The Occurrence: Or, how I learned to stop worrying and love Bono

A terrifying tale of blood, brains, and nerdy development jokes!

 

Mark sighed and rubbed his eyes. He had been working on this proposal since 7am and it was now 9 at night. The damn thing just didn’t want to be written. What did they mean by ‘hidden indicators’, anyway? Wasn’t that a contradiction in terms?

He got up and stretched. The rest can wait till tomorrow, he thought. He picked up his keys and stepped out the office door. The night was quiet, the dust of the day settled. A single motorcycle taxi flew by, carrying a young woman with long blond hair. She wore puffy pants made of local fabric and a loose, almost see-through top.

Damn volunteers, Mark thought and rolled his eyes. He shivered, even though the air was close and sultry. Hope I’m not coming down with malaria, he thought as he unlocked his 4×4 and stepped in. Or food poisoning – that fish last night did seem a bit sketchy. Where did his gardener say it had come from? Some river he’d never heard of. Put the key in the ignition. His mouth was dry. Maybe just one beer, he thought. He put the car in gear. Nah, I don’t feel like a beer. I’m pretty hungry; I did skip dinner. Chips? Nah. Pizza? Nah. Mark put the car back into park. Nothing was appealing to him. He sighed and put the car back in gear and backed out, heading down the road in the same direction as the motorcycle. After only a few seconds, he came upon the motorcycle, the girl and the driver standing beside it. Breakdown. He slowed to a stop and rolled his window down.

“Mambo, bwana,” he called to the driver. “Need help?”

“Poa, poa. Problem of tire,” the driver responded. “Maybe give this mzungu lift?”

Mark looked at the girl. Yup, typical volunteer, he thought. She looks excited to be having such an adventure. Alone with this man in the middle of the night in Arusha – some adventure, Mark thought. He looked at her more closely, swallowing against his dry mouth. Man, did he despise them sometimes, their naivete and earnestness. And boy was he hungry…

He opened the door of the car, stepped out, and walked towards the girl. Hungry, so hungry…

Nearby, an old woman was throwing her dinner scraps to the chickens when she heard a blood-curdling scream, followed by a man’s terrified yell. She stood, alert. A man in a motorcycle helmet came crashing through the banana trees and ran past her, his eyes rolling in fear. She watched him go past, then went inside and firmly locked the door.

~~~~

          The package of crisps shone in the afternoon sun. Sparkled. Its promise of salty goodness twinkled like a beacon. I crouched behind the counter of the hollowed-out coffee shop, weighing the odds. Was it worth it? They might be bacon-flavored…

“Get down, you idiot!” Jacob hissed.

My stomach growled. It had been weeks since the coffee shop had been ransacked by hungry victims. We still didn’t know if the Occurrence had happened anywhere beyond Arusha, but there was no way to find out. The EPs were too hungry and too many for us to venture out safely.

“I heard there were people gathering at the clinic. Trying to organize some sort of resistance,” I told Jacob.

“Bollocks.”

“No, I bet it’s true. Some of the guys from that hostel are leading it.”

“Where’d you hear that?”

“Melissa told me,” I looked at my sandals, trying not to think about Melissa.

“Melissa. So what, you want to try to get to the clinic? In broad daylight?”

“Beats hiding behind a coffee counter!”

Jacob was quiet. He never made decisions quickly.

“Fine. But we have to be extra careful!”

We peeked up from behind the counter. There was no one in sight. The locals had long since fled the city, shocked at the gritty carnage the EPs had wrought. Quietly, we crept out from behind the counter. Nothing moved outside. We both carried hefty laptops as weapons, hoisted high, ready to strike. Jacob opened the door and we stepped outside. An old newspaper blew down the street. I picked the bag of crisps out of the gutter and carefully deposited it in my kanga bag to eat later, when we were somewhere safer.

We moved down the street slowly, not saying a word, trying not to attract any attention. You never knew where they might be – the supermarket, the petrol station, a bar. They never went into the really local places, of course, a reminder of the people they used to be, but the local places still weren’t safe. Sometimes their hunger overrode their inhibitions.

The clinic was less than a kilometer, but I’ve never sweated so much in my life. It was so quiet. When we arrived at the clinic, the door was unlocked. We walked in but heard nothing. Melissa had told me people were coming here moments before they got her. The sound of her screams had stayed with me for what seemed like miles as I ran away from the EPs gorging…

“Hello?” Jacob whispered. I would have sworn that if anyone was here they would know about us just from the thudding of my heart.

“Hello?” I joined in, a little louder.

Silence.

But then, a shuffle, like someone walking in slippers. Just for a moment, and then it stopped. We looked at each other, laptops raised. From around a corner peered a terror-distorted face. Seeing us, the face came around the corner and become a whole person, dressed in a hospital gown, thin and pale.

“Who are you? Where is everybody?” The girl was young, like us, with ratty dreds and a pierced nose.

“What the hell? What do you mean?” Jacob asked.

“I’ve been locked in the kitchen for three weeks,” the be-dredded girl said. “A nurse, she was really nice, came and got me and brought me to the kitchen and locked me in. I don’t know where she went. There was so much screaming outside. And now I’m so hungry I had to see who you were, even though I was scared.”

How could we explain? We weren’t even sure what had happened ourselves.

Suddenly, Dred Girl’s eyes got wide and she pointed behind us. Wheeling around, we saw three EPs come through the front door of the clinic, hunger in their eyes, maniacal smiles on their faces.

“Run!” Jacob shouted.

“The kitchen!” Dred Girl shouted. We ran, our legs pumping, the EPs right behind us. “Unngghh” they moaned. “Unghhh…”

We slammed the kitchen closed behind us just as the largest EP reached out towards me. Dred Girl bolted the door and threw herself across the room, away from the frenzied banging at the door.

“Seriously, guys, what is going on?!” she cried.

Jacob and I looked at each other.

“You really missed it all?”

“Yes. I had really bad malaria. Please tell me what’s happening.”

“Ok. Here’s what we know.”

~~~

          “It started a few weeks ago” said Jacob. “I had just gotten home from the orphanage when Finn texted me and asked if I had heard from Julie. She was supposed to meet him for a drink, but hadn’t shown up. I told him that the last I had heard of her she was going to an interview at IceSkates4Africa, you know, that NGO that brings used ice skates over here to create self-reliant innovation amongst vulnerable youth? He said she had called him before going, but hadn’t been heard of since. I was like, whatever, she’s probably with Robert, that Tanzanian guy from Via Via she likes. Anyway, that was a Tuesday. By Thursday, two more of our friends had disappeared. Plus, I was walking home on Thursday and saw this guy get out of a vehicle with blue plates, you know, UN, and he was moaning weirdly and walking all, like, crazy. And he saw this girl with those turquoise Zanzibar trousers walking along and he sort of lurched towards her going, ‘uuurrgghhh’. But she got into a taxi. The UN dude got all worked up then, moaning even louder and running around, and I sort of ducked into a shop till he went away. It was super weird. Did you see any of that shit then?” he asked me.

I shook my head. “No, but my roommate Becky said she saw a couple that she knows works…worked…for that NGO, I think it’s called Tambourines4Tots, and they were acting all crazy, moaning and walking funny like you’re saying, and she swore she heard them say, ‘Brains. Brains!’”

Dred Girl’s eyes were wide and her hand was over her mouth, either in disbelief or to smother a scream. “So what was it?”

Jacob put his hand up. “Wait. So I guess it had started then. But it all blew up that Friday, at happy hour. You know, out at The Growling Tortoise, that mzungu  place?”

Dred Girl rolled her eyes. “Yeah, that place is, like, so colonial.”

Jacob nodded. “Anyway, whatever was going on, it spread like wildfire. All those EPs in one place? It was crazy.”

“EPs?” Dred Girl asked.

“Ex-pats. We just call them ‘EPs’ now. Those…things.”

“We’re ex-pats. We live here. I’ve been here two months!”

“No, see, we’re just volunteers. That’s the thing.” Jacob glanced at me. “We didn’t turn into those… things.”

“I don’t get it.”

“We didn’t become all crazy.” Jacob suddenly focused a stare on Dred Girl. “You see…we’re what they want to eat!”

Dred Girl just stared back.

“Ok, so just listen,” Jacob went on, leaning back against the fridge. “That Friday, all those EPs at happy hour turned into those crazy things. Like, it was contagious, I guess. They banded together, went on a rampage, moving east through the city. At first they didn’t find many volunteers, but then they arrived at Mango Tree. So that’s where things got really bad. There were all these volunteers there. The EPs came right in, ate all of their brains. They didn’t distinguish between anyone, like, volunteers who were doing sustainable work, volunteers who were innovating, volunteers who knew the local customs and rode daladalas.”

“Oh my god!” gasped Dred Girl.

“I know, right?! They just ate all the brains, regardless. I heard the first ones to go were people with kanga bags. The EPs went crazy when they saw them.”

I looked down at my bag, made of red and blue fabric. My mouth watered at the thought of those bacon crisps.

“But, so, what is this? How come they turned into those things?” Dred Girl leaned forward.

“Hope knows,” Jacob said.

I swallowed. “I don’t know for sure. But I heard rumors that it all started at the UN Fund for Building Local Capacity-Building Locally (UNFBLCBL). They were creating some sort of innovative programming serum and it backfired. Let loose their pent-up scorn for volunteers, somehow. They were trying to do something good, you know? But now…now, they’re these things…”

“You mean,” Dred Girl gasped, “HUMANITARIAN ZOMBIES?!”

We sat, silent.

The humanitarian zombies at the door continued their moaning. “Brains…brains…”

~~~

          The late afternoon sunshine came through the windows. The zombies outside the door kept up their moaning for our brains. Their stamina was remarkable considering it was clear they couldn’t reach us inside. “Must be NGO zombies,” Jacob said. “So much work for so little payoff…”

I sat on the floor with my head cradled in my arms. What hope was there for a world like this? Couldn’t we all just get along?

Beep beep.

“What was that?” Dred Girl asked.

Beep beep.

“Is that a text?!”  Jacob demanded.

I pulled my phone out of my bag. I had almost forgotten I had it; it had been so long since there was anyone to call. It was a text:

any1 there? ppl R gathering @ Mango Tree. Time 2 fight back!

       Jacob leaned over my shoulder to read the text. “O…M…G” he said, eyes wide.

“Fight back?” I asked. “With what?”

Jacob stood up. “You know, maybe we can. Maybe we can end this scourge forever!”

Dred Girl stood up too. “How?”

Jacob gazed out the window. “We need…”

Dred Girl and I leaned forward eagerly.

“…a logframe.”

Finally, we had hope.

~~~~

          “No, no, that’s the not the way to do this!”

We had reached Mango Tree. Getting past the zombies at the hospital kitchen door had been surprisingly easy. Because they were NGO zombies, we had been able to distract them by writing the word ‘innovative’ on a napkin and throwing it out the door. While the EPs were grasping at the napkin, we snuck past and out of the clinic. Now, at Mango Tree, a heated debate was raging over Jacob’s logframe.

“Look,” said one skinny German girl, “These things are stuck in a ‘Zombie Trap’. The only way for them to escape this trap is for us to allocate them more brains.”

“More brains? Are you crazy?” shouted a guy whose accent placed him as a Texan. “Where are we going to get brains to give them?”

The German girl said, “Look, we each have lots of brains. Don’t be stingy. We should all agree to donate a certain percent of our brains to the EPs so they can pull themselves out of the Zombie Trap.”

“I don’t like this. Won’t this nurture a dependency culture among the EPs? I think we should consult the EPs themselves to find out what they need to stop being zombies. What we need is a targeted, participatory alternative to brains.”

“Yeah! It makes no sense to devise a strategy without consulting the primary stakeholders.”

“They’re zombies!”

“Geez, Lacey, don’t be so elitist.”

There were about a dozen of them, volunteers banding together to take a final stand against the zombie scourge of Arusha. Whatever strategy we decided on, it would be our last – one way or another.

At last, a vote was taken. It was decided that an alternative to brains must be found. It was the only sustainable way. After all, if we gave them a percentage of our brains, wouldn’t they just want more when they were done? What are we, walking brain restaurants?

“Ok, so what, then?” asked Jacob. “We have to get away from here, past all them. How do we do it?”

“Why can’t we just drive away? All these cars just lying around?” Dred Girl looks nervously out the window at the abandoned cars littering the streets.

“None of them have petrol. They were all siphoned off when everything was going to shit,” an Australian boy informed her.

“I know,” I said. “I know how we can get out of here.”

Everyone stared at me. “I don’t know why we didn’t think of this before. It’s so easy. All we have to do is…”

The back door burst open and dozens of hungry EPs poured in.

The volunteers screamed and ran to the front door, pushing and crowding their way through. I felt someone try to pull me out of the way, but I fought back and made it through. On the front lawn, more EPs were lurching their way towards us. They were coming from every side. We stood there, looking around frantically as they closed in on us. So it would end like this after all. All those weeks on the run for nothing. The zombies drew closer. One reached out his hand towards Jacob, ready to grab him and begin the final feast. I opened my mouth to scream, when suddenly they all stopped. Just stopped in their tracks. The zombie by Jacob put his arm down. A pregnant silence fell over the lawn. As though the world had stopped.

I think I was the first to see him. He just walked onto the lawn from the street, strolling as if nothing strange and cannibalistic were happening. The EPs just stood where they were, and as the man got closer, they turned to stare. The other volunteers had followed my gaze and were now also looking on, mouths hanging open. In fact, I suspect that a fly on the wall would have thought we were all zombies, they way we stared.

Underneath a bright blue sky, the man walked up to us and extended his hand. “Come with me. You’re safe now.” He turned and started back towards the road, where we could now see a large bus. We must not have heard it over the sounds of our screams.

We followed him and the EPs didn’t move an inch. They stood there, swaying a little. One started towards us half-heartedly, but a growl from the man leading us checked his advance.

We boarded the bus. The man got into the driver’s seat and drove us away, through the ravaged city and into the countryside.

~~~~

          Somewhere near Nairobi, Dred Girl was finally the first one to speak. She stood up and walked to the front of the bus.

“Thanks, Bono. Thanks for saving us from the humanitarian zombies.”

“No problem, love,” Bono smiled. “No problem…”

The End

Is there a cream for that?

Everyone can stop worrying – I’m back! Yes, it’s been a while. During my hiatus I have been wrestling many leopards (ie, starting a new job, moving into a new house, getting a new cat, and growing my hair out.)

Now that I’m back, I have several good blog posts in the pipeline, so stay tuned.

For today, we’ll be talking about just how many things are wrong with me. I mean, there are some serious issues here.

"I love the smell of oppression in the morning." Source

“I love the smell of oppression in the morning. Smells like polyquaternium-7.”
Source

Living in Tanzania, I had forgotten, because here advertisements just tell me to drink Tusker, smoke Embassy cigarettes, and buy Vodacom phone credit. But luckily when I was home over Christmas I had the entire weight of the western media to remind me of all my flaws. Thank goodness, because did you know that there is something wrong with:

my eyebrows

my eyes

my ears

my ear canals

my eyelashes

my pores

my nose

my lips

my teeth

my gums

my neck

my shoulders

my upper arms

my hands

my lady parts

my fingernails

my cuticles

my toenails

my stomach

my back

my breasts

my lady hair

all hair, actually

my thighs

my feet

my heels

and all the stuff on the inside that we can’t see – my nutrients, my toxins, etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc

Overall, I’m a very healthy person. Unfortunately, due to having been born a woman, there are many, many things inherently wrong with my body (see list above) and therefore a lot I need to fix. Luckily, I am privileged to be from a developed country where – much to my relief – there is an infinite supply of cosmetics, sprays, surgeries, goos, pills and all other manner of consumer products to fix me.

I’m also grateful that while I was home in the United States, the media didn’t waste my time trying to sell me things that, as a woman, I have no need to worry my silly little head about. They know that with all the time and money I need to spend on hair, face, and body ‘care’ products and procedures, I have absolutely no time left to worry about improving my life through experiences. I am far too swamped to take the time to cultivate true happiness and satisfaction, learn a new skill, or engage in meaningful dialogue with interesting people.

If I hadn’t spent that month in the good ol’ USA I would have forgotten how much work I have to do on myself.

Am I angry?

Damn right I am.

Coming next week: zombies in Arusha!!

Anatomy of the Patronizing Smile

I spent a lot of time in our project area last week. This means that I was spending a lot of

time talking to our local partners (officers in the local government) determining how to move forward with the project. On about day three, I realized that I was frequently wearing a Patronizing Smile when I talked to them. Yes, the dreaded Patronizing Smile (I’m just going to assume this is a thing and that it is to be dreaded.)

Patronizing our local partners sounds bad, right? Well, let’s take a closer look at the anatomy of the Patronizing Smile with today’s lesson:

Communicating with Local Partners 101:

Step 1 – Convey a positive, can-do attitude. This is why we’re smiling in the first place. It’s not so much because we love speaking in really slow English or really bad Swahili or that we just adore wondering how many weeks it will actually take to accomplish the small task we’re discussing. It’s that we want to convey confidence. We can do this! You can do this! Please help me do this!

Step 2 – Here’s where your average fake encouraging smile starts to become patronizing. This is a complex step, so feel free to read slowly to really take it in. After you’ve slowly said, ‘So now we just need to do xxx to complete this extremely important step in the project’ you pause, still smiling, to assess comprehension.

But oh no! Unfortunately, while you remain frozen in your fake and now increasingly patronizing smile, the local partners just look at you blankly. You’re going to have to make a big decision now. Make the right decision, and you’ve successfully navigated the linguistic and cultural communication difficulties associated with your bad-ass field job. Make the wrong decision, and the patronization will increase.

Did they:

a.) Not understand your English?

b.) Understand your words but not the content of what you said?

c.) Understand perfectly but not feel the need to convey that through any words or facial expression or body language?

d.) Understand but not want to do what you just said needs to be done (even though they are the ones who said that’s how it should be done).

At this point, you need to quickly decide which one of these is likeliest and act (all the while maintaining your positive, can-do smile.) Should you:

a.) Repeat in bad Swahili, risking revealing that you think they didn’t understand even though maybe they did?

b.) Assume they understood and just move on, risking the possibility that they didn’t understand and you’ll have to start all over?

c.) Or, worst of all, and as a last resort, increase the patronizing exponentially and ask, ‘Do you understand?’ Yikes! Obviously, this cuts to the chase, but good god, do you really want to ask people thirty years older than you if they understood a simple point like this?!

Step 3 – Live with the Consequences of Your Decision. Frankly, at this point, you’re probably just happy that the action you were discussing has a 90% chance of being done. Did they ultimately understand? You think so. Will they do it? Boy, you hope so. Will you have to ask more patronizing questions to find out? Definitely.

Post script: as you can probably tell, this was written on a stressful day. I can now report that, as usual, my local colleagues have come through completely-ish

and all is well.

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.

The poverty we live near

15 July 2012

My brother sent me the following email last week:

“I just caught up on your blog. As you may or may not know, I’ve had trouble dealing with poverty emotionally from a young age (like the day trip we took to NYC back in the day.. as we were arriving back at the car I was crying because I didn’t know how to make sense of all the homeless people we had seen that day). Of course I’ve had some time to make sense of it since then, and had a little more exposure to poverty in our culture and maybe one or two others. I felt some of those issues resurface as I was reading your post ‘The hand-out dilemma.’ I think your analysis of it, and your ability to separate yourself enough from it to make a rational analysis of it is very valuable. I was reading your posts from most recent to less, so a few posts later I read ‘Family, connected.’ The contrast between these two posts is noticeable: one is, as you define it, begging. The other is a gift to good people. I’m glad that’s a part of your experience over there, to balance the other out. Red Sox just scored a run. Now we’re only down 7-3.”

I was struck by his statement that, “your ability to separate yourself enough from [witnessing poverty] to make a rational analysis of it is very valuable.” Here is my response to him:

Hello Little Weasel,

That was a very thoughtful and unexpected email. I’m glad you enjoyed the posts and that they made you think, feel etc. It’s sort of weird, the issue of living somewhere with so much poverty. For starters, this part of TZ is the most affluent part – people have better houses, eat better, have more access to services (via Moshi and Arusha), etc. So to be honest I still don’t feel like I’ve been exposed to the truly grinding poverty that many people in this country suffer. When I visited an HIV support group with KEDA, then I felt like I had experienced some. But I’m not as exposed to it as I could be.

It’s also interesting how ex-pats deal with living here. Most of us are here to help the poor people. But our lives are so separate from theirs – we will never ever know what it’s like to be them, truly, even if we get the challenges they face. Obviously, throughout the developing world, foreigners live in varying degrees of comfort and integration, from Peace Corps volunteers who are very integrated to UN staff who have a very cushy lifestyle of comfort. Everyone has a different way of dealing with being here, and it’s fascinating. But everyone has a way out; everyone has access to things that locals don’t. And of course, this is something that gives a person pause. We have to reconcile ourselves to that fact. To accept (or not) that we have a lot more comforts than the Tanzanians around us, regardless of what strata of the ex-pat community we occupy. It’s tricky. Should we feel bad that we live such a comfortable lifestyle here (to clarify – compared to living in the US, not especially comfortable and definitely not easy. Compared to a typical Tanzanian, pretty darn comfortable and easy)? And yet to be in such a different place, we do need some things that are familiar to us. And I don’t think Tanzanians begrudge us our nice things; I think that for the most part they just accept that that’s how it is for ex-pats. We just plain old come from richer countries.

Also, the poverty isn’t the only thing you notice about society here – you also notice the patience, the different way people interact with fellow bus passengers, the very different, and much less cuddly style of parenting, the aspiration to leave the country because that’s the only way to get money, the view of white people as walking ATMs, etc etc. There’s a lot more to notice and experience than just the poverty, and I think because of that, it’s not like you’re constantly thinking, oh these people are so poor – you’re thinking all sorts of things!

And when you arrive, I think you’re expecting people to be poor, so it doesn’t come as a shock. Not to say that it doesn’t affect you, but that you were at least expecting it. Rather than having to deal with an initial shock, you can get on with dealing with all the things I’ve mentioned above. Maybe that’s just me, but I bet that’s the case with a lot of people. I mean, we’re all people who have thought about poverty and Africa, or we wouldn’t be here doing aid work.

And however I personally have dealt with these things, I still read the news about people who are suffering, refugees, war victims, and so on, and it still makes me cry sometimes. Because I just don’t understand how we can live in a world where these things are possible.

Daladalas go on strike – Jamie takes pikipiki

8 July 2012

When I first got here, I thought that daladalas, the private minibuses used for public transport, were governed by some mysterious informal network of drivers, conductors, and cranky-looking guys with clipboards. How wrong I was! Due to the current daladala strike, I now know better.

On Friday, I needed to go to town for a meeting and for groceries, preceded by lunch with a friend. I went to the road and waited. And waited.  I knew the daladalas were striking because the previous day there was chaos at the central bus station in town – it appeared that no one was leaving, and the buses were all just stuck inside the station – and when I finally was able to get home and ask Mama Dora (whose husband is a driver) about it, she explained that the price of oil, insurance and registration have gone up, but because the government won’t let the drivers raise fares, their profits are falling. In this article, it describes the problem as being the parking fees buses pay, which would explain the issue at the station two days ago.

But on Friday, I thought maybe someone would give me a lift to town; this is a normal thing here. Now, I know my mom reads this, and I seriously debated providing the following information, but in the interest of painting the full picture of the transportation situation I will divulge. Mom, please stay calm. After waiting for an hour (yay, my patience is becoming more Tanzanian!), I finally gave in and took a motorcycle, called a pikipiki here. One of the drivers approached me and gave me a price that was so surprisingly reasonable that I said, ok. I asked him if he had a helmet; he said yes. And I told him to be safe and go slowly, not fast. We crossed the street to his bike, where he put on the aforementioned helmet (yeah – bit of a misunderstanding there…). And we proceeded to town.

The main bus station in town was completely empty aside from, ominously, two large police vehicles. The stall where drivers pay their parking fee was on its side. Unused daladalas lines the streets. Crowds of people waited at all the bus stops, and many more people than usual were just walking.

As I sat down with my friend, cold and wild-haired but alive, the owner of the coffee shop came over to greet us. My friend mentioned the daladala strike, and told the owner that I had come into town on a pikipiki. And the owner gave me a free coffee for putting all that effort and risk into coming to his restaurant!

Daladalas seem to us Westerners to be very informal, what with the fact that most of them are barely running and that the conductors regularly fit up to twenty-six passengers into a minibus with seventeen seats. But I’ve slowly gotten the picture that they are much more organized than you would think. They all have set routes; deviation from the route requires special permission (from whom? I have no idea). Down the road from my village is a guy who sits there all day with a list and a clipboard looking cranky, and sometimes the daladala stops to give him a few thousand shillings. And now, it turns out that the government has the power to prevent them from raising fares! Who knew?

Apparently they’re back up and running today. And so ends the great daladala strike of July 2012. I hope…

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:

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?

Strange and sad

2 May 2012

I have seen two naked women this week, which seems statistically odd, as I had previously not seen any naked women here and then I saw two in one week. One was on Sunday morning. She had on a kanga, but was naked from the waist up. She was standing in the median of the main road into town. She was dirty and unkempt. The other one was a couple days ago. She was completely, fully naked, also dirty and unkempt, standing in the middle of the road outside town. The bus had to swerve to miss her.