Life is like a thrill-a-minute ride. Or like staring at the wall.

Okay, so it’s been a while since I’ve updated this baby. My bad. But, quite frankly, while virtually every aspect of my life is really different from what it was in the States, sometimes it’s still… well, down-right uneventful (read: boring). How is that possible, you may be wondering? Let me take you on a tour that is my life in TZ.

6:30-7:00 wake up, do the usual morning stuff
8:00 (some days) Go to the primary school by my house, where I usually hang out in the teachers’ lounge listening, talking, looking at school books or tagging along with teachers to their classes
10:15-10:45 chai (tea) break
10:45-12:30 back to school (…maybe)
12:30-2:30-ish lunch break
2:30-ish-4:30 back to school (…maybe)

Around 4:30 or 5, I usually light my charcoal jiko (stove) and wait for it to get hot enough to start cooking. Around 6:45, I start cleaning up from dinner and start mouse-proofing my house around 7:30. Yep, I’ve traded bats for mice. Well, mouse, anyway. I never expected to say this, but I would almost rather have the bats. Yeah, they’re both gross, but at least the bats never chewed up my stuff. Anyway, it starts to get dark here around 7:15, so I’ve usually got everything shut up and am tucked into the safety of my mosquito net (mostly to keep the spiders off me, as it’s pretty cold and windy here, cutting down on the mosquitoes) by 7:30 or 7:45. Turns out, candles are expensive and there’s really not much reason in me wasting them to just sit by myself. Especially when I can lay on my bed and watch a show on my ipod or read by the light of the handy flashlight on my solar charger’s battery pack. Then I usually go to sleep around 9 or 9:30. I think this Peace Corps stint may allow me to catch up on all those years of getting four or five hours of sleep a night…

If I don’t go to the school, I usually hang around my house and may clean, do laundry (my favorite thing ever, doing laundry by hand—go kiss your washing machine, right now!!), study Swahili, or read. During the day, I may go into the main part of my vil and see if anything is going on at our clinic (never is), talk to the clinic manager and nurses to figure out how we can actually get it up and running, go talk to people in the dukas (little shops), or just walk around. Once or twice a week, I walk to the main village (about a half hour’s walk) or I visit my site-mate’s vil (about 45 minutes away). And about every two weeks, I head into Njombe Town to meet up with other Volunteers and decompress a bit.

Lately I’ve been doing interviews of people in my vil for my VSA (Village…. Survey Analysis? I can never remember. I think I need to laminate a list of PC acronyms… there are too many for my brain to hold), which is basically a survey that I have to turn into a report (in Kiswahili) and will use to figure out exactly what I’ll be doing here for the next two-ish years. So far, I’ve interviewed 22 families, a group of the village leaders, a few committees and the people working at the clinic—with the help of my ah-MAZING neighbor. So trying to put all of that into a report in another language is keeping me somewhat busy for the time being. Well, it’s keeping my floors swept, dishes clean, clothes washed/folded/nicely organized and has added about seven new playlists to my ipod. It’s way harder to procrastinate without constant access to facebook and TV.

So. Even though I speak a different language most of the time (er, try to), cook using a little charcoal stove, try to make up new meals using the same seven ingredients, use a squat toilet, take a legit bath (bucket or otherwise) about once a week (did I mention it’s really cold here? Also, thank goodness for dry shampoo and perfume), go to bed crazy early and wake up crazy late (for me) and live in this new, amazing place…. sometimes you just can’t escape slipping into dull-routine-mode. And down-time can be a killer; it’s pretty exhausting trying to find ways to fill the day sometimes.

In about a week and a half, I’ll be heading to IST in Morogoro—which will mark three months at site (What, already? How??), and will be a crazy-awesome reunion with the other 40 people in my group (all still standing from Philly! Go team!! And yes, I just knocked on wood….), which I am beyond ridiculously excited for! Oh, yeah and it sounds like there may be some other training-related stuff going on. But mostly it’s a reunion :-D So there will probably be some great material for future posts in the next month. Promise.

But now to answer some of the questions I’ve gotten lately:

–How safe do you feel there? Very. Seriously. My neighbors are phenomenal. As are the village leaders and really most of the people I’ve gotten to know. The only danger I’ve been in so far has been self-imposed and mostly due to my awesome walking skills and issues with gravity.
–Have you started working yet? I like to answer this one by saying: the minute I stepped off the plane. First, learning language and customs in Tanga, and now by getting to know and becoming a part of my village. But, I guess in the technical sense, not really. I will be working with my vil trying to get the clinic open and functioning, maybe teaching at the primary school and working on the list that people have given me of what they would like to accomplish while I’m here. But so far, all I’ve done is help a *teeny* bit with a girls’ conference that the other Volunteers in my region organized (well, I mostly observed, really.
–What do you eat? Uh. Well, mostly rice or spaghetti with veggies and curry sauce. I don’t really like to cook meat here, because you have to either kill it or buy it and carry it home wrapped in newspaper. Also, no fridge, so I have no idea how to keep any leftovers there may be. Just scares me and I’d rather not deal with it, so mostly I just eat meat if I’m served it while visiting someone or when I’m in town. Otherwise, I make beans of some sort or eggs, when they’re around. Funny thing, you can’t walk without tripping over a damn chicken, but when you start looking for eggs, it’s like they’ve all disappeared. I’ve also just experimented making chapatti (kinda like tortillas) and love making guac when there are avocadoes around, so there may be a taco night in the near future. I’m going to give baking my own bread a go next week, too. There’s also this stuff called ugali that people here eat. It’s made with corn flour and the closest thing I can think to compare it to is grits or cream of wheat…but with the consistency of play-dough. And no taste to speak of. I’m not a huge fan of it, but was given enough flour to make ugali for a year or so, so we’ll see. Potato harvesting just started a bit ago, so I’ve eaten nothing but potatoes for the last three days or so—one of the key factors for me being in town for the weekend….. Also, peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches are always a nice fall-back.
–How do you get around? Does Peace Corps drive you? Oops, sorry, just fell off my chair, laughing. Ha. That would be nice. Nope, public transportation, all the way. That usually means a coasta (maybe about the size of an airport shuttle bus) that should fit about 30 people maybe, but usually has upwards of 50 on-board, along with all of their stuff and usually a few chickens. On days that I’m lucky, I get a seat. Okay, no, I usually get a seat, but no leg room and I’m always holding at least one bag/child/chicken in my lap. If I’m not sitting in one of the front seats, I like to keep as many bags on my lap as I can, to decrease the odds of being handed something else. Kids I don’t mind holding, I guess (especially the older ones that are less likely to pee on you—they don’t use diapers here, just wrap the kid in a ton of blankets), but I’m not a fan of the chickens. They’re kinda creepy. And smelly.

Okay, well, that’s all I’ve got for now. Hope that made up for the lack of news for a month or so!
If there’s anything else you’re dying to know, shoot me an email.

Hope you’re all well and I miss you like mad!!

Yup.

Okay, so it’s been forever since I updated last and like a zillion and twelve things have happened since then.  My apologies.  Turns out, irregular access to internet, coupled with already being bad at posting these things in the first place is not a good combination.  Oh well, here’s a quick run-down since the last post:

Had Thanksgiving (with mashed potatoes, broccoli and green beans and cranberry jelly!!) with our whole class, got site announcements (Singida region), went to shadow week in Mbeya and got to chill and meet some awesome people, got my site switched to Njombe, packed up and said goodbye to mine and my friends’ host families and  to went back to Dar and all its mad, sweaty hot-ness (somehow, I think it was even hotter than Tanga), went to a real mall and saw a movie in an air conditioned theater, got to spend a few last great nights with our whole group all together, swore in and headed to site (a journey that took three days…), have been trying to settle in to my new house and village, had a blast at Christmas and New Year’s with loads of great people and am getting ready to go shopping to furnish my house (I have four rooms, with one table, two chairs and a couch and bed that I am borrowing until I can get some furniture of my own).  I have great neighbors who have been taking really good care of me and helping me meet more people in my village and feel super lucky for everything!!! Especially for the fact that I have no bats in my new house.  There may be rats/mice, but they’re in the ceiling boards, and as long as they hang out up there, we’ll be cool.

So, I hope you all had great a Christmas and New Year’s and I promise to be more on it with updating this thing.  Miss you all!!

I take it all back.

26 October

Re-update: bats are not so bad if they stay far away. If, however, one manages to find its way into a person’s room and fly into said person while putting on mascara (the person, not the bat), then it will be put, once again, into the “OMFG!!!! WTF!!! AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!” category. But with much more actual swearing and shrill-ness. I mean, I could have lost an eye. That happened this morning. I was late to Kiswahili because I went all Dan Aykroid and John Candy in “The Great Outdoors” and spent at least 20 minutes trying to chase my new little roommate the hell out. To no avail. So I told my mama about the situation and my dada (sister) told me that I shouldn’t be scared because it’s a ‘blessing.’ Maybe she thought I said Matt Damon was in my room? Matt…. bat…. kinda the same? I guess it is a blessing that I didn’t spear my eye ball with the mascara wand? Also, I got to use the excuse “sorry I’m late, there’s a bat in my room.” If I ever get to use “the monkeys stole my homework,” I will consider my life to be complete.

Bats, part deux.

25 October

Update: if you run into a room where there are bats, waving a flashlight and making noise, my mapopo friends are more likely to fly about, squeaking. If, however, you go in quietly and keep your light pointed at the ground, you won’t even know they’re there. It has taken me almost a week to figure this out. Plus side: no bats flying at me (YAY!). Down side: it makes the story slightly less impressive (and me seem waaay less brave), since it turns out that they’re pretty much harmless, after all. Not that I won’t be busting this story out at parties for years to come….

Runnin’ from the ‘Popo

23 October

Fear not, dear readers: I have neither initiated nor been a part of any international incidents (that I know of), nor do I have plans of doing so. My popo are of the decidedly smaller and grosser variety: mapopo. In English? Bats. Turns out, they dig hanging around attics. And, if said attic happens to have slight structural blemishes (er, holes that go through to the room below), the bats will relocate to the underside for the evening.
• Quick back story: my host family is nice (no comparison to all of you at my various “homes,” but still, quite nice). I stay with my ‘mama’ on her family’s compound. She, her sisters, daughters and various children (though I’m still not quite certain who belongs to whom) live in the main house. Her brother, his wife and their children live in the other part of the house I’m staying in, and there is another building that another uncle and (someone’s) Bibi (grandmother) live in. The house I’m in used to be the “main house” and from what I can see, it was gorgeous (still is). I can tell I watched a lot of HGTV before I left, because, when I look around, all I can think of is how much I want to pull out some sheet rock and paint cans. There’s a nice big porch in front that wraps around either side of the house. On the left, it leads to a big, half-covered patio. The front door opens up to a huge living room and dining room, which I go through to get to my room—which is seriously twice the size of the biggest bedroom I ever had in the States, with its own bathroom (including western toilet—score!—but no running water). But back to my mapopo…
So, after dinner with the family in the main house, I come back to my house, pull my kitanga over my head and run for it. Luckily, I hear bats are in the “more afraid of me than I am of them” category and we just finished up with our rabies shots, so I figure I’m pretty safe. Plus, there are so few bugs and mosquitoes in this house that I could quite comfortably sleep without my mosquito net…. Won’t though, don’t worry. And tonight I took a different way in to my room—sans bats—and will be using this way as often as possible in the future. But again, I’m sitting here writing when I should be sleeping. The bats and I send our love!! Usiku mwema!

Here comes the boogey man….. er, Mzungu….

22 October

So, by last count, we’ve been in Tanzania for ten days. Which seems insane. This afternoon, in Kiswahili class, we each wrote an entire paragraph, defining our daily routines (as if we even have such things, after being with our host families for a grand total of four days, now). This is after basically two and a half days of formal language class and maybe ten hours of “emergency Kiswahili,” which we did during our days in Dar, so that we could do (slightly) more than just smile and nod at our host families. And, for those of you that may be curious, here’s what my “typical” day looks like:

630- my mama brings me hot water for my bucket bath
730- eat breakfast (usually an orange or banana, some kind of bread and chai [tea])
745- leave for class—it’s maybe an eight to ten minute walk from my house to where we have class, but it usually takes 15-20 minutes, depending on how many people stop me to talk…
*HILARIOUS story: the other morning, I walked around a corner and came up to a little boy
and girl playing in the dirt (that seems to be a universal favorite). Neither of them could
have been more than three, and the little guy was facing me and the girl was in between us,
facing him (aka: didn’t have the slightest idea what was about to go down). Anyway, as I
popped around the corner, the little guy took one look at me and started screaming. Cue
the little girl turning around and following suit. Then they both ran, like their lives depended
on it, to their mama and baba (dad), who were practically on the ground, laughing. I felt bad
for scaring them, but was also laughing pretty hard. Apparently, scaring the crap out of
children is funny to adults the world over. Now I know how mall Santas must feel. Anyway…
800- get to class, usually last—and I have this funny feeling that living in Africa for over two years is going to do approximately squat for my punctuality issues….
1030- chai break
1100- back to work
1230- lunch break
1330- back to work (first time in my life that I get an hour-long lunch break!)
1630-1700 (depending on the day)- done with class!

The walk home from class takes considerably longer, as there are usually more people out and about at this time of day. By the time I get to my family’s house, I usually have seven or eight kiddos in tow. Yesterday, the other four PCTs in my CBT and our language instructor came to see my house and visit my mama (we visited everyone else’s houses, too), and we attracted so many people that I felt like we should have been throwing candy and bead necklaces. But once I get home, I usually spend the evening with the little kids, singing songs and playing games til dinner time, around 730-8. After eating, I usually head to my room to start getting ready for bed, then read, write or study. Which brings me to tonight and the fact that it’s past my bed time.

Lala salama!!

Mambo!

I’m in Tanzania!!!  And it is HOT!  Like, sweat just because you’re breathing, hot.  Pretty much exactly what I was hoping for.  But to back track a little….

After leaving MN, I went to Kansas to hang out with the fam before leaving and to go to Natalie and Jason’s wedding!!  It was great fun–got to see a lot of my family and they had some great reception activities (a photo booth set-up, sumo wrestling ring, s’more station….)–overall way fun and I’m super excited that we now have two awesome Jasons in the family!  After the wedding, I got to hang around with Mom and Dad for a few more days before heading out to Oregon to spend a bit more time with Jenny, Michelle, her Jason and my sweet new nephew, James (whom I held for the better part of four days).  Michelle and Jen drove me out to the Portland airport last Sunday to hop on a plane to Philadelphia for staging.

Staging was kind of intense.  Besides the jumble of emotion and jet lag, I met 40 of my fellow Peace Corps Trainees, who are all pretty awesome and I think will make being away from home for the next two years waaaaay less lonely–I’m super excited that I get to go through this with such an amazing group!

Anyway, my internet time is running out and I need to wrap this up.  We left Philly on Tuesday morning, took a bus to Newark, flew to Amsterdam, then on to Kilimanjaro (in TZ), where we picked up new passengers, before heading on to Dar es Salaam.  By the time we finally got into Dar, it was about 10 PM.  I’m really not sure how long it was that we were traveling, but it’s safe to say that was the longest trip of my life.  Also, jet lag is a bitch.  My days and sleep schedule are a complete wreck.  There is a light at the end of the tunnel, though: last night I only woke up once.

We’ve been staying at a compound run by Catholic nuns since we got here and are leaving to go to our home stays tomorrow.  It’s been an interesting experience, that I’ll have to go into more detail about next time.  For now, just know I’m safe, happy and miss you so much!  Also, my phone turned off a day before I expected it to and I didn’t get to send out the mass text I wanted to, so here it is now: take care, I’ll miss you and I’ll see ya when I get home!!

Kwa heri!

 

*PS: not sure when I’ll get online next, so keep in mind that no news is good news!!