Saturday, December 26, 2009


Well after almost 19 months in Tanzania my travels and experience there are over. Saying goodbye is so hard and resuming a life that is SO different is really hard. I've been home a week now. Home for Christmas and all that. I'm glad to be home. Definitely. But Walter couldn't come with me and I miss him everyday. I know he's an Africa dog and is happier chasing chickens and eating cow poo than he'd ever be in my backyard in California waiting for me to get home from work but it's still so hard. He really is Walter the Wonder Dog and there will never be another like him. So there's Walter that I miss, and then there is the people in Tanzania: my friends in the village and the volunteers I worked with. These are truly some of the most amazing, creative, resilient and funny people I've even know. I'm so privileged that my path in life crossed with theirs.
On that note, and because i like making lists here is a list of 50 most important things I learned while in Tanzania:
1. Get your dog neutered
2. Farm animals are painfully loud and annoying
3. You get used to it
4. Its easy to loose 20 lbs if you used to eat fast food everyday and then you move to Africa
5. You can find something in common with anyone... seriously ANYONE
6. Toilets are overrated
7. There are a-holes, liars, cheaters, thieves, and gossipers everywhere in every country and culture
8. A smile, offers to share meals, and soda are understood in all languages and cultures
9. Sarcasm, regular bathing, and personal space are not
10. When in doubt, consult old people
11. Most of the stuff we refrigerate in the states doesn't really need to be refrigerated
12. Everyone likes butterscotch
13. Chocolate, however, is an acquired taste
13. Listen to your gut
14. Those deprived of power and privileged most of their lives will be the first to abuse it
15. Everyone needs to believe in something
16. Take care of yourself first, you'll never be able to help or inspire anyone when you're all broken down and busted
17. Use snail mail - old fashioned cards and letters are fun to write and receive
18. Trust
19. Pay attention to the way your body and health react in a certain place or with certain people- sometimes it knows better than you do about what's best
21. There's always a way to be happy
22. Teaching- whether its to make pancakes or a new farming technique- is hugely rewarding
23. Be compassionate towards others- just a mere twist of fate would have your places in life reversed
24. Compassion can be really hard- especially when people are screaming in your face, stealing, or hurting children
25. Eat fresh fruit and veggies whenever you can, you'll never know how lucky you are and how good they taste until you can't get your hands on any
26. The developing world is a lot like Little House on the Prairie only with cellphones and the occasional motorcycle
27. When dismounting said motorcycle, do so on the left. Getting off on the right will result in a really painful engine burn
28. Wear sunscreen
29. Plant your own veggie garden, its fun and tastes better
30. Different cultures grieve in very different ways
31. Self-reflection, existential crises, artistry, and volunteerism are privileges of living in a developed country
32. Sometimes it feel really good to cry
33. Unconditional love is likely the best gift ever given or received
34. People will never know what is acceptable or unacceptable to you unless you tell them
35. Rats and snakes are not as scary as I once thought them to be
36. Take a multivitamin
37. Eat yogurt whenever you can, its good for the tummy
38. If you're sad, go sit and play with a baby
39. Faith and hope in personal abilities and power is a difficult concept to teach particularly to people who have never ever been introduced to it before
40. Cherish your education that taught your how to think and discern, where your teachers showed up, and where beatings and sexual assault were not acceptable
41. Make your house a comfortable place to relax but don't get too comfortable that you forget there's a big world beyond it
42. Read- it feels good
43. Don't make yourself miserable for the sake of being being tough or to make some similar point- no one's impressed and mostly, no one is paying attention. Stubbornness does not equal strength of character
44. CLEAN water is the best medicine for most ailments
45. Some rules must have been made with the intention that they would broken... why else would some of them be so stupid?
46. Timing is everything
47. Letting go is the only thing you can really control
48. Exercise- it also feels good
49. Silence, with strangers or friends, is ok and truly isn't that scary
50. Usually we sell ourselves short, we're stronger, more patient, and more flexible that we think

So there is the little wisdom i picked up in my travels. I'm home now and have my old cell phone number 626-590-4592 so feel free to call. Also I'm still raising money for the well in my village. Any donations or ideas on ways to raise money are sooooo appreciated. Much love and be well.

Friday, November 27, 2009

life's a landcruiser?... enjoy the ride

i just had maybe the best car ride of my life (which is saying a lot, i've had some pretty stellar road trips in my life) this morning i woke up early already irritated. i had to make the 1 hour motorcycle ride + the 3 hour bus ride into town to go to the bank. Ugh. If you think banks in the states are annoying try one in tanzania. Lines are a fantasy, so put on your helmet and get ready for full body contact banking. my motorcycle ride was a half hour early so i went without food... i really like my breakfast. then i finally got to the main road to wait for a bus to take me to town and... of course, no buses. an hour later still no buses. a few cars passed but none would slow down for the pathetic looking, hungry peace corps volunteer crouched on the side of the road. i kept flagging each one that passed anyways figuring it couldn't hurt. and it didn't. low and behold after about an hour and a half of waiting a lovley landcruiser slowed down and rolled down its window. Two white faces peered back at me. Now, let me explain to you i almost never see white people, especially when i'm not in town, especially ones i don't already know. so this was a bit of surprise. I asked if they would be passing through Iringa town, they said they were. I asked if it wouldn't be too much trouble to give me a lift there, they said of course it wouldn't be. So i crawled into the 4 wheel drive, leather interiored land cruiser with automatic windows and locks, a functioning air conditioner, a cd player, and a jack to plug your ipod into. It was stepping into another world. One i haven't visited in a LONG time. As we got to talking I found out they were two south african men who worked for a company based in south africa that works all over the world looking for alternative energy sources. Graham and Louie. They were wonderful. We talked the whole way. Louie has been to 84 countries and shared fantastic stories. It was interesting to hear his take on Tanzania in comparison to other African nations and other developing nations on different continents. I was so excited to talk to someone about development work (literally so excited i realized i was trembling a little and couldn't wipe a goofy grin off my face)... what are we doing here? whats our goal? why is it working so much better in Mozambique and Kenya (2 of Tanzanians neighbors) and stalling here in Tanzania. There are so many reasons and here is a man who as seen a lot of countries and cultures and could make some educated comparisons. It was so refreshing and even a little relieving to know that my frustrations and challenges aren't necessarily because of something that i haven't done right. I have come to the conclusion (with the agreement of Louie and Graham) that development work here has gotten ahead of itself. the real problem is in the education system. Swahili is the official language of Tanzania and English is the second language and considered the language of the educated and powerful. In primary school children are spoken to and taught in Swahili, which can be a challenge in the more rural areas because before school many children only speak the tribal language. English is taught as a foreign language the way students in the states are taught Spanish or french in high school. When these Tanzanian students reach secondary school all subjects are taught in English.... and then we wonder why they don't really learn anything. imagine having taken Spanish in high school then going to college where everything was taught in Spanish and you were expected to understand complex subjects such as physics. A little tough right? I will say that their memorization skills are superb. But this is the root of the issues. We need to teach them secondary school in Swahili so they can understand what is being taught or we need to teach them English from the start. This is what Kenya has done and it has been largely successful. Many of the wealthier families send students to boarding schools in Kenya so that they can have a good education and truly learn.

But I digress, the point is that these men were wonderful. They stopped and treated me to a "spot of breakfast" along the way. It was a wonderful surprise and a perfect cure for the bad mood i had started the day with. Louie told me he has started traveling when he was 17 and hasn't stopped. "Its the best education there is." Its true, I've learned things i didn't know were possible to learn, and for better or for worse "you never regret travel." The trip ended with him dropping me off in front of the bank. I told him that i was going in an attempt to reclaim some mysteriously missing funds. His reply was "let me give you my card. if you have any trouble in there call me up. i know the manager and we go way back." this is what i love about life, you meet the most interesting people along the way.... so ya, its been said before but i'll say it again: life is a journey and we should, by all means, enjoy the ride

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Giving Thanks!

Since grandma Blanche passed away a few weeks ago I can’t seem to keep the a certain image of my 3 grandparents who are up in heaven out of my head. There’s Grandpa Whit charming the pants of St. Peter as he leans up against the gates of heaven relating some hysterical (and perhaps slightly indulged) story of his youth. Grandpa Bill is working diligently with the angels figuring out the most efficient protocol for wing repair. And Grandma Blanche would have the big G-O-D cornered giving him her opinions on how things are going down here on earth. In her long and fascinating life Grandma was a lot of things but afraid to speak her mind she was not. I’m eternally grateful for that. She no doubt passed that gift on to her kids and in turn on down to my sisters, cousins, and me.

Speaking of grateful, I think it’s the right time of year to share what it is that I’m most thankful for: (it’s the holidays so I feel that I’m excused for any excessive sentimentality)
This is called the “Grateful ABCs” I do this when I’m feeling grumpy or sad:
A- African women: they are far and away the strongest and most resilient individuals i’ve ever encountered
B- books: I’d be dangerously bored without them. Over 70 read in the last 18 months
C- Clouds: big white puffy ones and rainbows too. I’ve never seen so many in my life. They’re the upside of the depressing rainy season
D- Duct tape: “if you can’t duct it, f--- it”
E- Education that teaches you how to think critically and problem solve. It’s a privilege denied too many.
F- Family and friends: many of whom I don’t get to see often but all of which I’m blessed to be associated with.
G- Gardens: home grown tomatoes and potatoes are the best
H- High fives or “nipe tano” (in Swahili) so happy this is universal
I- Imagination: this goes along with education. I’m so happy that I was taught to have one. I have seen first hand how bleak life can be when imagination is snuffed out of children and absent in adults
J- Jeans: they never get dirty (or look dirty)
K- Kerosene lamps
L- Little kids: self explanatory I think
M- Macaroni and Cheese: even with fake butter and powdered mild it still tastes good!
N- Needle and Thread: for the inevitable holes
O- onions and salt: my only consistent source of seasoning
P- Pancakes and syrup: I can make both on my charcoal stove
Q- Quilts made by hand by African women trying to support their families
R- Rainbows (see clouds)
S- Solar charger: it has allowed me a cell phone and an ipod in a village with no electricity
T- Teeth: you finally see how valuable they are when you’re the only one around with a full set.
U- Unconditional Love: good to have when the conditions are seriously tough
V- Vegetables: again, something that you don’t know how great they are until they are seriously scarce
W- Walter: the best dog in the world!
X- Xanex, hahaha! Just kidding…kind of
Y- Yaks: it’s the only thin I could think of that starts with a Y
Z- Zungumza: Swahili for talking or conversing, as art I’ve started to truly learn in the absence of electronics

Monday, November 9, 2009


So i'm still truckin along here working on a few projects. I've got my homebased care worker training coming up in the next few weeks to train village members to be the first line of care for people living with HIV. I'm also helping my mama's basket group learn a new craft, Batik. And good news on the well construction: we should be getting an official survey very soon!

I've run into a few bumps in the road recently, my village executive officer, my direct village supervisor, was "fukuza"ed out of town. It took me a while to figure out what that word means... turns out it means "banished" or "chased out".... oh. apparently he stole some roofing, i don't know. it didn't go well. so there was that and also a village member stole about $200 from my house... so its been a little rough.

Anyhow, here are some pics. overall things are good. and i'm good!

babysitting on testing day

my friend dada peter's new baby rabi

walter and me in all my braided glory

a nutrition poster i made for the secondary school

getting tested on testing day

my village: this is why i need to raise money to drill a well... its a tad dry

Monday, September 28, 2009

no rest for the weary

and by the weary i do mean me and other volunteers but mostly i mean the people who live here forever, not just for two years, and this is their life.

i've had a few requests for a blog post that actually gives some updates about my life so you (mostly trina) asked for it so here it is:
- peace corps tanzania just had one of it volunteers pass away. his name was joseph chow and he died in a rock climbing accident. he wasn't someone i was personally close to but i know he was a good guy, a solid volunteer, and a member of our peace corps family. he was just a few months away from completing his service and going home. so it hurts for those who were especially close to him but also for everyone here.

- village life has been about the same for me. i just keep pluggin away at the work i try to do here "pole pole ndio mwendo" (slow and surely is the pace) or at least thats what i hear. walter is good. he recently has acquired the ability to jump my courtyard wall that is about 9 feet high... pretty impressive and terribly annoying since that means he can leave my house and terrorize the village at will. when i was gone for a week for my mid service conference he ate 4 guinnea pigs from one of my neighbors... needless to say that were not that happy. he also has injured himself through the endevour..broke/cracked a rib maybe? he had something loose and floatin around in there and a swollen tummy but he's getting better and he's still the love of my life and i'm trying to work out the details of getting him back to the states with me.

the primary school just celebrated its 7th grade graduation (it only goes up to 7th, then you start secondary school) its weird to think that i was here for it last year too... time sure has flown. at the primary we're still working on getting text books. so far we've purchased 169 textbooks in the subjects of english, swahili, math, and science. we've still got more to go but we feel good about the progress we've made.

this week we were also supposed to have our guy from the Living Water International group come out and do the technical water survey for our well-in-progress but he has actually suffered from a terrible accident with his equipment where he severed off one finger completely and half of another! yikes. he seems to be ok but will need some recovery time so it sounds like well progress will be on hold yet again.... TIA.

- i have some other projects in the works: i wrote a grant for a series of 5 "health days" in various villages. we've completed two of these days and so far tested over 700 people for HIV and provided education about HIV prevention as well as living a healthy life with HIV. so far we've had about a 20% HIV positive rate which reinforces the fact that this testing and education is seriously needed. so its a success so far in terms of getting people tested and one that i'm proud of. i'm also planning a home based care training for people in my village in mid november that will train them in how to give palliative care to people in the village living with HIV. i'm waiting for funding for this project but have a lot of community support so i feel confident that it will be successful. and the other project in the works in a 5 day girls empowerment camp. me and 4 other volunteers are planning it. each of us taking 5 girls from our village to the camp where they will have the opportunity to take a break from work, play, have fun, learn about themselves and their bodies, learn some new skills, and hear from some other empowered women of tanzania. we're all very excited about the potential of this camp. keep your fingers crossed for us.

other than that i've been trying to keep myself busy and out of trouble :) life can be tough here sometimes... all the alone time gives a person far too much time to think espeically when it often seems that the history and culture of this country seems to working against my and the efforts of peace corps. i often worry that my work here is just feeding the cycle of dependancy that was set into motion in this country centuries ago first by colonialism, then by poorly implemented missionarly and foreign aide work. for years people here have been made to think that white is better and equals money and that they in themselves are not capable of effecting change in their lives and futures. these attitudes are changing and it is my mission here as well as peace corps idea of development that our role here is to teach, provide skills, tools, and opportunities but some people don't want that, they want money and a quick fix (don't we all) and thats tough for all development workers here and in many developing nations. but i guess thats just the world and human nature.

mac and cheese packages are always appreciated as well as any childrens books anyone has to donate to the school library. feel free...but not obligated to do so. as always i appreciate all your support and love from home. i couldn't do it without you. much love!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Picture update

Lake Momella in arusha national park. this was one of the stops on the trip with the fam. we woke up before dawn to make sure we could see the flamingos.


Sunrise over Mt Meru (with our safari vehicle out in front)

Sunset out on a peninsula in dar es salaam

My friend Alee's wedding to Tesso here in Tanzania. Cristina another volunteer designed her dress, Meesh (the one not in a wedding dress) translated the ceremony, and Alee's dad is a pastor who came from the states to perform the ceremony.

Tesso, Alee, and Me

Walter is a a really good reader.

This is the beach where i get to stay while i'm in Dar for my mid serivce conference... not so bad

These are the Maasai that guard our beach for us all day and night.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

One Year: Check

pretty sunflower farm
picture it took me forever to put up. my dad sent me the paper from home and i had the kids a pic with it. they were stoked.

my 6th grade class that i teach health and english too

clinic day (really its when the mama's bring their babies to get weighed) in the village

HIV testing day in the village!

My apologies to all my faithful blog followers (all four of you) its been awhile since I’ve updated on life and times here in TZ. I also haven’t been able to check my mail in over a month so if someone’s waiting on a snail mail response…sorry. I’ll get to it I promise. One of the reasons I fell so behind is that I had a visitors!!! The whole family!! Mom, Dad, Jess, Jeff, and Amy. It was a bit surreal to have them all hear traveling the bumpy roads and sleeping under mosquito nets with me; a bit like worlds colliding (in a good way J). We had a great time. Mom and Dad and Jess came for two weeks and Amy and Jeff joined us a week into the fun. We visited northern Tanzania to see the animals in the national parks and to visit the Momela lodge which you can see yourself anytime you please by just popping in a copy of John Wayne’s “Hatari” filmed at the lodge in the early 1960’s. Needless to say this was one of its selling points for all of us (but lets be honest, mostly for Dad… he was pretty excited to walk in the steps of the “Duke”) We went on walking and driving tours, were not ten yards from giraffes, zebras, and warthogs, saw a lake painted pink with flamingos in the early morning, and got to see all kinds of species of baboons and chimps escorting their babies around on their backs. After Amy and Jeff joined us we headed out my village for a few days and after a ride that renewed all of our relationships with God, we arrived safely (only by His grace) to warm welcome. We visited church, the schools, and the health center and they were able to see a little bit of what I do everyday and the wonderful people I work and live with. The way they welcomed my family as their own reminded me how lucky I am to live with such a warm and kind people. The trip was concluded with a few days at the beautiful beaches of Dar es Salaam where we snorkeled and explored and had the kinks worked out of our backs. The whole trip was awesome and reminded me how much I love and miss my family (not that I forgot) and how lucky I am to have all the support they give me.
Also since I last updated I celebrated my one year anniversary in Tanzania. It has undoubtedly (just like everything else) flown by. It has been hard, and will continue to be so, I suspect. I often question the value of my time spent here but ultimately I feel that I have been productive in the last year and think I still have a lot left that I can do and offer during my year of service that remains. The well project is still in motion, and I’ve just recently had a grant approved and received funding to sponsor a series of 5 HIV awareness days in my and surrounding villages. We’ll have food, dancing, a soccer game, HIV testing, educational speakers… the works. I’ve really excited. They should start next month. I’ll keep you updated on how they turn out. My newest (or oldest, since I’ve really been working on this since the first day I was placed in my village) is selecting village members and training them as home based care workers to provide basic and vital care to people living with AIDS and all sick persons in the village. This is especially important where I live since there are no local health facility and because there is no transport outside of bikes and walking it is virtually impossible for very sick people, the ones that need it the most, to receive health care. Training home based care workers would give these people a chance. I’m working closely with the district government to find the ways and means to have 5 -7 people trained from my village by the end of my term of service next summer. Its proved a difficult endeavor so far since Tanzanian government and agencies are not typically known for their efficiency and speedy nature so I could use your good thoughts and prayers.
Also I wanted to give a little shout out to Crestview Preparatory School in La Canada, CA. Udumuka Primary school got your letters and couldn’t be more excited. You’ll get responses just as soon as school starts up again in the fall.
Thanks to everyone for the incredible support I continue to get. I love you guys!