Monday, November 2, 2009

The Second Mango Season

How the time flies over here! The days might crawl, but the months have slipped by until I'm giddily watching the mangoes ripen on their branches for the second time since coming here. Won't be long now!

Things have been going well at site lately. I feel much more integrated with my neighbors and the village community and I finally had that moment people tell you about where you are walking around the village and then it hits you that this remote corner of the world, once so foreign and strange to you, is now home. Mushy mush mush blah blah blah. =)

I'm continuing to get down and dirty with work. I have two village groups. One is currently digging out an area in order to raise fish and the other is working with draft powered agriculture. Their grant was just approved by Peace Corps and once the money arrives, we'll be able to go out and get some plows, harnesses, and send some of their youth to study the art of plowing at the district capital. On Tuesdays and Fridays I go to St. Clara's Secondary School and teach the girls about environmental awareness and sustainability. Their English is very good and I enjoy this break from Swahili, not to mention how well behaved the classes are. On Wednesdays I go over to Kisiwani Secondary School where my environmental club planted a tree nursery and are now learning about HIV/AIDs awareness in preparation for World AIDs Day 2009. I'm trying to get them on the bill to perform a play or a song/rap at the festivities. We'll see how it turns out.

Not much else is new. I'm just happy the past few months have been a nice transition period and I'm looking forward to the next year in Mbuyuni and a possible extra year after that... but that's for a different post as nothing's ever for certain over here.

Til next time!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Peace Corps vs. NGOs

I went on an all-out offensive in my village work after writing that last post. I've been busy writing grants and keeping in touch with community leaders for other prospective projects. For the 4th of July, I made my way up to a fellow PCV's homestead and celebrated our nation's birthday with some God-awful wine and a sweet view of the Tanzanian/Kenyan border. We talked about service and how 'Mentals have to make their own schedules while Ed's are pretty well told what's expected of them on a daily basis. I told her of my village's water problem and how Ingenires sin Frontiras (ISF; Engineers Without Borders from Spain) have been building a new pressure tank while I'm on the sidelines thinking there's no effective role for me in the project. She laughed and said that most NGOs she's talked to have said that their biggest problem is community involvement and having someone on the ground 24/7 would help massively. What could I say? That makes sense.

So I sat in on an ISF-led village meeting two days ago with all the intention in the world to find a spot for me in their scheme and it was a lot easier than I expected. They had some new volunteers that arrived from Spain the past week and were expected to take some GPS coordinates of the multiple water sources in the Kisiwani area. Now, for many long-term volunteers or development workers, there's a certain stigma that goes with being a short-term volunteer. Many friends of mine prefer to elevate themselves from the others who don't know the language, who don't understand the culture, and who generally see their time here as a resume builder or a fun 5-week adventure. I can see why this is so, but I always try to give the benefit of the doubt to newbies. And in fact, these two Spaniards were newbies and I was to be their translator. So all of yesterday, we hiked through the sticky, buggy, steep landscape of the Kilimanjaro Pare Mountains to find these water sources and document them, all the while translating everything from Kipare to Kiswahili, Kiswahili to English, and finally English to Spanish. It was exhaustive work and I needed a cool bucket bath afterwards, but I'm happy to have met these guys.

Alberto's from western Spain and is finishing his degree in engineering while Raguel used to work for Eickson and... well... I'm really not too clear on what she's up to. They're newbies in the fact they don't know the language but their cultural appropriateness was good for first-weekers. We talked about NGO work and how Peace Corps functions. They found it surprising that I have a house in my small village, am formidable with Kiswahili, and am toying with the idea of staying here after service. It didn't take long to establish that, yes, ISF seems to be making a much larger impact on the community than Peace Corps is and I thought long and hard about it over a large pot of rice and tomatoes made for one that evening.

Like my former post has said, my efficiency hasn't been up to my personal standards for this past year and that frustrates me. If I could be as productive as Alberto and Raguel during their 5 week volunteer period and actually have assignments to complete during a 5 day work week that contributes to a bigger project... then wow! I could accomplish so much! I mean, their boss literally walked over to our primary school, said, "Looks like you guys need new toilet facilities. I'll have some cement sent over." Something like that could take months in the bureaucracy of the Peace Corps office.

I was frustrated for most of the afternoon after realizing this, but then it hit me: is developing infrastructure and household capacity the ONLY reason I'm here for? True, the 3 Peace Corps goals start with providing trained professionals to meet the needs of the host country nationals, but the other two focus on the vague and broad subject of cultural exchange. I might not be able to function as efficiently as other NGOs do and rely on my bike instead of an SUV, but it was ridiculous how much more comfortable I was while functioning in that environment than the other volunteers were. They understood what the project was doing. I understood on a personal level why it needed to be done.

I'm not in any way knocking on that NGO or those volunteers. They're doing a fantastic thing for the district and those newbies are personally my new amigos and weekend drinking buddies in Same. But yesterday was a much needed experience to remind myself that a very large part of the Peace Corps goes beyond the quantitative development work. What might be a villager to one volunteer is a neighbor to me. A shoolchild, my sister. An elderly woman, my bibi. I don't want to do projects for the purpose of pointing to it later to convince myself these two years weren't wasted. I want to do projects because it helps my friends and family here. That's what Peace Corps is and that's why I'm still here volunteering my time to anyone or any organization that wants to help.

Karibu sana.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Trying times.

I don't want this post to have a wet-sponge, depressed feel to it so I'll keep the first part short:

These past two months have been tough for a number of reasons. I've lost a number of people who were close to me; both stateside and here in the Peace Corps community; some temporary and some permanent. Saying goodbye to friends leaving the country was hard. Not being able to be at a funeral in the US was difficult. Going to a funeral in the village was tough. All of these made the dealing with my dissatisfaction with my work here as a volunteer a catalyst for a slump.

Although these things have been tough for me, I really don't want to dwell on it and become a self-martyr. They're not the purpose of this post. The topic of this post is about change. I think true change comes about when someone is faced with the difficulties of life; when enough bad things happen to finally make the afflicted stop everything and consider the options for the elements of their life in which they do control. For me, that was work; and personally, it took a lot for me to say to myself that I wasn't happy with my last year's performance, even if it had been in the back of my mind for a long while. I wasn't getting things done that I wanted done and couldn't figure out why things were in a perpetual state of failure. I attributed it to a fairly big step in my life: I wasn't living on a schedule. In fact, life doesn't have a schedule... anymore at least. Up until now, my life has been dictated by schedules. Professors told me when to hand in assignments. Bosses told me when to arrive at work and what to do. Parents told me when to attend functions and make decisions that would affect my later life. But is that life? Is that what makes, continues, and determines life? If one of my local farmers wait for someone to tell him to go out, weed or plant his field, is he going to harvest? No chance.

My greatest fear is to return feeling like my time could have been better spent in the US. I've been told just being here in the village and becoming part of the community is enough to make the unique, Peace Corps experience worthwhile; and they're absolutely right. But it would be a massive personal defeat if my village thought I could have done more; or worse yet, if I thought I could have done more.

So for these past few months of taking blow after blow, they hopefully have driven me to realize some remnant of a lesson: Do. Don't dwell, don't overplan, don't stall, don't procrastinate, don't try. Do.

With that in mind, I've been jump starting, reviving, and developing a number of projects for the area. Environmental clubs, chickens, agriculture, soccer, HIV/AIDS, alternative fuels, poverty relief, and primary school field trips have been in the forefront of my mind as of late and I'm really pushing myself to make these next few months productive ones. Let's see how many I can make happen.

Friday, April 3, 2009

In for a dime...

In a country where the internet is permanently stuck in low gear, it's difficult to tear oneself away from email accounts and the bog of Facebook to update a blog. I'm trying to do a better job of documenting my time here, but even the hours of downtime that could be spent writing have been spent reading others' scribblings, hanging out in dukas, or wasted on elaborate schemes to make bank in the exciting pig farming and mushroom cultivation industries here in glorious Tanzania. One by one, the days have passed and I have about two pages in my journal to account for the past 7 months of my life abroad; an inexcusable grievance which my future self will likely find unforgivable.

This seems like a good point in my service to start anew as this week marked a new beginning, or rather an older beginning's end. My sitemate, Jessica, hopped on a plane Wednesday night and is stateside at the moment. As with most people who early terminate, she won't be coming back. We were in the same training class and were the only volunteers placed in our banking town of Same. Over the past months, she quickly became family to me and I in all honesty consider her a sister. We wasted weekends together, traveled together and shot the shit in such a way that made other English speakers rather uneasy at our awesomely comparable audacity. I couldn't explain what life has been like here without due mention of my sis. And at the same time, I know that the remaining time will have to be defined in a large part by her absence.

If you talk to returned volunteers, they'll tell you how the friends you make during service are so incredibly meaningful in a way that is unexplainable and only understood by those who've been through it. I didn't understand it then. I think I understand it now. And it sucks. They don't tell you that part.

In for a dime, in for a dollar. Ni maisha tu.

Friday, August 8, 2008

5 minute posts

6:48 minutes left on the internet cafe timer so I thought I'd shoot off a quickie... there has to be a better way of saying that. Prepare for short sentences and random thoughts!

We went to Mikumi. We saw animals. Stay tuned for pictures. I'm in Njombe right now shadowing a PCV to see what life is like after training. It was awesome. I ate Frank's Hot Sauce and spaghetti and grilled cheese and mushroom soup and more. Right now I'm going to Iringa to see more PCVs and PCTs. Tomorrow we leave for Dar es Salaam to find out where we'll be serving for the next two years. After that it's back to homestay for a week. Then we swear in and ship out on the 20th. I'm really excited, which is difficult to decipher from such short sentences. Also, I read Lord of the Flies. It was ****ed up.

I'm going to be an uncle!


Sunday, July 6, 2008

Ups and Downs

Yeah, it’s been a while since I’ve been able to update the ol’ blog. Believe me, I’ve noticed too.

Peace Corps has been awesome, shitty, and everything in between. It’s not uncommon to head home from school at an unbelievable low and fall asleep at a fantastic high or visa versa. The pressure and stress of not knowing Kiswahili is countered with small steps in the language, technical trainings, and spending time with friends over a cold Kilimanjaro or Safari at the esteemed Rudewa bar.

Here’s a bit about my village! I’m being trained in Rudewa, a village in the Morogoro region. Its population is 12,000 and everyone farms. Everyone. I live with a family of 3… baba, mama, and my kaka, Abduli. Baba speaks English and owns a gas station along the main strip. Mama doesn’t speak English but makes a mean plate of rice and beans… not to mention the French fries and ketchup I get every now and then. Abduli is 3 and was circumcised two weeks ago. He stopped crying a couple days ago. Thank god.

After 3 weeks of training, I’ve got a decent grasp on the language. I still have a long way to go, but I’m feeling a lot better then I did on day one. I only have a couple more weeks of language before training is usurped by site shadowing, a trip to a game reserve, and other filler activities like that.

A few apologies: Haven't been able to find the time to write anything that's terribly meaningful. Hopefully this general update will suffice for now. Also, I’ll get around to uploading some pictures sometime soon.

I hope everything back home is well and I hope to make some phone calls once I get my cell phone!