Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Almost Done

My final day in Africa is November 23rd. I am so excited to finally go back to the Western world. Thus, the blog is almost done. I will try to get Robyn to post some thoughts. Then, maybe I will too. I need some time to gain a better perspective though. By the time I get on the airplane, I will have been here one day longer than 10 months. Simply put, the longest, toughest, most frustrating months of my life. But, I lived through it. (Knocking on wood) I have avoided any major illnesses or any seriously uncomfortable situations. I paid no bribes. I only had to jump out of a moving bus plummeting down a mountain with no brakes once.

I am really anxious to see everybody. I can't wait to eat a medium rare steak, have soft serve ice cream, and watch Comedy Central.

I am on my way back home!!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

2008 Election

It is 1:30 AM in Tanzania. I am sitting in my house staring at the TV, wishing I were in the United States for this historical occasion. This could be a true turning point for America. I took a three-hour nap so I could stay up late to watch the election results. It is tough because TZ is eight hours in front of the Eastern Time zone. Staying up through the night is the only way to watch the election results as they come in. I would have a tough time sleeping anyway since I am so excited.

I am mainly watching CNN, but am switching to Aljazeera every so often (actually a really good news organization, regardless of the demonization of the network in the States). A storm just passed through, cutting off the satellite feed. All I had was black screen. It only lasted about 15 minutes, but I really realized how far away I am. I wish I were back in America, sharing in this experience with my family and friends. We are witnessing a special moment in history

There is one thing that people back in the States will not be able to appreciate-how invested the rest of the world is in this election. They are truly excited at the possibility that Barack will win. I know the US media has pointed out on ocassion that Barack would win a global election by a landslide, but it really amazing how much people are drawn to him. They see him as a shining example of change. He is a force. If elected, the view of the America is instantly elevated a majority of the world. This is a good thing--a great thing coming off eight years of disillusionment with Bush/Cheney.

This makes me proud to be an America. The world is involved and invested with the election. I am proud that there is a real possibility that we will elect a black man for the POTUS. This is an extremely powerful example of the American dream, and the world is watching. They are hoping that this happens, because it signals that anything is possible. It signals that America is sorry and apologizing for Bush. That America is ready to engage the world again. Electing Barack is the key to repairing our image around the globe. God, I hope he wins.

5:38 AM Obama just was projected to win Ohio!!!! He now has 194 electoral votes, with California worth 55, Obama only needs 21 more votes. We are so close to a historical moment! I am breathing much, much easier.

7:00 AM CNN just called it for Barack!! A New Day!!!! I cried.

7:30ish AM A thunderstorm hit Bagamoyo and knocked out the satellite feed again, right in the middle of McCain’s concession speech. I missed Barack’s speech. I am sad that I couldn’t see the crowd’s response when he first walked out onto the stage. I am sure it was electric.

So I walked into work in the pouring rain with the biggest smile on my face, grinning like an absolute fool. All my co-workers were very happy with what happened. When they saw me, they all got big grins on their faces, shook my hand and congratulated me. I have never felt prouder to be an American than at this time—being congratulated by Tanzanians that we Americans stepped up and made the right choice or our nations' future. God Bless the USA!!!

Monday, October 13, 2008

That's How We Dhow It.

I had fun yesterday. Why, you might ask? Well, it is because I went sailing in a dhow. A dhow is a traditional coastal Tanzanian boat used for fishing and for transport of people and goods to and from Zanzibar, which is about 3 to 4 hours from Bagamoyo with a good wind. The dhow we went out on was probably identical to the ships that have sailed the waters of the Indian Ocean for past couple of centuries. The only modern conveniences on our boat were the nylon ropes, the plastic water containers and the bucket used to bail out the steady flow of seawater from the bottom of the boat. Everything else on this boat was old school--like 1800's old school.

We decided to head out on a dhow earlier in the week, because as inhabitants of Bagamoyo, it would be disgraceful to never have ridden in one. I texted a co-worker asked him if he could hook us up. My friend seems to know everything and everybody you would ever need to know in Bagamoyo, so within 30 minutes, he had deposited a semi-high dhow captain on my doorstep. He casually said, “[Insert name here] is a dhow captain. He will take you out. He said 80 dollars, but you can deal with him. Good-bye.” Ummm...okay. Luckily, the bargaining went well. Usually the process starts off with him offering a price anywhere from 2 to 5 times the “correct” price, and then you spend the next five to ten minutes talking about how poor he is and why he thinks I crap 200 dollars worth of gold bullion after every meal. Not this time though. I said firmly, “We are not paying 80 dollars. We will pay you 50,000 TZ shillings. You know that is good money.” He stared at me glassy-eyed and slowly said, “Okay”. Great. It is wonderful bargaining with a high-on, he was so happy. I should have offered him ten thousand and Snickers bar (sadly, I had no Snickers bar). We then spent the next ten minutes agreeing to meet him in three hours, at 1 PM.

To my “surprise” he showed up an hour early, but was content to hang out with our guard on the swing. When 1 rolled around we headed down to the fish market to where all the dhows were parked. As they didn’t have a dingy to pick us up (how rude!!),so we swam out to the boat. After getting dragged aboard, we met the crew of this love boat. It was four young gentlemen: the captain, a dude wearing only spandex shorts, a red-shirted dude, and a guy I named “the hashish guy” (who appeared to have just walked out of a opium den and/or hash house). Awesome. So they then proceeded to run around the boat moving sandbags, pulling on ropes and shouting while trying to get the sail up and get the boat moving. It took so long and looked so disorganized that I could have sworn they were on something. They finally hoisted the sail and off we went. To reward themselves for a job well done, the red-shirted dude (with soon to be matching red-eyes) and Mr. Hashish decided to fire one up—or three--over the next two hours. I didn’t think it was possible to hot box a dhow, but they gave it their best effort. I figured that they functioned moderately well when baked to high heaven, as I am sure that they didn’t spend their money on their wardrobe or going to the opera. Reassuringly, shore was only a mile away if we capsized, so we relaxed into the ride.

The trip was pleasant and uneventful. I was trying to imagine what the shoreline would have looked like over 130 years ago when Morton Stanley was coming over from Zanzibar on his quest to find Dr. David Livingstone. It was hard to do, not because the coast has been developed, but because nearly all the trees along the coast have been cut down (likely for firewood). Ahh well, it was nice to be out on the ocean, smelling the breeze and enjoying the views.

After making a big loop around the area, we pulled back into port in one piece. Even though I hadn’t raised I finger during the entire trip, I was ready for a nap. We thanked the crew, jumped off the boat into the ocean and swam back to shore. Overall, not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Friday, September 26, 2008


Being over in Africa has deprived me of most American sports. Contrary of what Americans think, the rest of the world really doesn't care about our sports--it likes soccer, lots and lots of soccer-with a bit of rugby and cricket thrown in for good measure. So our house Bagamoyo has a TV, and this TV is hooked up to satellite service. Luckily we have ESPN, but it is the foreign/South African version. For some reason, the Africans seem to love fishing, hunting, indy and stock-car racing, drag racing, soccer, pool, and poker as they are the majority of programing. I mean seriously, I have to watch drag-racing over basketball? Really?Though, on special occasions, they show some pro baseball and pro football.

To get my fix of football (don't care too much about baseball), I can watch both Sunday and Monday night games. But since I am not going to tune in a 3:00AM to watch it live, I have the pleasure of watching it tape delayed at 5 PM the following day. So Monday Night Football now becomes Tuesday Night Football. The only draw back is deftly avoiding the score on the internet all Tuesday. Ahh well, I think I can make the sacrifice for a small piece of Americana. I only wish that I could watch it with a good old American beer like Budweiser-oh wait-nevermind, they Belgian now. Okay, I guess a Kili or a Tusker will do just fine. Pass the unsalted Cassava chips please!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Getting Old

When reading the title of this blog entry, you might have though it would be about getting old in Africa; after all, Robyn did just turn 30! Well, as much as I would like to talk about how many more wrinkles or gray hairs I have since moving to Africa, this blog is about something else. This "something else" is the word Muzungu, or more accurately, the use of Muzungu directed towards me. It is getting really, REALLY old.

The word means something like "white person" and is usually not outwardly hostile or derogatory, which is the only good thing about this word. When almost every individual under 16 years old calls out, “Muzungu! Muzungu!” when you walk by, the novelty wears off—fast. They say it with a smile on their faces, they shout it out from 100 yards away, and they say it behind my back. I think it is one of the first words they learn (I am not kidding). It would be understandable if the Tanzanians in Bagamoyo or Dar rarely saw white people, but this is simply not the case. I didn’t realize that we (white people) were that interesting as to warrant the announcing of our presence so that everyone in the nearby vicinity knows that a white person is walking through the town.

I have been trying to think of a way to describe this experience to you all. It is not like getting called “nerd” or “jock” or “cracker”—those are too negative. It is more like every young person (and a few adults) you walk by at the mall, super market, or restaurant calls out your home state, “Michigan” or “California”. It is not offensive, you don’t feel threatened, and when little kids say it, it is even kind of cute. But imagine that being your identifier to everybody in town for the rest of life. And this nickname is not your own; everybody shouts it out towards all your friends and family. Over time, it moves from being funny to being really annoying.

I recently read a blog entry from my cousin Jon who is a Peace Corp worker in Mali, where he writes that he gets called “taubab” frequently, so it appears that this phenomenon is not unique to Tanzania. That’s nice. Oh well, I am not going to change the culture, so guess I just have to grin and bear it for now. However, I am beginning to learn new ways to respond, as ignoring it just makes them shout it louder. Nothing mean or derogatory, but I say it with enough fake enthusiasm and sarcasm that that the older ones get the message that I don’t appreciate the word. Regardless, life continues to be good here in Bagamoyo, though it is about time for another adventure.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Fresh Prince of Bagamoyo

Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith stopped by the lab today. Will is going to be a spokesperson for Malaria No More, an international non-profit to fight malaria through distribution of mosquito bed nets and other activities. They brought them here for a briefing about malaria and to get some video footage before they head off on their holiday. So Brandt and I were just sitting out on the porch with our laptops, they walked out to admire our ocean view and were whisked off for their hospital tour. We played it cool so we didn't talk to them. Although I'm kind of regretting that now. It's not everyday that you get to meet Will Smith in Tanzania. Oh well. It was still better than any celeb sighting I ever had in the 2.5 years I was in Santa Barbara. The IHI communication guy got some nice photos- in spite of the insistence of Will's entourage that no photos were to be taken. Hopefully Brandt will be able to get his hands on one or two eventually.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

This blog has been hijacked! (actually, hijasoned)

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