Thursday, June 14, 2007

Apparently my hair looks like gold?

June 13, 2007- Another Visit to Moshi

This morning we set off for Moshi to visit Abdullah and his workshop at KCMC. Wenxian (the other student from MIT) and I were starving when we arrived, so we quickly stopped for breakfast. I tried mtori, which is kind of like a banana porridge with chunks of meat. Everybody else at the place was eating it so it seemed like it must be good, but I guess my stomach just wasn’t ready for meat so early in the morning!

The first prototype of our folding design had just been finished, so we were in Moshi to deliver the chair to Abdullah’s friend who would be the first to test it out for us. Abdullah has a really cool car that is outfitted so he can control everything with his hands because his disability does not allow him to use his legs anymore. I’m not sure how he got it, but he said that somebody helped him order it from Japan (hint Alex!) We packed Abdullah’s wheelchair and our own prototype into his car and headed off to the small village where his friend lives.

When I asked him how far it was to the village he just kind of laughed. It wasn’t the distance so much as the condition of the road that made it entertaining! I’m not even sure you could call it a road at some points because some parts were entirely covered in grass. Luckily it hasn’t rained in a few days so there wasn’t much mud, but the car had such a thick layer of dust on it by the end that it actually looked like it had been painted brown. We joked about making a video game that would be about driving on these Tanzanian roads. Forget Cruising World or Grand Theft Auto, try navigating the giant potholes and large rocks here!

The man testing our chair this week is named Richard and he seems like the perfect man for the job. He lives in a very rural area, as you can imagine from the description of the road to his house, and uses his wheelchair to travel at least 5 kilometers each day. He even pushes himself all the way to town sometimes which is over 10 kilometers each way! I had the opportunity to sit down and ask him many questions about his wheelchair usage (while Abdullah translated) which provided some great information. He’ll be using our chair for a week and then we’ll be back next Wendesday to get his feedback. And of course the atmosphere wouldn’t be complete without pigs and chickens running around behind us.

On the way back to town Abdullah surprised us by stopping for us to visit another friend of his who uses both a wheelchair and a tricycle. It was really interesting to talk to him and find out what he likes and dislikes about each. The tricycle is good for going into town because it is easier to propel, but it is really quite big so he must use the wheelchair when he works inside. He said that if a folding three-wheeler was available he would definitely want one, because then he would be able to take longer trips by folding his chair and putting it on the bus. Yay!

Abdullah is really such a great guy. When he visited MIT last semester I had the chance to meet with him one-on-one and I remember him being really shy and quiet. But now that we’re here in Tanzania on his home turf he’s really in his element, cracking jokes left and right! He’s in the process of finding a bigger space to move his workshop to because currently they are too cramped, and he told me that the new workshop will have two offices, one for himself and one for MIT! The only criteria was that I have to come back and help him decorate it. I think I can handle that!

The rest of Abdullah’s guys (Albert, Abdallah, and Samson) are also a ton of fun. We all went out for a drink after they finished work, but Abdullah had to leave early because he’s taking a class that he needs to qualify for admission to university—he’s hoping to start studying for his bachelor’s degree next year! They all wanted to know when I would be back again and I assured them I would be back next week. They really are so sweet! Everybody loves when I try to speak Swahili, so hopefully by next week I’ll have learned a few new words to impress them with.

The bus ride back to Arusha was, as always, an adventure. I was seated in the last row, right on top of the back wheels, so every time we went over a bump I was thrown in the air. I swear I flew clear out of the seat several times!

June 12, 2007

Quote of the day: “You’re hair, it looks like gold.” Are we looking at the same head of hair? Seriously? I think my hair is starting to get a big head from all these compliments haha.

I had promised my friends at Mobility Care that I would make them peanut butter and jelly sandwiches one day, because they wanted to know what real American food was like. Today was our day! When we got off the dalla-dalla the Supa Bread truck was parked just across the street so I bought the biggest loaf of bread they had and we headed down the road to work.

I described all the intricacies of peanut butter and jelly that I could think of-- you can do a simple sandwich with just two pieces of bread, of if you’re like my brother you can use three and make a triple decker! If you’re packing the sandwich and are worried about it getting soggy, put peanut butter on both pieces of bread so the jelly can’t soak through. I could go on for quite some time! Daniel was my first victim to try the pb&j and he loved it! Next was Agnes who described it as “so delicious” and wanted to know more about sandwiches in general. “How many kinds do you have? Maybe 10?” Ah, if only I could take her to an American deli! The list of sandwiches is infinite I think.

Similar to the way an alcoholic builds up a tolerance to alcohol, I think I’ve built up a peanut butter and jelly tolerance. Everyone else was very full after one sandwich, but I swear I could have eaten at least two more! It must be because I’ve eaten so many in my lifetime. Mmmmmm.

The fabric for our chair hadn’t arrived back from the tailor because apparently she is sick, so this morning I decided to use my extra time to make a big to-do list. I took my notebook and sat outside in the sunshine, looking out on the huge banana trees and mango trees that enclose our little haven. It really is a beautiful place. The main part of Arusha is constantly buzzing with people and always seems busy, but 20 minutes on the dalla-dalla and a nice walk down a rutted mud road takes you to the wonderful, secluded workshop where I spend my weekdays from 8:30 to 5:30.

The three-wheeled wheelchair is advantageous because it’s kinematically constrained with the ground at all times—that is, it always touches the ground at all three points, whereas a four-wheeler can wobble back and forth like those desks at school that never seem to be stable. The road that we walk down to get to Mobility Care from where the dalla-dalla stops is pretty typical of the roads here (with the exception of the Arusha-Moshi and the Arusha-Nairobi roads which are paved) — rocks jut out everywhere and potholes the size of bathtubs sprinkle the landscape. So I decided to see just how well the three-wheeler could cope with this difficult terrain. I took Daniel for a spin in his wheelchair, which turned into me pushing him up the hills and then chasing him down. From my little experiment, I have to say that it really lived up to the challenge. The wide front wheel was able to pass over anything in its way and according to Daniel it was even quite comfortable! Then again he’s used to riding on the dalla-dalla so he might have a different scale for comfort.

On the dalla-dalla back to town this evening I was sitting on the end of one of the benches where I was sandwiched by an elderly gentleman who was standing up. I swear his jacket must have been made out of straw or something because it kept rubbing against my face, leaving a nice abrasion. Oh the dalla-dalla. I know I’ll miss it when I return to the nice spacious buses in Boston.

June 11, 2007- Back to Work

They love my hair here! I don’t know what it is, but everybody here seems to love my hair! And I’m not talking about the hair that I used to spend forever straightening at home. I’m letting it go on its own, and you can imagine how crazy my hair can get given this climate! When I’m finally able to post pictures you’ll know what I’m talking about.

One of the guys at the shop, Beat, had wanted to open a hair salon when he was younger, so he was particularly taken with my hair. When I told him that I had cut it just before I came here he was very upset and wanted to know if I had saved it, and if so could he have some. I love it! At one point I picked a piece of hair that had fallen out off my shoulder and was about to toss it on the ground when Beat stopped me. He took the piece of hair and said in his very careful, deliberate English, that maybe he could keep it so he could remember me after I had gone. From anybody else that would have been kind of creepy, but from him it was absolutely adorable. I assured him that we still had at least 50 more days together, and promised him that I would come back again soon.

We were waiting for the fabric for our wheelchair to come back from the tailor in town, so in the meantime we began brainstorming on the Vodacom project. Our original project for the folding three-wheeled wheelchair is still our main priority, but this Vodacom thing is too cool to pass up. So I’ll just have to do some more work on my own time.

Mobility Care, where I’m working, is just so wonderful. They have really nice black polo shirts with their logo that they wear on special occasions, and they gave me one to keep! So I suppose I’m officially part of the staff now? They also have the most wonderful brochures which I saw for the first time today (I don’t think they hand them out often). It has a beautiful picture of a woman in one of their wheelchairs buying some fruits at the market, and on top it says, “Go and live your life. Nenda na ukafurahie maisha yako.” It’s perfect.


Dad said...

Hey, we love your hair too!
Bananas and mangoes--sounds awesome. How's the coffee from the local trees?
And don't forget to send me the requested Swahili words so I can practice!

jkm said...

Wonder what they'd think of MY hair...industrial strength Brillo?

I MUST see some pics!!!!!! And keep on trucking with that Swahili!

Judd Levingston said...

Tish, this is great fun to read - I had no idea you were such a terrific writer. Your personal experiences and your experiences of the culture in general remind me of some of my own travels in China in 1984 (the year before Alex was born!), when I remember meeting people everywhere, at barber shops when I was getting my hair cut, or at roadside stands when I would get off my bike to get an ice pop. Your mission is a great mission - I love the humanitarian side to your trip. Keep writing!

panthergirl said...

Spinning wheel, anyone?