Monday, July 16, 2007

Here, There, Everywhere!

July 15, 2007- Lunch with the Namkessa’s

This was the weekend of following through on some things that I have been wanting to do for a while. Yesterday I went to the market and today I took Daniel’s whole family out to lunch! After a quick stop in town to buy a small gift for Daniel’s son, Joseph drove me to Daniel’s house so we could pick up his family. We really packed ourselves in there; Daniel and his son, little Joseph, in the front, and then myself, his brother Freddy, his sister, and his wife Emily in the back. So cozy! Little Joseph really likes cars so he was having a blast in the front, and at one point he was even playing with the shifter when big Joseph wasn’t looking!

We went to the AICC (Arusha International Conference Center) Club which had a beautiful garden for us to dine in, and a cute little playground in the back where we all took turns taking little Joseph to play. On the other side of the parking lot it also had a row of tennis courts where two guys had gotten into a heated match. Even though it was called a “club” it was certainly not a “country club” in any sense of the word. However, I’m sure it does cater a bit more to the middle and upper class.

Anyway, I had been telling Daniel for a while that I wanted to take his family out so I’m glad I finally got the opportunity to do it! We had two large platters of kuku choma, chips, and a whole huge tilapia! I didn’t think we would be able to finish but the guys really pulled through and finished everything off. Daniel pronounced himself the official winner of lunch which nobody could dispute.

Little Joseph was quite the entertainer throughout the meal. He would get up and run around, then cry a little, then get up and run around some more. He’s fascinated by cell phones, so whenever somebody’s phone would ring he would go chasing after them. When it was my turn to take him on the playground we played on the swings which he loved! The smile that washed over his face when I pushed him on the swing reminded me so much of my cousin Eli’s face when you rock him on our hammock. Something about that swinging motion just amazes those kids!

After lunch we headed into town because another student from MIT had arrived at the airport and was on the shuttle to town. Christina will be a senior in the fall, and she’s traveling pretty much all over the world to visit other students working on Public Service Center sponsored fellowships. Her plan is to photograph and document our work so it can be more effectively shared with our campus and community at school, and also to raise more awareness about the problems people face in these countries, what we’re doing to help them, and how we can do even more to help. It was nice to have some female company so we spent the rest of the afternoon chatting about school, our summer projects, and of course boys.

Rosemary, my Kenyan neighbor, had us over for tea which is always fun. She’s just such a bubbly woman! She’s a single mother and her only son is at school in the States so I think she enjoys the company too! As delicious as her tea is, it wasn’t quite enough to fill us up so we went out for dinner. Christina had just come from Uganda where apparently they don’t eat a lot of meat, so Joseph and I decided to take her out for kuku choma, even though we had just eaten it for lunch. Apparently we can never get tired of it!

July 14, 2007- Kwenda Sokoni (Going to the Market)

Last Wednesday I wrote about the chaos of finding a ride home because of the large market that was being held a few stops up from our workshop. The market is also held on Saturday, so I decided that I had to see the place where all the women were going with their large baskets of bananas and pineapples. What a sight it was! The place was mobbed and people were selling anything and everything. Those selling the same item tend to cluster together, so first I passed the women selling cloth, then the tomato salesmen, the potato guys, the women with oranges and avocados, and so on. The market is held in Tengeru which is where Joseph’s family lives, and his mother insisted on accompanying me to the market. I don’t think they get many “visitors” if any, so it was pretty nice to have an official escort!

I watched as my hosts carefully selected maize, potatoes, carrots, and tomatoes. Choosing the best, tastiest, healthiest vegetables seems to be an artform, with the buyer carefully holding each item before tossing it in their basket. I tried to ask what they were looking for when they were weighing the item in their hand, but apparently it’s not a skill that can be taught!

I bought a beautiful piece of kanga, which is a cloth that women wear here usually as a wrap, and it has a small proverb in Swahili along the sides. From the English translation they gave me, mine says something about peace on Earth. Before leaving the market Joseph’s mother said she had some business to take care of, so we sat outside and had some sodas while she scurried around. Then she sat in the car and rolled up the window so we couldn’t see what she was doing. Hmmmm. What can mama be up to? At the end of the day when we drove her back to her house, she plopped a small package wrapped in silver cellophane on my lap. I tried to tell her that I really couldn’t accept a gift and that she didn’t need to get me anything but she wouldn’t hear it and insisted that I wait until I reach home to open it. So I followed her wishes and when I arrived at my apartment I opened my package to find a beautiful set of traditional Tanzanian clothing! The blue and purple cloth has an incredible white design along the hem and it fits me as though it had been specially made just for me. I don’t know how she did it!

Before going back to town we stopped at the Mountain Village, where Joseph’s father works. We were waiting for him to return from a tour so we sat outside in a beautiful garden overlooking a large lake. The chairs in the garden were absolutely gorgeous. They had been designed so that from the sides they look like giraffes. When I told Joseph how much I liked them he said, “oh thank you. I made them.” Haha very funny. Good joke. After 10 minutes of me telling them I didn’t believe him, one of the staff at the hotel confirmed that Joseph really did make those chairs! Right now I’m trying to figure out how I can bring one back because they really are beautiful.

I was planning to meet up with some friends from work for dinner but I was so exhausted from my long day at the market that I passed out when I came home and didn’t wake up until the next morning!

July 13, 2007- On Again Off Again

The internet at Mobility Care has been out for almost two months, so I was really excited on the way to work this morning when Daniel announced that it was back up! He informed me that the technician had fixed it just before lunch yesterday, and he had spent the rest of the day sending e-mails until it was time to go home! I managed to squeeze in some quality time catching up on my correspondence this morning until it went out again. Apparently it tends to be “on again-off again” so everybody is sure it will be back soon.

There are two dogs that always walk around the property who were both very, very pregnant the last time I checked. Well of course the one day I go to Moshi they both had their babies! So the Mobility Care family now includes 16 tiny, incredibly cute puppies! We decided that maybe we can use them as a promotion, like “buy 5 wheelchairs, get a free puppy!” What do you think?

Word seemed to spread quickly that the internet was “working” at our workshop so the afternoon brought us many visitors. Toward the end of the day Emmanuel, one of the occupational therapists from Sibusiso, stopped by. A few weeks ago we had tried to make plans to go to dinner together but it didn’t work out, and today Emma wanted to redeem himself. Mr. Daniel is a huge fan of pork so after he and Emma debated for some time about the best place to go, we set off for The New Bar. Apparently it’s so new that they haven’t given it a real name yet! The pork was served on a communal platter (as always) and was mixed with vegetables. Unfortunately I picked up what I thought was a piece of potato, but which my mouth confirmed to be a large piece of fat. Mmmmm. Other than that the meal was quite tasty!

July 12, 2007- Moshi!

This morning I set off for Moshi to visit Abdullah and the guys at KCMC. My new apartment is too far to walk to the bus stand, so I took the daladala to town. When I got off I started heading for the bus stand and an older gentleman who had been on my daladala caught up and was walking with me. He was very excited to see that I knew where I was going without taking out the “travelers bible” which I deduced to be the Lonely Planet guidebook. He was very sweet and even helped me to find a good shuttle that got me there in 90 minutes, as opposed to my usual 2+ hours.

It was nice to be back in Moshi at KCMC because it had been too long since I had last visited—which all the guys let me know! “Why have you been lost for so long?” they wanted to know. It was drizzling when I got there, so we quickly packed into Abdullah’s car and headed off to find Peter, a wheelchair user who would be the next to test our prototype. Luckily Abdullah had four wheel drive because it was a crazy ride up the side of a mountain, on a road that quickly turned to mud. To my untrained eye all the roads and “driveway” looked the same, so I’m amazing that we managed to find Peter’s house. We did have to ask a few people for directions, which they usually answered with something like “turn left at the banana trees up there” or “go back to that big pothole and turn right!”

Peter leaves 10+km from town, and he has to push himself there often. The daladala conductors usually refuse to take him because of his wheelchair, and now when the roads are muddy they don’t even come up near where he lives. Peter was really an inspiration. When the front wheels on the hospital wheelchair he was given wore out after a few months he made his own from some spare wood. Now he has happy to be using a three-wheeler from KCMC which he even plays wheelchair tennis in! I told him that next time I come to Tanzania I’ll bring my racket and we can play which he’s looking forward to. The area around his house is pretty crazy, so it should provide an awesome environment to test our prototype.

As we were talking with Peter and explaining our prototype to him a kindergarten class let out and about 15 small children came screaming down the hill from our school. When they saw us they became completely silent, watching my every move. I had some Tootsie Rolls in my bag that Wenxian had left here, so I scrounged up enough and gave one to each of them. I demonstrated how to open the wrapper and eat the candy, after which all the children wanted me to open theirs. It was so cute! I’ll be going back next Thursday to talk with Peter and gather his feedback on our chair (and I’ll have to remember to pack some more candies for my new friends!)

On the drive back to KCMC we got into a really interesting conversation about “bride prices.” Here it is custom for the man to give something to the family of his wife-to-be. Usually the man gives an assortment of cows and goats, although in some tribes they also give blankets and some other small animals. According to Abdullah I would be worth at least 20 cows, which I took to be a very nice compliment! All in all, I’m not too sure how I feel about this custom. From what they’ve explained to me, it helps to unite the family of the groom with that of the bride because they have shared something very special. They were very interested that in my country the man doesn’t pay anything for his wife, and I think they all want to find wives from America now! At one point the conversation was so funny that Abdullah had to pull over to the side of the road because he was laughing too hard to drive! My trips to Moshi always provide me with a good abdominal workout.

After work Shirley and I treated the guys to some nyama choma for lunch, which was tasty as always. But I nearly choked on my food I was laughing so hard at one point! Abdullah was very happy that we were enjoying ourselves so much in his country, and he told Shirley he hoped she would come back again soon. When I asked him why he wasn’t asking me to come back he said, “I don’t have to ask you to come because I know you will be coming back very soon! But you know I will be very happy for you to come.” He went on to say that he would be most happy if I became his sister-in-law. (Everybody here refers to their fellow citizens as brothers and sisters, so I suppose if you marry here you then have thousands of sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law!)

We went to KASI after our late lunch to see how everybody was doing there. Unfortunately Dr. Nyamubi was home sick but I chatted with him briefly on the phone and we have plans to meet up soon. He also told me that he has seen my blog so if you’re reading this now, I hope you feel better soon!!! KASI is an amazing organization and I’m really excited to see how we can get involved.

I had been asking Abdullah when I could meet his wife so I was pleasantly surprised when she was there at KASI! Fatima is the cutest woman and so sweet! When I told her that I had heard a lot about her she said, “Even me, I have heard things about you!” Abdullah likes to make jokes about having multiple wives but he really just does it for a laugh. He’s very devoted to his wife and even called her “my little angel.” Awwwww! Next week she wants to teach me how to cook some Tanzanian dishes, because you know, obviously I’ll never find a husband if I don’t know how to cook good ugali. This place charms me even more each day!

Albert walked me to the bus stand and made sure I got on a good shuttle. The big bus stands are always packed with vendors, walking around with all sorts of things that they try to sell you through your window while you wait for your bus to leave. I helped myself to some “Glucose Biscuits- Boost Your Energy” and a newspaper, but sadly I had to turn down the man selling soap, the one with radios, and another who was selling socks. Ironically the biscuits didn’t boost my energy at all—rather, I fell asleep halfway through the trip. Although that might have been due to the exceptional heat being produced from all the bodies packed closely together.

It had been quite hot in Moshi once it stopped raining, so at first I didn’t mind the cold that greeted me back in Arusha. But when Joseph and I went out for dinner later that night it was really chilly! It’s very charming to sit outside under the beautiful thatched roofs at these typical Tanzanian restaurants, but sometimes I find that when the waiter comes around with the hot water to wash our hands, I want to ask him to pour it all over me so I can warm up! I don’t know how I’m going to survive the winter in Boston this year!

July 11, 2007- Lots of Wageni (Visitors)

I was feeling very rested after my relaxing trip to Zanzibar and I was excited to get back to work at Mobility Care today. Everybody wanted to hear about my trip so I regaled them with stories while we worked. Apparently I can be quite the storyteller!

We had so many visitors today! First was Bingo, or Mr. Beads as I like to call him. I had visited him in his hometown of Monduli a few weeks ago where he makes the most amazing things with beads. He had finished my things and was very happy to deliver them today. The blouse he made me is so gorgeous! I put it on, along with the headwrap he made from the same fabric and everybody was so excited! They started calling me “mama Afrika” which means “African woman.” I was even paraded around the property in my new apparel so everybody around could see! Bingo is being sponsored for a wheelchair, so after the excitement over my new clothing settled down, we measured him for his chair.

Daniel and I continued to work on the prototype of our folding tray. I was worried that it was becoming too intricate and difficult to produce but Daniel assured me that everything was simple and there was “no problem”. Then again, the Tanzanians are very fond of that expression, with at least a dozen ways to say no problem, no worries, or some variety of the sort.

A short while later we had two more visitors! Zachariah—one of our test users—showed up with Freddy, Daniel’s younger brother. Zachariah was there to be measured for a wheelchair and Freddy had come to show him the way, and also to visit us! He had his heart set on going to medical school but has been unable to find a good sponsor, so he has decided to go to the Monduli Teacher’s College to become a science teacher. Then he can save up the money he needs and pay his own way through medical school here. He would really make a fantastic teacher because he’s so passionate about the material. I wish him the best of luck!

Just as were leaving work at the end of the day, a school bus from the School of St. Jude got lost around Mobility Care. After helping them out, they offered to give us a ride to town. It was quite a sight, all of these adults packed onto this little school bus!

A few weeks ago when I was coming back from Nairobi I wrote about how I made two very nice friends, both working for the United Nations Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda here in Arusha. When I was on the beach in Zanzibar this weekend Rosemary called to see how I was doing. I explained that I had been very busy because I just moved to a new apartment and after a very funny exchange we figured out that not only do we live in the same apartment, we live right across the hall! At first she didn’t believe me and wanted to knock on my door but I explained that I wasn’t there because I was in Zanzibar, but would come and visit as soon as I got back.

So tonight I went across the hall and spent a lovely time chatting with Rosemary, and enjoying some delicious tea that she had prepared for us. She has a son who is about my age who just finished high school in the states, and will be starting college in the fall. He must be pretty smart because he’s majoring in aeronautical engineering! She’s been living in her apartment for almost 3 years now so it looks much more homey than mine, and it was a lot of fun to chat with her about anything and everything. At one point we even played dress-up in her closet because I was interested to learn more about East African clothing. She’s thinking about maybe coming to work in New York after the Tribunal finishes up next year so I’ll have to return the favor and have her over for tea in Waccabuc if she does!


Dad said...

Love the details--keep 'em coming! And pictures, please--especially of the chairs you described. Maybe we need a container full of them as we could use--and sell--them in your East African restaurant! Who needs Pier 1? And finally a good restaurant in Boston!

JKM said...

So cool...

ditto on the pictures of Joseph's chairs. I love the story about the market and Joseph's mom buying you a gift. So sweet!

chelle said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
chelle said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.