Friday, May 28, 2010

Kenny's Musical Stylings

Everyone in Tanzania loves to sing. It's exactly like summer time at home, sometimes, cruising windows down and music up, everyone singing along. Tori and I have heard lots of Tanzanian hits (some of them live at the Tanzanian Music Awards!), including "One Love" and "Nipigie." I recommend YouTubing them if you get the chance--Nipigie is almost as catchy as Ke$ha's single of the month!

Speaking of Ke$ha, they have a particular fondness for American songs. Tori and I even heard a new Beyonce song while we've been here, and we're looking forward to hearing it when we get home.

Most people like to sing along with the Tanzanian version of MTV while they work at cooking, washing clothes, or building new things.

Kenny, in contrast, likes to sing early in the morning. By early, I mean around 6:30 or so. That's usually when we get up anyway, but sometimes when we'd like to just loll around in bed for a few minutes, Kenny makes that impossible.

Tangentially, there's also this depraved rooster who apparently missed the genetic memo to crow only at dawn. He likes to start around 5:30 and go until 8 or so. I've got grand plans to treat our host family to a Southern delicacy--chicken and dumplings--if he keeps it up.

Anyway, back to Kenny. We've heard a wide variety of music from him in the mornings, from "Any Man of Mine," to "Love in this Club," to "I Can Be Your Hero Baby" (one of my personal favorites). We've even gotten a lovely rendition of "I Want it That Way" by Jimmy, our host father. Our favorite by far, however, has been "It's too Late to Apologize."

In Swahili, "l" and "r" sound the same when pronounced--Tori likes to say they're allophones of the same phoneme, as she just finished intro linguistics--and are impossible to distinguish.

One particular morning, Kenny, serving as our alarm clock, treated us and the entire neighborhood to "It's too rate to aporogize / It's to raaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaate!" Tori and I nearly died laughing about it, even as we tried to doze. We confirmed later when we finally rolled out of bed that it actually happened.

Kenny doesn't only like to sing popular American songs, though. We have another favorite he sings for us (usually rendering us stricken with bad cases of hysterical laughter):

This is a pew-pew [pupil] of Kiziani
We are struggering
For betta rife
We have our mission is [Our mission is? We have a mission? Our ambition is? Your guess is as good as ours] to be a lawyer
We are struggering
For betta riiiiiiiiiiife

Don't worry, we've corrected his English (which is actually really good, don't get me wrong--he speaks way more English than I could Swahili at 5 years old) several times, but to no apparent effect. We've instead decided to stick with giggling about it and fixing problems that aren't musically ingrained in his speech.

Finally, I know you're all waiting for a medical update. It turns out I somehow contracted a separate bacterial infection, which prompted a trip to a doctor in Dar. Don't worry, it's not a big deal--I'll be fine soon. Tori, on the other hand, has the most spectacularly pink eyes I've ever had the pleasure of seeing. I would feel sorrier for her, had she not amused herself by making fun of me all last week--when she wasn't sanitizing things we share so she didn't catch my "nasty eye disease."

Turnabout being fair play, I'm thoroughly enjoying donning my nurse's cap to medicate her eyes with the same drops that made my eyes water for half an hour following use. She's since claimed she's sorry about making fun of me, but, as Kenny would say, "it's too rate to aporogize."

Don't worry, though, the pink eye plague now paralyzing Bagamoyo is on it's way out and we'll both be fine soon.

In other news, we're taking a little jaunt to Zanzibar tomorrow. We're super excited about it, too! Hoping to show you all pictures of us lying on a sun-soaked African beach soon!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Experiences with Tanzanian Hospitals

I've contracted the latest in Tanzanian epidemics. No, not HIV, not malaria, not even dengue fever--I have conjunctivitis. Yep. I flew 10,000 miles and ended up with pink eye.

One of the kids we live with, Kenny, brought it home from school last Thursday. Unfortunately, he has a somewhat stilted concept of personal space. Tori, in retrospect the intelligent one, spent a lot of time running away from him and saying, "Kenny, no!" when he tried to touch her face. I didn't like the pouting that followed her unwillingness to play, so I played with him normally.

Big mistake.

My eyes are now shockingly red and oozing a lovely green goop. This prompted Tori to take me to the nearby dispensary, where a nurse (sans gloves, anything remotely resembling hand-sanitizer, or the usual accouterments accompanying the medical profession) gave me a once over and said, "You have conjunctivitis." She then handed me drugs and charged me 2,000 shillings (about $1.30) for eye-drops.

No doctors, no paperwork, no wait. No ID, no insurance, no prescription.

I would have complained about all of the above in the States. Here, however, I find I derive some comfort from the bureaucratic process--at least it makes everything seem legitimate. Not that the medicine isn't. The drops are working wonders (even if they cause an embarrassing proliferation of tears), but still. It just seemed sketchy.

Nurse Tori insists I use them every three hours, so I should be better soon, never fear, dear readers. Until then!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

In which: I Find My Paternal Instinct

I had always operated under the assumption that I lack the biological drive to nurture our particular species' young.

Premises supporting this conclusion:

1) I do not have an uncontrollable urge to speak in baby talk every time I see a child under 5. I talk to them basically as I would any adult.

2) Holding babies does not interest me in the slightest. They're mostly hot and often ill.

3) (And this is probably the most prominent of reasons...) I don't find babies all that cute. Caveat: there are exceptions that motivate even me to release a long, singsong, "Awwwwwww."

It turns out I was wrong, not about all of the above, but about lacking a nurturing instinct.

Sunday, Tori and I decided to go the beach. We decided to take Hassani and Kenny (Jimmy's two children) with us. We also decided to walk. I momentarily took leave of my senses and decided a five-year-old could trudge the 2 kilometers (1.2 miles-ish) to the beach. Tori, not exactly exuding a penchant for maternity herself, didn't thwap me on top of my head and inform me of my superlative stupidity either.

We set off in high spirits, and even made it to the beach without incident. The kids (Hassani is 12 and Kenny is 5) set about doing beach-y things, mostly collecting shells and forcing me to hold them. Tori, germophobe of the century, politely declined the children's offerings of live mollusks.

When we finally set off for home, about an hour and a half after our arrival, Kenny pouted. Not the cherubic kind of pout that melts motherly hearts, I'm talking kid-screaming-on-a-plane. We reassured him that home was our final destination, Hassani whispered to him in Swahili, and we trudged, our steps leaden this time. Tori, who had held Kenny's hand as he bounced happily from Jimmy's to the water, passed Kenny off to me. So I coaxed and cajoled (employing all of my surfeit of boyish charm and roguish powers of persuasion). Even those failed me, and I finally resorted to a piggy-back ride.

Tangentially, children, though light at first, rapidly become a titanic burden. Particularly when they wrap their arms snakelike around your throat. Just saying.

At this point, Tori stopped for a photo op. Turnabout being fairplay, she wanted a picture of me exercising my future-father skills since I took a picture of her displaying unparalleled domesticity while cooking rice (mchele, for interested parties) despite her latent feminist tendencies. Hassani took the picture, and so Kenny wanted to take one too. Tori allowed him a picture, but when he got a little violent with the camera, she took it away from him.

This is where it gets exciting. Kenny yelled something in Swahili unintelligible even to Hassani and took off running.

Let's pause for a moment and consider the situation. I'm in a city I don't know my way around. I don't really speak enough Swahili to communicate effectively at all. I also haven't been in shape enough to run more than short sprints since 9th grade "Personal Fitness." At this point, logic would dictate that I let Hassani go after him, as he could respond in the affirmative to all of the above.

Was I logical? Of course not!

I ran after him, following through a series of sinister alleys, past yelling men, through a crowded market, and across a busy highway. Harrowing adventure, no? Worthy of a chase scene in ?

Well, it wasn't. To be perfectly honest, I was terrified I was going to lose him, that a bus would run over him, and that an African man would think I was attempting a miserably unsuccessful kidnap.

It was a miserable kidnapping in one sense, however, because, despite the fact that I caught him several times, I didn't want to hurt him. So I didn't grab him and hold on to him.

Finally, he collapsed in a soccer field near the house and cried and screamed, "You are not my friend, not my friend, not my friend, not my friend..." over and over again. I picked him up with no small exertion of effort, because he started flailing, kicking, and punching my neck (all while maintaining his mantra "not my friend"--you've got to hand it to him for his sheer multi-tasking ability if nothing else). Tori caught up with me--she was furious, by the way... just in case anyone thought Tori incapableo of anger--and marched frantically home. There, we made absolutely sure Kenny couldn't run and settled down to let our adrenaline metabolize. As I was coming down, I was furious with him for putting me in that situation, still terrified of what could have become of the situation, angry at myself for not getting transport, and exhausted with the demands of watching children. Tori dismissed it, saying, "He's tired. He'll be better later."

Of course, he maintained stony silence all throughout dinner, glaring at me occasionally with the hurt of one betrayed by a trusted ally. I was fine with that, still angry at him myself. Tori and I lost ourselves in conversation, only to look down later to find that he had fallen asleep at the table.

When our ride home arrived, I picked him up to put him in the bajaji, only to find that he wanted to sit in my lap. He then layed his head on my chest and promptly fell asleep just after whispering, "I lied. You are my friend."

That's everyone's cue to go, "Awwwwwwwwwwwww!!!!!!!"

More than mollified, I felt somehow justified in everything I had done that afternoon to make sure Kenny didn't end up lost in Bagamoyo or squashed flatter than chapati by a crazed motorist. Not just because someone had to keep him out of harm's way, but because he was still my friend, despite the afternoon's exhausting events.

And that was when I looked over at Tori and said (somewhat lamely, especially considering my propensity for poetry), "Wait a minute. I can do this. Like, take care of children and look after them and stuff." Tori nodded sagely like she'd known it all along and smiled. And I found my paternal instinct. In Africa. In one of the more dangerous situations I've ever put myself into.

The end.

Wasn't that a fun story about my personal development? I thought so. I'm becoming a better person. So thanks, Volunteer Alliance! More later about the school and our teaching endeavors.

Tutaonana baamaye!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Somebody call 911

Not because of any dire medical emergency (although I am developing a rather severe--and irritating--heat rash), but because Tori and I saw SEAN KINGSTON LIVE IN TANZANIA.

Bus ride to Dar es Salaam: ~$1
Hotel in Dar for the night: ~$11
Ticket to the Tanzanian Music Awards: not priceless! $10!!!

It's true, some things are priceless. I have to say, however, that the concert was substantially more satisfying knowing that I didn't run up a huge bill on my MasterCard.

Here's how it went down:

I was sitting in the living/dining room, minding my own business, when Sean Kingston came on the television.
Jimmy: "You know this artist?"
Me: "Yeah, he's really popular in the States."
Jimmy: "He is in Tanzania this week for the Tanzanian music awards. You want to go see him?"
Me: sarcastically "Hahaha. Sure."
Jimmy: missing my sarcasm "Okay, I call my friend from the Tanzania Music Awards. I get you tickets."
Me: shocked "You're kidding!?!?!"
Jimmy: on the phone [speaking Swahili]

And then, moments later, we handed him 15,000 TZS, AKA about ten bucks, and got tickets to see the Tanzanian Music Awards (sponsored by everyone's favorite beer, Kilimanjaro). Also, we got tickets two days before it happened! It was absolutely an incredible experience. Even better, we got to hear some of the Tanzanian artists we've heard on the radio all week live. I must say, despite any cultural differences that might divide America and Tanzania, concerts are a blast anywhere!

While we're talking about said concert, funniest quote thus far (and there have been a lot):

Me: "I can't wait to dance at the concert!"
Jimmy: "Tori, are you going to dance?"
Tori: "I don't think so... maybe... I don't know..."
Me: "Tori doesn't really dance. We'll have to apply peer pressure."
Jimmy: "We'll have to apply beer!"
Tori and I: die laughing
Jimmy: "What is funny?"

And now, to atone for my abuse of the already hackneyed credit card commercial (and my bragging about how cheap we got to see Sean Kingston), I'll talk about the fun cultural comparisons that keep you all coming back to read (in addition to my sparkling wit and melodic and prose, I mean).

Tori and I have been shocked to find that Tanzania operates on a different kind of time than America does. Yes, yes--we all know about the 7 hour time difference. But I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about Africatime. This principle will confound physicists across the globe when Tori and I publish our ground breaking work. Read on for a prospectus of this exciting new field of study.

Difficult to define exactly, Africatime is the period between when everyone says something will start and when something actually starts. By difficult to define, I mean it varies by situation and sometimes does not apply at all.

The Tanzanian Music Awards, for example, began at 10. The tickets and posters, however, advertised 7:30 as the start time. So Tori and I showed up (guess when, being the Type As that we are) at 7:30. To an empty concert hall. Apparently everyone in Dar knew that the awards really started at 10 but us.

For another example, take the school. It's supposed to begin at 8 and end at 11. So what time do we leave for school? It varies from 7:30 to 8:15. What time do the kids' parents arrive to pick them up? Anywhere between 10:45 and 1:30 (generally closer to 1:30).

Often, Africatime doesn't apply at all. This morning, Jimmy told us to wake up at 7:30 to catch a bus back to Bagamoyo. Then, at 7:30 when we dutifully woke up, Jimmy knocked on our door and asked if we were ready to go.

Confused yet? We certainly are. We attempted to solve this variable time quandary with limited information at first. We assumed a linear relationship:

start time = advertised time + 30 minutes

However, the range of pick-up times from school quickly debunked our original hypothesis. And if that wasn't enough, our wake up call this morning seriously skewed all our ostensibly well-thought-out projections. We briefly considered a model tailored to fit each individual, but such an endeavor would demand resources we do not have and, moreover, Africatime is not always constant for each individual. At the moment, we expect a tremendously complicated equation, hopefully involving multiple integrals and at least one summation with an index k = 1 to infinity, will aid our well-intentioned but futile efforts to be on time by informing us when things actually start.

Joking aside, we really don't quite understand how when things start here. But, despite our frustration with an entropic sense of time, we're still eating lots of delicious food, sweating to death, playing with lots of children (usually counting games!), sweating a lot, learning Swahili as fast as our mental acuity will permit, and perpetually perspiring. Objective #1 today: buy a fan.

We really are having a wonderful time, though. Apologies for the logorrhea. I had a lot to say.

Miss you all!

Stay tuned for (I hope!) pictures in future posts!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Why Tanzania Reminds Me of Home

I'm happy to report that I'm typing this from a keyboard in Bagamoyo, Tanzania. I'm not so happy to report that I have to keep this brief, as internet access is somewhat sketchy here.

If you want as concrete a picture of what living in Bagamoyo is like as concisely as possible, think primitive camping and the jungle having a love child.

Here are reasons it reminds me of Georgia:
1) Primitive camping--no toilet, no shower, no kitchen--is something the fam and I used to do all the time. We just didn't do it in Africa with people we don't know.

2) The climate is pretty much exactly the same. Humidity high enough to bathe in it. Blistering heat. The only difference? It's winter time here... Tanzanian winter = Georgian summer.

3) They have grits all the time. Don't believe me? Look up ugali (oo-gah-lee). It's basically grits without the butter. They also eat greens, though I have yet to work out the Swahili word for them.

4) And my personal favorite reason, Coca-cola! They have it here (in glass bottles!) for 600 Tanzanian shillings. If you just gasped at the exorbitant price (I could see Dad doing that if he's reading this...), don't bother. The current exchange rate has $1=~1330 TZS. That means my coca, as they call it, cost about .50 cents!

5) Mosquitoes. Are. Everywhere. Not just mosquitoes, either. I'm talking bull mosquitoes likely to lift you into the air and drop you in the ocean.

For all that, though, I was totally unprepared for what this part of Africa is like. It's different in a way I can't yet articulate--though I don't think I realized it until I looked up at the sky one night and realized the stars are different. I couldn't find Orion, the Big Dipper, or Ursa Major. The North Star wasn't there either. I think it was that moment that made me realize I'm in a totally different kind of world here. Stars are such a central symbol--of hopes, wishes, and dreams--that seeing an entirely new sky sparked the realization that these people lead totally different lives, have different aspirations and different dreams. I'm merely an observer of their culture who, at the end of a month, will head back home to where we eat our grits with butter and our winters sometimes yield snow. Not to wax philosophical, or anything. Nevertheless, I'm enjoying myself immensely, and will continue to report on my progress at school and the quirks of quotidian life in Bagamoyo.

This post, by the way, brought to you by the letters M and N, which I will shortly be teaching to a crowd of about 40 3-5 year olds!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

After a three hour delay thanks to a faulty airplane, an act of God in the form of an unpronounceable Icelandic volcano, and a long wait to re-book a flight to Tanzania, Tori an I arrived safely in Amsterdam. Much to our delight... I mean, chagrin, we've been forced to spend the night in a Dutch hostel. Our limited familiarity with the pronunciation of Germanic languages and relative inexperience with international travel made even the journey from Schiphol airport to Amsterdam Centraal Station an odyssey (we encountered, among other things, a siren of a KLM agents wearing too much blue eye shadow, a Charybcis of unintelligible announcements, and a Scylla of over-eager bike-riders).

Nevertheless, Tori's optimism encouraged me to enjoy Amsterdam as much as possible, large piles of garbage and aggressive bikers included (not going to lie--the city was waaaaaaaay dirtier than anticipated). Our arrival precipated no minor stir in the station when we spent approximately 20 minutes working out how to use the ATM (excuse me, cash machine). Among other highly cultural activities, Tori and I took pictures of a WWII monument (we think that's what it was...), stared at the royal palace (currently under construction), and wasted one euro each in a casino (complete with flashing marquee).

You think I'm joking. If I were being serious, I would have mentioned our excursiont to the erotic museum, where we found sketches of questionable female sexuality (by Pablo Picasso and John Lennon, no less.) Tori being the saintly paragon of virtue she is, we ruled against trying some of Amsterdam's more *exotic* substances. Instead, we decided not to substantiate American stereotypes, and simply observe the red light district (as opposed to participating...) by night. I'll leave you, dear reader, to supply the appropriately lurid details. Needless to say, Tori, who needs to take a chill pill, and I, who should probably do the same, plan to go to bed far earlier than the time dictated by our hostel curfew for fear we'll miss our 11:00 AM flight, first to Nairobi, then to Kilimanjaro, and finally to Dar, where we'll meet Teacher Jimmy, our boss for the next four weeks. At the moment, Tori's state of being and emotions can be described as the following: "tired," "nervous," "that's it, Matt, stop asking me questions."

Given Tori's lack of coherency and apparently inability to contribute anything other than her response to the above question to this particular entry, I retire. Here's to a safe flight to Tanzania, a successful meeting with Jimmy, and a blog post which hooked our readers on the indescribable excitement that is our journey. Kwa heri until next time, friends!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Journey of Ten Thousand Miles Begins with a Single...

Flight! Which takes off today at 5:20 PM from the Atlanta airport, lands in Amsterdam tomorrow at 8 AM. Following 12 hour flight to Dar es Salaam from Europe, we'll be in Tanzania without consistent electricity, clean water, or constant access to the Internet. My sister sounded horrified at the thought--I'm kind of looking forward to a respite from the information overload which characterizes my daily existence in Athens. We'll make it to Bagamoyo, Tanzania (chickety check it out: Monday, May 10 around noon and begin our teaching duties (math and English) and cultural immersion almost immediately!

And by we, I mean my travelling companion, the lovely and talented Tori Akin, who momentarily took leave of her senses and agreed to travel with me to a continent neither we nor any member of our respective immediate families has visited--ever. Yet, we're looking forward to it with the excitement that denotes something utterly alien--our first day of college, our first behind the wheel of a car, for example--except in this case it's our first time forcing ourselves to leave the West behind and experience firsthand the quotidian existence of the world's poorest billion.

So, armed with toys (five jump ropes, eight kites, two frisbees, and a soccer ball), first aid supplies (what seems like gallons of Neosporin and truckloads of band-aids), vaccinations (yellow fever, typhoid, polio, and pills to prevent malaria) and utter naiveté, we're taking our first step toward becoming truly global citizens. All I can say about that: we have no idea what we're getting ourselves into.

Nevertheless, I'm going to keep this blog up throughout our 31 day stay in Africa. Will we change the world--or at least the lives of the children in Bagamoyo? I don't know.

Will we learn about ourselves? Almost definitely.