17 March 2010

Alas and alack, this is Africa after all

I'm back in Dodoma. "Wait", you might be thinking, "her last blog post said she should be in Nairobi right now!" Well, in Africa, very little works out quite the way you think it will.

The Morogoro leg went exactly as predicted. We did meetings with the key staff of the Mennonite church there about starting up a program. They're at the very beginning baby stages of starting, so we encouraged them in their work and gave them advice for raising money locally and building sustainably. It was actually really refreshing to see them so passionate about meeting the needs of the people in their community. It reminded me that as we develop programs, we lose that attitude of being willing to do literally anything to get help for these needy people. As time goes by, volunteers need to be paid and staff need larger offices, and we forget the desperation of not having anything to give to the poor except our sweat and prayers. Our host family was very very kind, but Katie ended up sleeping in the bed of the baby, and found out halfway through the night that the baby pees the bed. No rubber sheets here!

When we got to Dar es Salaam, we learned that a) the fundraising we had been told was scheduled was indeed not scheduled, b) the church we thought we were speaking at was not aware of the fact, and c) our work visas were indeed still missing that elusive last signature, so no fundraising, no Nairobi. We took Katie to the airport, watched some cable television (which was like crack to me...we got to see CURRENT episodes of Project Runway, House, Fringe, and Lie to Me...all favorite shows of mine back in the States), watched a bunch of Tanzanian movies, met a Tanzanian movie star, enjoyed air conditioning, WAIT, WHAT?! That's right we met a Tanzanian movie star. We had been watching these seriously mediocre Tanzanian films with improbable plots, when one night the star of two of the very movies we had been watching walked into the house where we were staying! At risk of embarrassing her, Mama Askofu was a little star struck and tended to babble. We were invited to come to watch him film one day next week, but we will no longer be in Dar. Too bad.

In the middle of all that Dar stuff, we got to go to Zanzibar to see my friends Nashon and Kessy, whom I had met at that conference I spoke at in January. We didn't have much time there, but we saw a lot of cool stuff, toured the old slave market, and bought spices for CHEAP. Turmeric powder, about 5 oz, was 1000/=, or about 80 cents. Be jealous! (If you're not jealous, next time you're at the grocery store cruise the spice aisle and check out what you'd have to pay for the stuff.) Leah bought them out as gifts for home. I bought star anise, for no other reason than that it smells good like licorice, and some Zanzibar coffee powder, which also smells good, but we can't figure out how to drink because it doesn't appear to be instant coffee like everything else we drink here. I bought a huge bunch of lichi, which I haven't had since I was in Cambodia, but tastes so good. We bought a bracelet for our friend Clyde from some Maasai men who were friends of my friends, and we chatted with them for long enough that they let us take a picture with them. Then one of them very, very seriously began negotiating with Kessy for Leah's hand in marriage. He kept insisting that the number of cows needed was no problem, but he wanted her. She started to laughingly suggest an outrageous-to-her number, 500, but I warned her that we would shortly see a herd of 500 cows cresting the horizon in Dodoma, and Leah would have be expected to marry this short, squat, ugly, earnest Maasai man. Still, the pictures were great. Watch for my soon-to-be-changing Facebook profile photo. On the two hour ferry ride home, we got to watch Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade...with no sound. I've seen that movie roughly 25 times, so I narrated the whole movie to Leah, which I'm sure she was delighted with. Who wouldn't be?

Now we are home, and, although we regret that we have to put Nairobi off for another month, we are happy to be home, sleeping in our own beds. Dodoma feels very cool compared to the 100 degree plus temperatures in Dar and Zanzibar, and we were missing our co-workers and friends and kids after only one week. Apparently we really are settling in here!

05 March 2010

Traveling in East Africa on the cheap

Tomorrow we leave for a few weeks of what is essentially African couch-hopping. Here's the plan, but we'll see how successful we are at sticking to it.

First Stop: Morogoro (March 6-8)
A few weeks ago we met a Mennonite pastor and his wife who are trying to start a similar program to the one that Grace and Healing Ministry does here in Dodoma. They came to Dodoma to see our programs, and asked Mama Askofu and I to come see their program and advise them on how to proceed with capacity building, church-NGO partnerships, local fundraising, grant writing, and relationships with board and volunteers. Tomorrow morning Leah, Mama Askofu, Katie and I will travel by bus to stay with them for two nights to encourage and advise them.

Second Stop: Dar es Salaam (March 8-10)
Monday afternoon we will leave Morogoro for Dar es Salaam. We have been invited for an American dinner of tacos at the home of a missionary whose niece is my mother's student. We are staying with the uncle of my now-ex-roommate in his beautiful house, then, the next day Katie is leaving us! Already her month is up, and we're taking her to the airport on Tuesday to go to Ethiopia for two weeks before she heads home to the States.

Third Stop: Zanzibar (March 10-13)
Wednesday morning we will take the ferry to Zanzibar to stay with some friends that I met when I spoke at the Life Ministry conference in January. I have always felt weird about going to Zanzibar, because it is a very tourist-y thing, and I tend to pride myself on NOT acting like a tourist. Plus ZZB is really expensive, but now that I have friends who have assured me that they'll show us the real Zanzibar, I'm excited to go. We're taking Mama Askofu and paying her way so that she can have a real vacation for the first time in ages.

Fourth Stop: Dar es Salaam (again) (March 13-16)
Saturday morning we'll return to Dar es Salaam to begin a series of fundraising meetings. Lahash's agreement with GHMD is that half of the program would come from the States and half should come from local donors. In the past this meant a national church-based NGO, but they have been uncommunicative and unhelpful, so we're taking it to the streets. Mama Askofu is really excited to talk to some rich Tanzanians about our wonderful kids. Leah and I are there for emotional and technological support. Again, we'll be staying with my "uncle" David.

Fifth Stop: Nairobi! (March 16-25)
We got word today that our work visas are waiting for us in Dar es Salaam, so we'll finally be able to do the trip to Nairobi that I've been meaning to take since January. It's a 14 hour bus ride from Dar to Nairobi, but we'll have Edwin and Cristine Angote waiting for us at the other side. It will be a mostly work-related trip for me, visiting Tenderfeet and maybe another organization that we're thinking of working with, and collaborating on some reports with Edwin. Leah and I are definitely planning to spend some time in coffee shops, book stores, and maybe even the movie theater.

Sixth Stop: Dar es Salaam (March 25/26)
We'll return the 14 hours from Nairobi to Dar, and probably stay in a hotel close to the bus stand. A friend of Baba's owns the hotel, and he might even throw in a free ride to or from the bus stand.

Seventh Stop: HOME! (March 26)

We're hoping to do three weeks worth of traveling in two different countries for about $200 each, and that includes treating ourselves to some nice food along the way! Fingers crossed!

01 March 2010

Snot-covered tidbits - Post from last week

I have the flu. I’ve had it for about 10 days now. It’s definitely cold and flu season here in Dodoma, and many people on the staff are or have been sick. I took two days off of work last week, and one day off this week, trying to rest up and beat the bug, but it’s hanging on. C’est la vie.

I got my first haircut since I’ve been in Africa. Last night Leah used a pair of safety scissors and cut about two inches off my hair. I can’t really see the back of it, but it seems like she did a pretty good job. I’m just happy to have some of the weight off.

I lost my cell phone two weeks ago. A friend gave me a phone, and I’ve been trying to get my same phone number back. The cell phone system is just different here, and I have to petition the cell company to get my same number. Otherwise I’ll just have to buy a new line, which is cheap, but annoying to have to update my number to everyone. I lost about half of the phone numbers which I’d not written down, so I’ve learned a lesson there. Hopefully I’ll be back up and running in a few more days.

One of our kids, Victoria, is really sick right now. She is HIV+ and lost both of her parents, so she lives with an aunt. Her aunt has a really good job, but totally neglects Victoria. We’d been noticing that Victoria seemed to be getting sicker and sicker, but the aunt said she’d taken her to the hospital. Yesterday we took her to the special Catholic-run HIV clinic, and they ordered an x-ray of her lungs. It looks like tuberculosis, which is very serious for HIV+ clients. Please pray for Victoria.

The rumors are true. I’ve lost a ton (not literally) of weight in the past six months. If you want to know the exact number, you’ll have to read my next support letter.

I’m losing my other roommate. Beatrice has been volunteering in Dodoma for almost a year, but she’s returning to her home town on Saturday. Overall she has been a wonderful roommate, and I’ll miss our complicated Swanglish conversations over dinner (her English is minimal, and my Swahili is still pretty poor, but we manage to understand each other for the most part). There is some discussion if Leah will come and live with me for her remaining six months. She’s been staying with me while another traveler is here, and we’ve had a good time. Otherwise I’ll probably just live on my own for a while.

Anyway, nothing too glamorous to report, just a lot of dirty handkerchiefs to wash.