Thursday, January 31, 2008

It's the little things . . .

Some things are just universal. I'm in a big African city and yet these sights are all too familiar:

- Men gathering every morning to drink coffee at a restaurant and argue over sports and politics. I've seen it happen every day that I've been here. I thought of Gene back in my hometown and figured with a few words of Swahili under his belt he'd fit right in!
- Ice cream and cold sodas on a hot day are just good things. People smile when you gift them with either. The women at the copy shop yesterday certainly did. They were grateful and asked our names and backgrounds while gushing and laughing. But I still couldn't take the bottle with me!
- Sometimes ... even if you love exotic food and drink ... eggs and toast in the morning is most satisfying.
- I stayed longer in the city than I planned and all my clothes were wrong given that it's HOT here. So I bought a konga, the material women use to wrap themselves in for informal and formal wear. However, while the sales clerk told me several times the cost was due to it being two pieces, the two pieces had to be cut apart. Note, I'm in a hotel with no scissors. So I marched down the four flights of this simple, inexpensive (read that hot water and a window unit air conditioner) EconoLodge and in my broken Swahili asked for a pair. The clerk was studying my question and his response when the man on my side of the counter directed him to get the scissors and then proceeded to hold the konga while I cut. Good people are everywhere if you just take time to learn how to ask the right questions.
- And speaking of questions, I love how gracious folks can be. I thanked the bank officer who helped exchange my dollars into tshillings with a polite thank you in Swahili. He responded in kind and then smiled and said, "Do you know Swahili?" As I stumbled over just saying the one word for a little, he smiled again and asked no more questions. Sometimes, hello, thank you, and good bye are enough.

Almost but not quite ...

The text read: His schedule is too tight today. So he can't meet with your group. He will try and schedule something before April.

"He" is ... get this ... THE president of Tanzania. And I am one of the "group" he couldn't squeeze in today.

Still ... pretty cool to almost be invited to meet him.

MIHV (the organization I'm working with) is hosting a first ever half marathon in Karatu. The area has produced an Olympic silver medalist but not had a running event of this magnitude. The organization wants to use the attention this thing is going to garner and promote malaria awareness. With 200 first class runners (they're working with the Tanzania Olympic Committee) and the crowds that will gather plus all the local teams, they should definitely pull in some publicity. This week in Dar es Salaam has been all about raising financial support for the race. While it would take lots more than the $43,000 they need, if we were doing it in the states, that figure is not easy to come by. We think that when we leave tomorrow that we have a good chance of at least half if not two thirds of it covered.

One bank rep we met with said, "You don't know how many marathons and events like that come through those doors asking for our support. But you are different. You don't want to raise money or sell anything. You just want to do some good. That is something I can care about."

I'm crossing my fingers he does more than care! He was a marketing guru so we sent him the logo I had worked on and asked for his input and ... if he was willing for him to send it on to an artist for some sprucing up. We'll see.

I really feel I did some good while here. I certainly learned alot. The financial capitol is definitely like many huge cities in the world. The population is a few hundred thousand more than Houston. And today I was in a mall that looked like any other major mall around the world. But one street over tonight the vendors with their small fires and roasted corn and meat on a stick will be sharing their efforts with the hundreds of folks who are walking along the dark streets sans lights except for the flames. This is Tanzania -- a land of potential, progress and yet deaths that could be prevented.

We didn't meet with the president but the race will happen. And maybe, just maybe, a few more women will learn what it means to save their child's life by using a mosquito net.

And that will make this week a very profitable one.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Drip, Drip

Today I met an array of very important people who could help make the half marathon this organization has planned for National Malaria Day a success. Corporate types and government types and medical types and more! And I did it all while pouring sweat as though a rusty faucet had finally been turned on and no one could quite figure out how to shut it off.

I patted with a flimsy tissue. I sat in front of the car's overworked air conditioner. I shed what clothing I could and I still sweat. Think Houston in July and add 10 degrees.

But it was amazing. I am glad that I'm having the opportunity to meet some of these folks. I especially liked the marketing officer for a bank here. She declared the day a "great Monday" after hearing the presentation and noting that her own objectives for her company were aligned with this group's vision of education and awareness for mothers wanting healthy babies.

I'd sweat again if it meant we get some more supporters for this malaria awareness event.

The pleasure moment of the day (other than the ice cream) was taking a break to get a manicure and pedicure. Ahhhh . . . though embarrassed that no amount of scrubbing had removed the red mud of Karatu from my feet, I swallowed my pride and let those two incredible young people have their way with my extremeties and enjoyed every second of it. Oh! And did I mention that the salon overlooks the beach?

I may be sweating but I'm doing it in style.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Tanzania Is BIG

Big mountains. Big landscapes. Big trees. Big animals. And big busses that will take you from one side to the other and in only ... 12 hours and 15 min.

That's Tanzania. I saw every shade of green and brown today that you might imagine. I saw folks selling anything from plastic dime store dolls to cashews to foot stools and they were all ready to do business through the bus window.

I'm in what has been described as the financial capitol of Tanzania, Dar es Salaam, with about 3.8 million people. The name translates to haven of peace. A coastal city, the sites I've seen on the drive in suggests that laid back vibe you get in coastal areas as well as the buzz of the city. We'll see if I'm right.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Elephant Caves . . . Without the Elephants

We hiked a couple of miles for what seemed to be straight up to see the Elephant Caves, a gathering place for numerous animals (according to our guide). However, you couldn't prove it by our merry band. We saw no elephants, no buffalos -- though we saw plenty of dung evidence to show they'd visit recently. We did hear lots of birds though. Birds are in abundance here. I have one that keeps hitting my window every morning. Not sure its a cuckoo but it certainly plays the part.

The walk was enjoyable though taxing. (We're a slight bit higher in altitude here than Houston, you know.) And we made it to a waterfall that made the day all I had hoped it would be. Standing 50 meters above the valley below, the air was cool and the scene took me back to Ecuador and another fall, Yosemite and another several falls, Ireland and even east Tennessee. And at that moment, I felt incredible gratitude for all I've seen and will see.

I live a great life.

(And my housemates assure me I'll see plenty of wildlife at the crater next weekend. Until then, I'll keep my list of the critters that seem to enjoy my bedroom as much as I do. I removed a worm when I got home from the hike.)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Meet My Other Housemate, the Pied Piper

She walks through the market and women call out her name. On the street, she's stopped several times for in depth conversations in Swahili. One woman in the market struggles to translate what she's just told Amy in Swahili and another helps by yelling out in English, "Smile ... she has a great smile."

That's my housemate. Amy is a medical student and her smile and her open spirit is a natural attraction to everyone we encountered. She was here for several months and then left for Christmas and has now returned.

Her language skills are astounding. I'd love to say that it's because she's 25, a medical student and use to absorbing lots of information at a short time. But, hey, some folks have language skills and some folks struggle.

For all the fellow strugglers out there, do you ever find that when you don't know the language you're surrounded by you just grab at any language you may have studied? I keep saying "lo siento" in the market or "si" when I need an affirmative answer.

But for all the verbal stumbling I'm doing, I'll be a better ESL teacher, right? I certainly know what it feels like to be totally befuddled!

But for now, I have great housemates who appear to have the town at their disposal.

As we say in Texas, Woohoo!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

I Made a Baby ... Almost

Actually my baby didn't last long. The director tried to make the needed teaching tool out of cloth and pillow stuffi first and her freehand version was ... uh ... comical. At one point we all agreed that either the baby was deformed or she had actually just cut out a couple of condoms from the peach colored material.

I tried using a pattern I had created from figures out of Powerpoint. My attempt was fatter but still had mobility problems. As his arms were much too short to box with God on anyone else! Plus the material was so weak that at one point, though we were stuffing from the head, between the poor thing's legs started oozing white gauzey mist. A sad affair really.

Finally the student who had been patiently been attending to our rquests -- stuff this, fold this, sew this -- said she would take on the project.

Today the teaching baby doll was born and even cloned by local women to such an extent that we will probably have multiple births -- we need 80 -- as soon as the cloth and stuffing can be donated. Then the students will have what they need to both learn and finally become teachers.

So ... yet again, I have confirmation that I am not cut out for baby-making, sewing or craft time.

I can, however, laugh. And did.

Monday, January 21, 2008

African Wildlife

So far the only wildlife I've seen is in my bedroom ... the lizard in my closet, the spider I had to kill, a moth I let live and fly free (as soon as I removed it from inside my mosquito net) and a tiny frog that made its way onto my bedroom wall last night and then was abruptly treated to a flight back out my window to return to his natural environment.

I'm looking forward to up-close-and-that-personal with a few more exotic examples of creation.

Week 2

Initially I wondered how I would fill my days.

Hamna shida (no worries).

I am tutoring one woman in writing, another in Powerpoint, and planning a staff workshop on planning for Friday. I hope to write an article or two and get this very deserving organization some attention. I’ll travel to three different sites to see the work in action and my weekends are now booked with a hike nearby to Elephant Caves, then the 8th wonder of the world Ngorogoror Crater, and then the Serengeti where I have learned I’ll be staying in a tent camp (the photos I’ve seen thus far will blow your mind in that the tent accommodations look better than some hotels I've seen here) and finally, I’m arranging to at least step foot on Kilimanjaro.

Since all these excursions require a vehicle, a driver, sometimes a guide, etc. I’m pumped that the organization has a few connections that are benefitting me financially.

In the meantime, I plan on earning my keep with consultations on organizational matters and any other leadership or communication tricks I can pull up on my trusty Mac (which, by the way, will need a thorough cleaning when I leave this land of the red dust).

First Weekend Highlights

First Weekend Highlights
 Walking for exercise and exploration with my housemate
 Reading, writing, and remembering what life at a slower pace feels like
 The African sky . . . at night with a full moon but puffy white clouds accenting it and the stars offering their own version of bling
 Walking alone
 Buying a pot so that we can have two to cook in and along with our one frying pan, we’re set!
 Finding a taste of heaven in a place called Bytes that caters to folks like me – non-Africans on a limited budget who enjoy prawns with chili mayo and three types of sauces in which to dip my fries. (Also went to a high end hotel to enjoy the view but the buffet there was $35 so we simply sipped and played Scrabble.)
 Hosting our first dinner party with two guests, food and party games. We had a starter of cheese and crackers, traditional African stew with beef; cabbage cooked the way I do it; rice that had to be inspected, then washed, then cooked; a tomato and cucumber salad with oil and vinegar. The laughter intensified when I introduced them to the dice game Farkle. While Jolene lost the game on paper, we awarded her 4,000 points for being willing to drive our guest home in the darkness so that she wouldn’t have to walk. That made her the night’s champion!
 Killing a from-tip-to-tip-at-least-three-inch-spider that was crawling around my bed last night . . . on my side of the mosquito net no less, so, yeah, he had to go

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Mzungu . . . that would be me

"White person!" That's what the kids shout at me in swahili after they have said hello in English. My housemate assures me that when they do it, they are innocently trying to connect with me. I assured her that I was fine with the salutation given that indeed, they were right.

Today, I walked alone along the main road and through a bit of the market and I never felt so mzungu . . . to the point of even wondering if I might glow in the dark.

The people are great though. For about half my walk though surrounded by hundreds of people, I was definitely the only one worried about getting too red with the sun beating down. But several folks said hello in English or shouted "Jambo!" -- the one phrase absolutely critical for everyone to know here because it starts the beginning of a fairly lengthy ritual of saying hello and checking on everything from one's health, to family, to homelife.

I realized as I walked that I've lost the mouth-open wonder I saw on one woman's face as her tour bus drove through town. She had that glow that just emanates from folks who are mesmerized by the flood of new sights and sounds in travel. I'm not sad that's gone for me. Not sure on what continent it happened but now I just look at each day as a new adventure and that might be in the U.S. as well as from a foreign tour bus. I'm just as curious as I've always been but I in no way attribute greatness to the people I don't know in the same way that I once did.

People are people. Some stare. Some look away. Some say Jambo. Some shout Mzungu with a smile on their face and I'm sure some mutter it under their breath. People are people.

And no matter where you go, there you are.

Meet My Housemate

We eat together. We walk together. We shop in the market. We cook. We watch movies and we practice each other’s language.

I have a housemate, and I’m very grateful that I do. Twenty-nine year old Veronica, was born in Tanzania and is a nurse officer and a great guide. She calmly explains the answers to all my questions and listens with a learner’s avid desire to know more as we dissect movies for points of cultural similarities and differences. So far we’ve watched films about Africa and about the South in the U.S. so we’ve each gotten to be the “expert” for the other.

Yesterday we walked for two and half hours. The only road in Karatu that is paved is the main road that takes the many tourists and their safari companies to the big attraction in these parts Ngorogoro Crater. Otherwise the roads are dust and dirt, packed and red, with holes and ridges in them that the drivers of the jeeps and SUVs just know how to navigate. Seriously, no one I know would think they could make it down these roads if they encountered one in the states. And yet, these guys do it. I’m amazed every time.

On foot, it’s like hiking a mountain path. And the “hills” that we’re climbing to get home after taking a walk to the market will definitely be my substitute for the gym! But the reward? Wow! When you see the vistas they take your breath away. Rolling hills, covered in green with the occasional tree spotting the horizon and multicolored bougainvilla everywhere. Plus plots of rich earth in neat squares and cows, goats and donkeys grazing here and there. Put some strings behind this as a score and you’ve got every movie scene of Africa you’ve ever seen. But as I stand to take my photos, I know that nothing will capture this beauty and so I take an extra moment to say a word of thanks and ask that somehow it remain in my memory.

The main road here is lined with much like what I remembered businesses in Ethiopia to be. Small shops made of mud brick or brightly painted concrete blocks with tin roofs or roadside stands of wood, planks and scrap metal selling all that is needed for city life. Each shop has its thing – beauty supplies, pots and pans, rubber boots, the butcher, the drug store, a gas station, etc. Restaurants are interesting in that “fast food” is a case like you’d see in a bakery in the U.S. with the food already prepared and which they will wrap in a newspaper for you to take out. Samosas, doughnuts, and a boiled egg covered in meat and deep fried seem to be the burgers and tacos of the people. I haven’t tried it yet but will. Having discovered that food is much like what I’ve known in the South – stews, thoroughly cooked greens and beans, and something similar to grits – I’m not in any way threatened or mesmerized by the fare.

In fact, I’ve enjoyed most my time here thus far cooking with Veronica. The kitchen is small and the kitchen tools are few – one pot (now two after our trip to the market yesterday), a sauté pan, one large spoon, one spatula, a knife and a potato peeler. But you’d be amazed at what we come up with. Ratatouille anyone? Omelets with hash browns?

Like most of the stews here, she and I are mixing together in the same house taking on a bit of each other’s flavor and the result is quite satisfying.

Practical Points Part 1

Whenever I travel, I try to keep track of things I’m glad I did to prepare and things I wished I’d done. Through the years and the miles, the lists have come in handy. I still overpack but not nearly what I used to. So for my future (and perhaps others who may feel a tug toward this work) benefit, I will add to this list as my time here passes. So far . . .

 The choice of the more expensive malaria tablets that have fewer to no side effects was a good one. I have only a bit of physical trouble when traveling but it takes a few days for my system to adapt. Plus while there’s no sounds of the city to contend with, nature has its own sound effects so sleep isn’t always guaranteed. Good call making the choice that doesn't include strange dreams.
 I should have gotten the yellow fever and typhoid shot earlier. I tried to schedule in December but with the holidays wound up with a first week in January date and then the vaccine didn’t come in as planned. Waiting for a month after I knew I was coming was silly.
 Packing is always challenging. I like the sense that without control of much in my life when I’m in another country, surrounded by another language, without means to get from one place to the next except for my feet and limited to contact with my normal world, that I can at least wear clothes that make me feel "normal". However, hauling bags is absolutely ridiculous. So I did better but not my best. For another six week gig, I’d bring two skirts and five blouses that I can mix and match and layer. That and a pair of jeans and one pair of slacks would be plenty. The culture is too conservative so the shorts I brought will only be worn at home. And had I really thought about the heat, I’d have left heels at home and just put in my sandals and flip flops along with my hiking boots.
 I do like that I brought a towel and hand cloth that I got for backpacking trips. They are light and don’t take up any space. Plus they dry easier than thick towels which when washed here would have been stiff!
 On a funny note, I didn’t bring my perfume because it’s in a glass container. I figured I would just give up having a scent while in Africa. No so! I happen to pick up tropical scent bug spray and I’ve found that as I spritz that on each day, I’m kinda glad I do have my own smell! I’m thinking it’s a pina colada thing I’ve got going on!
 I always carry a supply of all the different over the counter drugs I’d need for stomach problems, colds and especially aches and pains. The Tylenol P.M. has worked wonders as well.
 I may have to use the ear plugs I always bring. There are a few birds who delight in banging up against my window as soon as the sun rises.
 I didn’t need to bring some of the comfort foods I brought because there are several products here that are very familiar. I can get all the Pringles I want. Chocolate is big but I don’t know if it’s like ours. I’m going to check to see if hair spray is available.
 Packing with the intent to give away several items that I brought with me was a good move as well. I’ve already handed over a dress and jacket that I knew was never really truly my style and I’m leaving my travel Scrabble behind since they no longer have one here. Oh! And I’m really, really glad I brought the games and the DVDs. In fact, I wish I’d brought more.

As my time here allows for a few more adventures, I’m sure I’ll add to the list but so far those are my travel observations.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Moment by Moment

I’m trying to stay in the moments here. I’ve come too far and spent too much. I don’t want to miss “here” because of thoughts of home, or comparisons with other cultures, or emotional reactions. Sometimes, though, that’s not the easiest thing in the world to do.

Language is part of it. Yes, the people I’m working with speak English. But truly listening to heavily accented English is taxing. Though not nearly as tedious at it is for them to try and listen to me, I’m sure. And while their knowledge of my language is superior and their patience for my butchering their language is phenomenal, the truth is that it’s hard to connect deeply when neither party has the vocabulary to do so. But we keep trying and through the laughter we at least can acknowledge that laughing at one’s self is something we can all share.

I find myself checking out some time though. They are talking and I’m getting about every third word and I start to wonder what Robert is doing or Roger or Brittany or Traci or any number of other folks. They tell a story about their family and I hope my mother is all right and suddenly, I’m laughing because they are but I’m clueless as to what the joke was.

And we all do the comparison thing. Yes, I catch myself thinking, “Oh that’s like the market I saw in Peru . . . or the landscape here reminds me of . . .” But there are also a few folks from one tribe here who keep asking me (at different times when the other isn’t around) if they or their features remind me of my time in Ethiopia because they have connections there. At first, I wondered if these inquiries were the Tanzanian equivalent of “do these jeans make my butt look big?” and that I had no answer that was going to satisfy. But now I’m seeing it as a natural desire to be unique, to stand out from the crowd. I’ll keep answering.

I also plan on keeping myself in check with my comparison habit though, because, honestly, no two places on earth are alike and I’m thrilled to be able to say that from experience. Still the wonder of it all can make one’s mind wander.

Finally, there are the abrupt emotional reactions. I’m in a market and I’m pushed. Not because I’ve done anything wrong or because they are angry but because they wanted to walk down the narrow path and I was in the way. I’m proud to say that today, I jumped from “what the …?” to “oh, yeah, I’m in the way” fairly fast. But, not so fast, was my reaction to trying to communicate with some folks I’m not so sure wanted to communicate with me. I don’t know that they did. I don’t know that they didn’t. And I found myself wanting to shout, “It’s ok! Tell me to leave and I will. But this pulling of information and awkward silence is killing me!”

Good news is that I didn’t shout. And in all likelihood they haven’t thought one way or the other about me being here or not being here. But when everything is new and most things are slower than you are used to … well, I get whacky in my head.

I say “whacky” because, let’s see, my field is communications and I know all the stuff I’m experiencing and have taught several seminars on how to identify and deal with it. But the best therapist, the best pastor and sometimes even an above average communicator has to be reminded of the fundamentals.

The other good news is that after a day in my head and/or learning from others, I took a walk with my housemate to the market. We bought fresh tomatoes, eggplant, garlic, peppers, green beans and carrots and with the onions we had at home, some olive oil and balsamic vinegar, we whipped up a nice little feast that was topped off by exquisite fresh pineapple and tasty bananas. Since I’ve been living off of carbs and soups you add water to, I was thrilled! (Especially in light of my attempt at dinner last night that featured a can of sardines, leftover curry soup and pasta.)

My housemate provided translation in the market, made the vendors give me her price rather than the tourist’s and was a most excellent sous chef. She also cried along beside me as we watched Steel Magnolias and I introduced her to my world of incredibly strong women who face life’s challenges as the adventure they are.

So I close my day with great wisdom echoing through my brain, “The only thing that separates us from the animals is our ability to accessorize.” I think when I go to the Serengeti I’ll wear my pearls.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

We Pause for this Brief Infomercial . . .

At the risk of sounding like one of those late night infomercials pleading with you to call now and for just so many cents a day you can save a child . . . well, I just found out that for less than $25 per mother or child, lives truly can be saved. Over a five-year period (with the first just concluding) the Minnesota International Health Volunteers project in Karatu, Tanzania estimates (conservatively) that it could have a positive impact on at least 87,462 women and children. And all they submit that it’s going to cost just a little over $2 million dollars to do it!

USAid lived up to its name and has provided $1.5 million, leaving MIHV to kick in $551,257. I don’t know about you but that doesn’t sound like a lot. And that’s why I really like this gig.

Let’s face it. None of us have ever heard of Minnesota International Health Volunteers. The name alone kinda makes you smile doesn’t it? Minnesota and International? Have you been there? Stuck in a traffic jam you’re not going to in any way think you’ve suddenly landed at the United Nations. The state is diverse, I’m sure, and I don’t want to disparage it but I (with my semi-blonde hair and freckles) definitely blend in.*

And yet, this organization is totally on top of what I think it means to partner with a country to get something done. They are working alongside and not “over” people who were born and live here. They are all about sustainable actions. They actually are measuring what they are doing and holding themselves accountable. And the “them”? Well, it’s a handful of people coordinating a gargantuan task.

Here’s the problem as they’ve identified it:
 The district of Karatu has an infant mortality rate of 93/1000. Due to a lack of reporting, estimates have to put that at 8 out of 10 babies die at home and 6 had no contact from formal health services.
 The three big culprits are malaria, pneumonia and respiratory problems, and diahreal diseases.
 The maternal mortality rate is 247/1000. Since ¼ of the women have babies before the age of 18 and then have the next baby before two years is up, you can begin to see a problem, right?

The solutions they’ve said “Yes, we’re here to help” with are all about working with existing systems including governmental entities and traditional service providers like the drug store shopkeepers (do not read “pharmacist” here because only the owner is one of those, otherwise these are just clerks offering advice) and traditional birth attendants (and here you need not think of midwives as we’ve come to know them but village women who have “been there, done that” and are willing to stay by the mother’s side if she invites them in (and sometimes she doesn’t which adds to the mortality rate mentioned above). They also are trying to develop community with the high risk groups and even focusing on not just surviving but thriving as they seek self-sustaining avenues to help young women support themselves and their families.

Today I found out that if they could get their hands on the money for 90 bikes they would have the motivational tool needed to have hand-picked and trained workers in the villages they’ve targeted. These would be and currently are (though the numbers are small) volunteers mind you. But the bike and the status in the village would be incentive enough.

I couldn’t help think, “I know a gynecologist who would be great at training. And a pharmacist who could help with the drug stores. And a computer guy who could fix these machines that keep breaking down. And a videographer, and a marathon runner for the malaria awareness campaign they’re doing and probably at least one person who could help with every other need they have.” While I don’t expect all my friends to pack up and come here for the project’s duration. I did wonder if the chance to make a difference with what they kow would be enticing. And I know that one small vagabond group of friends and family could certainly help financially with this small group that’s making such an incredible difference! (Really, folks, they have done more in three months than I’ve seen some groups do in three years and that’s with one hand tied metaphorically behind their backs as the governmental support exists but the faces keep changing due to turnover.)

Oh! Just in case you think I’m intoxicated from all the sightings of elephants, giraffes and exotic African landscape, I want to report that thus far I’ve seen one baboon roadside, a few interesting birds and that lizard in my closet.

This project just rocks. So if you want to make that difference . . . if you have $80 for a bike . . . if you want to check out other options . . . visit

This telethon has now concluded for the day.

*Note: Before anyone gets too offended, I know Minnesota is diverse. I remember something about it having one of the largest Hmong populations in the state. I’m just saying I don’t think “international” when I first hear it.

I Can Soooooo Do This

Today I got scratched by a dog and the cat jumped in my closet while I was watching a lizard scamper over my clothes.

Know what I did?

Shooed the dog and then the cat and closed the door on the lizard while thinking, “At least it’s not a scorpion.”

The Prestige

No television so we watch DVDs. Tonight I took in The Prestige. The gist of the film is based on their being three parts to an illusion. The final part is called the prestige; it’s the twist, the thing that makes it all right in the end – the dove reappears, the woman really isn’t cut in two, etc.

As I laid down surrounded by my mosquito canopy, I was reminded of a line I saw in a report today. Seems that while mosquito nets are available to most people in Tanzania and even affordable, malaria is still killing something like 31% of children under five in Karatue and the reason for not using them? They make folks feel claustrophobic.

Before Westerners read that and shake their heads with incredulity, I’d like to point out that in my work with AIDS and even in my personal life I’ve been told by more than one man that he didn’t like using condoms because they lessened his pleasure.

One small mosquito, one moment of a sexual high and they risk death. Why? Because the prestige isn’t just for a stage – they really do think the twist is in their favor.

And the dirty rotten trick ends with no applause.

I'm in Africa

May not have a farm, but I do have six weeks in a guest house in Karatu, Tanzania. This is a land of contrasts -- gray buildings in the city, pot hole ridden roads and then magnificent vistas of green that will take your breath away as they are framed by mountains, volcanoes and even one of the eight natural wonders of the world.

More later, because while I can get on the internet, I can't stay long.

Air Travel Has It's Advantages, However . . .

This KLM plane is less than satisfying. I don't mind long flights when I have all the accoutrements that make it bearable. I can't tell you what type of plane carries my favorite item but I can tell you that if I board and see that the back of the seat in front of me includes a tv screen of my very own where I can watch any number of movies at my discretion or play games ... well then, I'm a happy flyer.

Both planes -- the one to Amsterdam and the one to Kilamanjaro -- were sans the personal screens. I got to watch one several feet above the row in front of me and was "entertained" with The Nannyt Diaries, Ratatoulle and bad TV programs (really, does anyone care that Malcolm was every in the Middle) and then a Jackie Chan romp and that fantasy thing about a star becoming human. Riveting, I tell you, just riveting.

My Mac only has backgammon and my opponent is programmed to offer up smartass comments when I lose which is often. So I took to writing instead of continuing humliation.

Writing has been on the back burner of later. I'm not uninterested in it but he temporary nature of my living arrangements may be affecting me more than I realized. Without roots, I don't feel settled enough to write. Structure, it seems, is as important to my motivation for a continuing conversation with my keyboard as it is to a good paragraph.

But speaking of burners, I have been enjoying a tad bit more cooking of late. And creating int he kitchen often gives me similar satisfaction as creating at a desk. When I pull off an interview and then piece together the best quotes with a lead that truly grabs attention and summarizes what I'm about to tell folks, it's rather lovely. As is piecing together a delicious meal with what I have on hand in the fridge. The other night I had a 20 minute feast prepared and it was a healthy presentation for me and my current host, Roger. Sauteed peppers and onions in a white wine reduction over baked fish and bismati was more than satisfying. At the risk of points off for bad puns -- our healthy meal was icing on the cake!

I like the idea of cooking with ingredients I can feel good about. I've certainly pulled my fair share of 9X13 casseroles ladened with cream of something and cheese products out of my oven but when I turn it up a notch and go fresh, I'm proud.

The plan is to take a class when I return from my travels. While I don't think the world needs another cookbook or magazine article about the joy of cooking, I do plan on capturing a few thoughts and new ideas along the way in Tanzania so who knows? Africa may hold a few culinary surprises worth writing about as well. We shall see.

What I see now is the need to close down the computer to take part in the only other distraction this plane offers -- another meal. While it's wrapped in plastic wrap and all of its various sponsors are duly noted on the packaging they haven't been too bad. At least not nearly as bad as the tv!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Good Things Come to Africa!

I am getting "amused credit" for bringing the rains to Karatu! Actually, the people are smiling because they've been waiting anxiously for the rainy season and in dire need of something to help with the crops and the animals. Since I happen to arrive on the same day as the rain, I'm getting a few kudos as well. Here's hoping that both the moisture and I keep up the good work!

Please note that the entries on this blog may sometimes appear out of order. Internet connections are not easy and yesterday I couldn't post the beginning entries and sent them on to a friend who may get them posted today. Rather than try and post them myself, I'm proceeding but the gist of those was that I arrived!

I just read the program description for the work I'll be doing. The problem they are addressing is the fact that the under-five mortality rate for 2000-2004 was 112 per 1000 live births and its infant morality rate was 68 per 1000. In Karatu where I am, the infant mortality rate was 93 per 1000 live births. However, since many children are born at home with traditional birth attendants or the mother actually doing the whole thing solo, the estimates are that 8 out of 10 children die at home and six of them withut any contact with formal health services.

This project is to create awareness among the birth attendants of potential problems and provide prevention education. I'm quite excited about a Survive and Thrive aspect to it as well which will help provide the mothers with a way to produce income.

The rains are nourishing the dusty fields and thirsty plants and providing a slippery approach to driving. Fortunately, I'm not the one in the drivers seat as cars are limited and the program has a couple of jeeps and drivers attached. I can't wait to see what my legs look like at then end of the day though. I am wearing skirts to fit into the conservative culture and that translates into muddy calves to be sure. I mentioned that the roads were dirt, right? Of course, now they are mud!

After trying to make the internet work last night, I sat down to a surprise meal prepared by my housemate who is a worker with the program. She is staying at the guest house until she can find more permanent residence. The potato and meat stew was tasty and we watched Out of Africa as we ate.

"I had a farm in Africa" never sounded so ironic and sweet as it did last night. She was curious about the relationships depicted in the story. And she provided commentary on the African elements. I think we both enjoyed the exchange of information.

Ok, that's enough infor for now. Let's see if I can actually post this time!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Because It Would Be Way Too Easy to Sleep

I decided to continue my marathon connection by handing out water at the Houston race this morning. That meant getting up at 5 a.m. and being at my post at 5:45. It was dark. Very dark. We set up tables. Filled paper cups with water and Gatorade. Handed said beverages out to the record-breaking number of runners this year and then tore it all down, swept up all types of fluids (don't think about that too deeply if you have a weak stomach) and collected all the sweaty clothes that the runners discarded before heading to a great Mexican place for breakfast.

I just checked email and will be showering before heading to the airport (a gift to the person who will be sitting beside me to Amsterdam, don't you think?). My plane leaves at 3:50 p.m. and if I've got this figured right, 22 hours from then I'll be in Tanzania.

Wish everyone reading this could be that seatmate but since you can't I'll keep you posted.

Friday, January 11, 2008

So ... It's Been a While

One of the few folks who check my blog regularly informed me that I was long overdue on a post.

Since anyone who even occasionally checks in might surmise by the distance between my last post and this that I was thrown overboard by a overly zealous party animal on the Carnival cruise, I will take this opportunity to announce that I'm alive and well and have been land-bound for over a month.

Life has just been extremely temporary and I haven't had a moment to contemplate what I might want to say in this space I've come to view as my connection with friends from one end of the U.S. to the other. I have a few folks who know me well across the big sea but I doubt seriously they check in here. And after the fourth person told me they missed whatever it was that I might be sharing, I determined it was time to say something even it lacked anything near humor, profundity or even clarity!

So here I am ... not exactly contemplative (I AM flying to Tanzania in two days so you can give me a bit of grace can't you for being surrounded by icky details like when I'm going to get my yellow fever shot?) and not exactly informative (I will save for later my observations regarding my cross country drive for the holidays, my assessment of my hometown's enthusiasm for high school basketball, my love for my convertible even if it is cold and I have a golf ball size crack in the front window, my joy over starting the year off right with friends, and my process of determining exactly what "office formal" dress looks like for my stay in Tanzania.)

Instead, I'll simply say my hope is to blog regularly while in Africa as calls are $5/min and texts are 50 cents each! Creativity (or evidence to the lack thereof) is once again spurred by a lack of finances! Other writers got their start with less of a muse, right?

So keep checking ... I leave Sunday, arrive on a new continent on Monday and will try and post by Wednesday.