Farewell Tanzania

First off, I have to say sorry for the lack of new pictures…my phone had an unfortunate meeting with a large swimming pool

As I wrap up my time here in Moshi there are a mixture of feelings that rise to the surface.  I feel a sense of sadness, a bit of anxiety, worry, and a lot of optimism toward the future.  I can’t help thinking though that there is an emptiness that is present as well.  I don’t know how to describe it fully but a feeling that there should be some emotion there inside of me that I cannot quite place.  Perhaps it comes from the feeling of unfinished business, that there is so much more that can and has to be done; more to experience, more people to see, things to do.  Maybe its relief, knowing that for now I don’t have to fight a corrupted system for a few weeks, that I can just let it be and turn off my social worker brain.  In reality I tend to think the feeling is that of solace, meaning that I did what I could do, which was not much, tried to make a difference in a few lives, and I am happy with that.  I did not change the structure of NGO’s, I did not thwart corruption and break down a broken system, and that is ok.  In the end if I helped one person that is more than ok, it is outstanding.

My last post may have seemed bleak and frustrating but I think it is important to be real about the feelings that come with working abroad, especially in a field such as social work.  It would not be right to sugar coat the truth of the matter and say “everything is fine”, the reality is that every now and again the weight of everything crashes down on you and you are left huddled and withdrawn, wondering “what’s the point”.  But then something happens during that breaking point, a new perspective shines through, a glimmer of hope comes alive, as long as there is still that spark of hope all will be well.  I have learned to talk a lot to others about what I am feeling; it helps me to process what I am dealing with and how I can see the positive within all the darkness.

It also helps to see the hope and commitment of those working around me.  I have seen people like my co-workers and expats give everything they have to assist a family or an individual to eat or have safe housing or get medical treatment.  This is what makes all the hardship worthwhile.  This is why I do what I do and why I chose to be a social worker.  It is referred to as compassion satisfaction and it is the driving force behind what many of us do.  It’s the goodness of heart, love, and caring for the most vulnerable that bolsters and steadies the frayed nerves.  More than once I have had my faith in humanity dashed and stomped on only to have it restored by watching my co-worker interact with one of our children.

I have received so much from meeting new people from around the world and hearing their take on life and social and political issues as well as seeing the amazing work they are doing.  More than a few times I have met someone from a completely different culture and they have restored my faith in humanity.  Sometimes the world looks bleak and I have found myself feeling very alone and isolated, then a stranger I happen to meet in a random place will strike up a conversation or vice versa and I find my heart begin to warm again.  I am not suggesting that this cannot happen back in the States but I feel, for me, it tends to happen more when traveling.  Perhaps it is because I am more open to possibility when I am traveling; maybe this is a goal I need to work on back home, being more open to the extraordinary wrapped in the everyday.

I would like to thank everyone for taking time out of their busy days to read this blog.  I really appreciate the support.  Please help support study abroad programs in our universities, they have made such an impact on my life and have truly given me a perspective on life and the world that I would not be otherwise afforded.  Thanks again! Take care and have fun!11159319_1088892601137387_1809846762_o

Tanzanian Culture and a Western Mindset-Venting Some Frustrations

I have been working in Tanzania for about two months now and I have noticed some disturbing trends in the ‘helping profession” here.  While we are far from perfect in the Western world, our more developed economy and social privilege give us certain expectations of competent assistance (though that to may be in short supply).  Here in Moshi, since I cannot speak for the whole of Tanzania, the role of welfare provider for vulnerable populations falls on the NGOs.  These NGOs, as I have noted before, are highly susceptible to corruption and deception.  However, there are some very dedicated people who work tirelessly to help the populations they identify most with to live and find success, however they define it.  I believe I have found two such organizations to work with, as again noted in past posts, but even here I am seeing a strange trend.

Some of my co-workers spend copious amounts of time doing nothing…waiting for someone to point them in a direction or make the suggestion to work. I really have to say that I am not putting anyone down or trying to stereotype or degrade anyone.  These are just observations I have made which led to discussions with these same individuals and other people at other agencies as well as neighbors and friends here in Moshi.  I debated with myself whether to post my thoughts on this issue but in the end here I am.  So if someone has a comment for me, feel free to post one and we can talk about it…..there, that is my disclaimer.  Now, I say this to demonstrate my belief that colonization and imperialism has far reaching consequences.  Perhaps, there is the mentality of “I will wait to be told what to do” or that “foreigners will do it for me if I wait and let them”.  There is no teaching or accountability. The idea of the Westerner coming to a “developing” country to “save” the people from their “backward ways” has caused more troubles and may have led to less sustainability for that culture than if they’d just stayed home.

This being said I do not want to turn this into a Western-bashing post either.  To say that everything Western is bad is childish and ridiculous.  While western countries may not have a stellar track record in some areas, there has been a lot of progress in modernization and social movements.  The Declaration of Human Rights being one of them. We need to take responsibility and be cognizant of the fact that atrocities have been committed but also stop the self-flagellation all the time.  There is no need to constantly feel like you have to apologize for things that you personally have never done!  The same can be said about different cultural practices.  Just because it is cultural does not always mean that it is right and should be held as sacred!  The Maasai practice of female genital mutilation is just one example that I can give.    So again, this is not a Western-bashing post, just as it is not a Tanzanian-bashing post, this is just frustrations and real dilemmas associated with being in a foreign country and trying to do social work on the ground.  Sometimes the techniques and skills I have learned work quite well and other times a situation calls for improvisation, and just as in music, sometimes it’s a beautiful melody and sometimes it’s just a bunch of notes.

I will give a few examples of what I am talking about this “do for” attitude.  One, some doctors from the West came to Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center (KCMC) several years ago with the noble….to help advance the medical community here in Moshi.  They brought a CT scan machine and donated the equipment to the center.  After a few demonstrations, the doctors left, probably feeling quite good about themselves that they did a good deed, which they did. But, and it’s a big but, they never properly showed the Tanzanian doctors how to use the machine or how to fix the machine if anything goes wrong.  The CT scan broke 4 years ago….and there it has been sitting….for 4 years.  There was no knowledge of upkeep or maintenance and no one has the money to send out for another or have someone fix it.  The closest Scan is in Dar es Salaam….an 8 hour bus ride away.

Second, the center I work at has very good assessment and evaluation forms but when I arrived the latest family assessment had been done in 2008! The forms were originally designed from a Western donor who wanted to help the fledgling agency with record keeping and efficiency.  The issue was that after that person left, no one saw the point of continuing with it.  There is no continuity and because of this, every time a new volunteer comes or a new person who is not familiar with the families in the area begins working, the process has to start all over.  The people who work at the agency do not see the point of writing anything down since they know the families; they live here and have lived here their entire lives.  Now here I come, asking questions and making suggestions and they all smile at me and say “yes, this is a good idea” but again, I know that if I do not work with my colleagues here and suggest points as to why this is a good practice, it will end as soon as I leave.  I do not want to be imperialistic and say “this is how you have to do it because it is the ‘right’ way” but I believe it will inevitably help the organization in both finding more donors and help the next volunteers and the agency itself have a better picture of the family dynamics.  This is my dilemma; do they need to change just because I think it will help?  Am I doing the right thing?  Sometimes I feel frustrated because there is more to be done and too much time deliberating over infinitesimal things, but again is that simply my perception?  It is split when I speak to certain locals about these issues there is agreement with me and then there is a slight pat on the shoulder and them saying, “That is the Tanzanian way”. I am reminded of the work of Ife (2012) and Illich et al. (1977) who state that social workers among other professions are need definers and may fall into the trap of using their professional position of privilege to define people’s needs for them.  In essence telling the client, “I know better than you about what you need”.  These are the thoughts running through my head every day.

Lastly, I have to speak quickly about my frustration with the policies and the implementation of these policies.  I am researching child welfare policies and their implementation (or lack thereof) in actuality.  The policies are very well written and very modern in their scope of defining the rights that all children should have.  For example, no child should be beaten (especially in schools), they have a right to a safe household, every child has the right to a quality education, children will not work under a certain age, etc.  The enforceability of these rights, however, is something that doesn’t happen.  The problem lies not in the policy but in the economy.  A child may have rights protecting them from working until a certain age or the right to a quality education, but that does not matter when the family is so poor that they cannot afford the school fees and every member of the family has to work somehow to get enough money for food.  Do you then scold the mother or father or aunt or uncle or whoever is taking care of the child?   You see?  How can there be policy enforcement when the most important thing to most people here are not laws and regulations but simple survival.

I have rambled enough on this blog; I apologize for its tangential nature but sometimes I need to vent and it turns out that this blog is a pretty good out let for it!  All this being said, I love the work here and would not trade it for anything.  I love to think on my feet and find the solution to the problem…it is so easy to find the problems but less so to pin down a solution that is both effective and culturally competent.  The culture here is amazing and rich; the communal nature is truly inspiring and welcoming.  There is an energy here, a sense that a big change is coming, and also the feeling that a real difference can be made as long as people are willing to work together to make that change happen.

Reference

Ife, J. (2012). Human rights and social work: Towards rights-based practice. 3rd Ed. Cambridge University Press:Cambridge

Illich, I., Zola, I.,McKnight, J., Caplin, J., & Shaiken, S. (1977). Disabling professions. Marion Boyers: London

Friday the 13th in Mbeya

This is going to just be a fun post. So, although I am working very hard in Tanzania I do have a lot of fun as well.  I met some folks during my time here and after a very entertaining dinner with them they invited me on a journey to Mbeya which is in southern Tanzania.  I decided that I would take my Spring break early and go since it would be a week long excursion.  We traveled 8 hours by bus to Dar es Salaam, stayed the night, and then took a 24 hour train ride to Mbeya.  The train was amazing but that is a story for another day…

Train Ride!

Train Ride!

When we got to Mbeya we checked into our hostel and the next day went on a really great hike through Kitulo National Park which is known for its gorgeous flower display and green valleys.  Mbeya is not like anything I would have ever thought Africa would look like.  I could have been in the hill of Europe if I didn’t know any better!  Tanzania ranges from freezing cold temperatures on the top of Kilimanjaro to the deserts of Dodoma to the lush jungles and greenery of Mbeya.  Truly an amazing place! But on to the next day….Friday the 13th…

We want to go to a place called Crater Lake which is suppose to be very pretty and a really nice hike to see it. We decide to not use a guided tour company because that would be expensive, we find a guy on the street who may or may not work for a local safari company and tell him that we want to do the Crater but on the cheap.  The man’s name….James Bond (I kid you not)! So we arrange public transport with Mr. Bond which included possible motorcycles, dala dalas, and a ride in the back of a pick up truck!  This sounded good to us and in the end it would only cost us $20 for the whole day!  We were in.

Well, we ended up just renting a dala dala, the “Baby Prince” as it was called, for the day and it would take us to the Crater Lake hike and to another place called God’s Bridge.  As we were driving in this van we began going off road further and further into the jungle.  Now, it is the rainy season in Mbeya and it had rained recently causing giant puddles of mud which the brave Baby Prince plowed right through, going where surely no dala dala has ever gone before!  One puddle in particular was especially giant and deep and after much deliberation the driver decided to chance it and we boldly drove through just making it.  After cheers of success we continued to a point where the dala dala could go no further and hiked the rest of the way to Crater Lake.

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Bond, James Bond and I

The hike was amazing!  We went through a vast jungle, rain forest, up a mountain path that was not for the feint of heart.  I love hiking and this was great fun for me because I got to lead the way.  I cannot describe the satisfaction of reaching the top and being rewarded with a gorgeous vista of green mountains and a beautiful lake!  Before we went down again, James told us a story about the lake.  Apparently there are evil spirits living within the forests and mountains of the crater and even stories of a giant snake monster that lives within the lake itself!

After the hike back down, the rain started. We bordered the Baby Prince and set off down the path back toward the main road.  We came to the giant puddle and the Baby Prince ran full speed into the depths.  The battle was short lived because we stopped rather suddenly…not moving…Muddy water up the the door.  We got out and assessed the situation.  We were going nowhere.  After about 5 minutes of the drivers trying to push, my friend Johnny said, “Well, I paid for this (expletive)”  and began taking off his shoes.  I followed suit, rolled up my pants, and jumped into the muddy, standing water.  Thoughts of potential parasites and other creepy things went through my mind but what the hell, worst case scenario, I bring a souvenir home.

Stuck!

Stuck!

This began a three hour struggle of trying to remove our dala dala from the mud.  James Bond was constantly leaving to bring back more locals and tools to try and get us out.  We began bucketing the water out and digging trenches to re-route the water from the hole to another part of the road, a slow process but because we were determined it seemed like progress was being made….then the thunder started.  Our efforts became even more frenzied and we took breaks to try to push and lever and lift the van any way we could.  Then the rains came.  We felt a bit defeated and sat in the dala dala watching our efforts and progress refill with new water.

At this point, someone in our group looked to their phone and said, “do you realize what day this is?”  We all said no, “Friday the 13th”.  We all started laughing and then we remembered the story of the evil spirits of the forest and the lake and laughed even harder.  We were cursed! To make an incredibly long story short (too late) James disappeared and returned with a vehicle…but not a tow truck or jeep or anything…no he came back with a 4-cylinder Toyota.  We were a bit skeptical but tied a rope to it and gave it a shot.  Nothing.  The dala dala moved not on centimeter. So we tried again and again. Finally, the few guys we had left went back into the mud puddle and together with the help of that little Toyota pushed the Baby Prince out of the mud hole!  The cheers of liberation could probably be heard from all over the countryside! We and the locals were hugging and slapping hands and each others backs for a few minutes before we jumped into our beloved ride and began driving into the cloudy afternoon.

At this point we were exhausted and just wanted to go home to the hotel and take a shower, since the majority of us were covered in mud and dirt and…..oil?  Our van stopped at a market in a near by village and 007 declared that “…there is a significant oil leak so we must now go get it patched…then we can go to God’s Bridge and finish our tour!”  The curse was not finished yet apparently…

The battered Baby Prince getting fixed

The battered Baby Prince getting fixed

( I only wish there were more pictures that are in my possession during the struggle with the dala dala but I was busy being a mess and didn’t have my phone on me, so I apologize for not having more pics)

There is even more to the story but I will spare you more details.  The day ended up being a great adventure and we had a lot of fun.  The biggest take away I received was from the people I was with.  There were over 10 people in that mud hole both locals and Westerners from different parts of the world and when it came down to it there was no arguing, bickering, snobbishness, or anything negative.  We all pitched in, saw the situation for what it was, and treated it as the adventure it was, we stayed positive.  When people come together,no matter where we come from, beautiful things happen and awesome memories are made.

The whole group at God's Bridge

The whole group at God’s Bridge

Marangu School Visit

This is going to be a really long post and I’m writing it late at night when I am really tired, so I apologize in advance if it doesn’t flow or there are some errors.
I just got home from a really long and amazing day at work (if it can be called that).  Today we, meaning the Salama Center social work team including myself, Elena (from Germany), and Ema (from Tanzania), traveled to Marangu (about an hour and a half outside of Moshi around the base 20150203_143601[1]of Kilimanjaro) to do a school visit and check up on some of our youth attending the school there.  There are six kids attending the Uomboni Secondary School, which is a boarding school, all of whom are in their early to middle teens.  The trip began with a long dala dala ride to Marangu from Moshi.  A Dala dala remember is a tightly packed van which is held together with duct tape and chewing gum, or so it seems, and jammed with up to 25 people.  After the dala dala we had to take a boda boda which again,if you remember is a motorcycle driver that will take you places at crazy speeds for a small fee.  The dala dala stands are full of people selling merchandise and food, they all yell to greet the “mzungu” or”white person” and try to sell you anything under the sun for outrageous prices.  We took the two boda bodas up to the school,which was past breath taking scenery just past the Kilasia Waterfalls.  I say two because there were no other boda bodas present so Ema and I shared one, that’s right…three people riding uphill on a motorbike, over rugged terrain.  After a few close calls we made it!

I’m going to fast track a bit here because there was a lot of speaking to random members of the faculty and the headmaster before we actually spoke with the kids we came here to see.  The kids were great, they seemed to be adjusting well to school and their grades were excellent.  Salama Center helped them to attend the school by paying their fees and buying their uniforms.  These were extremely poor children growing up who would have otherwise become street youth if Salama Center hadn’t intervened.  They were given this chance and they have so far succeeded beyond their own expectations.  A side note here, Tanzania states that their schools are free and provide quality education.  They are not free and from the personal experience of several people I have spoken with and their children they do not provide quality education.  In fact the schools do not cost anything per say but they have a number of “school fees” a student must pay for, these include things such as: desks, chairs, uniforms, the walls holding the classroom up, the door, etc.  These ridiculous fees tend to run higher than the original cost of the school when it wasn’t “free”.  Anyway, back to the students…

The boarding schools provide a far superior education to the public schools and provide children with the opportunity to grow academically and socially.  They are exposed to new people and new educational and creative outlets that they may have not been privy to had they stayed in their old neighborhoods.  We met the six kids in the stuffy headmasters office with a teacher hovering over us listening and interjecting about the needs of the youth.  We all looked at each other and decided that none of the kids were going to speak freely with us as long as there was an authority figure hanging over them.  We decided that a change of venue was in order.  I asked if we could move outside since it was a beautiful day in the mountains and kindly asked the teacher to give us some space, since these were private matters that we were going to discuss we couldn’t allow outsiders to listen in.  He agreed and the children immediately opened up.  We heard about quarrels with other students, accusations of theft, lack of supplies, and good things too such as, playing sports, hanging with friends and funny stories that they had about boarding school life.  One thing that all the kids agreed on was that the food was scarce and undesirable and that punishments were harsh.

Everyday the kids eat the same thing: porridge for breakfast and beans and ugali for lunch and dinner.  Once a month they have meat.  Ugali is a kind of traditional food that is made from corn, imagine mashed potatoes but a lot thicker, you take a piece and mold it into a spoon or bowl and scoop up the beans in this instance to eat.  It is essentially tasteless but a staple of Tanzanian cuisine. The porridge, as reported by the students, is tasteless as well.  They have to buy sugar in bulk just to cope with the utter blandness of it.  That’s it folks!  No veggies, besides beans, no fruits, no proper nutrition.  there is a small store on the campus that sells soda and bread (like they need more starch and carbs) and candy.  On top of that, they have to buy their own plates and utensils!  One of our students didn’t have a plate of his own and he had to share one with a friend.  Then there is the punishment.  There are signs all over the campus saying:  Speak English, To Be a Good Person, One Must Be a Good Student, and There is No Excuse For Laziness.  If you are caught speaking Swahili you can be forced to do demeaning exercises or you may be beaten.  For more serious offenses you are beaten.  This is the reality for these kids and a challenge that this society and culture has to face in the near future. I hope to speak with some administration to question what it is they get out of this kind of discipline and whether or not they believe it is having the effect they think it is on the psyches of the kids. There are child welfare policies supposedly preventing this kind of punishment and see more and more that the problem is in the implementation of these policies. Corporal punishment for children is not ok, in my opinion culture is not always “right” and just because discipline is done this way in another country doesn’t mean that it cannot be challenged.  More to be revealed in later days perhaps…

There was a particularly moving moment when Afidhi, a Salama Center youth, teared up because he 20150203_143342[1]missed his Aunty who had taken care of him since his mother died, and Ema being the great man that he is, instantly called her on his phone so he could speak with her. We made sure that the students would get everything they needed and made list of the supplies that they wanted for the term. Then it was time for us to go. After a long day of talking we were ready to be on our way back to Moshi. We said our good byes and went on our way. But it wasn’t that easy…

We could find no boda boda drivers to take us back….Ther one we did find said there was no one else working down at the stand at the moment. So we were faced with a decision…walk the long way down the mountain trail, go one at a time down on the boda boda or at the suggestion of the driver…all three jump on and we’ll go together! We all looked at each other and shrugged….so for the first time in my life and the lives of my companions we sat four of us on one motorcycle and began our descent. This is not a smooth road mind you, we went hurtling down a ruddy, rugged road at speeds which were not only dangerous but almost suicidal, and the whole time I had a smile on my face! As the beautiful scenery of green jungles and waterfalls rushed by and the threat of death was close at hand, I felt a real sense of peace and happiness. This is being alive! We flew past onlookers who stopped in their tracks to gawk at the scene that was flying past them. Two “mzungus” and two locals on the same 20150203_164557[1]motorcycle gunning it down the mountain. People were laughing and cheering, some were speechless and their faces revealed nervous trepidation, but I was ecstatic! Even the locals were amazed at this display of insanity! We reached the bottom and I shook the drivers hand and said a few words in Swahili to him, he was truly an amazing driver and just a little crazy and I thanked him for his skills. Then we were off on a dala dala back to Moshi! More to come soon thanks for bearing with me on this post!

Note- All photos posted with permission of the participants

Mandela and Komboa

During my adventures in networking here I came across an interesting man by the name of Mandela.  He came highly recommended by a close source to me who has become vital in sifting through the corrupt people and NGOs and finding the people who are seriously interested in helping others.  Mandela started an NGO called Komboa which is Swahili for “save” or “rescue”.  Komboa is a center designed to help street youth gain skills to help them become more employable and empower them to believe in themselves and strive for a better life.  Komboa offers classes in: sewing, English, jewelry making, computer skills, art, cooking, farming, and music.  There are more courses on the way but as usual, money is tight.  Mandela has big plans and visions for the future, speaking with him is an education.   He is energetic and charismatic, his passion is obvious and his compassion is true, after all he was once in the very same place as many of the youth that visit his center…

Mandela, born Ghynwine Rando, was a rare case in Moshi in today’s standards.  He had no family whatsoever and he was living on the street at an extremely young age.  He was taken in by 20150110_181627[1]Mkombozi which later became the largest NGO in Moshi.  Mkombozi began as a refuge for street children and housed only the youngest of them, providing food and shelter, Mandela was one of these lucky few.  He was raised in the system and saw a lot of volunteers come and go and he made a lot of friends and connections during his time there.  He also witnessed the beginning of the corruption and deceit.  Mkombozi was recently exposed for its unscrupulous acts of embezzlement, money mismanagement, and fraud.  I was supposed to do my placement here but was denied (thankfully) because of these allegations.  Mandela left Mkombozi after primary school and was sponsored by a family to continue his education in Uganda.  He came back and was afforded the opportunity to go to college in central Tanzania.  Once he finished his degree in community development  he began working for a series of NGOs in Moshi and was disappointed again and again by the greed and corruption he saw everywhere.  He would not participate and made many enemies.  Mandela was poor, living on almost no money, walking everywhere he had to go, and subsisting on beans, rice, and bread but he wouldn’t be bought.  Eventually he found a job out of the country and raised enough capital to start his own NGO: Komboa.

I was taken with his passion, his morals, his dedication, and his values.  I wanted to help out if I could and when I saw that there were a few guitars that were donated by another NGO and no one to play them, I had an idea.  Three times a week I will be going to Komboa to teach guitar to some of the young people there.  Also, I will be part of an initiative to start exploring the health and stories of the youth and their families if they are present. Getting as much information as possible will help the center to better assist the youth that go there.  Screening for medical concerns as well as social and familial anxieties or strengths may be vital for their overall care.  I’m really excited and although it will add more to my plate here in Moshi, I believe that I will gain even more in return.

Faduma, a local youth who frequents the center

Faduma, a local youth who frequents the center

Salama Center

20150123_094236[1]I began work at an agency called the Salama Center today (1/19/15), they are a non-profit organization that serves the Majengo neighborhood of Moshi which ranks among the poorest in the area.  The Salama Center focuses on helping children who are orphans or destitute and their host families, which can include members of the child’s extended family.  While the Center is not an orphanage, it helps to support the community children and donates food, money, and access to health care for up to three members of the family.  The Center also pays the school fees and provides access to a small computer lab to ensure that the children are learning technical skills in addition to their education.  I work as a part of a small team of social workers and community organizers to dispense the donations, visit the homes of the children, develop programs to raise money, update the case files, and work with the children directly through activities at the center.  During the home visits we ask about the health of the family, whether or not any member are currently working, progress of the child in school, and anything else relevant to their particular case. In a land of corrupt NGO’s it is refreshing to find an agency that is truly giving back to the community.  You can learn more by visiting the website: http://betterfutureinternational.org/content/country/tanzania20150123_094249[1]

In a country where there are literally hundreds of Non-Government Organizations (NGOs), many of which began with strong and honorable intentions but who are now corrupt, it is unique to find one with dedicated and passionate staff.  The founder himself came from Majengo and now spends his time trying to help the community that he came from.  As an example of the ever growing corruption in Tanzania’s NGO community, my original placement had to be cancelled because of allegations of fraud and money mismanagement.  This forced me to think outside of the box and use my networking skills to secure a placement.  I am incredibly happy about how things turned out and am looking forward to digging deeper into the agencies and the major players involved with the NGO community in Moshi.

After A Week

Moshi is an exciting place and after a week of getting my bearings and finding my way around I’ve found a real sense of community here.  The store owners know one another and most of the passer-bys greet each other warmly and ask about the news of the day.  This city runs on tourism and not a day goes by where I am not stopped in the street and asked if I want to go on a safari or climb

A less colorful Dola Dola

A less colorful Dola Dola

A Boda Boda driver

A Boda Boda driver

Kilimanjaro.  I often stop in little cafes or coffee houses and strike up conversations with the people who work there about their lives and their country. Everyone is happy to discuss politics and culture while helping me along with my sub par Swahili.  I’m getting better though!  The roads are mostly dirt and people get around by motorbikes, cars, buses, vans, bicycle, but mostly by walking.  I have ridden on motorbike taxis called “boda boda” and overly packed minivans that act as shuttles called “dola dola’s”.  These both are crazy modes of transport!  On the boda boda, you are holding on for dear life as the biker tears down dirt roads, which are equivalent to the topography of the moon, at high speeds!  The dola dola’s are these brightly colored minivans that have words written all over them and blast music out of the windows.  One member of the crew hangs out of the side window and calls people to board the shuttle for the next destination.  When you get on the van you pay 400 Tsh, which is like a 25 cents.  You are then packed into the van like sardines, as I feel the crush of humanity around me, I begin to appreciate good bodily hygiene!  I am beginning to really enjoy this city.  i have met with a few of the agencies I will be working with and Monday I will start working.  I am getting very excited and a little nervous as well.  I do feel some anxiety about working here but just as anyone who has ever taken a college course knows, looking at the syllibus seems daunting at first but as the class progresses we all find our comfortable pace and lean into the experience.  This is the where the fun and education begins!

First Experience With Moshi

I walked into the city of Moshi from Midlands Lodge where I am currently staying, for the first time today.  Moshi is a city of about 400,000 people and is about a 20-30 minute walk from my residence.  I was taken aback at the state of the city.  I realize that in developing countries cities look quite different, this is based on my experiences in Vietnam last Spring, but there was at least some semblance of what my imagination defines as a “city” there.  Moshi could have been any number of road side store fronts that I had passed coming from the airport, just with more people.  The streets were cracked and the buildings old, there was a constant unevenness to the city.  I was surprised but also charmed by the gritty beauty of the place.  The people were incredibly friendly and curious, several folks came up to me and struck up conversations in broken English and Swahili, of which I am learning more and more of.  Many people were lounging outside store fronts, business owners were busy dusting their wares off from all the dirt kicked up from the roads, others were walking to and from destinations, stopping to say “jambo” the Swahili word for hello to their passing neighbors, there was an energy on the streets that was palpable.

I went on to buy a cheap phone and was stopped by a young man who began talking with me.  His name was Sai and he was surprised I knew some Swahili, so we chatted for a few minutes and pounded fists and shook hands and then he was on his way.  After I purchased the phone I was walking back to the main road unsure of how to get back home when up walked my friend.  He helped me to find a bus back to the area in which I’m staying and told me he hoped to see me again.  The “bus” was a extremely beat up old van with decals and words written all over it such as, “God is God”, “God Father”, and “Home Boy”.  The van pulled up and I jumped in, the driver was already going before I even sat down.  The vehicle raced along the streets at high speeds, maneuvering around other cars and motorbikes in astonishing ways for such a large vehicle!  Tanzanians drive on the opposite side of the street as we do in the US, so already I’m a bit thrown off because my brain is telling me that we are driving on the wrong side and we are going to die! Add to that the reckless driving and speed and you have yourself the makings of an adrenaline fueled ride home!  I was dropped off on a dirt road within a 10 minutes walk of Midlands Lodge, I paid the driver 400 Tsh (pronounced: “Tish”) meaning Tanzanian Shillings which is much less than a dollar.  The exchange rate is about 1,700 Tsh for 1 US dollar.  I only regret that I wasn’t able to get any pictures this time, but I will post plenty of them as my time progresses.  Kwaheri for now!

I had an interesting trip flying from Rochester, NY to Kilimanjaro International Airport and then on to Moshi by van.  First off, after I said all my goodbyes and got ready to depart on my journey I found out that my plane out of Rochester for 6:30 AM was cancelled, because the plane never arrived the night before…that’s nice to hear.  Good way to start a long term excursion to an unfamiliar place.  I was given instructions to go to gate with the next available flight to Philadelphia where my connecting flight would depart.  I was on stand-by with the hopes that someone wouldn’t show up and I would take their place, otherwise I would be leaving late the next day which would screw up all my plans.  Luckily, fate was with me and I got on the plane.

Tarfeeq and Travis

Tarfeeq and Travis

When I connected to Qatar Airline to Doha, Qatar (pronounced: like “cutter”) I sat next to an older Middle Eastern man.  As the flight began to taxi I struck up a conversation with him.  His name was Tarfeeq and he worked for a very big computer and information technology company in Saudi Arabia.  We began talking about the flight and our mutual destinations but then launched into a whirlwind of subject matters from religion to education to cultural differences to hookah smoking and more!  He was appalled at ISIS and what they are doing in the name of Islam, he even quoted scripture to rebuke their stance.  We spoke of his family of five children: four boys and one little girl who he adores.  He was taking a video of the snow and the plane taking off to show her when he got home.  We discussed our careers and things we do in our leisure time.  Most importantly though, he opened up my mind to the Middle East.  We talked about cultural differences and stereotypes on both sides; I was never offered the opportunity to ask so many questions to learn so much from a complete stranger.

As the flight was coming to an end after 11 and a half grueling hours in the air, Tarfeeq was beginning the first of his regiment of five daily prayers to Allah.  Dawn was just beginning to break.  We watched the magnificent sun rise over the Gulf of Arabia and spoke about nature’s majesty.  As we disembarked from the plane and went our separate ways, we said our farewells and shook hands.  Beautiful things happen when we step out of our comfort zone and go out on a limb to talk to someone different than us.  You truly never know who is going to add something special to the present moment in life…so take a chance and talk to that person next to you in line or on the bus or wherever you may be, it just may enhance your life or change your perspective!

Sunrise over the Gulf of Arabia

Sunrise over the Gulf of Arabia

End of Semester, Beginning of Adventure

Well, the semester is finally finished for me.  I believe I have all A’s maybe an A- in one of my classes but that’s ok with me.  I learned a great deal and overall I am happy with UB, my fellow students are incredible and kind.  The professors are great and they always made time for me when I just popped in to their office to talk.  Only a month left before I hop on a plane for Tanzania.  It’s amazing how fast time flies.  I am excited for the journey!  I will be spending my time from January 7th to May 1st in Tanzania then I will fly to Vietnam to visit my friends and perhaps start working.  I am trying to make my way into a career in international social work so I will be testing the waters so to speak in Vietnam where I have friends just in case I need to couch surf while finding work!  Well, enough about that for now, first things first….Tanzania, internship, and finishing up my graduate degree.  So long for now, have fun where ever you are and enjoy!