Sunday, November 4, 2012

Survival Swahili

My time in Tanzania is coming to a swift end. I'm lying. It is very slowly coming to an end. My flight leaves at 3:30 am. That's local time, folks. So I am currently biding my time at a lodge near the airport. I slowly ate my dinner, slowly sipped my Coke Light, slowly sipped a second Coke Light...then I noticed a computer in the bar that appeared to be available for public use. The bartender must have sensed what I was thinking, because as I peered at the computer, he said, "Yes. You can use it. It is free."

You don't have to tell me twice.

So, in commemoration of my last few hours in Tanzania, I will share with you some of the important words/phrases I learned in Swahili.

Jambo: This is a greeting, one of the many. There may be another syllable before -jambo, but I found those weren't as important, so I rarely worried about it. Many of the locals don't even bother with the first syllable.  If you hear "Jambo" you can either respond with "Sijambo" or you can just skip to "Jambo." Pretty simple.

Mambo: This is my favorite greeting. It is very informal, so it is best to reserve it for a younger crowd. Maybe under 30. If you pass someone who is clearly your elder, best not to use Mambo. When in doubt, just say "Jambo."

Poa/safi: Appropriate responses to "Mambo." I believe they mean cool and fresh, respectively. Safi is also a good word to keep in mind because you can use it the way you would use "cool" or "awesome." For example: someone intercepts the frisbee during your game of Ultimate. "Safi!"

Habari: A greeting. Habari literally means "news." It is basically like the Swahili equivalent of, "How are you?" But really, it is so much more. Habari may be followed by any number of nouns. Work. School. Town. Trip. Family. Morning. Day. And it goes on. Don't worry about what noun is used. If you are proficient enough in Swahili that you want to understand when someone is asking you about work so that you can expound on your answer, then you are too advanced for this lesson. Just remember this: if you hear "Habari"  say, "Nzuri." Or, if you're feeling especially good, "Nzuri sana." Even if you're not having a good day, just stick with "nzuri."

Shikamoo: This is yet another greeting. The respectful greeting. Use this to address someone older than you. This is just a cool greeting to know.

Marahaba: The response to shikamoo. If someone says this to you, that means they accept your respectful greeting. This is part of survival Swahili because many of the children will say "shikamoo" to you, and it is good to know what to say in response.

Nzuri: This word means sooooo many things. Good, beautiful, nice, cute....if you like something, just say nzuri. Sometimes it is supposed to be vizuri or some other -zuri, but honestly, I'm not sure when. But people will know what you mean.

Nzuri sana: Very good/beautiful/nice.

Asante: Thank you. A good one to know. And if you are really grateful, "Asante sana."

Karibu: You'll hear this a lot. It means "welcome." You'll hear it when you enter a shop, as encouragement to enter a shop or hop in a taxi, when you say, "asante," when the food is ready, when people ask you where you from and want to welcome you to comes up a lot.

Pole: This means, "sorry," sort of. Like "karibu," this word is heard a lot. I was told that the sentiment behind it is, "I feel for you." People will say it when you get back from a trip, if you trip when you're walking, or even if you're just walking. This one really threw me when I first arrived because it seemed to come up in almost every exchange I had. Walking through me neighborhood I would exchange a few greetings with someone and it frequently ended with, "pole." Looking back, they probably said it because either they said something in Swahili that I didn't understand, or maybe because I was walking it is is hot out. Still not totally clear. But usually if you hear, "pole" the appropriate response is, "asante."

Chakula: Food. Straightforward, and I found it useful to know.

Hamna shida: No problem. This comes up a lot. I mean a lot. I have found many Tanzanians don't answer your question directly. Instead they try to target the emotion behind the question: worry. How far away is it? Hamna shida. What are we supposed to be doing? Hamna shida. Will you explain how we build a keyhole garden? Hamna shida. Or my favorite recent example: we stopped by a local restaurant, except we weren't sure if it was a restaurant or a bar. Bars don't serve chakula, and we wanted chakula. So we asked if they served food. "Hamna shida, rafiki. Karibu. Come inside." No, wait. Do you serve food? "Hamna shida." They did serve food, which we discovered after we went inside.

So there you go. Now you are ready for a trip to Tanzania. You will still be a bumbling American, but at least you will be a bumbling American with a few stock Swahili words to get you by.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Things I Have Learned...

Don't get the impression from the title of this post that this is going to be some kind of meaningful, philosophical discussion, because it isn't. It probably will end up being something more like the opposite of meaningful. So meaningless, I guess. Anyway...

I am not as fragile as I thought
I came to Tanzania fully expecting some digestive upset at least from the sudden change of diet, if not from the more prevalent food contamination issues that my (assumed) delicate intestines would be unable to handle. Maybe digestive problems aren't something I should mention on a public blog, but I've decided that since I am reporting the utter lack of digestive issues, it's okay. That's right folks. My body has taken the food here in stride. The food is good. My taste buds and stomach seem to agree. Nothing to protest. Except for that first time I was served chicken guts. That was weird. But I ate it. And I ate when it was served to me again.

I am more fragile than I thought
I have frequently told people that I don't burn that easily, but that is not the case being this close to the equator. My skin just feels so sensitive to the sun. It's just not used to being so close to it. For the first week or so, feeling my skin burn and the strong sensation of pinpricks all over my body as I broke into a sweat just standing around...I felt like I would melt. My body was getting so battered by the weather, or at least it felt that way. It made me feel very delicate, like I needed to walk around with a parasol to shade my sensitive skin. But then I got used to the sensation and my skin seemed to adjust somewhat. So I was feeling great until last week, when I started to fall apart in the heat. Last Wednesday, as I was assisting in training a group on making a compost pile, I started to get really light-headed. Thinking I was dehydrated or hypoglycemic, I drank some water and ate a granola bar and waited for it to pass...which it eventually did, but not until long after the compost demonstration was done. Not liking to appear weak or delicate, I determined the next morning that I would drink plenty of water and eat a big breakfast, and brought plenty of water and cookies with me just in case. I was feeling very well for a while, helped move bricks for the keyhole, slathered mud, and was fully exposed to the sun...but then it hit me again. I drank my entire 32oz water bottle, ate all my cookies, and again waited for that all to slowly take effect. I'm still not sure what the problem was...low blood pressure, low blood sugar, my body finally protesting to the heat...I just hope my body is done with whatever it was. Just don't tell me it was malaria.

With the help of a little dust, my feet bear a surprising resemblance to hobbit feet
Maybe this is because I have big feet. And I should clarify that it is actually with the help of a lot of dust. Enough dust to make up for the lack of hair on my feet. The point is, by the end of the day, my feet are very dry and very dusty.

When in doubt, just ignore it when people talk to you
This sounds heartless, but let me explain. Frequently as I walk down the street here, people will call out to me. Usually it is something friendly, like one of the various Swahili greetings, or, my favorite, "Morning" when it is mid-afternoon (it makes me feel better about my poor Swahili when I hear the wrong English greeting). When greeted, I always respond with a (hopefully) appropriate Swahili greeting. Often I will even initiate the greetings, at least in my neighborhood. But typically I have found if someone, at least on the main road or in the downtown area, tries to engage me further in conversation, it is because they want me to get in their taxi, or get on the back of their motorcycle, or take me on a safari, or take me back to their shop. So I have found it easier to just give a friendly greeting and keep walking. Maybe it still sounds a little heartless. Maybe it would be better to stop and talk to them but refuse when they ask me to buy something. Actually, my tactic reminds me of my dad's approach to telemarketers: just hang up. "What? I'm doing them a favor because now they're not wasting time on someone who isn't going to buy anything." So maybe I am heartless, but at least I'm not wasting their time. I like to talk to people in my neighborhood. I can generally expect that they are just being friendly and welcoming.

One month in Tanzania is not enough time to learn to adequately deal with certain inconveniences
Case in point: the water at my home stay has been off since Thursday, maybe Wednesday, but I wasn't keeping track when it started. In my first three weeks here it wasn't uncommon to find the water not working. This usually resolved within a day. But this has been going on for a while now, with the occasional hour when we find the faucets miraculously work.  I am so obviously American and not accustomed to these inconveniences because I was wholly unprepared for this. I literally planned to do my laundry so that I was wearing my last clean pair of underwear when I washed the rest of them. So the water not working was a big problem, as I was not relishing the idea of recycling dirty undies. I was able to procure enough water to at least wash and poorly rinse my delicates. The rest would have to wait, accumulating more dust and sweat as the weekend went on. Fortunately the water was working Sunday evening, and I immediately took advantage by washing the rest of my clothes. I was hoping that would be it. The water had returned. The toilet could now be reliably flushed after use. But later that night the water disappeared again. It has not made a reappearance yet.

Friday, October 26, 2012

A Day in My Tanzanian Life

Thursday, October 25

I intended to wake up at six to do laundry and still be in the office in time to write an email...but I didn't get up until seven. Oops. So I took a semi-quick bucket bath (folks, it's really difficult to quickly wash your hair when you can only pour water on your head by the pint, and there is a limited amount of water), ate a breakfast of peanut butter and jam on a piece of white bread and a little piece of fry-bread, and headed out the door. It's about a twenty-five minute walk to the GSC office, past many pikipikis that all want you to hop on the back of their bike. So after a few Mambo's and Hapana, asante's (No, thank you), I made it to the office with enough time to write an email. Barely. I finished about two minutes before the car left.

Example of a keyhole garden.
The village we have been teaching at this week is about an hour's drive from the office. So ten of us pile into the Landcruiser (much better than the thirteen of us that fit into one car on Monday; this Landcruiser is part off-road vehicle, part clown-car) and were on our way. The road to the village is paved part of the way, then it is a dirt road that gets progressively more rough the farther down it we drive. This week I have been working with the volunteers that are here for a semester abroad. We were in two groups, each training a separate group of people. Yesterday's training was to teach the group how to make a key-hole garden, by actually making one with them. So we walked over to one of the trainee's home and got to work. Making a keyhole garden involves measuring the circular pattern in the ground with the keyhole cut-out, laying bricks or rocks (we had bricks in this case) and slathering with mud as the binding agent, filling the center with soil and manure, and creating the irrigation system in the middle (a bundle sticks arranged in a circle with mulch filling the center). My favorite part is the mud slathering part. It makes a terrific mess and it is one of those few times as an adult where it is okay to play with dirt and get mud smeared on your cheek. Making the keyhole garden and answering questions took three-ish hours. We said goodbye to our trainees and left the village around two.

After we got back into Arusha we stopped for lunch. We have been stopping at a local restaurant each day after returning to Arusha. Yesterday I got something that I don't remember the name of. It was a delicious spiced rice with something like beef-stew. I really should start writing down names for things. The problem is that the names don't sound like anything I know, so I don't remember them. Lunch was delicious, and I splurged on a cold pineapple Fanta (sort of, soda is actually super cheap).

After lunch we went back to the GSC office and assisted in building another keyhole garden for GSC's demonstration garden. More mud-smearing. After we finished with that, we had a brief team-meeting, and reviewed what we will be doing next week. It was a our last day of training that week, because Friday is a national holiday, so everybody gets a three-day weekend. After the meeting is was time for Ultimate Frisbee, something I was looking forward to all week. Some locals play a pick-up game every Thursday around 5:30 until dark. Simeon, an American peace-corp type volunteer with GSC, and his wife drove us to the field. They have the cutest little boy named Malachi who also came to run around the field while we played Ultimate. This may have been the highlight of my week. It was so much fun to play Ultimate with some of the other volunteers and locals. I am already looking forward to next Thursday.

I rode back partway with Simeon's wife, Janelle, and Malachi. The traffic was pretty brutal and Malachi was having a hard time just sitting in the car, so Janelle and I sang a few songs to him. Janelle dropped me off on the main road at the turn off to their house and I planned to take a daladala up to my neighborhood. I was a little nervous about this because it was dark, and I was told I should avoid taking daladalas at night. Also, and this was the scariest for me, I had yet to ride a daladala with out a local to escort me through the whole process. But I was brave and waited at the daladala stand for a while. Eventually, after watching multiple jam-packed daladalas drive past without picking anybody up (really, where would they put anyone...I was about to find out), I decided to start walking in the direction of home and try to hop on a daladala past the traffic jam. Eventually I did get on was also incredibly packed. So packed, in fact, that I was literally hanging out of the daladala with the conductor. The sliding door on the side of the van was wide open, and I was standing on the side with my entire body out of the car, clutching the car for dear life and also trying to keep a tight hold on my backpack to deter any pickpockets. Many people along the side of road thought it was hilarious to see me hanging off the side of the daladala, because I kept hearing people laughing and calling out, "Mzungu!" Good times. I have found that in these utterly ridiculous moments, it is best to just laugh and let it be.

Well, that worked to a point. I was trying to pay attention to where the daladala was, because I suspected that the conductor didn't actually understand where I wanted to get off. But then I got pretty distracted when, as I am hanging out of the side of the car with him, the conductor starts eying me, whispering to me in Swahili, and making kissing noises. So I missed my stop (see, unlike typical public transportation, daladalas don't have regular stops; you just tell the conductor where you want to get off and he has the driver stop there). By the time I realized that I  had missed my stop, I had the hardest time trying to communicate to the conductor that I needed to get off, that I had gone too far. Eventually he had the driver stop, and I got off. I tried not to panic that I was now in a part of town that I didn't know where there were far fewer people (aka witnesses) walking around. I crossed the road and started walking back the direction I had come, hoping for another daladala to come along and pick me up. One did, thank goodness, and it was much less crowded. I wasn't about to make the same mistake twice, so I was very vigilant this time in watching for my stop, and eventually made it home in time for dinner (remember, dinner is late here; I got home around 8:30).

And so ended one of the more eventful days I have had in Arusha. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Week in the Village

We got back yesterday afternoon after spending five days camping in a village somewhere near the border of Kenya. I wrote down the name of the district, but I left that paper at my homestay. Sorry. I believe it was near Longido. Or it was Longido. I'm not sure. You can look up Longido on Google maps, and I believe that is approximately where we were. Very beautiful area, full of rolling hills and a view of Kilimanjaro in the morning, and sometimes later in the day depending on the cloud cover. We could also see Mt. Meru to the south when it was clear. We were a a little elevated in the hills so we could look out for miles and miles to the north. People kept pointing out the Kenyan border, but I never got a very clear idea of exactly how far out in the distance they were pointing. Either way, I can now say I've seen Kenya and Kilimanjaro.

We arrived in the village just before lunchtime on Monday morning. We started to unpack the car, and it wasn't long before we had a little group of spectators. The children in the village came out to watch us unpack and set up camp. This became a theme of our visit to the village and the surrounding areas. Wherever we went, it didn't take long before a group of kids came to see the wazunga (white people). At first they hung back, and if you got close they would run away screaming and laughing. After we set up camp, I decided it was time to break the ice, so I pulled out the very little Swahili I know, and said, "Mambo!" They responded with a chorus of, "Poa." So cute. Then I offered to shake hands with them. Many of them shyly came up to shake my hand. Some thought it was hilarious and pretended to be afraid to touch me, reaching out their hand, and then quickly pulling it back, until they would just barely make contact with my hand, then run away laughing. I felt a lot like an animal at the zoo. One of the other volunteers and I showed them how to high-five, and then gave them all high-fives. As the week went on, the novelty of the newcomers wore off a little, but not as much as I would have expected. They liked to play with us, and they would bring their "balls" (plastic bags rolled up and tied together with string) and we would throw it or kick it around. They never tired of this.You would have to tell them, "Ninachoka. Baadae." (I'm tired. Later.) after a while in order to get any rest. But even if we weren't playing with them, they still seemed to be fascinated with us. They would watch us play cards. Even when I was at my most boring, just sitting and writing in my journal, they still grouped around me and just watched. One of them did offer me a ice pop, which I gratefully accepted.

Playing with the kids was an interesting experience (I'll probably frequently use the word "interesting" when I don't know what other word to use. Basically I mean the experience was thought-provoking, but with no conclusions drawn). There clothes were fairly dirty, which didn't surprise me too much. If I were a mother there I probably wouldn't bother washing my kids' clothes very often because there is so much dirt, and the younger kids especially frequently sat or would even lay in it. Trying to keep those clothes clean would be fighting a losing a battle. Their toys were very humble compared with what you would see in the states. I already described the balls. They also played with old bucket lids that they turned into little hoops. They would use sticks to roll these around. They also had a couple of sticks with bucket lids nailed to the bottow that they would roll around. One of these contraptions had the end of the nail exposed, and the kid playing with it was sucking on the end of it, waving the toy around...I felt sure someone was going to lose an eye. I also noticed a couple of kids had sores or scabs on their head, probably from flees. That was hard to see. But the kids seemed pretty happy overall. I saw very little fighting between them, and heard very little crying. They got along with each other very well and were pretty capable of entertaining themselves with what little they had. I was also impressed with how responsible they could be at young ages. It wasn't uncommon for some of the kids to have a baby sibling strapped to their back. Some of those caring for younger siblings couldn't be more than 7 or 8.

The work we did in the village was trainings in sustainable agriculture. We taught for three days and then showed the groups how to build a few things on the last two days. Some of the subjects we covered were composting, double-dug beds, crop pairing/rotation, and natural pest control. In the mornings on Tuesday and Wednesday I helped the applied technology group build a hafir, which is a rain-water catch. I did a lot of digging, and expect to have a very toned back by the time I return home. The afternoon was for the trainings. I really liked the group I helped train. It was mostly a group of men, many in their late twenties/early thirties, and just a few women. They seemed very interested in the subject, and had many questions. For the practicals we built a key-hole garden, which is a raised circular garden bed with a stone wall, and with a little indentation on one side so that the entire bed is within arm's reach. On Friday we built a sack garden, which is exactly what it sounds like: a sack filled with soil and slits in the side for plants to grow out of.

One thing I really like about GSC is that the staff here is almost exclusively comprised of locals. They are experts on the subjects we do trainings on, and are able to communicate and translate with the trainees. Although they have the volunteers teach and they translate, in reality, the people translating could just teach the classes. They know more than we do, anyway. I asked one of the staff members about why they have the trainings set up the way they do, and she said it was partly for the service-learning aspect (for the volunteers to learn through service) and partly because, especially in the village, they love visitors and are more likely to come out and listen than if it were just the local staff. I thought that was interesting information but admittedly I wasn't really sure what to do with it. I knew going into this experience that I would take much more away from it than I would contribute. Sometimes I wish I feel like I was doing more, but mostly I have just decided to be grateful for the experience, and also grateful that the local staff is incredibly competent and don't really rely on outside help. Tanzanians serving Tanzanians. And I get to see it up close and help as I am able.

Squatting toilet. Much cleaner than the one I used.
To close this post, I will offer an amusing little story that happened while I was in the village. They don't have sit-down toilets in the village. They have squatting toilets. Some of them aren't so bad, if they are kept clean. Using them really wasn't so bad. They are pretty easy to figure out. The one closest to our campsite, however, was pretty nasty. It was discolored, and the little closet always smelt like urine. But you do what you have to do. I went in there one night, using my phone as a flashlight (I'm sure you already see where I am going with this). I bought a cheap little cell phone to use while I am in Tanzania. It probably cost about 25 USD. Having forgotten my headlamp back at my homestay, I had to use my cell phone. Well, I walk into this gross little room and start looking around for somewhere I can set down the phone so that it won't get contaminated, but so that I can use the light. As I'm looking around, I drop the phone....and it goes directly down the hole. Suddenly it is pitch black, and I know the phone is gone forever. I start laughing, because, why not? It was a cheap phone, and what a place to lose it! The downside was that I was now without a flashlight for the rest of my stay in the village. I bought a new phone when I got back to Arusha, and was able to get the same number and retrieve the minutes I had already purchased. And  I have been able to give several people a good laugh when I told them I dropped my phone down a squatter.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

On living in Arusha

After living in Tanzania for a whole week, I am now an expert on the culture here. So I will share my observations on life here in Arusha.

First up, the driving. It's pretty amusing and at times terrifying. They drive on the left side of the road here, but other than that the rules of the road are pretty loose. The cars have the right of way. Always. Occasionally a car will wave for you to cross, but usually it is your responsibility to get out of their way. Not that they are going to run you over if you don't, but they will honk and go around you, clearing you by about two feet. They don't seem to be very concerned about driving very close to other cars, pedestrians, bikes, motorcycles, goats...I'm sure I'll get used to it, but right now I keep thinking, "Oh my gosh, he's going to hit that dog. He is, he's going to hit it. He's not even slowing down....Oh. Nevermind." Also, there are no stop lights, no stop signs, and no one directing traffic. Everyone just seems to understand the routine of driving here.

The transportation is definitely different as well. At various spots along the major road you will find groups of parked cars, motorcycles, and bikes, with a bunch of guys standing nearby. These are all ways of getting around. You just hop on the back of some guys motorcycle (don't worry, Dad, I won't). There is also the "bus" system, known as the daladalas. They are little Toyota vans that they cram about fifteen people into, plus the driver and the conductor. At first they intimidated me. Now I find them entertaining. The conductor is always hanging out of the side window, calling at people or whistling as the daladala drives past, asking if people need to get on. I went on my first ride in one this morning, and it wasn't so bad. The conductor just stands by the side window hanging out up to his torso. He taps on the top of the van when he wants the driver to stop, and taps on it again when he is ready to go. Often the daladala starts driving away before the conductor is even back in, and he just hops in while it is driving away. Also, they don't wait for you to sit down before it drives away, as I discovered when I almost fell over when I got in for the first time.

The food here is very good, but definitely starch based (not that I mind; I like starch). Most meals have some base: rice, roasted plantains, chips (fries), or pasta. Rice is probably the most common. The first time I had roasted plantains, I expected it to be a little sweet, but it is really much more like a baked potato: starchy with a very mild flavor. They eat dinner very late here because they get hungry late at night if they eat it earlier. I've generally eaten dinner with my host family around 8pm, though some of the people I've talked to say they usually have dinner around 9. Apparently snacking isn't very big here. People tend to stick with the three main meals, so they are spaced so that they don't get too hungry in between meals. So far, I have loved the food that I have been served.

Animals here are handled a bit differently than in the US. Many families raise chickens to sell, so it is not uncommon to see roosters pecking about the neighborhood. I have also seen the occasional goat. Dogs here are not pets. They are guard dogs. People don't allow dogs in the house, and they think it is so strange that we do, and unbelievable that we would let them sleep in our beds. I can see their point because most of the dogs here are quite dirty. There are many dogs wandering around (I'm not sure how many of them are strays and how many belong to a family, but I think quite a few of them are strays). They are usually scavenging for food or sleeping in the shade. The people mostly ignore them, and the dogs do the same. As a dog lover, it is hard to see the dogs and never stop to pet them. I am tempted to carry bits of food with me to toss at the dogs. After all, they mostly eat garbage and table scraps here anyway.

One things I've noticed about Arusha is that is is rarely quiet, which at times is invigorating but sometimes it is overwhelming. During the day there is a lot of talking, laughing, horns honking, music, etc. At night there is a lot of barking, as that's when the dogs do their job. If you are prone to be annoyed at a neighbor's barking dog, Arusha is not the place for you. I don't mind the barking. I sleep through that easily enough. In the morning the honking starts up and the roosters become active. There are so many roosters. I suppose the noise level here is like many other big cities (although Arusha really isn't that big), but there is a greater variety in the types of noises. It is so different to be in a place where you can hear as many car honks as roosters.

Several people have asked me if it is beautiful here, and I haven't been quite sure how to answer that question. Really, the answer is yes and no. There are many beautiful plants here, and Mount Meru is very beautiful and so close. The plant life here in Arusha is fairly tropical, so I enjoy walking around and looking at the trees and plants. As far as the buildings reality they have little aesthetic appeal. I was told before I came here that Tanzania is a fairly poor country, and it is true. Most buildings are pretty run down and look more like the abandoned buildings you might see in the states (Except for the hotels, of course. They provide a certain amount of visual dissonance). I would say that Arusha and the area around Arusha is beautiful in a humble, resilient, irrepressible kind of way. Because it is the dry season, the landscape around Arusha is quite dry, but I can only imagine how much it comes to life when the rains renew it. The plant life here is made to weather those extremes in water availability. It is similar with the people here. So much of what we have done in America is to make our life as consistently convenient as possible. Many of the things I have grown so accustomed to are not available here, like easily available safe drinking water. Here they boil there drinking water. In fact, hot water isn't something that most families here can access by turning on the spout. They usually have to heat their water on the stove. The family that I am staying with doesn't have a shower, or a bath tub. They take bucket baths (that is when you have warm water in a bucket and you use a bowl to pour water over yourself). There are no washing machines; clothes are hand-washed and line-dried.This is not to say that they are completely without technology. Everyone has a cellphone, and they are just as attached to their phones as we are in the states (granted, they generally don't have smart phones). Many families, I think, have a tv or a laptop, or both. Despite these things, many of the technologies we have in the US that function to make our lives more convenient are not easily available here. But no one seems to mind. No one seems to notice the inconvenience, and may not even see it that way. Not like in the states where we wilt where our AC stops working. Although most of the details of life here are quite different than in the states, all of the core things that really comprise a life are the same: food, work, education, friends, and, of course, family. Anyway, I do see some beauty in that ability to take life in stride, unflustered by anything that I might typically find inconvenient or uncomfortable.

Of course, I'm not saying now that I am ready to give up my comforts back home. I still feel homesick at times and am too attached to anything familiar or associated with home to consider giving up any of it at this time. Ask me in three weeks.

I'm sorry that there are no pictures again. I have been taking some, but I can't quite figure out how to upload them. Sorry.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Now the real adventure begins....

I will save my Amsterdam post of another day...probably after I leave Tanzania.

I arrived safely in Tanzania, slightly worse for the wear. I had to change planes in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. My flight there ended up being delayed. I had to inform my contacts in Tanzania of my new arrival time, so that someone could be at the airport to pick me up. This posed a problem as I didn't have a cell phone, a calling card, or change (not that this mattered, I was told the payphone in that terminal weren't working. No joke, it was a pretty dismal airport). An employee at the airport let me use his phone, which I ended up paying him $20 for (I didn't have any smaller bills and he didn't want Euros. I was too stressed to argue). After many attempts at making an international call, I was able to get a hold of someone in Tanzania. I was told it ws no problem, someone would be there to pick me up at my new arrival time.

As luck would have it, my plane was further delayed by an hour and a half. I started to panic and envision the worst: I wouldn't be able to get my visa, my luggage wouldn't arrive, there would be no one waiting for me since my plane was so late. I'm not going to lie, it was a very long and stressful day. I spent a good eight hours feeling quite panicked and cursing myself for wanting to make this trip in the first place. Having resigned myself to the worst, I was very thankful to find the visa process went smoothly, my luggage did arrive, and the blessed people who were to pick me up were still waiting for my incredibly delayed flight. After that I started to feel much better about my trip.

We had our first day of orientation today. There are four of us volunteers that started this week, and there is also a group of college students here for school credit. They have been here five weeks, with many more to go. Of the four volunteers, I will be here the shortest amount of time. Two of them will be here for nine weeks, and the other will be here for seven and a half months.

They took us on a drive around Arusha today, and the culture shock is definitely starting to set in. It is unlike anyplace I have ever been. Sure, I had never been to London, Paris, or Amsterdam before, but navigating those cities was a lot like navigating any big city in the US. Not Arusha. I am afraid to leave the hostel without any of the other volunteers, which makes me really nervous for Thursday morning, because Wedneday night will be my first with my host family. Which means I have to get myself to the GSC office on my own Thursday morning.

We have orientation the rest of this week, and we travel to villages starting next Monday. I am excited to see what the rest of this trip holds, though admittedly I am feeling a little homesick right now.

Sorry there are no pictures for this post. I have been in too much shock to take any! I promise there will be pictures to come.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Adventure Continues in Paris

Next stop in my international travels: Paris!

We arrived in Paris around 5:30 pm, wrestled our luggage off the train, and mentally prepared to navigate our way through a non-English speaking country. We immediately had trouble. The machines to purchase train tickets did not take our American credit cards, and the man we asked for help didn't really speak English (fortunately, he was willing to try to communicate with us). So we waited in line to buy tickets at the kiosk, where I made a fool of myself trying to use the credit card machine. After some very amusing mishaps with my suitcases, we managed to get down to the train platform and on the train, and we were finally on our way to our hotel.

We all settled into our hotel, and then Rachel and I went out for some dinner. We found a cute bakery with delicious croissants, and decided to immediately start in with the French pastries. I didn't understand the woman when she told me the amount, so I just held out my hand full of coins and let her pick out what she needed, or what she wanted. I'm not sure. We picked up some Camembert cheese on our way back to the hotel, and enjoyed our first French meal. It was delicious and fattening, like most of my meals in Paris.

The next morning we took the Metro to the Arc de Triomphe, then walked down the Champs-Elysees to the Louvre, repeating to myself every two minutes: Champs-Elysees (I was determined to get the pronunciation right). We stopped at a little cafe near the Louvre for lunch, where, again, I had bread and cheese, and it was delicious.

Arc de Triomphe

Walking along the Champs-Elysees

We spent three hours in the Louvre, and it wasn't enough. We hit all the major spots: Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, the Lacemaker. We didn't even get to all the wings, and what we did get to was pretty rushed. I could have spent all day there. I loved it. Unfortunately the French don't like to provide provide English translations of the painting titles or descriptions, so I learned very little in the Louvre about the works of art. It was still pretty incredible.

The Louvre

After resting our feet, we made our way to the Eiffel Tower. We even got to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower that night, and overlooked all the city lights. At the risk of sounding sappy, it was magical and energizing (Sort of. I mean, it wasn't so energizing that it could overcome a day of walking and jet lag).

On Tuesday we made our trip to Versailles. After sleeping in until 9:30 (the latest we had slept in up to that point), we eventually made our way out of our hotel and to the Metro. Unfortunately, getting on the train to Versailles did not go as smoothly as we hoped. Again, the machine to buy tickets would not take our credit card, but there was no help desk this time. None of us had enough coins to buy our ticket, and the machine did not take bills, so we trekked out to find a bank to exchange our bills for coins. The bank we found was no help. In fact, the teller was quite rude. So we each bought a drink from a nearby shop and asked for our change in coins. And then we were on our way to Versailles.

Versailles was incredible. I have never in my life seen anything even close to as opulent as that palace. It was huge. My regret is that my memory of French monarchy history was shaky at best, so I've determined to do some research so that I can better understand what I saw. We didn't get to see much of the gardens, but they were so extensive it would have taken hours to knock out any significant portion of it. We did stumble upon Queen's Hamlet, a little village made by the request of Marie-Antoinette. It was a charming little corner of the grounds with old cottages, vegetable gardens, water wheels, and a little lake. If anybody reading this ever visits Versailles, don't miss Queen's Hamlet. I liked it even more than the palace because of its serenity and smaller crowds.


Wednesday morning, our last few hours in Paris (so we thought), we went to an ancient Roman arena that dated back to the first century BC. It was a nice spot to visit because it is not a huge tourist trap. In fact, there were probably a total of ten people in the entire arena, four of whom were doing Tai Chi. After that we walked over to Notre Dame, which I loved. Admission was free! It was so beautiful, on the outside and inside. The rose windows are incredible, and it was amazing to see them in person.

Stained glass window in Notre Dame

After Notre Dame it was time to catch our train up to Amsterdam. Unfortunately, a strike in Brussels caused our train to be cancelled, as we found out when we arrived at the station. We were given the name and numbers of some bus companies that could take us to Amsterdam. We were unable to work the phones, or communicate with the guy at the nearby kiosk that we wanted a calling card (he just waved us out of the store). So Arianne and I left Rachel and Christa to watch our luggage and went in search of an internet cafe. Eventually we found one, bought a few drinks, and spent about 45 minutes using an iPhone to buy bus tickets, map out how to get from the bus station in Amsterdam to my sister's apartment, and email my sister about the change in our plans. We used the iPhone to find a little shop nearby that might allow us to print off our bus tickets. Miraculously, we found it. It was a tiny, hole-in-the-wall shop that had computer stations and printers. We printed our bus tickets, ran back to the train stations, gathered our luggage, and took our last metro ride to the bus station. So we boarded a bus to Amsterdam about an hour before we were originally scheduled to arrive in Amsterdam. We waved goodbye to Paris, and enjoyed the French countryside until the sunset.

And thus ended our time in France.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

European Adventure Part 1: England

I am sad to say that my time in Europe is swiftly coming to a close. I have now more than doubled the number of countries I have visited (the tally is up to 5). To prevent information overload, I will break up my pre-Tanzania time by location. First up, England! 

We arrived around 9 am Thursday morning. I went through customs for the first time in my life and felt like a kid on Christmas morning when I walked away with my first stamp in my passport. Our time in England was pretty booked. We located the Underground and made our way to our hotel, me carting two suitcases behind me (filled with 14 pounds of baking soda, Ghirardelli chocolate chips, and various other goods for my siblings). We then immediately went to Westminster Abbey, which was incredible. There was so much to see there, and we were so tired, that I'm afraid most of that experience is a blur. I remember a lot of tombs and shrines, some very old and some very regal. The architecture was breath-taking and detailed to the point that I couldn't even take it all in.

This was our hotel room the first night. I am literally squeezed into the far corner of the room. The door is "the tiny loo."

Westminster Abbey

As wonderful as Westminster was, we barely made it through before the jet lag started to take its toll. We went back to the hotel for a couple of hours to nap before heading off to the Her Majesty's Theater to see Phantom of the Opera. It was a very good production, and I really enjoyed it, but was struggling to stay awake near the end. We managed to stumble our way back to our hotel and crashed...until about 4 in the morning when I woke up and laid in bed for an hour and a half, wide awake. We still managed to get up and out before nine the next morning. We had a train to catch to the Harry Potter Studios. The tour of the studios was really fun. I definitely enjoyed the books and the movies, but my friend Arianne is a big fan. Now it was her turn to be a kid on Christmas morning. 

Hogwarts- they used this model for shots of the castle in the movies.

After the tour we took a train out to Coventry to visit my brother, John, and his family. We happened to arrive on his birthday, so we helped him celebrate by eating a delicious chocolate cake. My friends had tickets to tour Buckingham Palace the next day, so they only spent the night in Coventry. I stayed behind to spend the day with my family. I went with Dakin and the kids to Kenilworth Castle and then to Abbey Fields. Kenilworth was really a beautiful little town, comprised of castle ruins, old brick building, and thatch-roofed cottages. After Kenilworth, we picked up John and went to Charlecote Park, an old manor house near Stratford that backed on the River Avon. We then made a quick trip over to Stratford-upon-Avon, where I snapped a few quick pictures of Shakespeare's birthplace, ate some fish and chips, and then rushed back to Coventry to catch my bus to London.

Elizabeth, me, Zach, and Luke at Kenilworth Castle.
Abbey Park
Zach, Me, Luke, Rebecca, Dakin, and Elizabeth outside of Charelcote Park.
The next morning we only had a few hours left in London, so we took the Underground over to Harrods, which was unfortunately closed. So we walked up to Hyde Park, walked around, did some classic tourist shopping on Camden High Street, and then caught the chunnel at King's Cross, and were on our way to Paris!! 

The canal behind our hotel in Camden Locks.
We were sad to leave England. There was so much we wanted to see and tried to get it as much in as we could. It was so fun to spend time with my brother and his family, and I wish I had more time to spend with them exploring the area where they live. I loved the English countryside, and wanted to see so much more of it. I guess that just means I will have to come back someday....

Saturday, September 1, 2012

And the Countdown Begins...

Less than 4 weeks until I hop on a plane and begin my international adventure. So many thoughts have been going through my head, but the predominant thought has been, "Holy crap."

I found this picture on Facebook recently:

Yep. That pretty much sums things up. Everything about this trip has been outside my comfort zone, starting with the fundraising. I put that off for a few months because it terrified me. Sending out letters begging people for money? That was a level of exposure and vulnerability that afforded me daily anxiety for several weeks. But I have been overwhelmed by the support I have received from my family and friends. Honestly (and I know this will sound sappy) every time I received a check in the mail, or a notification of a PayPal donation, or even a friendly and encouraging comment on Facebook, my eyes would well up with tears. Because there was so much anxiety surrounding the fundraising, every single positive response I got provided this rush of relief and overwhelming gratitude for the supportive and kind people I know. I'm not sure what I expected. I know nice people. But there was this fear that others would think less of me, would feel I was imposing on a relationship, or think various other negative things about me. So I can't express enough gratitude for every person who said a kind word to me about my trip, and especially to those who donated. This trip would not be happening without the generosity of my friends and family.

And now that the trip is rapidly approaching, I am starting to feel this fear of the unknown. I've always struggled with wanting to stay where it is comfortable. I might like the idea of something, but when it comes to actually executing it...well, that sounds scary and hard. And the closer I get to September 26th (the day my flight leaves, in case that wasn't obvious), the more aware I become of just how far outside my comfort zone this experience will be. I went to Canada once. That is the extent of my international travels. And here I am. On the brink of traveling to Tanzania. Alone.

But really, that is the point of the trip. To see something totally new, completely outside my realm of experience. To interact and learn about a new culture. To experience a way of living utterly different than what I have experienced. To have culture shock. And to provide service while I do it.

There is a line from a John Mayer song that I think I am finally beginning to understand. "Fear is a friend who's misunderstood." So whereas I try not to take counsel from my fears, I recognize that without fear, I would never know where my comfort zone is. I would not know how to challenge myself. My fears teach me about my limitations, so that  I can work to overcome them.

So stay-tuned. This blog will offer a first-hand account of The Adventures of Katy Overcoming Her Fears (some of them, at least), International Edition.

You know, in 4-ish weeks.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

FundRazr Page

So it was pointed out to me by my lovely sister, Donna, that the PayPal link wasn't working, and she asked if I have a fundraiser page. Well, I didn't, but now I do (great idea, Donna!)

You can now visit my FundRazr page and make donations there!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

In Which I Supplicate for Financial Assistance

It is no secret to long-time readers of my blog that for several years I have aspired to participate in a volunteer program in Africa. Well, it is finally happening!! I am scheduled to go to Tanzania this October with Global Service Corps (GSC).

This October I will be participating in GSC's Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security Program near Arusha. While there, I will be participating in rural trainings in bio-intensive agriculture, poultry vaccinations, and other projects that work to improve the food security and nutrition of Tanzania’s most vulnerable populations. GSC is a non-profit organization that has been operating since 1992. Since then, GSC has designed and implemented sustainable community development programs in Kenya, Tanzania, and Thailand. GSC has partnered with some of the leading organizations in international development, including the Food and Agricultural Association of the United Nations, Africare, Heifer International, and Programs for Appropriate Technology in Health.

What I will be doing in Tanzania!
 I'm really excited for this opportunity and have been working to raise money for this program. The fee for my 4-week program is $3,771. This fee includes in-country training and orientation, project administration and oversight, meals and accommodations, and local transportation. I want to invite anybody that is interested to make a donation toward my program fee. Any donation, no matter how small, is greatly appreciated! I understand that not everyone will be able to donate, but know that I also appreciate your thoughts and prayers! 

Any donation made to GSC on my behalf is 100% tax deductible and goes toward my program cost. If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation, please contact me at Alternatively, you can donate on my behalf via PayPal:

I greatly appreciate any and all support and consideration! I promise I will fill my blog with amazing pictures and stories from my time in Tanzania! If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email me or leave a comment.


Monday, June 18, 2012

What the...?

A few weeks ago I read an article linked by a friend on Facebook titled, "'The Demise of Guys': How video games and porn are ruining a generation." Basically, the article discusses some of the negative impacts of video game and porn addictions. Now, I can understand why men would feel a little defensive about this article given the title; certainly not all or even a majority of men suffer from either of these addictions. Still, I was shocked when I read the comments posted on this article. This article had nothing to do with women, other than to point out that video games and porn addictions are not conducive to a successful and healthy relationship. And yet it was a common pattern throughout the comment dialogue to attack (sometimes quite viciously) women. Many of these hateful comments expressed this basic sentiment: "If women  _______ (stopped whining, stopped expecting communication in relationships, would stay in the kitchen, were more attractive, or my favorite, would "give it up" more) then men wouldn't need these outlets."  Seriously, people? Disturbing. Oh well, right? Brush it off as trolls being trolls. 

Until I found this: A female video blogger and pop culture critic recently started a Kickstart campaign to fund her newest project of "Tropes vs. Women in Video Games." And the backlash was much worse then the comments I found on this article. In fact, several online video game forums organized online attacks against this women, including changing her Wikipedia article to include racist, sexist, and just all-around offensive language, and flooding her youtube channel with equally hateful comments. 

And all this made me think. What is the deal with this link between video games and misogny? Really, what makes some of these video gamers so defensive, but more than that, so prone to verbally attack women? As a disclaimer, I know many men who play video games who are respectful men and good husbands. But the fact that so many men defended their video gaming by attacking women in the first example, and so many video gamers attacked this woman just for wanting to point out some of the sexist tropes in video games in the second, strikes me as not just coincidental. 

So am I opening this up for your discussion (I mean for the 6 people who read my blog). What do you think is going on here? 

Here are the links so you can do your own research:

Thursday, March 15, 2012

As promised

Remember a few months ago when I promised I would post pictures of me as a brunette? I didn't forget. I just wanted to keep you in suspense. But the wait is now over!

I think sometime in the next few months I will lighten it and eventually return to blonde. But it has been fun to try something new.

So what do you think?