambiani in what turned out to be almost 2 1/2 hours.  Thank goodness for iPods.  A local hotel owner took us down the beach to the area of bungalow hotels that were more in our price range and we settled in to our rooms for the weekend.

Here's the great thing about our group:  We usually just take things as they come and are willing to try anything once.  Well, we tried Jambiani.  And now I am waking up in my familiar room in Bwejuu, after a great night of playing cards and watching the meteor shower from the beach.  Our friends here at Pakacha Bungalows sent a taxi to come get us in Jambiani and bring us "home."  Ally took our dinner orders late afternoon and sent a runner to get Kingfish, crab, and octopus from the local fisherman for our dinner.  We ate a feast!  I had freshly-caught crab cooked in coconut curry sauce, with steamed rice, spiced vegetables, salad and home-made chips (ie: big french fries).  I was stuffed.  Life at our little island getaway is pretty good!

This week we have mid-terms at school.  There will be a LOT of studying happening in the next 4 days.  Classes have been going great and I'm really excited about all that I have learned.  Some days it feels like I have so much more to learn or I am so far behind some of the other advanced speakers, but when I look back on what I knew when I arrived and compare it to what I know now it's pretty incredible.  It really is amazing what I am learning even when I don't realize I'm learning!

The next few weeks will be pretty busy with mid-terms, a few weekend trips, another trip or two up north to Arusha/Moshi and planning for the next phase of my fellowship.  We also have two upcoming papers and presentations due for our Swahili classes.  Everything is in full swing now.  It's hard to believe that we only have 7 more weeks left in Zanzibar.  I'm making some changes to the second half of my program here in Tanzania and I'll update you all on the new plans soon.  Until then...

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Top 10 Best Moments in Zanzibar (so far)

 I realize creating this list now is a bit like Brittany Spears releasing her album Greatest Hits: My Prerogative (2004) after only 5 years and 4 pop albums.  But I'm gonna go ahead and release the list anyway...mostly because my friends and I need some comic relief.

So here it is:

10.  Throwing up – with style - over the side of the dhow on the way back from Prison Island.
9.  Laughing until I was crying – or crying until I was laughing – with Ash over pili pili Indian food we couldn’t afford, while shoving a granola bar in my mouth as quickly as I could to stop the burn.
8.  Stacey: “Rebekah, are you sitting on the termites?”  Me: emotional breakdown
7.  Roger losing his wallet…can someone please send us a t-shirt to Zanzibar that says "Drama Queen"?!?
6.  Scaling the wall with Rog and Ash on the beach in Page…thank God we had that snack break for Ashley first or we would have never made it over the wall
5.  Sitting with Jenn, recalling our first days with the whole group (all 26 of us) in Stonetown.  Me:  "We must have looked like idiots, walking around this small town in a giant group like tourists."  Jenn:  "OMG!  You could see our giant white blob on f*#%ing Google Maps!"
4.  Keavy:  “Well, no.  I mean, I think when it prints it comes out on edible paper.”
3.  Bonding over rummy with Rog and Ash: “Upthegrove?!”
2.  First weekend in Nungwi: Ashley passing out in the tire; Rog schmuckin’ out on dinner; Jenn giving us a look in the rear view (mirror); my (bad) advice to Ashley – “Just text him and say ‘Please stop calling me’”; Jenn’s text saying school was cancelled (Good lookin’ out, Jenn)
1.  Taking a hot shower…oh wait, that hasn’t happened yet.

Thanks, peeps, for a hella good first 6 weeks!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Trip to Dar = A Trip to Disney (or so it felt)

I think I said it last summer:  "The first 30 days are the hardest."  I don't know why I don't ever listen to myself - I mean, let's be honest, I expect everyone else to listen to me, right?!  This past Wednesday marked my 30th day here in Zanzibar and life is finally falling into place.  Don't misunderstand me.  I am still "showering" with a bucket 80% of the time, the food leaves much to be desired, and every day brings a new obstacle; however, mentally I am stronger than I was before and it is much easier to deal with the daily curve balls.  I've come to expect them.

This evening I walked into town after sunset to sit in a cafe and work on my computer a bit.  I needed a change of scenery.  I knew I should have left a bit earlier, but getting out of the house is never easy.  Mwalimu Mariam always insists on feeding me before I venture out.  The cold fish and greens weren't calling my name, but I obliged, sat down for a banana, some rice and watermelon and was on my way (late, of course).  Stonetown is an old city with windy narrow streets.  Unfortunately, the main route around the edge of town is a straight shot that also happens to be a much longer walk and full of hecklers.  There has also been an increase in petty crime in that area lately.  Given that I had my laptop, I decided to try to navigate my way through town.  Bad choice.  I got lost, ended up on the main route on the edge of town anyway, tripped a kid to the ground who tried to rob me and arrived at my destination a bit hot and sticky.  Such goes life here.  This adventure was on the heels of my hair dryer blowing out my surge protector power strip and then my straight iron starting on fire when I plugged it into my converter.  Two weeks ago this day probably would have sent me over the edge.  Today, it was just another day in the life.

This past Thursday I went to Dar es Salaam (the biggest city on the mainland) to visit the U.S. Embassy and check out the UDSM campus where I will be attending classes last semester.  Being at the Embassy was inspiring.  I have to admit the lunch I was looking forward to at the cafeteria there was a bit of a letdown, but meeting the officers at the Embassy and hearing more about the work they are doing was inspiring.  My trip to the UDSM campus was better.  It is a beautiful campus and much bigger than I had anticipated.  Overall, I just got a good vibe from the whole experience.  Classes are starting February 20 - about a month later than I was expecting, but I think it will be fine.  The best part of the weekend occurred after my campus visit.  I'm almost embarrassed to admit it, but I went to a shopping mall!!  And it had a Wal-Mart, a movie theater, a bookstore and a coffee shop.  There was even a fast food restaurant!  I know I'm supposed to be soaking up the local culture, taking in moment I spend here in Tanzania.  But, to be honest, I needed a small break.  My friend Junior actually said he has never seen me look happier than when I was walking out of Wal-Mart.  I didn't even buy anything aside from a Kiswahili dictionary, but knowing that I have access to a few small conveniences from home once I move to Dar is definitely a comfort.  You can check out the "mall" here ( it's no Mayfair, but seeing as I never expected to see anything like that here it certainly felt like it!  You'll notice in the pictures it even looks like they decorate for Christmas!

The rest of my weekend was just as great.  Spent some time with my pal Jenn (another student in my program) and some of my friends from Moshi who are in Dar for a couple of weeks.  We stayed in a great hotel for $15/night, went out to the some local bars, ate local food and just got to leave Zanzibar life behind for a while.  I returned yesterday and feel refocused on what my goals are here.  Life is good.

Thanks to everyone for your notes, comments, emails and FB messages.  You all helped make my first month bearable.  I miss you all!