Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Happy Holidays, everyone! Thanks for joining me on this amazing adventure. I wanted to let you know that I'll be doing a few presentations in Arizona about what I learned in Tanzania. Please join me if you're able!

Dec. 28 - First United Methodist Church of Tucson, 10:00am
915 E 4th St, Tucson, AZ 85719

Feb. 15 - Living Hope Community Church of Tucson, 9:00am
currently meeting at Ironwood Elementary School
3300 W. Freer Dr. Tucson, AZ 85742

I hope to schedule more presentations soon in Tucson and the Phoenix Valley.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Loving London!

The last few weeks in Africa were amazing and filled with events including several HIV testing days and community teachings in various villages. Our volunteer program dinner was wonderful and we were all sad to say goodbye. While the volunteers were great, I will especially miss our Tanzanian staff of field officers and community health workers; they're the heart and soul of our organization! I'm hoping to be back in Tanzania sometime in the near future... stay tuned for more details...

Suz and I are determined to see all of London in 72 hours... we're making good progress so far! She did most of the touristy sight-seeing when she arrived in September, but is being a great sport about playing tour guide will I take everything in for the first time. On Monday we saw Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, visited Westminster Abbey, rode the London Eye, toured the Globe Theatre (which as far as I'm concerned is reason enough to come to London all by itself!!!), and viewed the art in the National Gallery (travel tip -- free admission here and enough amazing artwork to occupy several hours of your day). Suz wanted me to experience Harrod's, despite neither of us being able to afford anything there. She was very patient with me as I ranted about the excessive waste of $900 handbags and how many African children could be fed with that kind of money ... I'd been doing so well all day, but reverse culture shock was bound to set in at some point, and a city block devoted to a store boasting about multiple rooms of luxury was just too much to handle. I'm sure my family in TX will be grateful that I'm going through this now rather than in their presence later this week. Anyway, we ended the night with London's best attempt at Mexican food, which is better than Tanzania's best attempt but still not up to AZ standards and then some time at the Globe pub near Suz's residence hall (when in Rome...).

Today we toured the Tower of London, where we happened to run into our friend Doug who had spent the semester studying in Norwich. We had no idea he was spending the week in London, and we were all shocked to see each other in the same tour group! We then visited King's Cross station, home of Platform 9 3/4, the entry way to Hogwarts. (If this makes no sense to you, pick up a Harry Potter book...) Tonight Suz and I are going to Spamalot with some of her friends. Our plan for tomorrow includes St. Paul's Cathedral, Buckingham Palace, and the British Museum.

I miss you all! I currently want to somehow be in Tanzania, London, and the U.S. simultaneously but know I'll be thrilled to be home as soon as I arrive. The feeling of cold weather, the sight of Christmas trees, the sound of Christmas carols, and the taste of candy canes have put me in a wonderful mood. Merry Christmas!!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Greetings from London!

It's been a long 2 days of travel, but wanted to quickly let everyone know that I made it safely to London and am enjoying some time with my friend Suz. I'm looking forward to spending a few days here and will post updates about the last few weeks after some much-needed rest. It feels like winter here, which is quite a change!

I miss you all and can't wait to catch up with you. I'll be back in the States on Thursday with a working cell phone :)

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Moving Out

Hi everyone,

We moved out of the villages this morning, which was bittersweet. I'll spend tonight in Arusha before heading to Dar es Salaam tomorrow and then onto London the next day. I'm sad to leave but looking forward to seeing family and friends and enjoying the comforts of home.

I'll try to update this again from London.

Thank you all so much for your love and support that made this adventure possible. Thanks for sharing this experience with me. I can't wait to catch up with all of you when I return.

Love and Peace,

Monday, December 1, 2008

last weekend in Arusha

It's World AIDS Day!! There was a march this morning and many speakers today. The events will end with a soccer match between a team of HIV+ individuals and a team of journalists. We're very sad that we'll miss it by a couple hours since we're returning to the village later today, but are thrilled by the idea of it.

A few of us went to Moshi earlier this weekend which is a smaller city nearby and the home of one of our teaching partners. We enjoyed meeting his friends and visiting his favorite hang-outs. Moshi is also the location of the teaching hospital and international school founded by the parents of Greg Mortenson, the subject of the bestseller Three Cups of Tea - which should be required reading for everyone.

We'll be in the village for 2 weeks and then will move out. I can't believe how quickly the time has flown by!!!

On Thanksgiving, we were invited to a second wedding party in the village. November is the new June in the States as well as here! The party was incredibly nice, although we were a bit taken back by the main course of the dinner: two goats, skinned and roasted whole, presented with leaves in their mouths and sticks to prop them in a kneeling position, were paraded around before being carved into. It was something like a cross between a Hawaiian luau and a BodyWorld exhibit! And yes, I have photos if you're interested... We were also shocked to see that a drag queen had been hired, given the tragic results of being openly gay in Tanzania, but were told that this was a result of the popularity of a new political comedy TV show that uses drag queens to mock government officials. We're not sure that this is a step forward in the fight for equality...

We're trying to get in the holiday spirit despite the summer weather. My roommate has decided we need to teach our family English Christmas carols. Anyone who's heard me sing will appreciate why I've left this task to her!

We're finished teaching at the primary school and will start meeting with our little peer educator group this week. The kids are very enthusiastic! We've also set up community teachings and HIV testing days.

Chuck and Judi returned to the village two more times and even got to sit in on one of our classes! They said it was SLIGHTLY different than the classrooms they taught in ...

I miss you all but will be sad to leave in a couple weeks.
Happy Holidays!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Thanksgiving!!! (sort of)

A few days early, granted, but we're having our feast tonight. Lacking an oven in the SIC office, turkey is out of the question, but we ordered chicken to compensate. We're having mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, and many other delicious dishes! Not quite the American holiday we're used to, but very festive anyway!

Miss all of you!
Happy Holidays!!!


So the two Tanzanian teaching partners in my village both speak 3 languages fluently - their respective tribal language, Kiswahili, and English. The American volunteers speak English and dabble in Kiswahili and French or Spanish. Our teaching partners have decided they want to learn their 4th and 5th languages, and have designated my roommate Anne as their French tutor and me as their Spanish tutor. This is rather pathetic, given that my 3 years of Spanish lessons ended over 5 years ago and I wasn't fluent then, but they're learning quickly nonetheless. It's sooo embarrasing, really, when you think about it. If I were in charge of the American educational system (a job I never want!!!) the first thing I would do would be to make foreign language lessons mandatory in every elementary school. It's now common to hear us forming sentences containing Kiswahili, English, and Spanish - KiswaSpanglish, if you will - which is a quick recipe for a headache but very entertaining!!!

Friday, November 21, 2008


Maweni is the name of my new village and literally means "place of stones". The population is about 800, compared to 1400 in our last village. We absolutely love it! The community is SO welcoming and supportive! Everyday when we walk through "town", one of the village leaders makes a point to ask us what problems we're facing that they can help us solve - so far, we haven't had any! Maweni has strong community groups - one is a microfinance organization run by the villagers to support small businesses in the community. We went to one of their mtgs and were very impressed by their organization. They put their agenda aside though, to sing a song to welcome us! The other organization was started by a European NGO, and its aim is to help villagers plant banana trees in the most efficient way possible. Maweni is also home to the best chai in all of Africa, we're convinced!

We love teaching primary school - I have the standard 4 class, which is like 4th grade. We have 25 students in standard 4 and 50 students in the combined standard 5 and 6 classroom. These classes are so much smaller than the last village and we have 2 hours a day instead of one, which we love. Learning students' names is suddenly a reasonable goal! The energy of 9 year olds is wonderful, and we love breaking up the lessons with games and songs. One of our songs teaches the kids the fluids and "doors" (entry points to the body) that can transmit HIV - I'm fairly certain we'd be kicked out of any elementary school in the States if we attempted it there) but a lot of what we teach them is more about general life skills and staying healthy, including setting goals, decision making, communication skills, nutrition, etc.

The community is also very interested in our work. One evening we walked toward the soccer field with a ball and within half an hour had a crowd of 80 people - 10% of the village population!! We alternated playing games and teaching, and have been out on the field most evenings since with soccer balls and a frisbee. (thanks again, Brandts!)

We've also been invited for chai at many of the houses in the village - and are convinced that everyone is related! We're so involved in the village life that we were even invited to a wedding party thrown by the bride's family a few days before the wedding. (We were invited to the wedding, but were scheduled to be in Arusha that day). It was a lot of fun and we were thrilled to be included, but the other two American volunteers and I were mortified when the photographer decided we were more interesting than the bride and started taking tons of pictures of us instead, shouting "Europa" into the microphone, believing we were Europeans. As much as I would have loved to be at the wedding, I'm relieved to know that the focus will be on the bride on her day.

We did patient visits in the village this week. We visited a single mom with 3 kids, none of whom know her status. Looking at a picture of her holding her youngest child, who died of AIDS, was heartbreaking. She said that the first time she learned about HIV was when our organization was in her village 3 years ago, which prompted her to get tested. She's now on ARV's and her CD4 cell count has more than doubled, which is great news. She said she's teaching her kids about prevention without disclosing her status.

The community health worker (CHW) in Maweni is an amazing, very hard-working, caring man who has been a huge asset to the village and to the volunteers. He has several patients that he visits several times a week, helping them access whatever services they need. A woman approached him recently saying that she suspected her husband was HIV positive and taking ARV's, but that he was insisting he'd never been tested and was taking medication for something else. She asked us to come over and teach about living and caring and stigma, pretending we were doing house-to-house teaching and had never met her. The CHW set it up, and we were thrilled to do so. He told us he wanted to get tested, but not in public, so we set up a special private testing day at his home for him and his wife. He is positive, and already on ARV's, but said he didn't trust the clinic that had tested him and only now believed it. His wife is negative, and they received counseling about living with HIV and preventing transmission. He also agreed to register as one of our clients, meaning he'll get regular visits from a CHW and travel stipends to doctor's appointments. We may not be changing the national prevalence rate, but we are making a difference in a few communities.

The volunteers in another village were frustrated to learn that one of their schools is closing 2 weeks early due to a teachers' strike, meaning they had to teach the entire curriculum in 2 days and then use the 3rd and final day to offer HIV testing to the students. They did a great job though, and 100 of the 140 students chose to get tested. Sadly, one 15 year old girl was positive, but we're glad that she's now has the knowledge she needs and access to whatever assistance she'll need. And, none of us can blame the teachers for striking - the public school teachers have received only a fraction of their paychecks for the last 6 months for no reason - and we're told this is fairly common. The teachers gave the final exams 2 weeks early and then closed the school for the year (their school system operates from January to November rather than September to May). The private schools, including the one my host brother teaches at, always pay their staff on time and offer higher salaries than public schools.

Small farms are key to village life, and Maweni is no exception. We enjoy getting up early to go to the shamba (farm) of one of the volunteer's host mom. As a single woman, she maintains a 6 acres of land and a small herd of livestock! Her fields border the river, meaning that monkeys often eat her corn plants, so she's set up scarecrows and in the mornings throws rocks at the monkeys!

Some of the volunteers have said that if agriculture was practiced in the U.S. the way it is here, they would never have become vegetarians. It's an interesting topic - there are certainly no growth hormones used here, and antibiotics are rarely used. All chickens are "free-range" (ours think they ought to live in our house since the doors are always open!) and there's certainly no need for a law stating that animals must have room to stand, lie down, and turn around in their pens! For the families in Maweni, farming is done without the use of much modern technology, including plowing fields using steers yoked together pulling a plow rather than tractors. It's difficult work!

Cooking is done in a small building over a wood fire. The room is usually very hot and filled with smoke. I have so much respect for the women here! We attempt to cook, but we're usually not much help.

Village Tours

I was thrilled last week to see Chuck & Judi pull up to my house in their safari truck with the guide they'd hired for an extra day to come visit me and tour the villages I work in. You two are rockstars - who else would pull that off?!? We're not exactly on the main road or close to any safari parks! The bag of "essentials" they brought from the U.S. was a bit like Christmas morning and all 18 volunteers were very grateful! Thanks, Jessica for your contribution! Happy birthday, Chuck! You guys are the only people I know who will have pictures of farm animals in your safari album! I loved being able to show Karangai and Maweni (homestays, schools, dukas) to friends from home, and appreciated the ride to my mtg in Kikwe. They were even polite enough to break their "no village food" rule to try chapatti and makonde, two of our staples. Chapatti is a lot like the frybread you'd eat if lucky enough to be on an Indian reservation (it's one of our favorites!!) and makonde is a mixture of beans and corn, cooked in vegetable oil. We love it with hot sauce, which we now buy in bulk.

Maweni is an amazing village and already feels more like "home" than our first village did. Will write more tomorrow.

I hope all is well with you!

Sunday, November 9, 2008


For our long weekend, a few of us decided to visit Zanzibar, which is an island best described as schizophrenic. Beautiful beaches are a haven for tourists and are covered with great resorts, night clubs, shops, etc - your basic bikini-clad crowd. It's also home to a conservative Muslim community, where women are walk the streets completely covered. Mosques and Sunni madrassas line the narrow streets. Zanzibar has many museums, which tell the history of the spice and ivory trades, the exploitation by Oman, England, and many others, and the eventual union with mainland Tanzania. We visited a cathedral, built on the exact location of the last open market for the slave trade. The cathedral wasn't nearly as old as we'd like to imagine, and we were painfully reminded of our own nation's very large role in the horrific events that took place there.

On our first night we went to a restaurant, where a Tanzanian man invited us to join his table, already full of an interesting group of locals and Europeans. The conversation flowed for hours, with an awkward pause when I inquired about his line of work. He'd said earlier that he'd lived in Zanzibar his whole life. Those who knew him well laughed; he dodged the question for awhile, eventually admitting that he owned the restaurant. The next morning we were touring a former sultan's palace when another Tanzanian man who'd been at the restaurant, but not our table, approached us. He immediately started gushing about how lucky we'd been to hang out with the other guy, which confused us (the place was great but meeting the owner of a restaurant isn't the kind of thing we go crazy over). He looked at us like we were idiots and then clued us in -- the guy does own the restaurant, but he also happens to be the son of the president of Zanzibar!!! We had no idea. (Side note - Zanzibar has been part of Tanzania since the 1960's, but still has their own president - perhaps more like a governor???)

We're on the north shore now, enjoying the beaches. Our hostel is called Paradise and we're not complaining. No clue who we'll meet tonight but I'll keep you posted.

Start of Rainy Season

On our last afternoon in the village, I decided to enjoy the afternoon by walking (20min) to river to get some photos of the monkeys living in the trees there. Most of the village looks like the Mohave Desert so the strip of land around the river is a wonderful spot to relax. Knowing how quickly the monkeys flee when large groups show up, I decided to go alone, since walking during the day in the village is completely safe. I spent about an hour watching the dozen or so monkeys in very close proximity. Then it started to rain. In the weeks we've been in the village, it had rained twice, each time lasting less than half an hour. Since there is no tree cover on the way to my house, I decided to wait it out by the river. By 5pm, it was an absolute downpour with no end in sight. An elderly man happened by with his small herd of goats and cattle (why he was moving them at this time I have no idea.) He waited with me until the rain let up a bit, then insisted I use his walking stick, left his livestock by the river and waded with me through the now running washes toward the main road, staying with me until we met another man who agreed to walk with me until I reached the center of town. I was soaking wet when I reached my house, and it was still raining when we moved out of the village at 10 the next morning. The raint season has arrived!! The kindness of these two men, neither of whom I'd met before, was absolutely amazing and I am incredibly grateful. (The camera, thankfully, wasn't damaged.)

Saturday, November 8, 2008

village frustrations and joys

Planning events in villages here is a unique experience. To hold a testing day or community teaching in the farthest subvillage from the center, one must walk 30min to that subvillage, start asking people to help you find the subvillage leader- at his house, the duka, wherever he happens to be - because he doesn't own a cell phone. (When the mayor wants to reach him, he calls the next door neighbor who relays messages). Then we discuss w/ subvillage leader the best day and time for event, agree, and spend several days promoting it and preparing for it. In Swahili-speaking countries, time is measured from sunrise to sunset, meaning that what we would call 7am is referred to as 1 since the sun always rises at 6. the clocks however look just like they would at home, so when the hour hand points to 7 you say it's one o'clock and so on. no one here understands why this is confusing for us initially but we've learned to add or subtract 6 hours to tell time. so we agree w/ subvillage leader that we'll teach at noon, and decided to write 6 on our poster. he then tells us that people in his subvillage are in the habit of showing up exactly 2 hours later for any given event and instead asks us to falsely advertise the time to account for this. (i know a few couples who employ this trick...) so in order to teach at noon we make posters, in Swahili, asking people to please show up at 4am!!! imagine our frustration then, when on that day, we have a poor turn out due to 2 conflicting meetings scheduled for earlier that day - one is required for nearly everyone, the other is about irrigation schedules and therefore essential to anyone who farms, which is basically everyone. How the subvillage leader didn't foresee this is lost on us, but by 12:30 we have a fairly good crowd and teach for several hours. this is not an unusual experience, which for the workaholic, multi-tasking, control freak, type A Americans (guilty as charged, as are most drawn to this NGO) this presents a bit of frustration. We're all getting a lifetime's worth of lessons in patience! :) It will be interesting to try to integrate back into working in the US!

I love teaching in the secondary school! We initially rec'd a lot of support from the headmaster but several misunderstandings and unfortunate timing in relation to national exams combined to slowly deteriorate our relationship with him. First the time per day we were allowed to teach was reduced, then the number of days. We took this in stride, re-arranged lesson plans and made it work. On our school testing day, however, we were told our testing team could only be on campus a brief portion of the day, meaning that only 1/3 of the students would be able to be tested. There are very few things I hate more than breaking a promise to a kid, and it seemed I was being forced to repeatedly do so to many, many kids without being able to offer any explanation. It also didn't help that this was the day after the subvillage teaching described above. I excused myself and walked around the perimeter of the school grounds, finally unable to stop the tears of frustration that had been building up for weeks. I regained composure quickly, but not before being spotted by a few of my students who immediately told me not to cry because they loved me, had missed me in class the day before, and couldn't stand to see me sad! I love my students so much.

The primary school group finished their mural and our secondary school group has formed an enthusiastic group of peer educators. the students got to elect officers and choose the teacher to lead it and he readily agreed, even insisting on making the biology teacher a co-sponsor to make sure the information was always accurate. The kids gave up many hours of their weekend to attend trainings. they know the material well so we were more concerned with getting them comfortable teaching and in leadership roles. First they had to tell us why they were there and what they wanted to accomplish which was a great framework. We had them debate statements like "men are better leaders than women" and "teaching about condoms promotes promiscuity" - debate was heated but I bit my tongue and remained the neutral moderator. (Someday i hope to live in a world where the Bible isn't used as a weapon against women - or at least one in which people are well versed on the story of Deborah...) The next day the kids had to teach us something - some taught us how to make their favorite foods, others retaught part of the curriculum. We were thrilled when one of the guys announced he'd written a song about HIV - his rapping skills are amazing! A teacher later asked us what incentive the kids had for continuing the club since we weren't paying them - I wish I could have shown him a videotape of those sessions. These kids are amazing and I was very sad to leave them. I promised not to adopt them all and bring them home with me but it will be difficult.

Our village experience was supposed to end with a large community day involving lots of teaching and free VCT. This was planned on the day of a mandatory meeting for all 3 subvillages to guarantee a huge crowd and the mayor graciously agreed to give us 30min the official agenda as well. after weeks of planning, we were informed the morning of that the entire meeting was canceled and no one was coming into the center subvillage. We were disappointed to say the least. An hour later, in a meeting with the mayor and other leaders, we were trying to find a way to scrape together some form of the event when we learned the reason that the meeting was canceled: a 9 month old baby had died and the mayor saw no reason to require the grieving community to attend a town council meeting. Tears welled in my eyes, even more so when our field officer later explained to me that the family was well known by our staff and in the preceding weeks they'd visited the house twice begging the mother of the obviously sick child to allow them to pay for a hospital visit. For reasons I don't pretend to understand, she refused with tragic results. (I've heard stories, unconfirmed, of some clinics forcing people to tested for HIV, which of course is illegal. This same woman has also repeatedly declined to be tested, but whether this is related is unclear.) Suddenly our frustrations seemed very very petty. Perspective gained instantly. If anything positive is to be said of this, and I think something must, it is that this was an illustration of just how completely communal life is in villages. It's hard to imagine that even a small town in the U.S. would cancel an event to show support for a grieving family. We did offer VCT that day and tested 67 people not directly affected by the tragedy, which was somewhat miraculously given the size of village and chaos of the day. We also managed to do a few teachings with small groups of people for short periods of the time throughout the day.
A testing day in the other village was also canceled. We were heartbroken to hear that the grandmother of one of the homestay families there had passed away. Both of our groups plan to return to the first 2 villages to hold testing days while we work in the new villages, which hopefully will work out. We do have full time staff in the area though, so our work won't end when we leave.

My roommate, Anna, is one of our Tanzanian teaching partners. At the end of the community day, she pulled me aside to ask if I cried this often in the U.S. or if I was really hating my time in Tanzania. (She was at the school testing day as well) Just to be clear, I love it here and have never regretted coming. Despite everything I really believe our work is effective and I will be sad to leave. I can't believe we're already half way through! If I ever reach a point where I am apathetic about my work, where I can listen to news of death of a child due to neglect without be deeply upset THEN you all should be concerned.

Next village will be Maweni, where I'll be teaching in the primary school. It's supposed to be cooler there, which will be nice.

In other news - the president of France called me. We're going to kill a few elephants while we discuss my career ambitions. Apparently the ivory market is the only one still intact at the moment.

Miss you all! Take care!

Friday, November 7, 2008

End of First Village Experience

I can't believe it, but we're done with our work in the first two villages. Leaving the homestay this morning was very strange. We have a long weekend off then will move into 3 villages for the final weeks in Tanzania.
The final weeks there we spent doing a lot of community teachings. On Sunday our group split up and taught during 4 services at 3 churches in the village! The Friday before, a few of us were allowed to teach after a service at the local mosque. We were forgiven for showing up with our heads uncovered (oops!! - an oversight I realized halfway there, a 30min walk w/ no way to correct at that point.) Anyway, the men and women were split up and we taught the men outside while other volunteers taught the women in a nursery school building - we weren't disrespectful enough to attempt to enter the mosque. We taught for the better part of 2 hours answering many questions. The sher and other leaders wanted me to pass on the message that Muslims love peace, aren't terrorists, don't hate America, and want the Democrats to have a chance in power for awhile, since they believe this will hopefully lead to greater world peace. Yes We Can.
All of Tanzania was thrilled with election results. After listening to morning news broadcasts on radio, we were delivered copies of Obama's and McCain's speeches by our staff. We all especially loved the line about people in forgotten corners of the world huddled around radios - Yes We Were!

Running out of time but promise to get back on (maybe Tues) and give lots of details about joys and frustrations with testing, teaching, peer educators.
miss you all!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Greetings from Arusha!

This week flew by which must mean I'm getting used to living in the village. I almost don't even notice that I'm always covered in dust. :) Katie, that spa day sounds amazing right about now! Doubt we're on GoogleEarth, but if anyone's curious we're in Kikwe ward, Karange village, SE of Arusha.

Our NGO's policy is to give a box of free condoms to any duka not currently selling them with hopes that they'll see what great profits they make and start ordering more boxes. It helps that we're simulataneously doing AIDS ed in villages. A bit of a capitalist approach to public health, but I'm told that this is the best option as giving out free condoms to the villagers would not be a "sustainable" project - that dreaded word again. I'm not entirely sold on the approach but it's something. We also tend to bend the rules when needed...

We have community teachings and testings scheduled in multiple subvillages for the next couple weeks, which I'm excited about! Our testing day is one the same day as a mandatory village meeting - all 3 subvillages have to come - and we've been given 30 min on the agenda to teach. After the meeting we'll teach and test for several more hours. We hiked "not far" (ie 1 hr 15 min) to farthest subvillage to meet w/ subvillage leader about teaching and testing there also. 5 10-cell leaders were also there, each of whom are responsible for 10 households. 3 of them were women! They all promised to attend and publicize our events, which was very encouraging. The subvillage leader's "office" is a large tree that a table and chairs are placed under when needed. He doesn't have a phone, which makes life interesting.

We also do as many impromptu teachings as possible - the mayor's "office" building has 2 pool tables that people congregate around in the afternoon, which sometimes turns into us playing pool/teaching AIDS education. You should see the reaction when we pull out the anatomically correct models and condoms! Once you've given that lesson to high school classes, secondary teachers, and village gov't leaders, nothing phases you. There is no correlation between age and the ridiculousness of questions asked, by the way. But we're clearly teaching material no one else has covered, so we don't really mind the giggles and inappropriate comments because we also get so many legitimate questions, the answers to which will make a huge difference in someone's life. We've also heard every myth re HIV you've ever heard, and a few that were new even to me. The students are great though and really willing to open up to us and ask the difficult questions. The introduction of the Swali (question) box has inspired a few less than appropriate inquires about Wazungu, ahem, preferences, which I choose to ignore, but for the most part, they're asking very inteligent questions and seem excited about the peer education program.

Apparently there's a problem in TZ with people murdering albinos, sometimes due to general stigma, other times because of a belief that their body parts contain various powers. It's a nation-wide problem, tragically.

The primary school group is helping their students paint a mural. Our secondary group is organizing a peer educator club that will continue the education once we leave the village. If the people we test next week are HIV+, we connect them with our full time staff of community health workers, help them get registered w/ the govt and get their CD4 count tested to see if they qualify for free ARV's. (In the US, you can get them right away; here, only if you're CD4 cell count is below 200, when you have full blown AIDS). SIC also gives transporation stipends for all doctor's visits.

Next weekend I'll join one of the CHW's on patient visits, which I'm looking forward to. We also get to take them to the market afterward to purchase whatever they need for the home.

The village has, I think, a total of 3 generators, one of which we can rent to charge our cell phones. The only TV I've seen is at the mayor's house, which isn't used because his personal generator broke ages ago. The weekends in the small city of Arusha can be a bit overwhelming after Karange, and I'm sure coming back to the US will be complete sensory overload. Everyone loves the fact that I have a radio though - my homestay is usually crowded in the evenings - thanks, Tom! The BBC broadcasts are our window to the rest of the world.

Looking forward to getting election results soon...I'm hopeful... do what you can...

Miss you all!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

first weeks in village

hi everyone! for some reason the shift key doesn't work -0h well. anyway, life in the village is going well - no electricity or indoor plumbing, but we all adjusted very quickly to that. limited communication is harder - with all of you as well as with the village - but our swahili is improving and the number of spanish words we throw in is decreasing. there are some easily confused words that have made for some entertaining stories but i'll save that for another time.

teaching is going well. my group has the secondary school. we teach f0rms 1-3, which technically should be 14-16 yr olds but in reality is more like 14-20 yr olds. on our first day, they combined all 3 forms in the cafeteria - i stopped counting students at 300. we then split into a more manageable class size of about 120 - i have form 3 students since i have the strongest bio background in the group. my teaching partner is amazing - he's great w/ the kids. the 3 other teachers have forms 1and2 combined. the 2 groups are teaching at 2 primary schools.

before teaching started we had meetings w/ village leaders including local govt and church leaders. it went v. well - lots of them showed up and were welcoming. we also had a mtg w/ the teachers of our respective schools. the lack of knowledge of secondary teachers was upsetting but we have permission to teach our full curriculum, even to the primary students, which is wonderful.

we've gotten lots of questions. those based on lack of knowledge are far easier to respond to than those based on lack of compassion. i've gotten this same question twice - once from a teacher and once from one of the students at the same schools - the teachers are never in the room when we teach - and have heard that its a common question for other groups also. 'if giving people antiretroviral drugs makes them live longer then they can potentially infect even more people. why not just let them die as soon as possible to prevent spread?' the only positive thing i can say is that i believe stigma comes from fear which is largly based on lack of knowledge. it's our hope that our education will reduce fear and therefore stigma. it should be noted tho that this village has a far higher baseline of knowledge than most in tanzania - sic was here just 3 years ago and many of them remember.

our very first project in the village was to do surveys of houses re general knowledge and of dukas - small shops - to see if they sold condoms, and if they'd be willing to if not. the house surveys were interesting. first we had to find the boundaries of all the subvillages - there aren't exactly lots of roadmarks except things like the big tree, the small stream, etc - and then walk to the geographic center of each subvillage, spin a pen in the dirt, walk in that direction, interview the first house, turn right, interview the 3rd house, repeat until all surverys done, being sure to interview only ppl ages 18-60. in all the science textboooks emphasizing the importance of a random survey sample of the poplulation, this model was never mentioned!! they were interesting interviews tho - and we were thrilled when responses showed lots of knowledge and little stigma, as some did.

homestay is great/ roommate is one of tanzanian teaching partners who thankfully communicates for me when necessary. our mama works in her fields a lot. our sister is in secondary school. our bibi - grandma- is an inspiration - she's at least 90 and full of energy - always smiling and constantly hard working. she's hilarious! another woman - mama joshua - helps out our mama during the day. she has two young boys who are in primary school - joshua and jonah - and a daughter too young for school. they're adorable! the women here often go by the name of their eldest child and never take their husband's last name. speaking of husbands - there are no men at our house. i haven't been bold enough to ask about that but it is interesting.

we also have a lot of livestock - goats cows chickens - which means fresh milk and eggs. pasterized and homogenized are meaningless in a village w/o refrigeration. most of the other volunteers are harvard/stanford grads w/ little ag background. i love them all but enjoy my az/id childhood that allows me to respond w/ things like - yes, it possible to get milk from a cow thats not black and white; no, that is not a cow w/ cancer of the back, that is a healthy brahma bull. they've taught me a lot as well... it's all good. also watched a goat slaughtered and skinned - in the center of town. am told that the goat skins are great for making drums.

we're a pretty small group and spend tons of time together which means we have rather interesting conversations. we had a day off for a national holiday last week so the 2 groups in my village walked 2 hours each day to visit the other group in the next village. it was great although a bit warm on the way back. the river we crossed was knee deep and of course all the girls were in long skirts - thrilled to be in town in jeans today. we visit the river when we have a few hours off and love to watch the monkeys that live in the trees there.

the little brother of our group spent the 1st evening arguing the definition of a pun and making attempts at creating some. having now mastered the definition his goal is to make puns as often as possible and then explain them to us if we don't immediately laugh. i swear, tom, he's related to you.

this weekend we went on a 2 day safari. lots of great photos - can't wait to share them w/ all of you!

one of the mamas groups in the village wrote songs to welcome us and performed them with lots of dancing and drumming. average age 60. they're amazing and have great rhythm! it was wonderful.

you can't walk half a block here w/o lots of greetings that are drawn out. it slows things down a bit but is great. we're also typically met with lots of shouts of mzungu or wazungo - white person/people. there's no negative connotation attached, just observation, and rather rare in villages so always shouted. also often followed by a throng of kids. interesting.

we went to church w/ our family. the offering also includes gifts in kind, usually eggs and produce. all of which is auctioned off after the service. the village mayor bought a 7foot sugar cane and a papaya for the american volunteers. his very public support of us is huge and is highly appreciated as is it shapes all that we do in the village. i somehow had the honor of carrying the sugar cane across the village to our home. people eat pieces of it like candy - for the record i prefer chocolate but it wasn't bad.

everything is going well/ will hopefully update this in a week or two

miss you all!!!!!!!!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

village life going well

will update blog on Sunday/ miss you all!

Thursday, October 2, 2008


Greetings from Arusha! Our orientation site is 20km out of town, so being in the "big city" for a few hours is a treat! We've got a great group and everything is going very well so far. I'm rather eager to move to the villages and get started with our work (which will happen on Monday) but the orientation has been very helpful. We've covered in depth the many issues affecting the AIDS epidemic including poverty, gender inequalities, education, stigma, alcohol/drugs, access to health care, nutrition, rituals, cultural beliefs, religion. government policies, road quality, and urbanization to name a few. One of the orientation leaders had the opportunity to go to the recent global AIDS conference in Mexico City (what an experience!) so we were thrilled to hear what she had to share.
We've also met with SIC's community health workers, who provide education, facilitate counseling and testing, and provide care to HIV+ individuals. We also met with the counselors and heard about the challenges they face.
The villages we will serve have a mixed population of Meru and Masai people, each of which has a different languages and cultural beliefs. There are 120 languages (not dialects, but different languages) in TZ! Thankfully, Swahili is common throughout. The Swahili lessons have been going well but I still am not at the level I would like to be. I'm sure the homestay (starting Monday) will speed things up considerably.
Being here means being immersed in many traditions - the Jewish New Year and end of Ramadan are days previously unnoticed in my world -now they are cause for celebration.
We're already making plans for our long weekends. We have 3 and I think the first two will be spent on safari and then a trip to Zanzibar, an island of the coast of TZ. The last long weekend includes World AIDS Day so while we technically have it off, I can't imagine not participating in the events our staff will be doing that weekend.
I/we have been shaken to the core twice now w/ very difficult questions about our motives and potential for effectiveness (details when i return if anyone interested) both from orientation leaders and from Tanzanians. Very hard. But, we emerged with a clearer sense of purpose and I'm confident that this is where I'm supposed to be at this time. Still. it was all the more motivation to be as effective, sensitive, relevant as possible and make sure that what we start is sustainable.
It will be 2 weeks before I can write again. Wish I could tell you so much more.
Best wishes to you all!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Signing off for now...


Completed the day-long waterfall hike: one of the most physically exhausting experiences (although second to house demolition in plastic body suits in 100% humidity in New Orleans - Wesley group knows what I'm talking about!) but also by far the most beautiful. You'll have to wait for pictures, but trust me, it was breath-taking. On another note, I will never view the ritual of foot washing the same way again. And we were all put to shame when the grandmas of the villages seemed to fly by us, even with their heavy loads.

The UN Tribunals for Rwanda are taking place in Arusha now. They're open to the public so I'm trying to find some time to sit in on a bit of them - the volunteers who got here the day before me did just that. Logistically, I'm not sure if that will happen. I took a picture of the UN sign out front today as we trekked by; would have taken a picture of the building had the security guard not intervened - I really thought my camera was going to be confiscated (or worse) at that point but luckily was not. It makes no sense to me that the trials would be open to the public but the bldg can't be photographed - and if the UN is off-limits, we have some problems - but at this point I'll just follow their rules. Activism is better done long-distance, I think.

Another night out in Arusha this evening, followed by an early morning move to our more remote orientation spot and then on to the villages we'll be working in. Expect not to hear from me for awhile, but know that all is well and I greatly appreciate your comments and prayers.

Grace and Peace,

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Tuesday afternoon

We've had our first day of orientation - health & safety followed by Swahili. What a great group of people. Most are recent college grads, with one girl in the middle of her undergrad and one guy who just graduated HS. He quickly adapted to the Little Brother r0le in our little family. We'll be in a communal orientation setting for the next 9 nights or so then split into 3 groups and moved into the villages.

The city has a mixture of Christian and Muslim traditions, and the calls to prayer from the mosque can be heard all over town. I wish I understood them, but am enjoying it none the less. There are also chickens (kuku) everywhere who seem to crow at all hours.

The food is absolutely wonderful and if meals in the villages are anything like those in town I think I gain rather than lose weight while here.

I intentionally didn't bring jewelry with me because i was worried about theft. Now wishing i'd brought a few rings - there seem to be marriage offers everywhere the girls go!

The Swahili classes back home were so helpful. My vocabulary isn't what it could be, but everyone seems to really appreciate the effort and it's made things so much easier.

I'm slowly learning about the culture and loving it.

The altitude here is similar to Denver, which makes me a bit nervous for tomorrow's marathon hike, but it should be fine. It's gorgeous here. Being so close to the equator means the sun sets around 6:30pm, which is strange and makes safety in the evenings more of a challenge, but generally there are no problems as long as common sense is used.

Hamna shida - there are no worries - is a common and accurate phrase here.

Much love to you all!

In Arusha

On a quick break, just wanted you all to know I'm here safe and sound and very happy with all luggage. Met all the American volunteers and coordinators, a small group, am sure we'll be very close in no time. Will meet Tanzanian teaching partners tonight. Having skirts made - great fabrics and able to haggle a bit in Swahili - so much more fun than shopping in US. 10 hour bus ride was more comfortable than I had anticipated. Will have 8 hour waterfall hike tomorrow! Went over the schedule for the next few months and am very excited to get started! Interestingly, American music is big here, particulary Brittany Spears and Akon - very strange. Saw a Tanzanian guy w/ Fox Racing shirt and immediately missed Sarah. There is so much I wish I could tell all of you - it's been amazing already - but am running out of time.
Much love,

Monday, September 22, 2008


That's Swahili for elephant, and now in my mind, also symbolic of the many, many people following this blog and praying for me. Thank you, Rosemary! All of you mean so much to me! See you in a few months - probably with more photos and stories than you'll care to sit through.

In London

Greetings from Heathrow! After long flights to Chicago and London, I'm doing well - just don't ask me what day or time it is! Thankfully, I've always been able to sleep on flights. The reality of no cell phone just sank in. I'm not sure when I'll get to update this next, but know that I'm fine and will get in touch when I can. I just met up with Kim, my traveling partner. Both recent grads, we're setting aside the UA/ASU rivalry for our common goal and are excited to leave in a few hours for Dar es Salaam. My carry-on bag, while well under the weight requirement, was too long for British Airways, meaning it's now my second checked bag. Here's hoping nothing critical gets lost...

The National Sidewalk Ministries Conference was the absolute perfect way to leave. Logistically, a bit of a challenge, but well worth it. What an amazing group of people doing great things across the country! I wanted more time with all of you. Billie, I hope you're working on the next one. (Someone please send this address to Cindy K. and Rosemary A. - I meant to before I left and well...) Thank you all for a wonderful few days. Please stay in touch.

We leave London at 7:20pm (It's 4pm now) and arrive in DAR at 7am. Our cross-country bus ride begins at 9:30am and will arrive in Arusha that evening or night. Our orientation begins Wednesday morning. I'm so excited!! Thanks to all you for your prayers, pep talks, and words of encouragement. I'm finally ready.

Much love,

Monday, September 15, 2008

General Info

Many people have asked me for statistics about Tanzania, so I thought I would share what I've learned. The capital is Dodoma, although Dar es Salaam, the city I will be flying into, is larger. Tanzania is composed of 365,00 square miles and approximately 37,900,000 people. If you're reading this from Arizona, Tanzania is 14 hours ahead of you. The currency is the Tanzanian schilling. For the months I will be there, the lows will probably be in the fifties, the highs in the eighties.

If you'd like more information about Support for International Change please visit sichange.org. Their mailing address is:
PO Box 16390
Arusha, Tanzania, East Africa

If You Pray...

In the last few weeks, many, many people have told me that they will be praying for me as I spend time in Tanzania. I appreciate this because I know it comes from a place of sincere desire to wish me the best and is an indication of a common belief in a loving Spirit that surrounds us all. I appreciate these sentiments and the kindness and sense of community that comes with them. I know that they are all well-intended, and my first response is always, “Thank you”. My next response, however, is an unspoken “What does that mean?” What, specifically, are people praying for? The answers, though I will likely never know them, shed a light on the way in which we view the world. To the one person who took the time to ask what I might want him to pray for, thank you. That question gave me pause and prompted me to share the response with all of you. It is not my intent to alienate anyone, merely a desire to let you know what is on my mind tonight, one week before I leave.

Many have commented that I am brave or noble for seeking out this experience. I respectfully disagree. 80% of the people in this world live in what we consider “sub-standard” housing. I will voluntarily be joining them for three short months. I have already been told that the brief moment in time I spend walking in their shoes will open doors for me to better graduate programs and better career opportunities once I return to the comforts of home. “Noble” is hardly the word that comes to mind.

If you pray, do not pray for my health. I have had countless vaccinations, will take anti -malarials and antibiotics with me, will have plenty of bottled water, and will have full access to treatment at a clinic in Arusha and hospital in Nairobi should the need arise. Pray instead for the millions of people in world whose resources prevent them from ever receiving such care, forcing them to suffer in silence.

If you pray, do not pray that I would be sheltered from harm should political unrest arise. Tanzania is peaceful, and the U.S. Embassy will have my name and location, quite literally keeping the other volunteers and me a top priority in the unlikely event that problems arise. Pray instead for the many regions of the world in which people have committed the unforgiveable crime of being born in the wrong place at the wrong time, becoming casualties in conflicts they did not create, people whose lives will be reduced to the category of “collateral damage”, nombres desconocidos, not important enough even to require an accurate count.

If you pray, do not pray that I will find enough to eat. The families who have graciously agreed to open their homes to me will provide nutritious meals of ugali, rice, potatoes, noodles, beans, eggplant, greens, tea, eggs, porridge, and fruit. On weekends, trips to the nearest city will provide the opportunity to dine in the many restaurants that cater to tourists. Pray instead for the 50% of the world population that is continuously malnourished.

If you pray, do not pray that I will always be able to find someone who is fluent in English to help me. Pray that I would have the discipline and humility to continuously improve my limited Swahili vocabulary, forever setting aside the arrogant notion that the whole world should speak my language.

If you pray, do not pray that I will be surrounded by people whose religious beliefs are similar to my own. Pray instead that I would have an open mind and heart enough to realize that the spiritual experiences of all traditions are as significant and meaningful as my own.

If you pray, do not pray that things will be organized and smooth for me. Pray instead that I will have patience in the midst of chaos, gentleness in the midst of conflict.

If you pray, pray that I will be remember that the privilege and power I have been accustomed to my entire life is not a divine right, but a product of unjust systems in the world, amplified by my own inaction and apathy.

During the months of “pre-field training” for this experience, we were asked to read To Hell with Good Intentions by Ivan Illich. Written in 1968, it is an incredibly harsh speech delivered to American volunteers about to begin a service project in Mexico. Illich criticizes Americans who “attempt to soothe their troubled consciences” in areas where they are “linguistically deaf and dumb”. He goes on to say that it is profoundly damaging to impose your ideals and declare that all your actions are helpful, good, and sacrificial, and tells would-be volunteers that “if you insist on working with the poor, then at least work among the poor who can tell you to go to hell.” The first time I read it, I was indignant. The second time, convicted. The third and many times since were a conscious commitment that I would do my best to ensure that I do not become the embodiment of his words.

Pray that I remember that I am not an expert. Pray that I remember that I am as much the student as the teacher. Pray that I will be culturally sensitive and aware enough to be an effective teacher, that I will earn the right to be heard, that I will play a small but significant role in educating people about HIV/AIDS, as well as in helping Tanzanians become advocates for better health education in their own villages. Pray that the work I do will be relevant and sustainable.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Approaching Departure

It's hard to believe that I'll be leaving in just two weeks. This summer has flown by!

After several long conversations with the patient and knowledgeable staff at REI, I now have a backpack, head lamp, and various and sundry other supposedly must-have items. Now the task at hand is to pack. I've found that the list of items deemed "essential" narrows dramatically when you are asked to carry your belongings a few miles. Perhaps there is a lesson here ... the words "consumerism" and "priorities" come to mind. Hmm, sounds like the groundwork for a sermon outline. (Although I'll openly admit that I would be addressing myself as much as anyone else!) I don't see ordination on the horizon, but cherish the opportunities I've had to speak from the pulpit and hope that such opportunities will continue to emerge. There are wonderful examples in my life of laity whose voices are powerful and Spirit-filled - thank you.

When I think about how many people have helped to make this experience possible, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. To the members of the DSC AIDS Task Force, the congregations of First UMC Tucson, St. Francis in the Foothills UMC, Living Hope Community Church, Parker UMC and the Tucson Wesley Foundation, the Clinical Pathology department of University Medical Center, and the many, many individuals across the country who have generously provided gifts of time, resources, words of encouragement, and prayer, I extend my heartfelt thanks. To the patient individuals on two continents who have helped me begin to learn Kiswahili - asante sana. To the bold former U of A students who were courageous enough to begin an international non-profit and dare to believe that they could make a difference - you will forever have my admiration. I am extremely grateful for the families in Tanzania I have yet to meet who have graciously opened their homes and hearts to complete strangers. And, especially, thank you to my family members who have taken the time to join me in learning about Tanzania and about blogs, who have promised to be brave as they watch me go where I am led, having long ago stopped asking questions like, "Aren't there people in Phoenix you could help instead?" Your support means the world to me, and I couldn't do it without you.

Thursday, August 7, 2008



So even though I'm still stateside, I thought I'd get this blog started now. Once in Tanzania, I will probably only have internet access about three times a month, with low-speed connections for a minimal amount of time, so I thought I'd provide some basic info while sitting in a coffee shop in Surprise enjoying the comforts of electricity and indoor plumbing.

I will be in Tanzania from mid-September to mid-December teaching about preventing disease transmission in primary and secondary schools and whatever adult community groups are willing to host us, with Tanzanian teaching partners who will translate for us. We'll be living with Tanzanian families, completely immersed in the language and culture - I'm so excited!

I'm in the midst of planning and trying not to get overwhelmed. Things to consider:

-How to pack for three months, knowing that I will have to carry my luggage for up to four miles
-Buying a "real" backpacking backpack
-Determining appropriate gifts for the family I will be living with, knowing nothing about them - anyone have ideas??
-Figuring how to vote from my homestay

Interesting tidbit: Based on Tanzanian law, I will officially be a Tanzanian resident for the three months I'm there, which means that if we have the opportunity to travel to say, Kenya, we're supposed to tell the border officials that we're residents of Tanzania.

Kwa herini!