Holiday Break: Part 2 (of 3)

24 12 2011

So the last time I posted I ended at the conclusion of Thanksgiving.  After having a wonderful Thanksgiving, I packed my bags and headed back to my village on Sunday afternoon to pick up the 5 boys and my counterpart for the boys conference, Joseph.  After more than a week on the road, I only had enough time to go back to my village, finalize my travel plans for the next day, and change out my dirty clothes for clean ones since doing wash by hand when you’re traveling is a chore I try my best to avoid.  After verifying that all boys would be at the appointed meeting place to catch the bus to town and eventually to Mafinga, I turned in early in order to get some rest for the upcoming week.

 The next morning Joseph and I am set out for the road and met up with all 5 boys.  Amazingly they all showed up at the correct time; needless to say I was pleasantly surprised.  The trip was very similar to when we had our girls conference in Mafinga although this time was a little more stressful for me since my name was on the grant and every cent we budgeted for the conference was deposited into my bank account.  I was running around with about 4 million shillings on me (equivalent of 3000 USD) all in increments of 10,000 shillings.  I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a little like Jason Bourne of the Bourne Trilogy when he escapes the bank after taking all his valuables out of the safe deposit box.  All during the previous week I had been making withdraws from the ATM in 1 million shilling increments since the max allowed per day is 1 million.  I’d take a small sack, sling it over my shoulder, throw on a hat, and then power walk to the ATM.  Upon arriving at the ATM I would adjust my cap down so no one could see my eyes, check behind my shoulder a few times, quickly withdraw the cash, shovel the bricks of cash into my small knapsack, then finally walk away from the ATM like I was making some kind of illegal withdraw.  I only realized how ridiculous I must have looked after the fact but being responsible for that amount of money and walking around with it made me just a tiny bit nervous.  After making my final withdraw, I met back up with Joseph and my 5 students and we headed out on a bus to Mafinga.  For this boys conference, we made the executive decision to change the location.  The girls conference lasted 5 days and so we found a place where we could stay for cheap.  I’m pretty sure I described this particular location when I talked about the girls conference but it was basically a set of glorified barns with bunk beds and moth ridden mattresses thrown in them.  Those were the nice rooms.  For us three guys, who obviously couldn’t sleep in the same area as the girls, got stuck in a not-so glorified broom closet which lacked panes of glass in the windows and thus became quite cold at night.  And by cold I don’t mean Africa cold, a light windbreaker, I mean you wake up and see your breath and frost on the ground.  Anyway, we decided to go a little longer each day and upgrade the living facilities.  We decided on a nunnery just outside Mafinga town which ended up being unimaginably better than our previous accommodations.  Each room was clean, had a clean bed, an actual toilet, and a showerhead.  It was pure paradise.  Well except for the first few days of the conference there was a slight problem with the solar power and somehow the wires got crossed somewhere.  When you attempted to take a shower and touched anything metal, you got a nice little shock to wake you up.  It wasn’t anything harmful but for a group of 40 boys who have probably never seen a shower it most likely made them think that they never wanted to take another shower as long as they lived and would just stick to bucket baths.  However, other than this little glitch, the conference went extremely well.  It ended up being way less stressful in every single facet, I think because it was our groups second go around at a girls/boys conference and we more or less knew what to expect and got the hang of it.  The topics we covered in the boys conference were for the most part similar, with a few differences.  Topics included domestic violence, male/female roles, HIV/AIDS, Male/Female anatomy, decision making, goal setting, and a higher education panel.  My counterpart and I were responsible for doing an introduction to life skills, male/female anatomy, male/female roles, and sports/games.  One of the afternoons after the main part of our sessions, we walked about a mile away to a field to play soccer, Frisbee, and have a water balloon toss.  We also took this opportunity to do a condom demonstration.  This was the only issue with doing our conference at the nunnery was that part of the deal was that we were not, under any circumstances be allowed to do a condom demonstration or encourage the boys to use them.  This is a stance taken by many religious organizations not just here in the Tanzania but all over the world.  This includes my village which is dominated by an Italian mission.  However, it is a fact given the HIV/AIDS rate and the number of girls that leave school because of early pregnancy that the message of “abstinence” as the only option is not working.

 The week went extremely well with all the counterparts doing a fantastic job with their presentations.  One of the highlights was that one of the other volunteer’s counterparts did the session on HIV/AIDS and at the end of the session told all the boys that he was in fact HIV positive.  In this country, with the stigmatisms that come with being infected with HIV/AIDS, this is an extraordinarily brave thing to do and something that I really think made an impression on all the boys.  The other highlights outside of the actual informational part of the conference was movie nights (they loved “Rat Race”), the food that was cooked (they normally only get ugali but were treated to fruit, vegetables, rice, as well as a plethora of other rare delicacies), and the fact that you could sit down when you went to the bathroom (most of them had never used an actual toilet before).

 During the week we also got to meet some of the newest volunteers in the country who were shadowing Katie, another volunteer in Iringa.  It was really cool to meet the newbies and interesting standing on the other side of the fence as the experienced volunteer.  In addition to meeting two of the newest volunteers we had a girl who was a friend of another volunteer come from Peace Corps Kazakhstan.  Apparently Peace Corps Kazakhstan has just recently been shut down for a number of reasons, but a primary one being that the government thought the volunteers were spies for the American government.  You may laugh, but this is something that even I have been asked here.  On more than one occasion I’ve had Tanzanians ask me if I was CIA, so go figure.  In addition to the suspicion of spying, there was a decent amount of violence against volunteers in some parts of the country.  Hearing this makes me so thankful that I live in a country like Tanzania were serious incidents involving volunteers and Tanzanians is extremely rare.  And finally, the cousin of yet another volunteer who was Peace Corps in Senegal and who has been hanging out in Tanzania after she finished her service there came to check out our boys conference.  I guess being a Peace Corps volunteer must run in the family because there is a fairly large number of volunteers here who have parents, siblings, or other relatives who served in the Peace Corps.  Even me, have a 3rd cousin whom served many years ago back in South American and whom I consulted about whether to join the Peace Corps in the first place.  It was really quite interesting to hear from these two volunteers about how big the differences are within Peace Corps depending on what country you are serving in.

 After the successful boys conference, I headed back to Iringa to drop off my boys and bid farewell to Joseph who was going directly home to the Mara region (basically in the Serengeti) for the holidays.  All but two of my boys were returning to the village so after getting them all on their appropriate buses, I decided to stay in town for the 1.5 days before having to leave yet again on another leg of my journey.  My next stop was Morogoro, the town where I did all my pre-service training.  A few weeks before I had been contacted by Peace Corps to coordinate and lead a two day session on how to teach HIV/AIDS and life skills in secondary schools.  I thought it sounded awesome and immediately accepted the offer.  Katie, another volunteer in my area came with me so that we could co-teach the session.  There would be a total of 40 volunteers and 40 counterparts so a group of 80 people was a little much for one person to handle.  In the 1.5 days before leaving, Katie came with her two new volunteers to town.  In addition, other new volunteers who had to pass through Iringa to return to training stopped in town for a night on their way through so I was able to meet about 8 volunteers in all.  To kill the time we showed the new volunteers around town, did a little shopping, played a game of ultimate Frisbee (in which I wore a pair of tights after losing a bet), then showed them were to get a cheap beer in town.

 The next day Katie, Colin, and I boarded our bus for Morogoro.  Colin is another education volunteer that came to Tanzania the same time as me who lives way up in the northern part of the country by Kilimanjaro.  For that reason, we hadn’t seen each other in a while so it was good to catch up for the first time since our IST.  The bus company we used is normally known for being prompt, on-time, and safe.  However, after all three of us woke up after being passed out for the first leg of the trip, we realized that we were way behind schedule.  This was partly due to the fact that on a rather large mountain we needed to pass, there were a handful of accidents the previous day so buses, trucks, and cars were trying to snake their way through a two lane highway on the side of a mountain.  Obviously this is something that had to be done slow.  Then as we were passing through Mikumi National Park, the one that I pass every time I go to Dar es Salaam or Morogoro, another bus tried to pass us.  The bus trying to pass us realized that he couldn’t pass us before the incoming traffic so he shuffled back behind us, but apparently stepped on the gas and ended up ramming us from behind.  The large rearview mirror on the left side of the bus behind us smashed through the right rear of our bus.  Thankfully the mirror came through high enough that no one sitting in the last row of seats was injured, but nonetheless we had another buses rearview mirror sticking out of the back of our bus.  Both buses stopped and the drivers proceeded to get out and start yelling at each other.  After about 30 minutes of not moving, we realized that a group of people were walking back to the nearest town to get the police.  Since it is the summer here, and were in a bus with no A/C, it became very hot in a hurry and most passengers disembarked to stand in the shade of the bus and to escape the heat.  While Katie, Colin, and I were leaning against the bus, we were treated to gazelle sauntering around the area as well as a herd of elephants passing no more than 50 meters away from us.  If you would have told me that I wouldn’t be overly excited about this a year ago I would have called you crazy, however we were more frustrated at the delay than we were excited about the herd of elephants passing.  It was certainly an interesting experience and something that not many people in America have ever seen.  After another hour or so delay and a game of kindle scrabble we were back on our way.  We finally reached Morogoro, soaked full of sweat and dead tired from a bus ride that should take 4 hours but which took 7.5.  But alas, thus is travel in a third world country.  Instead of going directly to the conference center to put our bags down, we decided to meet all the other volunteers at Oasis.  Yea, it is just what it sounds like.  It is an upscale hotel that has a huge grass sitting area, cabana, pool, some of the most delicious indian food you’ll ever have, and ice cold beer.  We spent the better part of the night there catching up with other volunteers who were giving session that week and getting to know some of the volunteers actually attending the In-Service Training.  This particular group of new volunteers is extremely diverse in terms of ethnicity and age.  They have volunteers of every age, from 23 to 81.  Yea, one guy is 81 and has the energy of a 21 year old.  During the second day of our session he was throwing paper airplanes at some of the other volunteers, so it appears that he fits in just fine.

 The next two days Katie and I led our session.  I prepared a slideshow and Katie helped with some of the activities that she used to teach HIV/AIDS in her village.  In addition we did condom demonstrations and gave examples of best practices and things to look out for when teaching in the village.  After our presentation, the volunteers divided up into groups to prepare an actual lesson to present at a nearby school the next day so that they could practice the skills they learned from us.  Katie and I were both fairly nervous that the volunteers wouldn’t find it beneficial but to our surprise during the session, more than a handful of volunteers came up to us and thanked us for the session telling us it was probably one of the most useful things they had learned all week.  Katie and I smiled at each other and high fived.  The next day we traveled with the volunteers to the secondary school to supervise the sessions.  After soliciting feedback from the volunteers it sounded like all the students thoroughly enjoyed the experience and asked when they would do something like that again.  So in terms of my first real teaching experience outside the classroom to other volunteers, it was a huge success.

 There were two other highlights of the week.  The first was that I was able to meet and hear the new Country Director speak.  Our current country director had been selected to open up a new Peace Corps country, Nepal.  She accepted the task and so thus is being replaced.  The new country director seems awesome; she is also fluent in Kiswahili because at one point she worked in the north part of the country with the masai tribe.  It was interesting to hear the difference in philosophy between the new country director and the old and to get a feel for where she saw Peace Corps Tanzania going in the future.  The second highlight was that a member of Tanganika I, Tom Katus, came to visit, hang out, drink a few cold ones, and give a short presentation.  If you’re not sure what Tanganika I means, it is basically the first Peace Corps group to come to Tanzania.  These guys were hand-picked by JFK to be the pioneers of the newly created Peace Corps.  Before Zanzibar became part of present day Tanzania, the country was called Tanganika.  It was absolutely fascinating to hear how Peace Corps has changed over the last 50 years and to hear what it was like to be part of the first group over Peace Corps volunteers ever.  The differences between Peace Corps then and Peace Corps now are obviously enormous.  Hearing him talk about the training (similar to military basic training) and the conditions they lived in makes my service here seem like Peace Corps day camp or Peace Corps light.  It is also stunning when you realize how progressive these guys were.  While a large number white people in America still thought blank Americans didn’t deserve equal rights, this guy was giving two years of his life to go to Africa and build roads.  To top it off, he was from South Dakota, not exactly the most liberal state in the union.  Pretty unreal.




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