29 August 2005

mother father sister brother

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mwanza from above

"You, my friend, are no longer a guest but a Tanzanian sister!" (english translation)

So I guess I've been accepted. Maybe it's the Swahili that I speak almost exclusively to the locals, or maybe it was the African clothing I was wearing that day. Regardless, I am now welcomed as a sister and have been embraced by the huge, extended family that makes up Tanzania. As my somewhat crazy language teacher said it best, "You either become Tanzanized or you will be frustrated every minute of the day!"

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Mwanza countryside

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Sunset at Dancing Rock

And it's true. In order to truly enjoy life in Mwanza, you have to expect the unexpected, the unreliable, the annoying, the less-than-logical. You have to be okay with bank managers asking you to find them a job in Canada while you're trying to open an account. You have to politely accept the grease-filled food that is so generously offered (or make up an excuse about having a serious stomach condition like I do). You have to relinquish personal space and be okay with kids following you at all times. You have to learn to breathe through your mouth to avoid the brutal smells, to walk quickly enough to avoid being pickpocketed but not too fast that people laugh at you. You have to use your imagination to pass the time, as virtually every activity requires 3x the time it needs to. You have to prepare to live alongside cockroaches and lizards alike.

You must swallow your arguments and own ideas when organizing a party or cooking or anything, cause there is NO WAY you can win an argument with a Tanzanian mama. No way in hell. You have to be okay with being scrutinized and observed every second of the day. You have to consider each person as a member of your family and greet them as such. I actually really like being called "sister" though.

You have to be paitient when there is no power or water for days on end, when there is no toilet paper in any public washroom, when everyone harasses you everywhere you go and when you're just dying to be with familiar family and friends.

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The flood

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Choir at the Kivulini festival
If you can do these things, if you consent to adjust your lifestyle for a few months, them you will see a amazing new world. You will be ushered into churches to witness the faith of humble people as they all sing together in crazy harmony. You will learn to pray alongside your islamic sisters (even if it's in a pantry in mid-afternoon). You will be lucky enough to swap jokes and trade stories, cross-culturally. You will have the tool of a new and beautiful language with which to connect with others.

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Pendo's kids enjoying the bubbles I gave them

You will be warmly welcomed into the homes of the poorest of poor and offered anything they have. You will be serenaded, you will dance and eat and drink and stare around in wonder. If you grow to love the people of Tanzania, you will be loved and treated with such generosity and, well, kind of like family...

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a gift from some of my favourite kids

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Sukuma dancers at the festival

You can choose your own level of involvment. Over the last few weeks I have chosen to just sink right in and make the most of the rest of my time here. I would never want to stay here permanently, but a visit back may be in the cards.

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A classroom in Buswelu school

Now I only have about 3 full days left. I'm ready to come home, more than ready, but I will never forget the people here. Through all my frustration I've learned a thing or two about my strengths and weaknesses. I know a lot more about how I want to live and what is really, really important over the next few years. You may have heard this all before, and I have too. But it's hard to sum anything up here, you know. The experience is not over and it will overlap and intertwine with my life in Canada in lots of cool ways. I look forward to it.

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Cooking a meal is a group effort!

Speaking of which, lots of Tanzanian food will be on the menu pretty soon. I didn't get bossed around by mamas in the kitchen for nothing!

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My great friend, Pendo.

So yeah, my extended Tanzanian family will stay with me and definitely keep me humble for the rest of my life. At the same time, nothing beats your real family, your life-long friends and the man you love. See you all in a few days or shortly thereafter!

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Dancing rock

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18 August 2005

real time?

In two weeks today I will be home. I told myself that the two-week point was when I could start getting excited about it. Seven hours time difference between here and Ontario is a big, hollow gulf of time. I don't like it I tell ya! Plus, my family is on the West coast so we have 10 hours in between us. I feel like I'm living in an alternate reality or some dimension in a vacuum. Speaking of which, my apologies for all the emails I've yet to answer. The availability of internet access seems to worsen by the day. But that's okay cause it's almost time to come home!

It's hard to even imagine sitting face to face with friends and family. Today I saw North American t.v. and caught a clip of a grocery store. It will be so weird and wonderful to buy vegetables from Loblaws instead of off the side of the road. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts au lieu de live chickens. Wow.

It's been raining in Mwanza this week quite a bit and I couldn't be happier. The days are floating by at a nice pace. Last night Kivulini welcomed their newest intern: a girl named Rita from Aurora. Who knew? She'll be taking my room once I'm gone but is now living in the back of the legal aid office downstairs. It's great to have another Canadian around.

This morning I went to check out Buswelu Primary School. Western Heads East is facilitating a partnership (really pen pal relationship) between it and Tecumseh school in London. Myself, Kulwa and Jimmy (2 men from Kivulini) got up at the crack of dawn drove over completely flooded roads into the rural outskirts of town. I received a warm welcome from the teachers and headmaster and was shown around the school. A complex of less than 10 classrooms holds nearly 1,000 students. In one small classroom there were about 60-70 students and the headmaster said, "Oh, where is the rest of the class today? Must be the rain." There were only a few desks in each room and Jimmy commented, "Dallas, do you notice that the boys take the desks while all the girls are on the floor. This is not something I like to see."
The students, despite the poor conditions of the school, were in high spirits. They crowded around me, shaking my hands, playing with my hair and even bowing. Tanzanian children have amazing manners. They are raised to be able to receiev guests from the age of 4!

I'm going back next week to take drawings and books from Tecumseh school. I'll also be arriving with school supplies and lots of toys that I picked up at a dollar store before coming. Any time I've had a chance to work with kids here has been incredibly rewarding. If I came back it would definitely be to work with the education system in some way.

There is quite a bit I want to do before embarking on the ridiculously long journey home. I hope I can do it all, but I also hope time continues to move quickly. I'm ready to live my life in real time with loved ones at last!

16 August 2005

part II: The island of wonder

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Oh, even the name of it sounds magical, doesn't it? I was there for 5 days but I tried to take in as much as I could.

(Sandy, this post is for you, as you introduced me to the idea of going in the first place!)

Zanzibar has a fascinating and horrible history. It has been colonized by the Portuguese, the Germans and finally the British. I has also been ruled by tribes and Middle-Eastern sultans alike. Although now famous for its abundant spice exports, it was once infamous for being the hub of the slave trade. Zanzibar's rich and varied history echoes in the present. As a visitor, I was unable to be just a tourist. Hmmm, let me explain. It's not like going to an all-inclusive resort where you can sip tequila and tan on the beach without having to see the life of the locals. When you visit Zanzibar, you walk with its people. To get anywhere you have to take local transportation over horrendous roads. You have to walk everywhere in Stone Town, the capital, as cars cannot make it through the narrow paths of the "labyrinth". You will get lost often and will recieve help from anyone who thinks you look confused. Local fruits, vegetables and spices infuse even the most Americanized of dishes. In a city that is almost 100 percent Muslim, you quickly feel out of place without a hijab. Suddenly, you are aware of how much skin you are showing. Although I was VERY modest compared to some of the tourists I saw. Let me just say that Italian men seem to be loving the booty shorts right now!

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The Indian Ocean wraps around Stone town to allow more space for boats to haul in the day's catches. The city seems ancient and yet comfortably modern. I do not exaggerate when I tell you that the air is thickly-scented with a multitude of spices. When you breathe in you taste cinnamon and cloves. This was a welcome reprieve from the smog of Mwanza.

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Also, it RAINS in Zanzibar. While a lot of people complained that the weather was ruining their vacations, I was jubilant! I haven't seen rain since I left Ontario so this was thirst-quenching for the soul.

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narrow streets in the heart of the labyrinth.

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kids diving into the harbour at sunset.

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kikoi, a lovely fabric for wraps and shawls etc.

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Once the sun begins to set, Forodhani Gardens is the place to go for seafood and people-watching. You can get a full plate of fresh seafood for under 5 bucks!

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Me and my masai friends in Forodhani Gardens.

And now, to the beaches!
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I spent one day on Bwejuu beach, home of hot, hot sun and seaweed farmers. The tide was out for most of the day so I didn't swim much, but it was easy on the eyes.

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bwejuu beach

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the white sand was as fine as chalkdust

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relaxing before dinner at the hotel.

The next day we spent at Kendwa rocks. It was much more touristy but the water was clear and warm. It was amazing.

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oops, I'm out of time. I'll have to finish this later!

part I

It seems like a million years ago, but I better start from about 2 weeks ago in order to throw all these pictures up here.

I'm sure you all understand that this blog is pretty much solely devoted to what I do in my spare time. Although I could talk about my internship here, I have a seperate blog for that here, and would prefer to leave it at that. Okay? Okay. So now for some explanation about what I have been doin'!

2 weeks or so ago, I checked out the Sukuma Museum. It is a simple (though overpriced) place where visitors can learn all about the customs and traditions of the Sukuma people. The Sukuma people make up the most dominant and influential tribe in the Mwanza area. Out tour guide showed us around the huts and buildings, spoke about the annual dance competitions and even let us try out the cermonial drums.

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Attempting to play drums at the Sukuma Museum (go ahead and laugh, Brian).

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I promised I would put this pic up for my parents. I was having dinner at Tunza when, to my delight, I received a loooong distance phone call. So there I am, watching the sunset while wishing them a good trip to California.
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This lizard was relaxing in front of one of the huts and didn't mind when I came annoyingly close to check out his scales. Beautiful, eh?

On The 7th of August, we set out to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania's biggest city and former capital to check out the national agricultural fair. Unfortunately, upon arriving we discovered that the fair was actuallybeing held in Morogoro, 3 hours west. So we hopped on a bus and headed into the mountainous farming community of Morogoro. The fair was huge! It was packed with people checking out the latest developments in agricultural technology, care of livestock and new products. I bought some soy tea, dried rosella and banana wine. Good stuff. The only downer of this visit was that Jon was pickpocketed and had his cell phone stolen. You can never be too careful here but you never know where the thieves will be either. Hmmmm.

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Fairground at "Nane Nane".

Dar itself was a pretty cool city. It was enormous compared to Mwanza. For example, there were buildings taller than 4 storeys! Also, and to my amazement, there was a Subway restaurant there. It was almost as good at home but they didn't have the special bread. Wow it was amazing though. I've never had such a good sub in my life.

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Candlelit balcony at an Ethiopian restaurant in Dar es Salaam

While admiring the ocean view and breathing in the salty air, I got a little too close to the edge. Out of nowhere a huge wave came up and soaked me from head to toe. The locals (and there were a lot of them around) had a good chuckle at my expense. Dripping wet, I bought a coconut and ate it on the beach while laughing at myself.

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Ocean road in Dar

So yes, Dar was well worth a visit. Besides a few run-ins with horribly mean cab drivers, I found Dar to be a friendly and calm city. I'm going to start a new post now, since Zanzibar deserves its own space... please see above :)

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Silky sky over Lake Victoria

13 August 2005

a whirlwind trip


This is just an extremely brief update to prove that I have not dropped off the face off the earth. I am in Zanzibar "the spice island" until tomorrow. I'll be back in Mwanza on Sunday night and will be uploading the hundreds of pics I've taken so far. I have a LOT to say about this trip so stay tuned. Hope you are all well :)

P.s. I'm home in less than 3 weeks and time is flying.

04 August 2005

crack of sunlight

that's where i've been lying for the past few days: in my room with the blinds shut save for one strip of light. I lie right in that line of sunshine and try to soak in the vitamin D.

I have malaria. Yes, I know you all thought it was inevitable...but I was convinced I could resist it. It is a horrible illness, let me tell you. I hope no one I cares about ever has to encounter a mean mosquito like I have.

Anyways, I have not been alone in my convalescence. Alas, my loyal friend Harry Potter kept me company in these dark hours. Unfortunately that means I have finished the book in two days. Damn. Children's literary fiction/fantasy is ideal reading for malaria victims. The surreal circumstances and winding prose just go so well with a fever. I feel like I ventured into a world even more exotic and far away than Tanzania. It helped me to forget about this illness a bit. Necessary escapism, you might call it.

I'll be better soon and write even sooner