A little something from April…

*Most of these posts will be drawn from journal entries and, thus, though they are extremely delayed, will reflect my thoughts and experiences at the given time*

So here I sit, by my window, with a giant vegan cookie that Margaret gave me, what’s left of my powdered crystal light and a little Regina Spektor as a background to my thoughts, to process the details of an adventurous month.

I spent Easter with friends at Matema Beach, which is a beautiful spot on the Tanzanian side of Lake Malawi. We began in my friend, Teri’s, village. Teri lives about a 30-minute walk from the main road. When you’re walking, you’re surrounded by mountains, passing bridges over rocky streams and climbing hills that would be painful if not for the satisfaction that you feel when you know that, when you reach the higher ground, it will be but that much more beautiful. We spent the evening there making homemade pizzas (as homemade as you can get, we even made the cheese) and playing charades by candlelight. The next day, we ventured to the lake by a short ride to Mbeya town and a long ride in the back of a pickup truck through the mountains to Matema. We were witnesses to cascading waterfalls and drove right across small streams and big rocks to arrive at the lake. Like the ocean but with freshwater instead of saltwater and a backdrop of mountains so close that you feel like you could swim to them, it is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Some of my friends and I decided that we were going to camp rather than renting one of the very cheap bandas that were available. The first night, as we began the roughly 20 minute walk to the property we’d found to camp on, it began pouring rain. We arrived, having had left all of our clothes and luggage with our friends in the bandas, finding our tents to be even more soaked than we were. Rather than turning back to make the trek again in the dark and find that it was too late to get a banda anyway, we decided to see our plan through. We woke around 6:00 am, after one restless night spent in a puddle of water, sure that we would never be dry again, and walked back. We passed fisherman sewing their nets and preparing their canoes on shore. We didn’t speak a word to each other. When we returned, we went first thing to the office of the small Lutheran center and rented a banda where we would spend our next two nights. We laugh about it now. But, from our hypothermic viewpoint at the time, it was not yet amusing. A few afternoons spent swimming and playing football on the beach, scratching our legs up from the coarse sand, and we had forgotten all about it.

            After leaving Matema, I had promised my friend, Tristan, that I would come to visit him at his house, which was in the same region of Tanzania. After standing the whole way on the bus ride in, we got off of the bus to the sight of the most beautiful and complete rainbow I had ever seen. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. I could see it from start to finish and it was as bright as if it’d been drawn by a second-grader with a brand new box of crayolas. We began to walk to his house as the downpours menaced us once more. And once more they followed through with their threat. We went over the river and through the woods, up and down hills and around bends once and again until we reached Tristan’s house. We were soaked. Of course the rains ended as we arrived and so we changed into dry clothes and took a trip to visit the school where Tristan does most of his teaching. It is a school for delinquent boys, some of whom have even murdered. The first classroom that we walked into (you can go wherever you want as there are rarely teachers actually present) had about 15 boys just sitting around entertaining themselves and each other. The first greeting I received was “Hey baby, what’s your phone number?” in English! Where did these boys come from? After Tristan and I did a short Michelle Pfieffer-style lesson with the boys, we kept on our walk. We passed an abandoned house in the village – huge. Apparently, it was built there over a hundred years ago by a very wealthy British man. To date, it still stands, though barely. We borrowed a flashlight from one of Tristan’s friends and decided to check it out. It was missing quite a few important parts, like stairs. Still, Tristan and I jumped and swung ourselves around beams to make our way through the enormous and unfamiliar spaces. We didn’t stay in the basement long as the bats flying at our heads reminded us too much of something from the Goonies and neither of us were ready to meet the Cyclops. There were old bathtubs with clawed feet and even a dumbwaiter! We discovered that the house had an entire bar, since graffitid with English and Kiswahili words. We noted that there was no floor at the bottom of the staircase to the attic but were determined to get there anyway. We invented a new stripper-type swing around the beam that cornered the stairs and made our way up. There were papers strewn everywhere dated back as early as the 1920’s. Most of them were records of the boys at the school. They outlined their offenses and their punishments. We sat there for more than an hour, just shuffling our way through all of the papers and discovering that our adeptness in reading 80-year-old Kiswahili was beyond what we’d thought. Granted, many of the reports were in English as well, being that the school was started by the British. That night, Tristan and I made peanut butter brownies and reveled in our random adventure. We were determined that the next day would hold an adventure as well.

            So, after we woke up, we took to the waterfall. There are so many hidden waterfalls all around this beautiful country that, while I was excited to see yet another, I wasn’t quite prepared for what was in store for us. As we walked up and down hills, through farms and across log bridges that crossed sizeable streams, we drew closer to the falls, though we only knew that from the sounds. Soon, we reached the top of a very steep hill, covered in vegetation and still shiny with mud from the rains the day before. “The waterfall is down there,” utters Tristan. “If you don’t wanna go for it, I’ll understand.” I rebutted that we’d made it this far, it’d be a shame not to make our way down and actually see it. So, off we took. The first hill shot down literally 90 degrees. If not for the roots that stuck out like handlebars and our disregard for maintaining the cleanliness and quality of our clothing, we never would have made it. Some hills, I just slid down right on my butt, realizing that an attempt with my feet would very potentially lead to an embarrassing spill. Somehow, I found sliding through the mud more dignified. At one point, we took advantage of a long thick root like a rock climbing pulley, only going backwards. It would be absolutely indispensable on our way back up. When we finally reached a flat point to stand, we could still only hear the falls, but not see them. We were covered from head to toe in mud. We made our way over to a banana tree, which we used for balance. Then, Tarzan and Jane style, Tristan pulled back one of the giant leaves to reveal a huge, 90 degree cascading waterfall which would begin to sprinkle onto our faces, perhaps Mother Nature’s way of helping us to wash the mud off. We admired the falls for only a few moments, then made our way back up. Using the giant root tug-of-war style, digging our fingers into the mud to find other roots that we would use as a ladder, we made our way back to the top, feeling accomplished.

            The next day, Tristan walked me back into the village to catch the early morning bus. After passing one of my friends hitchhiking on the side of the road, sporting fresh dreadlocks she’d started the day before, I made my way back home.

*I’ll post something for every month but give me time. I have to finish my grad school applications first!*

To all of those who have not yet given up…

It has been over 8 months since I have written on this blog. There’s definitely something to be valued about being able to write out your thoughts and your experiences for your own self-reflection and for the purpose of sharing those things with others. But, lately, I have been finding a lot of solace in writing letters and emails to individuals. There’s something more intimate about that and it’s nice to target specific people in my life with insights and expressions that I find that particular person would be most likely to understand and appreciate.

However, there’s still never enough time to share everything with everyone. That is, of course, the advantage of the blog. So, I am going to compile one long or several short blogs to cover some of the experiences that I have had over the last 8 months (the craziest 8 months of my life), some of the lessons that I have learned, some of the introspection that has been forced upon me and yet given me a better sense of myself, my life, my reality and the supposed reality that surrounds me.

For those of you who have not given up on me and my story, start checking in the next few weeks or so. There’s a lot that I would love to share. And a lot that I won’t. Either way, it might be worth a read.

Be silent, be still…

Things are coming to a weird standpoint where all of the ideal thoughts and plans that I have are starting to butt heads with their lack of practical and efficient means for implementing them. I have written my first grant, with a fellow PCV, to have a girl’s empowerment seminar in June. We will take all of the Standard 7 (like 7th-8th grade) girls from both of our villages to town (where most of them have never even been yet I seem to retreat to almost weekly) and have a three-day long conference where we will have sessions on HIV/AIDS education, girl’s empowerment and goal setting. We will also do fun activities with the girls like playing soccer and having a dance party, things that Tanzanian girls “just don’t do.” I am so excited! It’s easy to plan things in the long-term and I find writing grants and reports puts me right back into my comfort zone. I can write. I can budget. I can type. I can fax and email. So can almost every other of 300 million Americans. But I’m here to do something different than that. More than that. What will I do in the interim? How will I spend the endless days in the village that are not made-up of well-planned, typed up and paid for activities? I spend a lot of time doing things that may seem worthless or like wasted time. I play with children. I dance with old women and I help my neighbors cook dinner from 3pm-8pm on frequent occasions.

Sometimes, I have to sit back and remind myself that cooking, dancing, playing, talking and just living with the community, as a member of it fulfills two out of the three Peace Corps goals. Peace Corps is about implementing grassroots projects and educating people about HIV/AIDS, life skills and nutrition. It’s about encouraging people to make smart investments of their time and whatever little bit of money that they may have. But it’s also, and some would say most importantly, about just living with the people, sharing ideas and exchanging understanding of cultural norms and practices. Not only do I learn at least one million things everyday about Tanzania and Tanzanians, but they learn about me. The best conversations that I have had since moving to this country have begun with someone asking me questions about America. They love, most especially, to ask me about the education system there and if, really, almost everyone drives a car? Sometimes I feel just plain guilty when I describe to them the way of life and the standard of living in ours…the land of the free. My guilt is usually curbed when they, then, ask me “mbona umekuja hapa?” It means, well “why the hell did you come here?” You see, it is the dream of almost every Tanzanian to come to America, even just to visit and to see what they think they already know so much about. I try to tell them that America is wonderful but not exactly everything that it is cracked up to be when you’re looking in from the outside. There are so many things to be appreciated about the simple life, the lack of stress and the fact that no Tanzanian ever knows what time it is, or cares. But then, those stresses, time crunches and constant worries that we have as Americans do seem quite paltry when I step back and remember that the stresses of an average Tanzanian revolve around whether they will be able to have enough money to make their kid a cup of porridge or get their sick grandma to the hospital. It’s all relative…

If there’s one realization that I have come to, it is that I’m not here to be a martyr. I never promised that I will become 100% Tanzanian and pretend that I detest the place from which I came or the comforts that I have enjoyed. How arrogant would it be to imply that those things are not worthy of my appreciation when those are the very things that every person, worldwide, works hard everyday to try to obtain for themselves and their family? Instead, what I can do is to learn how to relinquish those things not only for the cause, but for myself. So that I might be better able to relate to the hard-working people in this country and to better appreciate the extraordinarily blessed family and home from which I have come.

All of these things seem so trite to say and I realize that. But it doesn’t mean that they don’t ring true to me everyday. So many of the experiences and emotions that I have had since I’ve been in this country are exactly as I expected them to be. By the same token, so many of them are NOT. I knew that I would gain a greater appreciation for my home and the people that make it so. I knew that I would probably live with a constant twinge of guilt and, oftentimes, regret. What I did not know is that I would come to this country and find myself so comfortable in the presence of my villagers, even in the silence that often fills the room when we all find ourselves at a loss for words. There is frequently a noticeable gap in the bridge of understanding each other and, when that happens, we just sit…in silence. The American Sarah would be so uncomfortable with that that I wouldn’t even be able to stand it and I would feel compelled to leave. The Tanzanian Sarah finds peace in the stillness and comprehension that different languages, different skin colors, different foods and different music do not mean different people. We all know how to sit. We all know how to be silent. We can all see and feel the presence of each other and know that God is an artist and it is our differences that make us his masterpiece.

In one day at the dispensary…

The Flower Farm party is over and I have to start allowing myself to look forward to more than the time that I spend with my friends. It’s not as though I don’t enjoy my village or my work there. I love it so much. But the time with my friends proves as my “stress-relieving” period and time to process everything that is going on with people who will actually understand. Lately, however, those times (almost always in town) have turned into the most stressful periods where I feel like there are so many things that I have to get done while I have electricity and my computer. There are so many reports, lesson plans, and stories that I have/want to write that wouldn’t be nearly as stressful if I were able to do them any day of the week. But, as it were, I have to save up all of my work for the times when I come into town. I suppose that, in some ways, it’s better. That way, when I’m at my village, I spend my time with my villagers, just living with them and getting to know them, trying to implement my projects in the most grassroots of ways, without computers, electricity or access to well…pretty much anything. This gives my projects an err of sustainability in that my villagers see that they’ve been done without the technology that most of them have never even seen and they feel convinced that maybe, just maybe…they are capable of doing these things themselves. That is, after all, the point.

 

I went to the dispensary to lend a hand last week. It was vaccination day and I know that the one nurse can always use extra help. And, in only one day at the dispensary:

-a pregnant woman came in for her checkup and the nurse convinced her that she should have an HIV test. She tested positive and, upon telling her husband, was prohibited from coming back for further treatment and he, himself, REFUSED to come in for testing.

-a woman came in for a tuberculosis vaccine for her baby and, upon uncovering him to prepare him for the shot, exposed that his body was covered in large, open sores. The nurse looked directly into my eyes as I stared right back at her. The mother’s reaction was as if absolutely nothing was out of the ordinary. The desensitization to things that we, in America, would likely have called 911 for is deplorable.

-another Mama came in with her baby, also to be vaccinated, and you could see right away that her baby was severely malnourished. When Mama Mbwale (the lone nurse) asked her why she wasn’t feeding the child fruit and eggs and other balanced diet meals, the Mama said, very timidly, that her husband sold all of the eggs for pombe money. Pombe is the name of the locally made alcohol.

-an 11 year old boy came in alone, had no idea where his parents were, but he felt excruciating pain in his abdomen, was crying and even Mama Mbwale had no idea what he was afflicted with.

-a 32 year old woman came in with 4 kids and pregnant with a fifth. She wanted to do family planning but she said that her husband doesn’t believe in it.

-a Mama came in horribly afflicted with polio. She was definitely over 40 years old and she had a newborn baby, carried by her 5 year old daughter because she even couldn’t carry her herself.

-a Mama came in with only one foot. She had a newborn baby who needed medicine for eye fungus. Since those meds aren’t offered for free at the dispensary, she was directed to the small pharmacy to purchase the medicine. The woman working there said that she has never come in.

 

Just to name a few…

 

Mama Mbwale is, as I’ve stated, the only nurse in the dispensary, the only dispensary for 8 villages. She is, as I’ve guessed, in her late 50’s and she works like noone I’ve ever seen before. She does house calls anytime of day or night, people are always coming to her house to ask her to visit their home and examine their very sick family members. She runs a “duka la dawa,” or pharmacy in the village selling basic medicines and soaps. She farms huge fields of corn and sunflowers and she raises pigs and chickens. She takes care of her, undoubtedly, ADHD grandson all by herself. She wears pants and tennis shoes under her dresses everyday. She used to live in Makambako, a large town in our region. When I asked her whether she prefers the town or the village, she told me that she much prefers the village. “The people in the village are so much more pure and, with no doctors, are much more desperate for the help,” she would say. I told her that I thought she was the most amazing woman for all of the work that she does. She tells me that she is tired but that people were put on Earth to help other people. The work comes from “moyo wake,” or her heart.

I did it…

Maybe I was trying to earn some Tanzanian street cred. Maybe I wanted to get PJ off of the hippie jokes. Or maybe I was just hungry…

 

But, I killed a chicken today. I decapitated, plucked, cleaned, cooked…and ate him.

 

Nuru offered to do it for me. For Tanzanians, it’s like peeling your peanuts or cutting your orange before you eat it. But, I decided that it would be good for posterity and that I would earn some (this white girl’s so soft) respect. Nuru was amused by my hesitation and, with every chuckle, I could see my impending credibility shrinking away. So I swallowed hard, I said a little prayer, and I swung.

 

The headmaster of the secondary school gave me this chicken as a gift along with a good laugh when I told him that I had every intention of slaughtering it myself. I’m sure that he was quite certain that Nuru, who had accompanied me to visit the school, would do it for me.

 

I’ll tell you why I didn’t feel bad even though, for the last year or so in the U.S., I wouldn’t even eat chicken…

 

I didn’t:

 

-shove him in a room with thousands of other chickens stuffed so tightly that he couldn’t even turn around, wings clipped rendering him incapable of fluttering up;

-inject him with hormones that made him gain so much weight so fast that his legs broke under his own unnatural bodyweight ;

-walk into the room full of chickens and, unapologetically, step on them to get to the other side, breaking the fragile bones of live poultry that were stuffed together on the floor;

-pick him up and throw him against the wall, just for fun, or rip his head off, using his blood to paint the walls (reported scenes from U.S. factory farms);

-hang him upside down with thousands of others on a giant conveyer belt that may or may not run his head past a giant blade, just after he had seen that same blade take the head of his decapitated neighbor;

-drop him, while very possibly still alive, into a giant vat of boiling water so that he could feel every single scorching tingle of the scald.

 

No. Instead, I received him from his land of unenclosed space and fresh air, I said a little prayer for him, and I cut his neck with a clean, sharp knife which cut his nervous system immediately so that, though he might have run around headless for a moment, hence the saying, he never felt a thing.

 

Then, I cooked him in a curry sauce and I served him over rice. Nuru and I ate well today.

Luduga

I’m currently sitting in a hotel room, in town listening to some awesome Tanzanian music that a friend of mine from Lushoto copied for me before I left. The song is called Tattoo Bila and, though I can’t always understand all of the lyrics to the music here, I’m a huge fan. There’s a huge wave of reggae music hitting the Tanzanian scene and, obviously, the Kiswahili hip-hop. He also gave me a lot of what he calls “old Tanzanian music.” I imagine it’s somewhat like oldies in America. Either way, I really love the music here and am happy to have a piece of the Tanzanian culture that satisfies my tastes so well (after the huge disappointment in most of the food).

I’ve been at my new site for a month now. How do I feel? Things are up and down but lately I’ve been excited and feeling like things are really starting to fall into place. Allow me to expound.

            I was dropped off at my site, after seeing a lot of my friends in Njombe town for the first time since training. I was only going to be there for about 4 days until I was supposed to go back to town to meet some friends and get some banking stuff done, etc. I spent those few days just setting up my house and trying to get settled. I was not going to get a “house girl,” something that a lot of volunteers have. However, when I showed up at my house, there was a girl there with the Village Executive Officer who was helping the last volunteer who lived there and so, I ended up with one by default. Her name is Nuru. And now, I wonder what I’d do without her! Those first few days at site left me feeling discouraged. I know, now, that it was probably all in my head. I had really good expectations about my site from what Peace Corps had told me and, when I arrived, I realized that I’d let those expectations far outstretch reality. People were not knocking down my door telling me how excited they were and throwing lots of amazing project ideas and offers to help at me. I quickly allowed myself to believe that the villagers there were feeling jaded because they’d lost their last two volunteers and that they were not going to allow themselves to like me for fear that I would just be leaving again soon, myself. I told myself that I had more of an uphill climb than others and I allowed self-misery to infiltrate. What a jerk move of mine.

            So, when I went to Njombe that weekend, there were a lot of volunteers here, as well as their “shadows.” Shadows are trainees who go to live with an active volunteer for a week to get an idea of what it’s like to live as a volunteer. I, myself, shadowed in the Tanga region with an education volunteer who was actually a Kenya volunteer but, during the recent and not so civil elections there, was evacuated and was one of the lucky ones who got to continue their service, just in another country. I had a great time that weekend. There are a lot of volunteers in this region and numerous opportunities to get together and see one another. So, I then began to feel even worse. I did not want to be a volunteer who goes through the motions at site and really just lives for the weekends when she gets to go to town and be with other Americans. This experience is, obviously, supposed to be about a lot more than that.

            So, when it came time to get back on my bus and go to my village, I stopped on the way to buy credit for my phone and, when I reached into my bag for my money, realized that it was gone. I have absolutely no idea when or how, but I am sure that it was stolen because I was positive of where it was at all times. I had left my bag in the hotel room when I’d gone out the day before and that was the only possible time that it could have been taken. So, I found myself dead broke and not even able to board my bus. My friend, Tara, whose bus didn’t leave for another hour, suggested that I just come with her to her site rather than staying in town for another night alone and that I could just ride back in the morning and catch my bus after I’d had an opportunity to go to the bank. She assured me that she was very “in” with her bus drivers and that, if we explained our problem, that they wouldn’t even make me pay for the rides there and back. They didn’t. When I went back to my site before the Thanksgiving festivities that we’d planned were to come into effect, Tara offered to come with me. I was, obviously, ecstatic about the idea for I, in so many ways, dreaded going back there to the lonely pit that I’d built for myself. Tara encouraged me to get out into the village and work hard at meeting people and building relationships with them, something that had come so easily to me at my first site, but that I’d allowed the prospect of doing so once again to get lost in my self-pity. It’s so difficult to initially integrate into a community when you stand out like a sore thumb, are usually disillusioned or completely unaware of what is going on and why, and you are just barely beginning to be able to speak the language and completely unable to speak the tribal language, something much more common in the smaller villages. Did I really have to do all of that all over again? With Tara’s help, I began. But, not before I managed to lose my bags in a town where we had to change buses on our way. I’d put them on my bus and went into town to buy some vegetables (you can only buy onions, tomatoes and potatoes in my village). When I returned, the bus was gone, my bags inside. The first and only time a bus in Tanzania has ever left earlier than they’ve said (they are usually about an hour late at the least). The bus conductor assured me that we’d meet up with that same bus in our junction town and, with any luck, I’d be able to retrieve my bags. I did, though my expectations were extremely low.

            We walked around the village, meeting and greeting in our matching Barack Obama kangas (a kanga is basically a piece of cloth that you wrap around your waste, shoulders, use as a blanket, whatever works). People’s reactions, once I accepted that I was going to have to come to them and not the other way around, were quite pleasant. I was finally starting to feel good. One thing that Tara noticed right away was my lack of furniture. By this time, most volunteers had their houses well furnished (I had to leave all of the new furniture that I’d bought behind in Lushoto) and, as we walked around my village, we noticed that there was an abundance of bamboo trees. She had a bright idea. Why don’t we just make a table out of bamboo? Brilliant. And sounded like fun. So, I bought a machete from a man in the village and we ventured off into, what we thought was, the woods. We began hacking at bamboo trees with my machete and, when we got to the third one, an old lady came running out of a house about 50 yards away screaming “mnaiba!” It means, “You all are stealing.” We were mortified. We began begging for forgiveness, asserting that we had no idea that these trees belonged to anyone. As she came closer and was finally in our immediate presence, we could see that she was laughing hysterically. She must have been quite amused at the sight of two white girls, in the middle of the woods, chopping away at trees with machetes, wearing matching kangas and video-taping the whole affair. I know I would have been if I were her. She allows us to take what we’ve chopped and be on our way. Tara and I load up the trees onto our shoulders and began making our way back to my house, suffering many stares and giggles on the way, something that we’ve become quite accustomed to anyway. We meet two kids playing “futbol” who tell us that their names are Frank and Doctor and that they attend the primary school that is just behind my house. We get home and begin chopping all of the small branches off of the stump and are passed by a group of mamas, one who assures us that there is no way that we will be able to make this table alone and that we should solicit the help of some local men. That sets us on fire. We promise one another that we will finish this table tomorrow

            The next morning, Frank and Doctor visited my home during their chai break at school. I served them some tea and fruit and Tara went to chopping away at the bamboo. They look perplexed and ask us what we are doing. We tell them our plan and they are excited, asking if they could help. Long story short, these two 12-year-old boys took the project into their own hands, insisting that we stop our work and they’ll be back during lunch. They come again during their lunch break, finishing the tabletop and then assuring us that they’ll be back after school is over for the day to help us with the legs. We hadn’t even thought about legs yet. How will we make them, we wonder? We shouldn’t have ever doubted…

            Frank and Doctor arrive again, having changed out of their school clothes and finishing their afternoon chores. They ask for the machete and, before Tara and I know it, they had shimmied their way up the trees in my front yard and were chopping down small branches. They climbed back down and cut the wood into even table legs, then nailing them to the top using a wrench as a hammer. Incredible. These two boys, 12 years old but appearing to be 8 years old had just fashioned me a sweet, homemade table. I was grateful and took lots of pictures, which sent them into a whirlwind of excitement and curiosity. They wanted to see every single picture that I took, at least 10 times each.

            During Tara’s visit, we made banana pancakes, listened to Frank and Doctor sing us songs and tell us about their families. We found a scorpion in my house, one of the small ones…the fiercest and most poisonous, I’m told. We visited a local “mzee” (old man) who has a magnificent tree farm and we bought some trees from him and planted them at my house (one mango, one avocado, three passion fruit trees and two aloe vera plants). We were berated incoherently by an old drunk man with a stick and convinced to buy some weird fruits by some children that are about plum sized with a filling that is the consistency of jam and sort of make your tongue go numb. Tara fell down in my house, running from a bug and broke the newly made table and then hit her head on the open window. It was a magically hilarious chain of events and my table was later fixed by a different pair of 12 year olds. We watched a man on a mounted bicycle contraption sharpen my machete and we made chili. The time that she was there, somehow, made all of the difference to me in my integration into the village and I have her to thank for snapping me out of me despair and helping me to remember why I am here.

            After the visit, it was almost Thanksgiving and we had plans. We were going to visit the house of a friend of ours, Cory, before all going together to a couple’s house in Mufindi where we would celebrate with a huge group of our friends. After all, being a uniquely American holiday, we could not expect any festivities in our village and thus, were very excited about getting together with other Americans for the occasion. On our way there, in the same junction town where I’d temporarily lost my bags the first time, I managed to get myself pick pocketed and lost my wallet. It had, as its contents, a copy of my passport, my American visa card, my Tanzanian bank account information, and very little money, thankfully. Luckily, in a series of unlikely and difficult to explain events, it was actually returned to me, nothing missing but the money. Another stroke of good luck following a careless loss on my part. So, we venture off to see my friend. The bus stop for his village is about a 2-½ hour walk to his house. Luckily, he’s very close to the “father” in his village and we were greeted at the stop with a ride to his home. The father was the Catholic priest in his village and the head of the mission. He made many stops along the way, loading things into his car that were being carried all the way into the village on the heads of mamas or young girls or greeting young children who came running towards his car at full speed just so that they could touch his head and tell him “Shikamoo,” a greeting of respect for elders. We reached Cory’s house and spent the evening there, eating dinner at the mission and spending time with the same priest. God bless that man; he is fabulous. The next day, we woke up with the sun and began cooking dishes to bring the Jenny’s and Geoff’s house for Thanksgiving. Cooking here is an all day affair no matter what you try to make and we had several dishes planned. We made mango bread, onion bread and a fruit crisp that ended up failing terribly but I salvaged most of it and ended up making it into a mango/pineapple pie instead. We reached Jenny and Geoff’s house and I found myself in heaven. They lived in the middle of a beautiful mountain range in Mufindi, surrounded by chai fields and on the property of a resort owned by a British man who has lived in Tanzania since the 1950’s. They lived about a two-minute walk down the hill from an orphanage that was a part of an NGO started by the same man and which they ran together. Jenny was a former Peace Corps volunteer who just finished her service and started this job. Geoff is her American boyfriend who she’d been with since before leaving for Peace Corps and who found a job in Tanzania less than halfway through her service so that they could be together. Now, they are living the dream. They are incredible people who were most welcoming and we spent the evening playing with the kids at the orphanage and gawking at their pet monkey who peed on everyone but was incredibly adorable. They had a friend there from the UK who had just graduated high school and was doing some work with the NGO in the interim before entering Briton University next year. They had a piano and lots of other instruments and we spent time there cooking, playing music, going to the resort for croquet, but not before crossing a river on a fallen tree. On our way back from the resort one night, in the complete darkness, we were without Jenny or Geoff and had lost our way. Walking up the hill, as if God just gave them specific instruction, we were greeted by about 6 of the children from the orphanage wielding lanterns and hand drums. We asked them what they were doing there. “We just came to help you find your way home,” says Moses. Jenny and Geoff never told them to come find us. We will never know how they knew. Either way, they walked us home while entertaining us with drums and dancing. It was a phenomenal time.

            The day after Thanksgiving, a large group of us piled into cars and made our way to the home of another friend. She had a typical Peace Corps house, completely unable to accommodate the 15 of us who came. Most of us slept on the concrete floor and awoke with cramps. But, it was worth it. We ate Alee’s homemade soup in the rain and my friend Justin took on a Tanzanian in a bilingual rap battle that was actually, quite impressive and the highlight of the night. This tiny little redheaded kid with a thick Boston accent might just be the next Eminem. The bad news is that my friend, Alee, didn’t feel good the whole time and, as it turns out, had come down with Malaria. Oh Africa….

            When I arrived back home at my village, I was greeted by about 6 of the schoolchildren who had begun frequenting my house and they helped me carry all of my bags. I rewarded them with a soccer ball that I’d bought for them in town, that which they busted two days later. World AIDS Day was the next day and I knew that there was going to be a huge even in a neighboring village. That morning, Nuru met me at home and we went to wait for the car. The car turned out to be an enormous truck into which we would load about 75 people and be on our way. The rains have hit and it wasn’t long before the truck got stuck in the mud and, after about an hour of trying to push and maneuver, was found to be a lost cause for getting us to the event that morning. We took away on foot. About 22 kilometers later, and after scouring the forests beneath fruit trees, on the lookout for fallen fruit because we were so hungry, we’d reached the event. There were hundreds of people, performances, HIV testing lines that stretched the whole of the center of the village, speeches, donations, etc. It was a really encouraging event and I’m excited about setting up something for next year that we can do in our own village.

            I spent the rest of the week playing with the children, meeting with my VEO (Village Executive Officer) to learn as much as I could about the village for a Peace Corps report that I will have to write (starting all over again). I went to a tailor and am having clothes made out of a beautiful kitenge (much like a kanga) that I found. I asked the wanafunzi (schoolchildren) if they would be interested in painting a mural on the wall of my courtyard and they were elated, having already begun now to practice by sketching their ideas onto paper. I made my way back into town for a surprise birthday party that my friend had planned for another volunteer (he turned 40!) and spent time with friends. Now, I am in my hotel alone, having to stay an extra day because the banks are closed for Tanzania’s Independence Day and I’m out of cash. I am actually looking forward to going back to my village tomorrow and spending some weeks there before Christmas time!

            After I got over myself, I realized how beautiful my village is and how many treasures lit within it. It is settled on the outside of an incredible mountain range, which you can see from my house. The children are each like my very own personal gift. I can see the soccer field from my back window and very much enjoy attending the matches, though I usually end up playing with the kids on the sidelines and not seeing any of the game. The Mzee Mtega’s tree farm is a unique blessing from which I can get fruits and can possibly even start income-generating projects or help people start tree nurseries of their own. The Catholic mission is about 5 minutes from my house and they have a substantial farm and it is where young Doctor is living. There may be no electricity in the village but there are a few shops with generators at which I can charge my cell phone. We have the only dispensary of any village in our entire Ward, tiny as it might be. I don’t live

very far from the road where the bus comes so, when I do have to go into town, I don’t have to walk 2 or more hours like a few other volunteers have to. My VEO is extremely nice and accommodating and I even found a woman who sells wheat rolls! There have been previous volunteers at my site, some very successful yet others that have left prematurely. Either way, the villagers are somewhat aware of what I am here to do and what resources I do and do not have. It’s definitely a lot of work to start all over, but I’m beginning to feel like I’ve been blessed with a great place to do it!

Leaving my new home…for another new home.

Times…they are a’changin. Oh how I miss Bob Dylan. But he speaks the truth. Things here, in the last week, have done a complete 180. And I’ll explain.

 

The last blog post that I wrote highlighted all of the good things that were/are going on here at site. I didn’t see a reason to speak of any of the bad. But now, the bad has made itself present, whether I wanted it to or not. I’ll preface by saying…it’s being figured out now so no worries! Basically, my house is really bad. Really, really bad. I mean, this IS Peace Corps and we were never promised a luxury home and that’s fine, I don’t want one. But, there are still no iron bars on my windows (as specifically mandated by the Peace Corps) and last week my house, literally, flooded. My house is a partitioned section of government housing nestled into what is, essentially, a dug out chunk of a hill. What a bad idea. Erosion, erosion, erosion. It’s such a terrible problem here because the area is so hilly and the houses are so poorly built. To look out my back window is to look at an enormous pile of dirt. To walk out back of the house adjacent to mine, currently vacant, is impossible because the dirt is piled up about 40%-50% the height of the back door. So, long story short, heavy rains run right over top of the dirt piles and into the house, threatening the sweet new sofas that I just had delivered from the local “fundi” or “carpenter.” Fundi is actually the word for anyone who fixes anything…tailors, locksmiths, landscapers, etc.

 

Anyway, my supervisor here, who is the one who is supposed to be taking care of things that I need help with, i.e. my house, just chuckled when I told him about the flood and, since the day I saw my house (two weeks before actually moving in because they were making “repairs”), has been trying to convince me that there is no need for iron bars on my house because “Thanks God we are peaceful here in Lushoto.” I respond with “Thanks God for iron with which we can make safety bars to protect ourselves from the creepers who are not always thinking so much about God.” Anyway, I contacted Peace Corps and, after talking to the District Executive Director here and doing some further investigations, they determined that my supervisor has just pocketed the money that they gave him as early as May to do all of these repairs and that’s why he was trying to convince me that I didn’t need anything…because he didn’t want to have to explain why he didn’t have the money to pay for it. As all of these things started to surface, I began to think back to the day that I moved into my home and he was having me pay for little things that were being done on my house (wire on windows, tap on the water pump outside, etc.). Peace Corps told me that they gave him money for all of that and that it was supposed to be done almost six months ago.

 

So, they gave me a suggestion. There is a village in the Iringa region where PC had placed a volunteer but she has since had to go home for some personal reasons. This village is overwhelmingly anxious for a volunteer (continually calling PC and writing letters asking when their volunteer will be replaced) and said to be more than accommodating. I have recently talked to the volunteer who was there for a short time and she said that the villagers there are full of ideas and are just biting at the bit to get started with projects. How refreshing that must be! Here, it is somewhat like pulling teeth to get people to share their ideas or to want to help. Townspeople are just extremely different, each one with their own agenda and everyone very busy. So, Peace Corps asked me if, after having lost all confidence in the people they’d found for me to work with here, I would be interested to move to this site. At first I told them absolutely not. I really like it here. I’m used to it here and have become very integrated into the community. I’ve met great people and made good friends. So, they said ok…they would see what they could do. Then, my supervisor shows up at my house, clearly in a panic (PC had finally reached his boss, his misgivings having been discovered and his job at risk) and he insisted that I walk with him to see a second housing option (such a thing that he’d insisted, less than a week before, didn’t exist). I obliged. I walked with him quite a bit out of town upon another giant row of partitioned government housing to one, somewhere in the middle, totally vacant. After breaking the padlock with a hammer (not comforting) when none of the fifteen keys that were tried worked to open the house, I walked in to discover a house just like the one that I already had (albeit, no erosion problem). However, there were still no bars on the windows and some other repairs were needed, making it no better an option than just working with the house that I already had. He insisted that, at that very moment, I make a decision on what I wanted to do. Stay in my current home or move to this one. I told him that I would call Peace Corps and talk to them and then get back to him. He resolutely maintained that I make this decision BEFORE talking with PC. He was clearly panicking. Still, I refused. I knew that I was following the right protocol and was not going to let him change my mind just because he was fretfully trying to keep his dirty tracks covered. Finally, he understood that I was not going to do as he’d asked. We walked back to town. He then feels determined that we should hold a conversation regarding iron window bars and why they are not necessary and making me feel silly for insisting on them. Finally, after I tell him that this is not my policy but a PC one and not subject to further discussion, he keeps quiet. By this time, I was beyond frustrated and the prospect of moving to a place where people are accommodating and appreciative of what I have come to try to do becomes more and more appealing. I call Peace Corps and agree to make the move. They are happy with my decision, knowing that the people in this village are behaving themselves in a way that renders them more deserving of a volunteer, and they draft a travel plan.

 

The next day, I was feeling really depressed. As soon as I’ve finally gotten integrated here, made friends and become accustomed to the way of life, I am going. I started calling all of my friends in Iringa, trying to get warm fuzzy feelings about coming there. Talking to them helped a lot. There is so much to look forward to but, at the same time, so much that I really love here that I am leaving behind. This district here, in the Usambara Mountains, is just absolutely breathtakingly beautiful. I remember one of my first days at site, thinking that this placement was just too good to be true. I never hoped to find out that I was right about that. Also, I have met so many really great people here. I have made lots and lots of friends, being in a town that is populated with so many different kinds of people, including a lot of people who are my age with whom I’ve really been able to connect. My neighbors are like my family and my Mama next door cried when I told her I was leaving. I have learned so much about this community and done so much brainstorming and project-writing and initial reports about the area here and what prospects I have and all of that means nothing now. But, I cannot regret all of that. With all of those ideas and integration and learning (particularly language learning) has come familiarization with people, projects, ideas, culture and so many other facets of the society here in Tanzania that will really give me a jumpstart when I try to start all over again. It will be difficult but a fresh start can come with so many advantages…and I think I’m ready.

 

Some other and more selfish comforts that I have to look forward to are the sheer volume of other volunteers in the area. I will be sharing a region with about 50% of the volunteers who came in with my training group. I will not be so close to them that I can see them daily or even weekly, but it will be much easier to come together about once a month or so with familiar faces for an opportunity to vent, relax, process our experiences together. That, for sure, will be really nice. And just in time for the holidays!

 

There are a lot of things, though, that will be so different about this new place. I am heading straight into a village lifestyle opposite of that to which I have become so accustomed. There will be no shops that sell oats and peanut butter. There will be no hotels to which I can go for dinner if I’m too lazy to cook. There will be no internet café across from my house and I will have to travel several hours by bus just to visit the bank or the post office. But I’m ready for that. The lonely times…they are a’comin. But I, somehow, wanted to experience all of those things. I know that the village-life is a different Peace Corps experience altogether, and I’m actually excited about it. How nice that I will have gotten to experience both! I don’t regret the way that things have happened here. It’s true that I will be a little behind, project-wise, for a little while but I feel blessed to have been able to spend 2.5 months of my life in THIS part of Tanzania and with THESE people. I know, also, that I will find just as many or more people and things that I love about my new home.

 

I’m sure that I could have made things work in the town here. But, there is a job that I came here to do and I am ecstatic about being able to do that with people who will welcome me. Those are the kind of people that I want to work with and for.

 

So, that’s that, I guess. It’s sad to have to share the downs with the ups but, this is the best way to tell you all what’s going on here with me. It also, I’m sure, sheds a little light on the way things work here and the complications that are nowhere near being uncommon. The lackadaisical attitude and opportunistic stealing/taking advantage of privileged position is a big problem among administrations here. However, I have met so many people here who have the exact opposite approach to life and supporting their families. So many people here ARE honest and ARE hardworking that I have not allowed myself to be discouraged….just to refocus and remember that it is THOSE people that I came here to work with. If that means that I have to start over, to move, to leave what I’ve grown into here, so be it. It’s a small transition in the big picture. I mean, I left the life that I’ve led for the last 22.5 years to come here; I can’t let a couple of months get me down.

 

So…to Iringa it is.

 

P.S. Don’t send any mail to the address that I gave on the last post. I’ll post my new address as soon as I get it!

One month at site…nearly four months in Africa

Africa is amazing. Tanzania is amazing. Lushoto is amazing. I adore my new home.

 

I’ve been here for about four weeks now. My house is…..quaint. It’s two small rooms and kind of falling a part. The walls don’t exactly touch the ceilings or the floors but the bugs and other small creatures seem to like that so I’m trying not to be selfish. It’s quite cold here and I live in a giant shade spot but I have a small fireplace, which is nice. I have like 25 banana trees but no idea how to tend them. I live on a steep slope in a place called “Kitopeni” which literally means “mud.” My neighbors are incredible. There’s an adorable mama with all of her children, most around my age and grandchildren too. They are Muslim and currently engaging in the fasting month of Ramadan. Each night, when the cook their “futari,” a mashed potato type mixture that families prepare each night to break their fast, they always bring me over a bowlful. They also lent me a chair while I’m waiting for my couches to be made. Their words were “what are you going to do, stand up for a month?” I had a bed made and I hung my mosquito net. My area is cold but there is a lot of standing water nearby and so mosquitoes are still a problem. I bought a small kerosene stove on which I sometimes cook. I’m fortunate to be in an area where there are lots of opportunities for me to just head into town for dinner if I don’t feel like cooking…as long as I’m ok with another plateful of rice and beans. But cooking is always healthier and cheaper so I’m trying to stay motivated. It’s quite a process here. I think that my sweet tooth and disdain for paying 1,000 shillings for a snickers bar will likely curb my laziness soon. But, I have a friend who invites me to his home often for dinner and his mama is constantly giving me produce as “zawadi” or “gifts.” So the next day, Mouddy (short for Mohammed) comes to my house and prepares the food that I was given. It seems odd but I’ve learned the most about cooking from a 23 year old man…totally breaking the stereotype.

 

So, I have a number of good stories to tell. Starting with the second day I was here and still staying in a guest house (my house wasn’t ready for the first two weeks…God knows what it looked like before), when I was walking down the street with Dorothy, a German-American sixty-something year old volunteer. It had just rained and was quite muddy in the area. To make it short, I slipped and fell, face first, on the one paved road that I used to appreciate. I slammed my face into the asphalt, rising from the ground with a scraped nose, a huge knot on my forehead, and a whole right side covered, as if hand-painted by God, perfectly from head to toe in thick brown mud. I was humiliated and everyone stared at me like the pathetic white girl who cannot even manage to walk in Africa.

 

Second story…is even better. First morning waking up in my new home, I venture outside for my refreshingly cold bucket bath. I close the door behind me and proceed to dump water on myself for about ten minutes. The door to my “choo” or “toilet room” is an outside entrance only but right next to my back door so I just slipped out there very quickly, wearing only my towel. As I returned to my back door to head inside and dress, I couldn’t get in. I knew that my front door was locked from the inside and that there was no hope there. Somehow, my back door had locked on its own. So, to make a long story short, I eventually, upon realizing that I had no way out, had to walk over to my neighbors and try desperately to make them understand in my broken Kiswahili why I was meeting them for the first time with no clothes on. I now bring my phone with me to the choo and never, ever pull my back door closed from the outside.

 

And another. A few days ago, after hearing all of my tour guide friends talk about this amazing viewpoint at sunset, decided that I should go. My friends, who usually charge tourists to take them up, agreed to take me up in the afternoon for free and just for fun. They asked me if I could ride a bicycle and were quite surprised when I answered yes. I am, after all, a female. So, we rented a few bikes and off we went UPHILL to the viewpoint. It was exhausting but I was having so much fun. Until we ventured off the main path, onto a path that was no more than a foot wide and downhill alongside a steep embankment. I, being a champion cyclist, wasted no time in losing my steering, veering left onto the embankment and, in making the exact wrong decision, hitting the brakes. The bicycle promptly tossed me, in a sweet somersault, over the handlebars and onto the ground, just before landing on top of me and trapping my leg in a twist of the handlebars. My two friends sprinted to my aid and helped me to untangle. Outside of the enormous bruise down my entire right side and tearing the only pair of pants that I have in Africa in three different places, I was totally fine. After a prolonged brush-off, including picking hundreds of burrs out of my hair, we continued. I made it the rest of the way up with no problem and it was totally worth it. It is breathtaking up there. You can see kilometers and kilometers of landscapes, mountains, and villages. And we were just in time to witness the sunset behind the peaks. There’s a really nice hotel at the top at which we enjoyed some sodas before heading back down the mountain…in the pitch black darkness….riding our brakes and listening to the same Gnarls Barkley song on my cell phone the entire way home.

 

But, don’t get me wrong; my first month here has not been all tragedy. I have also spent countless days meeting and talking to villagers, doing community assessments and brainstorming with local officials about project ideas and resources for implementation. I have spent hours and hours with my neighbors, learning Kiswahili and giving them medicine and showing them pictures from home. I have attended weekends full of UNICEF vaccinations and mosquito net giveaways. I’ve visited other volunteers’ homes, which has just left me feeling slightly jealous, but I try to brush off that silliness.

 

I decided to visit my friend in her village this weekend, one known as Mponde, and she had come to Lushoto for the morning to do some banking, shopping, etc. So, I rode a bus back with her to Soni, a quaint market town that serves as a crossroads for a lot of transport in the region. From Soni, there are only Land Rovers that make the trip up the mountain to Mponde and they are all at least 20 years old. So, Emilia and I board the Rover and wait…and wait…and wait. No car ever leaves its departure point until it is completely full. Let’s just say that 29 people in an 8 person Land Rover is what it took to finally convince the driver that we were full. I’ll bet you think I’m kidding. I’m not. I took a head count. There were, quite literally, 3 people riding on top of the vehicle, 3 holding onto the back like it was a trash truck, 3 riding on the hood and one guy sitting on the spare tire. Then, of course, there were the 19 of us inside. And straight up the mountain we went…at about 20 kph, stopping only about every 5 minutes to make sure that the engine was still properly nested in its 20 year old bed. I am currently sitting in her home, situated on a tea plantation atop a beautiful mountain. It is at least the size of my house in America, maybe bigger. Her living room is, quite literally, about 1.5 times the size of my entire house in Lushoto. She has four bedrooms, complete with beds that she got for free. She has a shower with a hot water tank and a real stove! But, best of all, her walls touch her ceilings AND her floors. She has a mama who sweeps for her daily and who washes her dishes and her clothes. I feel like I’m in a hotel and I feel the cleanest that I have felt in four months. It’s quite a nice break. But the fact that I am finding so much appreciation in these tiny things just goes to show me that I am going to get what I wanted out of this experience…and more.

 

So, I tried to put some pictures online the other day. I have taken SO MANY. But, the internet in Lushoto is just not going to let that happen. I’ll have to wait until I visit Tanga (which should be relatively soon) before I can put them online but…continue to be patient and I’ll have lots to share for sure!

 

For now, I think I’ll leave this post. It’s become quite lengthy but hopefully it gives everyone an idea of what I’ve been up to lately. I realized that my text messages to home were working, at least sometimes, and so I kind of went overboard one day last week and sent messages home to a ton of people. I got lots of messages back though and even a few phone calls so…it was totally worth it and messages/phone calls/mail/etc. are totally more than welcome at any and all times! My info is on my facebook but I’m going to post it here as well for those of you who don’t have facebook.

 

Phone: (255) 782-139-655         This is a cell phone and I can be reached on it anytime!

 

Address: PCV Sarah Koch

               PO Box 277

               Lushoto, Tanzania

 

(I’ve been told that putting messages on mail referring to the love of Jesus, etc. makes it less likely that the mail will be stolen or opened. Sounds crazy. But I think it works…especially for packages. Also, if you want to send a package…I’m totally not opposed but know that I am exempt from customs charges for the first six months and sometimes those charges are as much as $60-$100 so…sooner is better but any kind of mail is most welcome anytime!!!!!!!)

 

Thanks for being patient waiting on news and posts and emails, etc. from me, guys. The internet here, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned, is kindly ridiculous. It took me one hour to upload two photos and facebook is altogether slow, mostly because of all of the pictures I’m sure. And, everytime I log onto my email, I find that I spend most of my time replying to mail that I’ve gotten and don’t have so much time to draft my own. So, I guess the hint from that is, send me emails if you want to hear from me sooner!!!

 

sarahkoch2@gmail.com

 

Oh and, by the way, I’m coming home next year August-Septemberish, FYI. That’s totally like a year away but, if you want to see me sooner, welcome to Africa!

 

Peace and love. I miss you guys.

Lushoto!

So, I have found out where I am going to be living for the next two years! I will be living in Lushoto, in the Tanga region (NW, near Kenya…and near the beach!) of Tanzania. I have heard that it is supposed to be absolutely beautiful there. I will actually be living IN the town, which is almost unheard of for most volunteers and I consider myself very lucky! I even know Tanzanians who vacation there!

I am going to be in the mountains. It will be cold, weird as that sounds (wish I hadn’t left my sleeping bag at the last minute). There are fruits and vegetables galore and, get this, cheese AND chocolate (also pretty unheard of here). I will have many NGOs around to work with but will also deal with the challenge of working in such a large population, unlike the more village-like settings. I’m ready for the challenge though. After all, I did move to Africa for this.

I will still have to choat water and cook on little bitty charcoal stoves outside my house, pee in a hole. You know…the basics. But, the electricity is quite the blessing and I’m pretty excited about that. Also, I am not only near the beach on one side but near Mount Kilimanjaro on the other side! I did, however, manage to get completely separated from some of the best friends that I have made here. I mean, we’re talking, slam across the country. However, I got lucky with my site and I cannot have the best of all worlds. It gives me a great excuse to visit other regions!

Wow. I want visitors! :-)

I have six minutes left on here. The electricity will rock because it will give me an opportunity to type these things up with unlimited time and then just copy/paste at the internet cafes. I wonder about home a lot and how everyone is doing. Thanks for keeping in touch with me better than I do with you guys! I promise that it’s not by choice. Keep me updated on all of your lives and now that there’s a little whitey in Africa thinking about all of you and missing you more!

Oh and…I got measured yesterday for a sweet African dress for my swearing in ceremony. Ha! There will be pictures… I do promise.

Time flies…

Ok so, I officially have ten minutes to write this post. I really wanted to be able to put so much more thought and effort into these and, hopefully, will be able to if/when I am better able to keep my computer charged. However, I know that you guys all will really hate me if I don’t, at least, attempt to keep up with the blog so…just bear with the typos and the likely brevity of the post.

So, here’s the deal. I miss you al so so so so much! Africa is great. Haha. It’s crazy and awesome. Training is almost over and I cannot believe it. I find out in two weeks where I will be living for the next two years!

I had to go to Dar Es Salaam for a dentist appointment. (Be careful of the rocks in your food, should you ever visit Africa). But, it was awesome. I got to meet up with some friends who I’ve met in America who are from here and they showed me around the whole city! The beach. The pizza. The real coffee. Haha. It was amazing. Abbas even took my friends and me to his house one night for dinner where his family cooked for us, and made homeade ice cream! All of these things (food that’s not rice and beans, ice cream, etc.) have become foreign to me in the past almost two months. So, it was a fantastic breather.

Next week, I will be going to live with another volunteer for a week and shadowing them. I just found out where. Tanga! It’s a beautiful region on the coast. I’m really excited about it. Wish me luck!

So, things here in training are really wrapping up. Altogether, I think that things went really well and I am really looking forward to moving to my site. I just cannot wait to at least find out where it is! The friends that I have made here so far are amazing. Just freakin wonderful. I have taken tons of pictures and promise to share them as soon as I am able to. Thanks so much for being patient, everyone!!!

I love you guys. I miss you. I love America. I miss it. I have developed a WHOLE NEW appreciation for so many things about America (which is some of the point, of course). Just remember, everyone, to appreciate all of the things that you/we are blessed with. I know that it sounds cliche but, we shouldn’t have to venture to Africa to understand the validity of the statement. We are all SO BLESSED. It is ridiculous how much.

Mungu ibariki America. Mungu ibariki Africa. Na Mungu ibariki ninyi!

(God bless America. God bless Africa. And God bless you all!)

Sucks but I gotta run. Promise to share more later!

So so so so so so so much love! :-)

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