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!