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!

Friday, September 16, 2011


I was helping one of the guys from my English class set up an email account this week. He's eager to keep in touch with former teachers but doesn't have any idea how to do it. One of the required fields is to enter your birthday. This was the toughest question on the page for my dear friend, Elias. He couldn't remember his birthday! Actually, it seemed like the problem was that no one had ever told him when his birthday was. He had never celebrated with cake, songs, or a party. The weirder part of the conversation came about when Elias admitted that he wasn't even sure what year he was born or how old he is (though he doesn't look a day over 14). I was determined to get to the bottom of this mystery.

I told him he had to call his mother. Because Elias is the oldest of like 6 kids, I wasn't too sure that his mother would even remember.
Problem #1--no cell phone.
Problem #2--no money for phone credit.
Problem #3 (after I lent him my phone with credit)--he doesn't know his mother's phone number!
Problem #4 (after bringing her number 2 days later)--her line didn't work!! probably due to a lack of power in her village for a few days.

Finally we solved the mystery almost a week later. Though Elias thought he was only 18 or 19 years old, his birthday is March 10, 1990. So glad we figured it out, otherwise he would've had to share cake with me on the greatest day of the year--December 2!

Many people in Tanzania have an idea of approximately how old they are, and some know their birthdays, but it's not a big deal here. They only recently started eating cake (American influence, obviously) and they'll receive presents/contributions if they throw a party. Otherwise, it's just another day.

Although birthdays don't really matter in Tanzania, I can't ignore this wonderful day that a very special lady is celebrating in America.


I think this is the first of your birthdays in about 22 years that I won't be able to celebrate with you. Promise I'll be there in spirit. I hope you have a wonderful day! (I updated my blog just for you!!)
Love you!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ferry Accident

I guess something from Tanzania made global headlines today, so I want everyone to know that I'm alright. But there are over 600 people who were not so lucky. Most are still missing... many are washing up on shore or being recovered from fishing boats. This is one of the biggest tragedies Tanzania has had in recent history.

An evening ferry was traveling from Zanzibar to Pemba Island, about 40km offshore in the Indian Ocean. The ferry was carrying cargo and several hundreds of people. So far, reports are saying that the ship was completely overcrowded, so much so that some people refused to board or hopped off last minute because it seemed so unsafe.

I'll be the first to admit that Tanzanian laws aren't always followed. If you've ever heard me talk about the way they squish people into dala dalas like sardines, then it should be no surprise that the same practices are carried out in taxis, bajajs, pick-up trucks, and also ferries.

In my experience, traveling to and from Zanzibar, they always allow more people than seating capacity allows. About half the passengers are sprawled out on the outer decks because there is never enough room for all of them. Unless you pay for first class, it's a mad rush to get on the ferry because everyone knows there's a good chance they'll be stuck outside for hours if they're too slow--rain or shine, rocky waves or calm seas--even when the sun is beating down on a 100+ degree day.

This particular instance is far worse than anything I have seen before. I sincerely hope it serves as a wake-up call to all those who allow such unsafe practices to continue. This is a major tragedy for Tanzania. So far over 100 have been found dead, and it is thought that hundreds are still missing in the water. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011


Every time I come into the office wearing pants, people tell me I look "smart." All the other people working in the office get really excited and tell me how great I look, because I'm wearing pants (as opposed to a skirt). There's one woman in particular who jumps up and hugs me because I look so nice... weird... but it's kinda cute.

Today she told me I look so nice because I'm wearing pants. She would love to wear pants but she's too scared. When I asked why she's afraid of pants, she said, "Well, that's what a man wears! I wouldn't want anyone to think I'm a man!

Conclusion: I look smart today because I can be mistaken for a man.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Tanzanian Wedding

I recently got a call from my long lost Baba... remember my host family? I haven't heard from him since mid-July when he asked for a contribution for a cousin's wedding. Well, the big day finally arrived. The groom, Lawrence, is an engineer!! I think I only met him once or twice. I remember he stayed with the family for a few days back in March. He thinks my name is Kate... oh well. The wedding was awesome. 

I met up with some of the family at my old house, and we drove to an area called Mbezi, where they go to church. There was a huge party going on before we got there. A band of trumpets, trombones, and drums were echoing for miles. Whenever they took a break, you could hear the choir singing and dancing. They looked (and danced) exactly like the women from this video. In fact, this is one of the songs they sang, a very popular Christian song in Tanzania. 

Everyone danced as they processed in. It was a huge celebration--for 3 different couples. Although each wedding party had 3-4 bridesmaids and groomsmen, only the bride, groom, maid of honor, and best man from each marriage sat up by the altar, and everyone else in the pews. 

There was nothing too remarkable about the ceremony. They walk up to the altar, priest says a few words, lift the veil for a very quick peck on the lips, exchange rings, read to each other from the Bible, and then repeat for the other two weddings. The real shocker was the response of everyone in the audience. There are a few moments throughout each ceremony when the audience completely freaks out and starts screaming. I nearly jumped out of my seat the first time it happened. This isn't just normal cheering. It's almost like a dog yelping, but they trill it, and go on for like 25 seconds! It's really impressive, but something I'd never try to replicate. 

As soon as the wedding was over, we all walked out to the front of the church and took a million pictures. People would randomly break out in song and dance. They never really stopped dancing from this moment on. You had to have a bounce in your step for absolutely everything you did from this point forward. We loaded up a giant bus and headed to the beach for more pictures.

Something I was not told beforehand was that the wedding had a very specific color scheme. I'm not sure how this is selected, but every person in the wedding parties, family members, and everyone else in attendance was wearing maroon splashed with either silver or gold. I showed up in bright blue. As if i don't already stand out in Tanzania...

I spent most of my time with my best friend, Neema. Anyone remember her? She's the greatest housegirl/sister anyone could ask her. Still doesn't speak any English, but we make it work. 

I had one other friend for the evening, Deo. He's my brother, though we'd call him a cousin. I was psyched that he was also not wearing maroon. 

My favorite comment from him was "I think I want to get married in the next 5 years. I'm still young now, but I get so bored washing clothes by myself. I want to get married so I have someone to help me wash." With that attitude, I'm sure he'll find a lovely Tanzanian girl... certainly not an American!

We had some major bus issues on the way from the beach to the hotel. First we had to push it to get it started. Already a bad sign... then the driver tried to take a shortcut through the sand, and got stuck. After about 10 minutes of failed attempts, we dug ourselves out of the sand and continued back on the road. One problem--the bus couldn't go any faster than 10mph now! It took us about an hour to get to the reception. No worries though, because nothing ever starts on time. And half the guests were on my bus! 

The reception was a lot of fun. There were a few quirky Tanzanian traditions that I really enjoyed. There was a structured schedule of events, hosted by an MC. It started off with procession of the wedding party. Obviously they all danced in. It was really cute. When the bride and groom finally entered, everyone stood up with their special wedding handkerchiefs. Instead of bubbles or rice, all the guests here get hankies with a nice message from the bride and groom. You have to dance while waving them in the air as the couple processes in. 

Then they introduce all the elders. In Tanzanian families, you don't have aunts and uncles, you just have big fathers/mothers, and little fathers/mothers. So nearly every relative that is older than the bride and groom gets a special introduction and a big cheer from everyone in the room. After that, everyone else is introduced to each other. They do this by a community toast. Everyone stands up with their glass and walks all around the room. You clink glasses with everyone you run into! And of course, you're all dancing while this happens. It's a really cute tradition. 

Then they bring all the families onto the dance floor with tribal dances. This is where things get really cool. As you've probably heard by now, I try really hard to be Tanzanian. Many people don't believe me because I'm so white... but I'm mastering all the important stuff--being late to everything, speaking colloquial swahili, welcoming others to my food, etc. When people call me "Mzungu" ('white girl' or 'foreigner', however you choose to translate it) I've earned the right to snap at them at say "mimi si mzungu! mimi ni mbongo!" which basically translates to "I'm SO Tanzanian!!" They always get a big kick out of it, because they don't expect me to understand them in the first place. Now that I've been to this wedding, and performed the ritual Chagga (tribe) wedding dance, I'm even more Tanzanian than before. There wasn't much to it, but it was so much fun! Everyone ran up onto the dance floor waving their arms around like monkeys. Then they all linked hands and swayed back and forth while continuing around the circle, stomping with the major drum beats. 

There's one really weird tradition that I can't quite understand--presents. Everyone who brought a gift dances up onto the stage with the present, sets it aside on the table and then hugs/shakes hands with the bride and groom. Then they all pose for pictures. It doesn't end there, though. Afterward, all the siblings (including cousins) open each present and run (dancing) onto the stage waving them around in the air. Then they drop them all in front of the bride and groom and pose for more pictures. Weird... but that's not all. Then the parents of the bride and groom are invited onto the stage. They all sit down in a line and even more presents are brought forward. Instead of just dropping the gifts in front, as with the first group, they are literally COVERED in the gifts. Why? I'm not sure... tradition. 

Now, please brace yourself for the BEST part of the evening. It's called Ndafu. Words cannot describe how excited I was for this. In English, Ndafu is "goat cake." 

I imagine it's kinda like a pig roast, but way cooler. Look at that head! This is one of the greatest Chagga traditions. I'm pretty sure no other tribe eats ndafu at weddings... or ever. 

They carve into it like a turkey... or like a cake. And then the couple romantically feeds each other pieces of this goat as it stares them in the face. 

I love Tanzanian weddings! Can't wait for the next one!