I’ll be home for Christmas

I am at the Amsterdam airport. There is a fake fire. There is an art museum. What?!

The last year was undoubtedly the first or second hardest of my life, and by far the loneliest. Putting together a slideshow of photos to show the folks back home, I realized how much I have seen, even though parts it it were also suffocatingly boring, too.

But I feel oddly like I was just here in the West mere days ago. Like the whole last year didn’t happen.

How should I act when I get home? How will people expect me to act? How am I supposed to feel? I think I’m going to feel awkward. I think my family will pay me more attention than I can handle – I think I’ll need to process this change of environment on my own, in my own emotional space, for a day or two. Even the mere fact of being around people who are so loving and involved will be hard to adjust to. The effort required to be one’s sole guardian and protector builds a hardness that may be difficult to reverse.

But to be clear, going home this Christmas is one of the happiest things I’ve ever done. I didn’t think it would happen, and I am filled with pure gratitude that it worked out this way.

I don’t think I’ll want to go back to Tanzania. I don’t think the novelty of being in an easy, loving, beloved place is going to wear off in three and half weeks. It’s just too hard to live somewhere that doesn’t speak to you. The effort required causes constant internal tension.

And may I add that as I was leaving the house yesterday, I discovered I would not be able to wear my hiking boots home as planned because one of them had been colonized by ants, hundreds of ants?

I think I’ll be headed through Amsterdam in this direction again, soon.


You have amoebae in your digestive system. Want to go out?

Milestone: my first time to go to the doctor to resolve the issue of little creatures living in my digestive system. No biggie, some antibiotics will take care of it. When I first sat down in the doctor’s office, the only thing he said to me was, ‘Yes?’ I described my problem; he asked me where I stay (not sure what that had to do with it, but whatever), then wrote me something to take to the lab. Later, after things happened that I won’t describe here (though I would like to say that a doctor’s office should have an indoor toilet. And that toilet should have soap. Just sayin’…), I went back to his office to hear the diagnosis. He gave it, told me what he was prescribing and then started some small talk. Where’s your family? What, no husband and kids? No boyfriend? Then he told me he’d like to marry me. ‘Sure,’ I said, ‘But I will only marry you if are rich.’ And frankly, he was a little wishy-washy on his income status, so I think I’ll hold out for something better.

Still, you have to give the guy some credit. After all, the first words he ever heard me say were related to the state of my poo.

UN Abolishes Foreign Aid: some express ambivalence

(AFakeP) In a move that surprised industry leaders,  the United Nations announced on Sunday that they were abolishing all non-UN foreign aid. UN Senior Official Juan von Bonbon made the announcement from the UN headquarters in New York.

Source: United Nations Association

“Foreign aid is completely ineffective,” said von Bonbon, “and we’re the best at being ineffective. So we’ve decided to streamline the process by trimming away the excess fat from the system.”

Actors throughout the aid world expressed surprise, shock, and anger as well as bewilderment at the fact that such a move was within the UN’s mandate. “Most of us are not related to a UN staff member and are therefore out of jobs, at least in the aid sector,” said one NGO director. “We will be forced to take jobs that normal people do. How humiliating.” Sven de Menn, of UP!Yrs, a small NGO based in West Africa, noted angrily that his staff would now have no way to change the world. “They all have master’s degrees,” he fumed, “And there aren’t enough Starbucks in America and Europe to absorb the influx of qualified workers resulting from this decision.”

Officials from USAID, who requested anonymity in order to protect themselves from ridicule, expressed indignation that they were not consulted. “It’s just unconscionable,” said one senior official. “The UN does not have a monopoly on self-righteous jargonification, despite what they may claim. In fact, studies have shown that we are actually best at that.” Another official complained, “How will people know which countries the US is afraid of now?”

Not everyone was critical of the decision, though. Prominent aid advocate Jeffrey Sachs remained positive, suggesting that now no one would be able to oppose his proposal for a system of helicopter delivery of aid. “Previously, there were many in the sector who objected to helicopters flying over poverty-stricken countries releasing giant bales of money. Now, however, the five-year plan for propeller-driven aid can be implemented.”

Marcia Mwonge, a landlady in Dar es Salaam, told reporters that this move would be “a boon for property owners throughout Africa. Now there will be no more NGOs depressing housing prices.” She was then interrupted by a phone call from the local UN office, which had called to request that she expand the garage on one of her properties to accommodate the new Land Rover they had just purchased for the Chief of Party’s 16-year-old son.

However, William Easterly, author and professional aid-hater, released a statement saying, “The Untied Nations has only ever had a deleterious effect on development. This new move is just another example of MDG skullduggery ”.

Sachs responded to the statement, claiming that Easterly had “purposely misspelled ‘United Nations’ in a weak last-ditch effort” to delegitimize the Millennium Development Goals. “Some people say that universal primary education isn’t attainable in the next three years. Well, just wait till Operation School-a-Day starts. They’re using dollar bills to build the schools, literally,  so the US will continue to benefit from aid distribution.”

Unofficial reports suggest that the UN’s first move as sole provider of development aid will be to implement their Project to Increase Gender Equality and Sustainable Agricultural and Health Development Through Community-based Participatory Planning and Results Framework Action within Possibly Well Governed and Definitely Very Poor Countries with Exotic Sounding Names.

(Note: Views purportedly expressed by real people may have been made up by the author for the purpose of being funny; they are not officially endorsed by these people.)

Secondhand clothing market, part II

5 July 2012

Last week I went to the secondhand clothing market in Moshi again, easily one of my top three favorite places in Moshi. The place is a massive warren of wood-and-tarp stalls where one can easily get lost in the vast treasure hunt that is secondhand clothes shopping.

Near the front is an open area where the really cheap stuff gets dumped in piles. This is where the fun really is, as you sift through pile after pile, pushing shoulder pads and polyester aside in search of that Great Find, while vendors shout their prices over and over, ‘Five hundred, five hundred, shirts for five hundred!’.*

Clothes arrive from Europe and the States in big bales. The bales come pre-sorted and labelled, like ‘t-shirts, children’ or ‘trousers, women’.

Each vendor has a certain variety of clothes – you can’t buy trousers at a dress stand, and you can’t buy skirts at a blouse stand. You can get most anything, including winter coats for those chilly 70/21 degree (F/C) days, or underwear if you’re feeling brave.

I’ll stick to t-shirts and skirts, thank you.

These shoulder pads would be easy enough to remove…

Where are we? Which direction is out?!

Yes, my friend Sami is in all but one of the these photos (I cropped her out). I was using her as an excuse to take pictures so no one would get annoying or demand money.

Just as last time, I ended up with more than I intended to get. Last time I went for one dress and got three; this time I went for a couple of short-sleeve shirts and ended up with four, plus a pair of skin-tight red jeans, all in perfect condition. My grand total? $12.50.

I know you’re jealous.

*About 31 cents.

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:

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:

Welcome to the present

3 April 2012

Congratulations, me. This is the first post coming to you in real time! Yes, I have caught up to the present. It is a present with many avocados, tentative rain, half the lights not working, dwindling savings, no social life, lots of sweat, peanut butter, traumatic bug experience (didn’t blog about this – let’s just say now when I shower I keep one eye on the drain, always), no job offers, dirty floors, and oh other things I suppose. Here is a photo of a lizard to celebrate this occasion:

This is a rant

27 March 2012

I met with KEDA (in the form of one person, the secretary) today, in the usual frustrating, scattered kind of meeting I have with him. “Where have you been?” he says, as if I’m the one who’s been out of touch. “At my dining room table trying to make up work to do for you,” I want to say, “You’re supposed to be managing me, not the other way around.” Sigh. Here’s another good one: “Let me explain to you why we can’t do anything without donor funding,” he says. “People here are poor.” (Well, that’s essentially what he says). Me: “No way, you mean this is a poor country? And all along I thought people lived in mud huts and only ate one meal a day because they liked it. Thanks for clearing that up. If only I had chosen to live with real Tanzanians I would have know that.” Ok I didn’t say that, but I thought it with intensity. But then, this relationship didn’t get off to a good start when they allowed me to spend thousands of dollars to come here knowing their program really didn’t exist and then they want my unconditional help. Did I mention, ‘sigh’?

Thanks for listening.

A Saturday

9 March

Today I went swimming at the YMCA for the first time. They have a huge pool with a covered lounge area where you can relax with a drink and snack. It’s right on the road, but shielded from it by the YMCA building itself on one side and an empty grassy space on the other, so it’s very peaceful.

Then Amanda and I went out to visit a children’s village a little ways outside town. It’s in a beautiful location; surrounded by open space , forest in the distance and Kili looming over. They currently are home to 41 children, who are divided into four homes, each of which has a house mother. The staff houses I saw were reeeally nice, nicer than many American homes. They even have washing and drying machines!

Their director is interested in agriculture and they have a garden, a small banana farm, and a maize farm, but they don’t have anyone in charge of it, and the director is of course busy with other things. So I might spend some time helping out with that. It’s probably a good hour away from my house, but it would be nice to get my hands dirty and grow some food.

The family

14 February 2012

Let me tell you about Mama Dora’s family. Her husband is a daladala driver (daladalas are the minibuses that are the common form of public transport). He works every day from sun-up to at least nine at night, except he works a half day on Sunday. Like Mama Dora, he’s a happy, gentle person. Mama Dora stays home and does the cooking, cleaning, etc, plus cares for the livestock and the farm. They have three children of their own, and one adopted niece.

Dora is their oldest. She’s thirteen, I think, and in her last year of primary school, which the equivalent of our (American) 6th grade. Like her parents she’s quiet, gentle, and intelligent. She’s third or fourth in her class. She wants to learn better English, and whenever I’m at their house and she’s home, we do some studying together. She’s obviously suffering from a serious lack of quality instruction, because she wants to learn it, but is able to speak very little – I speak more Swahili than she speaks English. Her mother (and her) would like her to be able to go to boarding school and get a proper education, but of course that’s expensive. After that, Mama Dora wishes she could study in Europe or America, where there are jobs, and just opportunities in general that there just aren’t here, even for educated people, in Africa.

Mama Dora put it succinctly today when she said, “There are a lot of schools in Tanzania, but not a lot of eduction.”

Their next child is a boy, Kevin; I think he’s seven and in standard two, which is like first grade. I think he and Dora started school a year late; they seem a little old for their grade. Anyway, he has a tendency to come over and start playing with the light switches and lamps, and loves to play with the stapler. If you’d never seen one before, you would too!

Their youngest is a girl, Given, who’s full of crazy energy. Always dancing around, or making funny noises. Very animated. She’s five and is in half-day nursery school which might be like kindergarten. I like her; she’s funny. She just jabbers on to me, even though I obviously don’t know what she’s saying. She doesn’t mind. She just talks anyway. She likes to slap my hands and all sorts; she’s very physical too. Funny kid.

And then there’s the little abandoned girl they take care of too. She’s three, I think. Her father apparently takes up with various women, gets them pregnant, and then takes off. Her mother left when she was 9 months old. Her name is Diana, like the princess, but in Swahili pronounced like we would pronounce Deanna. She’s a beautiful small child who likes to do somersaults on the couch and is easy to make laugh (not that it’s hard to make a three year old laugh!) She’s lucky to have Mama Dora as a surrogate mother.

Anyway, they all like me, and I like them. Sometime they come to my house, sometimes I go to theirs. They’re my friends, and really, my family here.