Laundry Labor

July 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

Have you ever tried washing all your clothes by hand? If not, trust me when I say it is work! In Tanzania there are essentially no washing machines. Those with money don’t buy washing machines; they hire people to help them with the laundry. It makes sense that washing machines are hard to come by – they’re expensive and power and water are too inconsistent for then to run properly.


The materials required for one load of laundry are:

1. Clothes, preferably dirty
2. A big bucket, tub or basin
3. Other bucket, preferably two buckets
4. Lots of water
5. Powder soap
6. Bar of soap
7. Scrub brush

Fill the tub with water and mix in the powder soap. Once mixed, add clothes and soak. Wash clothes by rubbing cloth against cloth piece by piece until it seems clean. Take the bar of soap and rub it into the fabric for even more cleaning power. Wring out each piece and toss into a fresh bucket of water.

Once every piece has been scrubbed and rubbed (by this point it’s probably been about 20 minutes), empty out the never-ceases-to-be-shocking-how-dirty-it-is water and refill with fresh water.

Agitate clothes soaking in the water for a few minutes. Then wring out each piece again and toss into the next round of rinse water. Agitate again and wring and put in fresh bucket. Use your best judgement to determine if they need another “rinse cycle.” They usually do.

Once all the clothes have been thoroughly rinsed, hang in the sun to dry. Preferably away from the smoke from the cooking fire, but that may be unavoidable. Allow one to two days to dry annnnnnd voila! You have washed your clothes! Congratulations! I suggest celebrating by changing your shirt.


Modes of Transportation

July 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

In Tanzania, motorbike taxis are a very common form of transportation. Gas costs less than it does for a car, so prices are lower for both driver and passenger. Motorbikes can navigate the roads here numerous potholes much more easily. Motorbikes, here known as “piki piki,” are also about a bajillion times more fun, if not also slightly more dangerous since you’re essentially hiring some rando dude to let you go for a ride on the back of his motorcycle in a country where there are no roads and essentially no traffic laws without a helmet. Whee! So fun!

(It’s not as bad as all that though. The terrible roads, traffic, cattle, crazy pedestrians and old cars keep everyone moving at a nice, slow 30 mph tops.)


Piki pikis are my favorite way to get around because for what comes out to approximately $1.25 US, I can get someone to take me on a motorcycle ride anywhere I want to go. It transforms the roads from an automobile roller coaster of misery to an exciting theme park of fun jumps, twists and bumps. You don’t get hot on the back of a piki piki like you do in a windows-up-no-AC car.

Most importantly, Dollar twenty-five motorcycle rides!!

Funny Story

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?!



Exciting News

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.



Flowing Forward

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

Last night was my second to last night in Moshi. Dr. Greg, his ladylove Shannon, the three volunteer girls from Alaska, Giorgio and I spent it having dinner at Greg’s house.

On of the subjects that came up was what was going to happen to some of the sick children. The orphanage cares for two young children, ages three and four, that are HIV positive. There are only two lines of medication available in Tanzania for HIV. One of them, Tyson, is already on second line meds, meaning that once his virus develops a resistance to his current medicine, which will happen eventually, it will stop working and he won’t have any more options in Tanzania. The same will eventually happen with the littler girl, Brightness. For an HIV patient, once there are no more lines of medication, there are also no more options and death will shortly follow. Tyson and Bright are both playful, funny and sweet. I call Tyson, “Chura,” Swahili for frog, because he likes to jump up to me like a frog and then jump into my arms for a hug. Bright looooves to be tickled and she’ll often sneak up behind you and tug gently on your hair or softly poke you under your arm to try to provoke you into tickling her.

There is another little boy, whose name is Meshak but we lovingly call Tappo, who has juvenile diabetes. Dr. Greg says that it’s pretty much a death sentence in Africa because the diet here is so terrible and it’s a high-maintenance health concern even in the States. He’s also four, I believe. His insulin levels every day around hover around 400. I don’t know much about diabetes, but I’m told that 400 is very bad. He is deeply shy and quiet, but incredibly sweet. Whenever I take a nap in the afternoon, Tappo will quietly come in and curl up in my arms in bed to join me. He rarely speaks or makes eye contact, but he smiles his shy smile very easily and loves to be cuddled and kissed.

Shedrack is the other boy with health problems. He’s fifteen but is smaller than most of the nine year olds. His Sickle Cell Anemia prevented him from growing normally and he is functioning on about half the blood volume of a normal person. He’s intelligent, reserved, sweet and very dignified. In school, he’s one of the best students and in life he has the best attitude of all the kids. It’s always Shedrack that comes to mind when trying to think of an older kid that you can count on to come through. Greg says that Shedrack is a perfect example of how suffering is a choice. Shedrack’s condition is a daily struggle, but he never complains and is the most cheerful, wonderful kid. It’s unlikely that he will live past age twenty-five.

For all of the children, the reality is that their lives may, probably will, end early. Their illnesses are difficult to treat anywhere, and in Africa, if it weren’t for Dr. Greg, some would likely have passed already.

Terminal illness in children is something that, up until this point, has blessedly never touched my life. Now I’ve come to love four beautiful children that will almost certainly die young. When I arrived in Moshi a month ago, I knew these children had health problems, but I think I thought that because Dr. Greg was this amazing doctor (and seriously, he’s so amazing) these children would live normal, fully realized lives. Last night it was explained to me that no, they won’t.

This morning I looked out my window and saw Tappo and Tyson playing with their toys in the yard. They are the sweetest boys, as are all children, and trying to understand why children are brought into the world to be sick and then die young as it relates to the big, universal picture is beyond me. Maybe they are here to remind us about the brevity of life? It seems unlikely that children would be used to cruelly by the universe to teach adults a spiritual lesson. Maybe they’re almost at the completion of their cycle of lives on Earth and only needed to come back for one more quickie before they evolve to the next level? Maybe, I guess, but that seems awfully convenient of an explanation. Maybe there are just parts of life that hurt and are desperately sad and that we have to try to understand, embrace, love and let go? I suppose, but it still doesn’t explain the “why”. But then, I guess we don’t really get to have that many “why’s” actually explained during our time here, do we?

It hurts enough that I am leaving today and am not sure when I’ll return to see these children again. It may be a few months or it may be many years. It is devastating to realize that some of them may die before I am able to return. The truth is that most of the children at the orphanage are young and, even though they bonded with me while I was here and I with them, they will mostly forget about me after a few weeks or a month. Children are resilient, especially orphanage children who are much too used to adults coming and going from their lives. That doesn’t provide any comfort to me, however, since I feel guilty for being another one of those brief, inconsistent presences in their lives and reinforcing for them that loving adults appear and vanish constantly. It also doesn’t soothe the ache that comes from feeling real love for them and sadness about leaving. I will try to stay in touch, but given how hard it is for computer-savvy me to get on the internet here, I don’t have any unrealistic expectations about them keeping up with me on email in any meaningful way. Maybe I’ll have to finally overcome my aversion to postal mail. Or maybe I’ll just have to start saving now for my next ticket out here.

Male-Female Relations

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.