18 June 2005


That is kiswahili for Saturday, "day one" (also a good song by Sarah Slean) and it is on this first Saturday in Mwanza that I write my second installment.

After being picked up by the employees of Kivulini (the Women's rights or with whom we are working) we endured a very bumpy ride into the city centre of Mwanza. My neighbourhood is called "Mlango Moja" (one door) named for the pub turned used clothing market that only has one way in and out. I live in the third floor of a very nice office building across from the market. That apartment has two bedrooms, a spacious living/dining area, fully equipped kitchen, one bathroom and one "choo" and of course, a yogurt making room. Let me assure you that I am incredibly lucky to be living in such a place. An apartment of this type is absolute luxury for Mwanza. I will post pictures very soon to give a visual.

My neighbourhood is incredibly noisy, night and day. There are people bargaining at the market, boys on bikes selling milk, women yelling at their husbands and kids, cars honking and screeching...the loudest sound of all would be the cars that drive by with speakers in the back making political announcements or advertising a new soft drink. In the distance I can always here the ever present strains of traditional African music. i still can't figure out where it's coming from but I swear I'm not imagining it.

Our first week was a lot like Orientation week at Western: lots of running around and little time to sit and reflect. Brian and Cynthia were amazing tour guides/mentors as they showed us all the best places to eat and how to navigate around the city. It was kind of strange to see them scrambling to pack up, buy gifts and say their goodbyes when we were just saying hello. I think it made me a little homesick, as have a few other factors. I don't think that there's anyway a Canadian could not be culture-shocked when first arriving here. Everything is upside down compared to life at home...including the big dipper! So the night sky is different here but, as An American Tale's theme song put it best:

"And even though I know how very far apart we are
It helps to think we might be wishing on the same bright star
And when the night wind starts to sing a lonesome lullaby
It helps to think we're sleeping underneath the same big sky"

so that's pretty much the cheesiest thing I have or ever will include on this blog...but I had to get that out. Anyways,

Throughout the week the "yogurt mamas" come in every morning to make their batch of yogurt and distribute the already made yogurt into containers for the 12 families involved in our program. None of the women speak more than a few words of english, yet they are very helpful and patient while trying to teach me kiswahili. We checked out our partner medical research institute, NIMR and met the microbiologist there. The rest of the days were filled with errands, but at night we would go out for delicious food and ask Cynthia and Brian a million questions.

One morning Brian took us on a hunt for Chipati (sweet breakfast tortillas). In order to find some we asked around (well, he did; I had no clue what was going on)and wove through alleyways until we found an old woman sitting over a campfire preparing them. We said "shikamoo, mama," which is a sign of respect and she answered with "marahaba." Everyone assures me that I am "karibu sana" (very welcome)here in Mwanza.

So after many fun but overwhelming nights and days, Brian and cynthia have headed back to Canada. Today was the first day of true independence. Last night we went out to a lakeside bar called the Yacht club with the Kivulini staff and I tried my best to converse in kiswahili. Man, this is challenging.

The weirdest part, or I should say, the part that may take the most getting used to is being an absolute visible minority. As a "mzungu" I stand out unbelievably. This is not my Western ego speaking, it's purely factual! Whenever I walk anywhere people literally stop and stare. If they are feeling up to it they will yell "Hey, Mzungu!". It's rather strange "being a local celebrity" as my prof/supervisor Sandy (who lived here for 6 months when she was a student) said to me last night.

I got my first phone call today: Brian called and I sat on the roof of the building while huge brown and yellow birds flew overhead. How lovely!

While B&C were still here, we went to visit their artist friend, Jonathan. He lives in a tiny house made of cement and tin on the side of one of the rocky hills that surround Mwanza. On the steep trek up the cliffside, we passed many barefoot children in tattered fancy dresses or dress shirts. Brian warned us to avoid the moist trails flowing down the hill saying "just because it's wet doesn't mean it's water." Jonathan used to be a street kid, but has made a modest living for himself and his brother by selling his beautiful paintings of African landscape and animals. I will bring some home for sure.

The Maasai people here are really fascinating. They have a market in the centre of town where they sell their famous bead ware. A nomadic tribe, they walk around town with their red blanket/capes and walking sticks, stretched out earlobes and layes of necklaces. They always greet me with a wide smile and a friendly greeting.

So many people here I have wanted to sit down and talk with, to ask questions and share stories. At this point I am trapped by a language barrier, and by my physical appearance, as I am clearly an outsider. I wonder how this may change over the next 12 weeks? There is one thing that absolutely transcends language, and that is simple kindness. The most dominant of the yogurt mamas, Mama Joyce has been very kind and helpful to us. Not only is she teaching me her language, she taught me how to make ugali (the awesome african dough-ish stuff) and brought us some carrots from the market as a welcoming gift.

Now it is Saturday, as I mentioned and the weeks ahead stretch out before me like the serengeti plain (bad, I know). Today has been a lot of idle time and I don't work well without direction. Hopefully things will get going over here starting Monday. It's hard to make plans cause everything is so lax in Africa. The next step for our project is getting the mamas trained in care and shelter of livestock. One the training is complete, an organization called "heifer international" will be donating a goat to every family so that we no longer have to purchase milk. We're looking to make this as sustainable as possible for the community. You may wonder what a media student is doing as a yogurt production supervisor...

The truth is, I'm not entirely sure yet either. We'll find out. I miss you all very very much.

1 comment:

b said...

Despite other emails and such, that did a very nice job of describing how everything is going.

Talk to you soon.