WWWL has a new look!

Welcome to the new White Woman Wrestling Leopards! I’ve changed some things, the most obvious being the format. I think this one is easier to read, and the background green is less glaring. I’ve also made sharing and following a little easier, and have included a list of blogs I like.

Not only was I kind of tired of the old format, but I’ve decided to step up this whole blogging thing. I started as a way for me to share my experiences with people at home without having to write a million emails, but I guess my experiences and so on might be interesting to a lot of people, even ones who don’t know me. Plus, I’d like to hear what people think about it all.

I’ll probably keep fiddling with the format a bit, within the limits of my basically non-existent computer skills, so bear with me if you visit this site in the next few days.

Content-wise, I don’t think it will change much, except I will probably start branching out a bit beyond diary-like posts to include thoughts on weighty matter of the world, such as the bright red jeans I bought at the secondhand market. Ok, but really. Living abroad presents a unique opportunity not only to learn more about the world, but to see one’s own country much more clearly and to observe how human being deal with life in their own varied, unique, and fascinating ways.

Don’t worry, I’ll still be working on saving the world. I’ll follow StayingforTea‘s fortuitously timed guidance on the matter. The issue is illustrated below by the excellent pie chart from his recent post:

Around the market

28 June 2012

Here are some of the things you can get at a good village market on market day. Usually there is a small market daily, plus two days a week with a big market (market days). There are more than what’s pictured here, but the sellers are prickly about having their picture taken. Unless you pay them.

This isn’t my local market, this one is much higher up in elevation. Almost everything is the same, except that this market has loads of potatoes and mine hardly has any.

Just a few of the many styles available…

Carrots, African eggplant, okra.

Mmmm, ‘taters.

Oranges, with cucumbers in the background.

Table: salt, tea, sugar, soap, matches. Sacks: rice and sugar.

The hand-out dilemma

There’s a girl named Violet who lives near me who’s in her first year of secondary school and is probably about 13. She abruptly started talking to me and telling me she likes me a couple of months ago.  And yes, I understood why. A few weeks ago, she told me she liked my bag (my daypack), and asked if she could have it. Slightly taken aback at her directness, though not surprised that she was asking for something, I said no, I’m using this bag. She said, well how about tomorrow then? I said  no, I use this bag a lot. The next time I saw her, she asked if I had any books. Specifically, she wanted a dictionary for English. I said I’d look for one in town (they have used books) because, uh, education is good (?). I haven’t found one yet. Since then she has continued to be nice to me, carrying my bag or showing me her school exams.

One night last week, though, she came to my house. When I told her I was working on my computer, she asked to see it. So I invited her in to see it – they don’t have computers at their school. After a few minutes she wanted to look around the house. Fine. I offered her a couple of oranges to take home. Then she said, my mother doesn’t have a job so she can’t afford bread. I said, ummm. There was a whole loaf of bread sitting right on the table. So I said, ok, you can have half this loaf. She took that and said, and she can’t afford shoes for me to wear to school. Uh-huh. I told her I can’t buy her everything. She accepted that and left.

At this point, I said to myself, what to do? It’s one thing when I see her out on the path and she asks for things. But now she’s coming to my house.

I think this is something all foreigners have to deal with at some point here. There’s so much need, and no matter how little money we have, it’s still more than most people here have. And things are so cheap – I could easily afford to buy Violet new shoes. But where does it end? What happens when someone else comes asking for shoes or whatever. It has to be all or none, and I can’t buy everyone everything! Plus, this is begging. And I don’t want to encourage begging. Yes, people are poor – but are they poor because they try and fail to make money or because they’re too lazy to make money and are looking for easy money from me, whose skin color means I must be a walking ATM?  You always have to ask yourself if someone is being especially friendly because they genuinely want to be friends or because they want something from you. It sucks, and unfortunately I think the case is often the latter.

Violet is in school. So they got money for that somewhere. Even more significantly, her older sister not only completed secondary school, but sixth form as well (Americans: this means she didn’t leave school at 16, when secondary school ends, but finished our 11th and 12th grades as well). That takes money too. So they must have some way of getting money, however little.

Today, she came by again. She said her mother sent her to greet me. Pause. I need money for a haircut. My teacher says I have to get one, but my mother doesn’t have the money. How much is it, I ask, out of curiosity. 500 shillings – about thirty cents. Also, can you help pay for school?

Now, her mother has obviously gotten the money for haircuts and school in the past. Her other daughter even completed sixth form. Why right now does she not have the money? Is it because something has changed in her financial situation? Or is what has changed is that an American has moved in next door, and it’s easier to play the ‘poor’ card and be handed money than to go work for it? I told Violet sorry, but no, I won’t give you the money. And please tell your mother I don’t like being asked for money.

There’s a difference between needing money because you genuinely can’t come up with it and needing it because you’re too lazy to go out and get it yourself.

The tragic thing in this case isn’t so much the poverty specifically, it’s the fact that Violet is being manipulated, used by her mother to try and get close to me and ask for money. If I see her mother, I’m going to tell her that if she wants to ask for money, she should come do it herself, not send her daughter. Thirteen years old, and your mother won’t give you thirty cents for a haircut but instead asks you to go pretend to be nice to the mzungu and ask for the money? That has to mess a kid up somehow. Her older sister has a job, but also won’t give her thirty cents? What kind of messed up is that? And if I gave her the money, the problem is that I would be encouraging the mother.

So will Violet get a haircut? I’m guessing yes – like I said, they’ve obviously come up with the money in the past. But if not? Will she go to school and be beaten because her hair is too long because her mother won’t give her 30 cents? Chilren get beaten for not being able to provide all the things they’re required to bring to school (firewood, etc).

And if so, whose fault will it be? Her mother’s, certainly.

And mine too?

Moooo

11 June 2012

I just thought I’d share with the masses (I assume there are masses of you, WordPress stats be damned!) that something very exciting has happened: I have bought cheese and butter. Yes, cheese and butter. I don’t care if the fridge isn’t fixed or if the butter cost a whopping $5. I will have dairy.

These have calcium and they taste good, too!

We all know that calcium is important to prevent osteoporosis. But did you also know that, according to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, “Fruit and vegetable intake was positively associated with bone density in a study in men and women. The exact components of fruits and vegetables which may confer a benefit to bone are still to be clarified.”?

Better have some fruit with that cheese, then…

It’s five o’clock somewhere. Wait, it’s five o’clock here. Cheers!

Been busy, and some photos

10 June 2012

Well, it’s been a while now, I know. For a while, I just didn’t have anything interesting to report. And then for the last few weeks, bam! I got really really busy. I’ve been bouncing around between Moshi, Arusha, Dar, and Siha District (between Moshi and Arusha), living mostly on pb&j, and have a huge pile of dirty laundry.

I’ve volunteering with an organization called Shukuru. This probably isn’t news to you. And in fact, the people who read this blog all probably know basically what I’ve been up to anyway. So maybe this is just for posterity, or anyone who suddenly think, geez I’m bored, better go read Jamie’s blog. Shukuru is preparing to launch its pilot project at the end of the year, which will provide girls an opportunity to pay for their own secondary schooling (which isn’t free in TZ) through an entrepreneurial project, in this case, raising and selling chickens. At the end of one year in the program, their profits are matched by donors, and they will have enough money to pay for all four years of secondary school. In addition, they will have learned agricultural and basic business skills along  the way. It’s pretty great, and completely innovative – no one has done this before.

So I now know a lot more about poultry than I did before, a lot more about education in TZ than I did before, and a lot more about starting an NGO in TZ than I did before. I’ve met some adorable girls, many of whom are smart and motivated but lack the resources to continue their schooling beyond the age of 12 or so. I’ll save talking about the many problems with Tanzanian education for another post; sadly, it will be a long one.

While I’ve been doing all this work, the weather has cooled (though please don’t take this to mean it’s actually cool – it’s more like typical June weather in New England – in other words, winter here is like summer there…), at least at my elevation. The corn is taller than my wall now and I can’t see any of my neighbors. The landscape has completely changed, and I need to take pictures to compare. The mosquitoes have mysteriously all but vanished from my house, and for the first time since moving in, the house is relatively bug-free. I can sleep with a sheet over me and not be drenched in sweat at night. I can take warm showers. I can eat bread and butter even thought fridge isn’t fixed. I think I’m even going to buy some cheese, thank the sweet heavens. If only milk could be stored at room temperature.

And while I believe in living in the moment and all that, I dread the return of the heat. I’m sure this pleasant weather won’t last nearly as long as I would like it to, which really, is forever. I also dread the next three months, when I will be working on my own (the woman with whom I’ve been working is going back to the States). I’ve failed for the last five months to make more than a couple of friends, only one of whom speak English, and she’s trying to leave as soon as possible. The loneliness is crushing, and I’m terrified that despite my efforts,  I still won’t make friends and will just be…alone.

But anyway, below are some photos I’ve taken over the last couple of weeks: