Sunday, November 20, 2011

Children's Day Indian Celebration

Yesterday I was invited to a Children's Day event at the Diamond Jubilee Hall. Prior to the event, all I knew was that I should arrive promptly at 6pm wearing smart-casual attire. The committee chair happens to be a Rotarian who is sponsoring the Blood Drive, hence my admittance. Little did I know, it was a celebration of Indian children in Tanzania.

There are a surprisingly large number of Indians in East Africa, over 90,000 in TZ alone. I usually encounter them at the Upanga Club on Friday nights, where I play bingo and eat chicken tikka masala (a nice break from rice and ugali). Other than that, my interactions with Tanzanians of Indian descent are limited to Rotary meetings and other high-class encounters. If you've ever heard the stereotype that Indians are the best businessmen in the world, Tanzania is a perfectly fitting example. Nearly all banks, hotels, and other insanely profitable businesses are owned and run by Tanzanians of Indian descent. From my observation, this has caused major tension between Indian-Tanzanians and Black-Tanzanians. However, they tend to get along most peacefully in Tanzania, as compared with other East African nations, which have gone so far as to kick all Indians out

Fortunately, Tanzania is a relatively peaceful country. This particular event was celebrating 50 years of peace and unity for Indians in Tanzania, coinciding with the upcoming 50 year anniversary of Tanzania's independence from the United Kingdom. 

It was a fantastic event. The High Commissioner of India in Tanzania made a speech on the great relationship Indians have had with Tanzanians, thanks the cooperation and assistance with integration, facilitated by the first President, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere back in 1961. They had many Tanzanians come on stage to receive an award and blessing of good luck from the High Commissioner. Many of these people were recipients of aid from the Indian groups--headmaster whose school received running water, Sisters who received a sewing machine, etc. It was a nice gesture to show the way many have chosen to give back to the community, and to encourage others to participate in the future. 

One of the funniest moments of the evening was the singing of the national anthems. They began with the Tanzanian National Anthem, which I quietly sang along with, though not a single other person in my row joined. Most people in the audience (Tanzanian citizens or ex-pats) didn't know the national anthem! Good thing they played the Indian National Anthem next--everyone knew that one!

Then came the performances. It was Childrens Day, so there had to be children involved. It started off with the cute little kids who are just put on stage to make everyone smile. It worked. They were adorable. As each new group went up, the performances became more elaborate and entertaining. All were traditional Indian dances. They were fantastic! Two things which were most notable--hands and outfits. In many of the dances performed by teens, the position of hands was so important. The way they placed their fingers, such a tiny detail, made a dramatic difference in the style of the performance. And of course, all the kids were wearing beautiful Indian clothes--kurtis, salwar, sarees, sherwani, and dupatta. (Don't feel bad if you don't know any of those words. I just looked them up too. If you google-image search the names, you'll see some of the beautiful styles I'm talking about.) And it wasn't just the children who were wearing these clothes. Everyone in the audience was dressed up too! The colors were spectacular. 

I had a great evening. It was really nice to be surrounded by such a strong, vibrant culture and appreciation for performance art (apart from shaking your butt really fast). 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Mailing Address

A lot of people have asked this week how they can send me mail. I'm hesitant to give out that information for a few reasons.

  1. If you're trying to be my penpal, I'm warning you in advance that I'll probably be as good at responding to your letters as I am at updating my blog... maybe worse, if that's even possible.
  2. Things seem to get lost quite a bit on the way to TZ. I've already been told that two incredible packages filled with all kinds of wonderful goodies never made it. I'd hate for you to go through all the trouble writing letters and licking stamps for them to get lost in big, scary, wild Africa. Who knows what would happen if a box full of chocolate, q-tips, and other essentials got into the wrong hands!? (Is anyone else picturing "The Gods Must Be Crazy"?)
But if you're still set on sending me something, you can try this address

Christina Klecker
P.O Box 35766
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Good Luck!
And thank you, in advance, for thinking of me :)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

I got to meet a pretty important person this week. Some would say it's just another Rotarian, but this guy seemed to make time stop whenever he entered a room. I know this because I awkwardly and unknowingly followed him around from place to place over the past two days. 

It is my pleasure to introduce you all to Eric Kimani, Rotary District Governor. 

His district (9200) ranges from Tanzania up through Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia, all the way to Eritrea. Becoming a DG is a major accomplishment in Rotary. The reactions of most people in his presence made it feel like I was meeting a celebrity. 

I first met him when I accidentally arrived 3 minutes late to a Rotary meeting on Thursday. This is a big no-no. What could I do?? Traffic was terrible! (Do you see that excuse? I'm becoming SO Tanzanian!) Fortunately the traffic was terrible for everyone, resulting in several Rotarians trickling in after me. The DG was a guest speaker, invited to talk about his recent trip to Taiwan. He could've talked about absolutely anything, and the whole crowd would've still been completely tuned into every word.

Later on, I attended the International School of Tanganyika Interact Chartering ceremony. Can you guess who was the Guest of Honor? He again talked about his trip to Taiwan, but put a spin on it to encourage dedication from the youngsters. It was actually a great speech. He spent quite a bit of time talking about how incredible and life-changing the Rotary Scholarships have been for the youth in Rotary, which I certainly agree with. With 20+ years in Rotary, major humanitarian initiatives carried out to improve the world, and that fancy necklace to distinguish his excellence, the DG was still a very down-to-earth guy. He spent the majority of his time talking individually with the high school Interact students. 

I was lucky to sneak in for a picture with the DG and the President of the Rotaract Club of Kwanza, Chris.

The last event that I creepily followed the DG to was the biggest annual event hosted by Rotary in Dar es Salaam, the Rotary Dar Marathon. Over the past few years, this project has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for various initiatives in Tanzania. This year, the Rotary Clubs of Dar es Salaam have decided to focus their efforts on building a new Children's Cancer ward at the National Government Hospital, the only children's cancer center in Tanzania. Leading up to the big day, they had already raised about $400,000 USD. 

I had a 3:45am wake-up call so I could make it across town in time to set up for the big event. I was in good company with a group of Rotaractors from the University. 

The half-marathon was awesome.... to watch. I was helping out with organizational stuff at the big meeting spot i.e. handing out tshirts and water bottles, neatly presenting 250 cases of water bottles and thousands of sodas before the crowds came through. Everyone in my section was so glad to have me helping out because I was the only one who wasn't afraid to touch the big ice blocks. All these Tanzanians thought it was cold! 

The marathon runners were really impressive. Some of the semi-professional runners completed it in 65 minutes! I don't think I could finish if you gave me four hours. It was a good time. 

I had to leave a bit early. At 7:30am, I headed back towards my part of town because I was working the rest of the day. I haven't mentioned that I've taken on a full-time volunteer opportunity. That'll be my next post... but it'll have to wait a while. I'll be bunking with lions in the Serengeti next week!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Good skin

One of my students, an older man (45y/o?) named Chako, was asked to make a sentence using one of the words written on the board that started with the letter S. Out of all 15 words, and all possible combinations of sentences, Chako came up with "Christina's skin is good." So I responded jokingly, "Thanks! Your skin is good too!" He said "No, no. Black skin is bad. Your skin is good."

Later in class, he asked to marry me. I'll let you all make your own interpretations about this one.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Hiking the Uluguru Mountains

This weekend I couldn't pass up the opportunity to go hiking in the Uluguru Mountains. Unfortunately, my horrible pronunciation paired with a terrible attempt at the Tanzanian accent left me calling them the "Uluguluglu Mountains" but people definitely still knew what I was talking about.

This place was so beautiful. I didn't even realize how massive the mountains were just looking at them. But I figured it out as soon as we started hiking... 

Oh man. I hardly made it to the top. Definitely worth it though. That's the city of Morogoro wayyy down below.

I was struggling with these mountains, just for recreation. Most people who live out here have farms on the steep mountain faces. Can you imagine??

I went with a great group of people, including my friend Neil, and a bunch of his friends who I just met on the trip (Chrissy, Ryan, and our Lithuanian friend Vithas). We all had such a great time, and managed to make it through nearly 9 hours of hiking! 

A Maasai guide joined us for the hike. He works with this organization that provides tours through the mountains and uses a chunk of the tour fees for improving the quality of life for local communities. We passed over a bridge that they built to help the mountain people get to the only hospital in the area, so that was pretty cool. It was nice to hear the history of this area and some cultural tidbits about the villages we were walking through. 
I'm really glad our guide was there to help us out. There's no way I would've ever found my way up to our destination, which was called Morningside. 

I'm not really sure why this was our destination, but it was a nice place to chill out for a few minutes and enjoy the view. 

We passed by the first church built in this area called Morogoro. The Germans built it here in 1913. They still hold services here, though there aren't many people who practice. 90% of the villagers up on the mountain are Muslims. 

I was freaking out at the thought of spiders on this hike, though we didn't come across any. It rained the day before, so I guess that means we're less likely to come across spiders. Our guide said there's one bad spider in this area, but it doesn't like the rain, so we don't have to worry. Just to let you know, this 'bad spider' is actually called the "Bull Spider" because it grows to about the size of your palm and has HORNS! A spider with horns.... was he kidding?! That sounds atrocious. 

We came across some really cool bugs along the way. The butterflies were beautiful, but my favorite colorful bugs were these big grasshoppers. 

Not sure if the photo really captures the size of these things. They were about the length and thickness of my thumb. Apparently it's grasshopper season, so they were all over the place, jumping around, jumping on my clothes, jumping off the cliffs... nbd. 

Then we came to my favorite bug, only because I recognized them from Discovery Channel or Animal Planet or something. Siafu is the local name for the Driver Ant. These things are awful. They travel in colonies with millions upon millions of ants. They ravage anything in their course. Their bite is supposedly horribly painful and they have been known to devour anything from small rodents to babies and even goats.  This was so cool! Until my guide said casually, "oh hey, Christina, there's one on your pants!"

Don't worry, I survived.

On the way down, we stopped by a waterfall. It was so beautiful.

I'll only include this last picture so you can get a good laugh at my horrendous farmer's tan. This is the first time my shoulders have been exposed in Tanzania!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Mzungu, I love you!

"How are you?"

This is probably the most common conversation I ever have with strangers as I quickly walk past them. I get a good laugh out of it every single time. In Swahili, there's no distinction between like and love, so if someone is trying to say they like you or just want to talk to you, it comes out as true love. It's doing great things for my ego.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

So many projects!

Busy busy busy...

This year I was selected to represent Rotaract as the Director of Community Service for the Rotaract Club of Kwanza. This would be significantly easier if I was more accustomed to the way things work here in Tanzania. For example, nothing can be accomplished unless you are physically present to oversee something. Phone calls? Emails? No way. Hop on a bus and talk to someone in person before they believe you're legit. Needless to say, getting things done takes a lot more time and effort than I'm used to. It's nice that you get a much more personal experience with partners though.

There are a few major projects that I'll be responsible for this year. The first is my absolute favorite--the Mwenge Teaching Project. Every evening (mon-fri) I go to Mwenge to teach English to a group of mostly woodcarvers. Lately I've been working with the reading and writing group. Their ability to speak English is varied, but some cannot even recognize the letter A. Every day we've been going over a different letter, writing it over and over, and learning new words that start with each letter. By the end of class, each student makes a sentence with one of the new words they have learned. If anyone has suggestions on how to teach adult students to read and write, I'd love to hear them! Please!! They all love the class, but I'm not sure how to give them the best education possible. A few improvements for the class from Rotaract will be additional teachers, sustainable lighting (because the power is cut for rationing every other day), books, notebooks, chalk, and consultation from a University professor on how to improve our teaching methods. I'll be responsible for the budget and figuring out how to allocate some money that has been set aside. ugh. Budgets are the worst. But I love my students. They have become my best friends here.

The second program is to visit three orphanages around Dar es Salaam. Playing with the kids is fantastic, and they get so excited to have visitors. A large part of this program is also to raise funds for supplies. With every visit, we deliver boxes full of books, notebooks, pens, medical supplies, and biscuits, so there is a ton of prep work before we get to the fun stuff.

The biggest project I'll be working on with Rotaract this year has already started--the Blood Donation Project. We are hoping for a huge turnout. Statistics show that though the need for blood in hospitals is extremely high, only about 24% of the needed amount is donated. This leaves people in a fight for blood when they are sick or injured. From what I've heard, the system for receiving blood is not need-based, but entirely dependent on bribing the authorities. Since 2007, the Rotaract Clubs of Dar es Salaam have been trying to even the playing field by hosting the largest Blood Drive in Tanzania. This year, it will be bigger and better than ever! We are expanding to five locations throughout the city for a three day program filled with blood, blood, and more blood. It just so happens that this event kicks off on the greatest day of the year (if you remember from my last post). That's right, my birthday! So instead of presents this year, I'm asking all my friends for their blood! Nothing weird about that statement.

This project is going to be HUGE! We have already started approaching the biggest companies in Tanzania for sponsorships because our budget is about $18,000. My biggest concern is that people in Tanzania are extremely hesitant to give blood. It's not something that is taught as a positive experience, so they are all afraid, don't understand, or think it is going to be sold to the wrong people and not given to those in need. So we are luring them in with a free tshirt, water, soda, and biscuits. I hope this works!

To put your mind at ease about the corruption, I can assure you that all the blood collected by Rotaract is going to the right place. It will be donated specifically to the Ocean Road Cancer Institute's Children's Cancer Ward. We know a doctor who is going to manage the distribution personally.

I'm really excited for all these projects. You're probably all thinking "Whatever, Christina, you get excited about everything..." But this time is different. I know there will be a ton of frustrations, small failures, and struggles along the way, but I think ultimately they will all be meaningful in the community. I'm glad to be a part of them. But mostly nervous, because it's all up to me. Director of Community Service?? So much pressure!