July 13, 2012 § Leave a comment
On my last day in Zanzibar I had the day to myself and nothing planned. I hadn’t really been swimming much, so I decided to rent a boat (and captain) to take me out snorkeling at Prison Island. Prison Island is part of the Zanzibar archipelago and was originally intended to be used as a prison but ended up being used by the British as a hospital for people in quarantine instead. Now the island is home to a beautiful resort, 110 tortoises and a coral reef.
The boat captain took me out to this isolated spot of reef with no one else in sight. I jumped out and started swimming around by myself. While awesome in theory, it was quite boring in practice because there were no fish and all there was to see were tons of terrifying sea urchins and ugly brown coral. I was swimming around pretending to be interested to get my money’s worth of swim time, when I noticed another lonely snorkeler who was also kind of half-assing it.
I swam over and discovered that it was a friendly English dude from Brighton named James. He’s a chef, but he’s taking a break to take a trip around the world. He started in Kenya and is going to Asia and then the US. He was very funny and I liked him immediately. I invited him for dinner later which was fun because we were in the middle of the ocean. It’s not like anybody had a pen. He gave me the name of his hotel (1001 Nights — awesome name) and I promised to call and leave a message.
After our swim I returned to my captain and he took me to see the Prison Island tortoise sanctuary. Apparently somebody have somebody a tortoise as a gift a long time ago and now there are over 100 tortoise living on this random tiny island. The oldest is, I think, 185 years old.
The sanctuary was pretty cool in that it wasn’t like American zoos where you admire animals from a distance. I was allowed to walk up and pet them. They really like having their necks slapped. You stick your hand in their shell and start slapping and they stretch their necks out and stand up. It’s pretty hilarious. Tortoise necks feel pretty weird and I kept petting them and thinking, “This is just like caressing a dinosaur.”
After the tortoises, I returned back to the hotel to find my friend Jackie and call James.
An hour or two later, not sure because I spent it napping, James showed up and James, Jackie and this sweet Finnish girl Jackie adopted named Evelyn, and I went out to dinner.
Jackie and Evelyn wanted to eat street food at Forodhani (a nice place but I’m maxed out on street food) so just James and I went to this Arab restaurant where we sat on pillows and listened to Taarab music. Dinner was wonderful and after we met Jackie and Evelyn for chocolate milkshakes and then beers at Mercury Bar, a bar originally owned by Freddie Mercury.
The whole day and night was wonderful and I’m so glad I met James. He was such a delight and it really made my last day in Zanzibar special. Who knew that the Indian ocean was such a great place to make friends?!
July 13, 2012 § Leave a comment
I just realized that I can post from my phone! This should make it at least a little easier to keep regular content coming.
Arrived in Morogoro yesterday after a week in Zanzibar. This orphanage is a Muslim all-boys orphanage. It’s very nice and seems very well-run. Kilimanjaro Orphanage is still my favorite but it could just be because I bonded with them and am reluctant to fully repeat the experience. These kids are so sweet and nice-mannered that I’m sure I’ll be in love by tomorrow. So it goes.
July 11, 2012 § Leave a comment
Last week I said my goodbyes at the orphanage. It was… well, it was. Everybody cried and clung to me and asked me to stay and when I would be back. Even the matrons that work there, old ladies, cried and asked me not to leave. The reaction from the matrons surprised me, not because we didn’t get close – we got quite close – but because I didn’t know they cared that much. It touched me very deeply to know that they felt that way.
When I was saying my goodbyes the children and matrons kept asking me when I was coming back. It just wasn’t possible for me to say, “I’m not.” Instead, I told them I would try to return next year or as soon as I can get the money together. Even though they would prefer I never left, this seemed to be an acceptable alternative. After giving it much thought, it just felt too wrong to me to spend such a significant amount of time allowing these children to get so attached to me to just up and abandon and vanish. I know they would recover, but I want to be a tally in the positive column of their lives, not the disappointment column. Whether or not they know it, I’ve become emotionally committed to these children and will do everything in my ability to be a positive influence in their lives, even if it’s just financial support and occasional visits. Either way, I promised to come back and I keep my promises, so I’ll be back.
Since I left, we’ve spoken on the phone a few times. My Italian husband, Giorgio, lets them use his phone to call me and I appreciate it so much. Last night I answered the phone and heard Raymondi’s voice and was so happy I promptly teared up. Raymondi is 20 but lives at the orphanage and is still in high school. Due to financial struggles being such a common thing, it’s not unusual for people here to be even 24 before graduating. They have to stop and start and are only able to go when they can afford it. Raymondi lost his father last year and the sadness is still settled around his shoulders like a cloak. You can see it plainly in his face, even when he smiles. He’s also very shy and him calling me to tell me he missed me is pretty amazing. Of all the people I said goodbye to, saying goodbye to Raymondi and seeing him cry and try not to was the hardest. It’s making my eyes water just thinking about it.
So, now I’m in Zanzibar. Nabeel and Leila, of Peak 4 Poverty fame, got married. The wedding was really fun and there are a couple posts on the way dedicated to the island, but right now I have to go snorkeling. I rented a private boat for the day for $20. The driver (captain?) is taking me to another, smaller island where there’s beautiful reef to snorkel and giant tortoises to ogle.
Here’s to salt water and tan lines!
July 3, 2012 § 2 Comments
Men here are typically dominant over women. In homes, you’ll often see at dinnertime that the men are served first, then the women, then the children. The women and children will wait to start eating until the man has begun. Men will also typically be seated on couches or chairs, while women and children will sit on the floor if there aren’t enough chairs for everybody.
To me, this benign example illustrates a much deeper, more pervasive attitude here that men are first, women are second and children are sometimes last. It’s flipped from the common attitude in the West where it’s “Women and children first.” You know. You’ve all seen The Titanic.
Women here have different, more restrictive expectations. I rarely see women wearing pants. Most women wear skirts, dresses, or wear pants with a sarong wrapped around over them. Women, even those that aren’t Muslim, are usually covered from neck to mid-calf. I, too, make an effort to be modest – I don’t wear tank tops or anything too tight or low-cut.
Women are also held to more repressive sexual and relationship standards. For example, I saw a man publicly and violently beat a woman in the middle of a crowded bar while nobody moved to stop it or even really reacted. Upon further questioning of my African friends, I’ve learned that that is not entirely uncommon here. Nor, to my chagrin, did some (not all) of them seem particularly offended by the thought of beating a woman. I was given a lot of potential explanations for why he was beating her, but all I heard was, “Here, it’s okay for your man to beat you if he feels you deserve it.”
DV is not really something I’m particularly understanding about and the attempts to explain it in a way that makes it sound not-so-bad just sound meaningless to me. Violence is unacceptable and it’s not something I’m likely to budge on anytime soon, cultural differences or not.
Women here are also expected to guard their sexuality more closely. Casual sex happens here, but it seems women are expected to pretend – ? – to put up a bit of a fight before they consent. Not like physically fight, but more just pretend to need a lot of convincing before they finally allow themselves to be persuaded.
As such, it seems like maybe men here are used to playing a more persistent, aggressive role in their attempts with women. Or maybe the attitude just comes from the arrogance and confidence of living in a society where your dominance is so clearly evident. It’s also completely possible that my experience has been tainted by the stereotype that Western women have in much of the world, and definitely here, that says we are fast, easy and loose and available for sex. I’m not sure I’m entirely offended by that stereotype, since I believe I should be able to do it if I want to do it nor am I ashamed of sex. Still, that doesn’t make women from more sexually permissive cultures available to anyone who asks.
Further confusing this issue for me is the fact that, in Tanzania, physical affection is common, even among platonic relations. It’s normal here for adult men to hold hands as a gesture of friendship. The same is true for women and for male and female friends to some extent. People here are just very physically affectionate. What makes it confusing while learning this new culture is that there seems to be some invisible line between acceptable, platonic, friendship touch and romantic, flirtatious touch. I myself am very physically affectionate and very comfortable and happy in this touchy-feely culture. BUT, it becomes very confusing very quickly when I think someone is being friendship-affectionate and then I realize they are being flirtatious-affectionate.
There’s not much point in really getting mad about any of it. Almost all of it is miscommunication and misunderstandings, with only a small fraction of it being people that are unkind or aggressive. Realistically, I am probably making plenty of cultural missteps, and until I understand the culture enough to intuitively know normal from abnormal, it’s not fair for me to get mad every time I get uncomfortable.
July 3, 2012 § 2 Comments
The twists in the river of life never cease to surprise and delight me. Sometimes I lie in bed at night, curled up under my mosquito net, and marvel at my life, whispering to myself, “I am in Africa. I am in Africa. Wow, I am in Africa.” But then, everywhere I go I feel amazed that I am there. It was the same in Iowa, it was the same in Arizona, it will be the same in France, Ireland, Austria and wherever I go next.
My approach seems to rely primarily on trust. Trust in what, I’m not entirely sure. Not trust in god, since I’m not religious in the way most people seem to be or not be. Not trust in myself, since I worry, fret and doubt like everyone else ever. Not trust in other people managing my life for me, since I’ve been making my life decisions independently for a long time now. Not trust in society or normalcy, since I definitely haven’t taken a linear or sensical path. Not trust that tomorrow will be like today, because, ha, I can’t remember the last time I knew what was going to happen next. But still, whenever I’m trying to decide where life will take me next, I feel trust. Trust and deep faith that wherever I go, it will be wonderful. Maybe part of it is trust in the belief that 90% of people are genuinely good and loving in their hearts.
Honestly, I think I feel relaxed because I trust in one thing more than anything else. I trust that I will die. This experience, my life and my self as I currently understand it, will end. What happens after isn’t as important to me as the certain knowledge that it will, most certainly, end. I will die. You will die. Everyone and everything will eventually pass out of current form.
Death doesn’t feel morbid to me. It gives me peace. For me, embracing the certainty of death is freedom. I can do anything, try anything, look stupid, make mistakes, embarrass myself, mess up, experiment, fail, because, one day, I will die. And when I arrive at the end of my life here, I will have lived as much as I knew how at the time.
So what if I’m a spastic dancer or an off-key singer? Dancing and singing feel good. So what if it took me a little longer to finish college or my life isn’t tidy on paper? I’ve been busy learning about the world and savoring it in ways that are much harder to document. So what if my body isn’t perfect? It’s healthy and strong and it’s mine. It carries me through this world safely and allows me to reach out and join in.
Here’s what I want out of life: I want to feel love. I want deep friendships, fast romances, true love, a big, boisterous family that anybody can join, babies, mothers, sisters, brothers, fathers, friends.
I want to laugh. And laugh. And laugh. And laugh.
I want to try to touch god, or my soul, or whatever that mysterious power is many of us sense at the edges of our beings. So I will go to mosques, churches, temples, forests, oceans and mountain peaks.
I want to use my body in every way it will let me. I want it to dance to drum beats in the firelight, taste briny saltwater in the ocean, strain and sweat with the exertion of reaching new heights, relax and melt, grow life, save life, protect life and enjoy life.
I want to grow my hair long, because long hair is fun. I want to cut it all off, because short hair is fun too.
I want to make other people feel good, as often as possible, because that feels better than anything.
I want my heart to race, my breath to quicken, my toes to wiggle in the mud and my fingers to dance across canvas. I want to learn, from experiences, books and people.
I want to appreciate this world, this heaven, I have been given as a home and all the wonders is contains.
Because one day, any day, I will move on. And what I don’t want is to waste a golden opportunity like this.
July 2, 2012 § 3 Comments
Even on the worst days, when I have fleas or disappointments or struggles, I am so profoundly grateful to be alive in this wondrous world. Most days the joy I feel inside is so abundant I wonder if my spirit is going to burst from it and shatter in a million glittering pieces like so much fairy dust.
I’ve been a lot of places and met a lot of people. Not as much or many as some, but enough. Enough to know that people, people everywhere, are good.
There is so much love, kindness and generosity in the world, from the young grandmother that works the locker counter in the Montreal airport to the Tanzanian man that lives on a dollar a day in order to tirelessly devote everything he has and is to improving the futures of his sisters and brothers.
I’ve had a fellow volunteer make me a flower out of a paper napkin just to see me smile because he loves to see everybody smile, a young boy pull me out of the way of traffic, an old man kiss me on the cheek and call me granddaughter. I’ve had a woman who I only met for night send me encouraging emails filled with love and friendship almost daily, old friends go out of their way to make me feel loved, remembered and included from across the world, and a baby girl kiss my cheeks and tell me she loves me.
I’ve seen a man sell his home, quit his job and move to a developing country to dedicate his life to healing children. I’ve seen this more than once. I’ve seen tourists pay to drag giant bags full of new clothes and shoes all the way here without having any idea of who they’re going to give it to, the knowledge that someone needs it being enough to justify the expense.
I’ve met a financially struggling old man who donates over a thousand dollars a year of his meager retirement to children he’s never met but whose pictures he lovingly keeps in his wallet. And when he speaks of the futures he hopes his sponsee children will have, his eyes shine with tears of joy, hope and promise.
I have met so many people from so many places. The love we, as humans, freely give to one another is astonishing in its magnitude and variety of forms. When you look for the love, you will find it in every nook and corner of your life and the life of every person you see. The golden threads that weave us together in love and community are subtle, but strong. Once you start seeing them, it’s impossible to ever see anything else.
June 30, 2012 § Leave a comment
Hello! Sorry I’ve been absent. The last month has taken me all over Tanzania. I’ve been to Zanzibar (the famous spice island), Moshi (a city in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro), Karatu (a small town in the northern highlands of the Serengeti near the Ngorongoro Crater) and a few other places too. Internet is not easily accessible in Moshi and not accessible at all in Karatu. Most of the month has seen me without internet, to the point that now when I log on, I’m not sure what to do! I sign on, check Facebook, check my email, read then news, and then.. ummmm.. what now? It’s nice to know that I’ve broken some of my more unhealthy internet time-wasting habits.
Anywhoozle, just because I haven’t had internet doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing. While normal blogs try to post consistently once or twice a week, I’m just going to go ahead and upload all the posts I’ve written lately. Who knows when I’ll have internet again!