Friday, February 5, 2010

A Word of Closing, A Farewell to Tanzania

So here I am, 7 months after my last blog post, 10 weeks after returning to the USA. I spent 27 months in Tanzania, without coming home even once, and then returned to a tangibly different America: a black president, an economic crisis, and ubiquitous internet phones. The first few weeks were the roughest, and it showed. I nearly cried at the mall on Black Friday; I ooh-ed and ahh-ed at unexciting things like squirrels and delivery pizza. A few weeks ago, I failed to understand the necessity of feeding a parking meter, and just yesterday, after ten weeks in America, I tried to flag a taxi cab by vaulting my arm downward in the Tanzanian style. I'm slowly readjusting, though, and I expect that within another six months, I will have encountered and conquered nearly all of the idiosyncratically American situations that have thus far baffled me and made me look like a foreign fool in my own country. There. I've set my goal: In six months time, I will be completely re-Americanized.

I will miss Tanzania; I already do. I miss waking up to children shouting in Swahili outside my window. I miss the solitude, I miss the simplicity, and most of all, I miss my students. After getting to know them so well over two years, being their closest adult friend and advisor, I'll keep in touch with very few of them. They will continue to mature. Many of them will continue to study; some might even make it to university or find a way to study abroad. The brief time I spent with them is now a memory that will only become more distant. I just hope it remains a good one.

So this is just a closing post to say thank you. If you are reading this, if you have read any of the blogs I've posted in the past two and a half years, thank you. Thank you for supporting me, thank you for being interested in my work and the work of people who care about people. And thank you for being patient. I hope that, regardless of my blogging inconsistencies, I've taught you something about Tanzania; I hope that you've learned something about intercultural interactions, development work, or even something about people - generally or specifically - by reading these stories.

Asante sana. Nawatakia kazi njema, na maisha mema.
Thank you. I wish you all the best.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Kilimanjaro Adventure











On June 6th, with five of my students, a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer, and four of her students, I set out on a cross-country roadtrip, with the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro as our ultimate destination.



A View of Mount Kilimanjaro's two peaks,

Kibo and Mawenzi, from our hotel in Moshi.



Meet the Climbers from My Secondary School

All of the students study in Form IV, the final year of O-level, which means that in October, they will sit for their National Exams. If they score highly enough, they will continue their high school education next year by entering Form V, the first year of A-level. The following five students were selected principally based on their entries to an essay contest I held last November, but also on academic performance, character, leadership, and behavior.

Before this trip, only two students – Agnes and Stella – had traveled outside of Iringa Region. They had previously been to villages just over the border of Morogoro Region one time each, to visit family.




Standing: Agnes, Stella, and Patmos; Sitting: Norah and Hekima


Agnes Machaninga (17, female) – Academically, she is consistently the highest-scoring female student in the school. She wants to be a lawyer, which is probably a good choice, since her fellow students constantly turn to her to mediate arguments or to settle disagreements. She is the reason for the proverbial description, “calm, cool, and collected.” Throughout the trip, she was the undisputed voice of reason.
Hekima Kaduma (19, male) – Talk about personality: This kid is a dynamo. Because of him, I think we had maybe one short hour of silence among the 40+ we spent in the van. He befriended everyone we encountered – our van driver, our mountain guides, our cooks, a coffee-seller on the street in Dar es Salaam. He wants to be a pharmacologist, so I told him he should visit New Jersey, the drug-making capital of the world.
Norah Mwipopo (18, female) – This girl should try out for Africa’s version of American Idol (yes, it does exist). She loves to sing, and can decipher the words to most American hip-hop and R&B songs. Except, notably, Akon’s old hit (Norah sang, “Nobody wanna see us togetherrr, but it don’ ma-atter no, cuz I tattoo.”) Academically, math is her strongest subject, and fittingly, she wants to be a banker.
Patmos Mbago (18, male) – Patmos’ English blows my mind; he knows all sorts of quirky words and idioms (and won’t tell me where he learns them). Academically, he consistently ranks second in the school. On his first Form IV Chemistry exam, he scored an 82, blowing away the competition (the second-highest score was a 58). He wants to be a doctor, and I’m confident he’ll succeed.
Stella Itala (18, female) – She’s the quiet one. It wasn’t often that I heard her speak; I think she’s still afraid of teachers, even white ones who refuse to hit students. But she often jumped in as Norah’s back-up singer, filing in pleasant harmonies that kept morale high even during the eighteenth hour of traveling.

Laura Mueller (24, female) – That’s me! The Peace Corps Volunteer who, at several moments during this adventure, had to step back and remind myself that these students’ parents had signed permission slips allowing their children to jaunt off across the country and up a mountain with me as their chaperone. Returning them to school in five whole, human-shaped pieces with no permanent damage was one of the most relieving moments of my life.

Other climbers, from a neighboring secondary school, were: Belina Kawogo (19, female), Esther Gavis (18, female), Emmanuel Nziku (18, male), Frank Emmanuel (18, male), and Nicole Scharko (26, female, my fellow Peace Corps Volunteer)



The Trip

Our journey started on June 6th, 2009 at 7:15am, and ended on June 19th, 2009 at about 4:30am...yes, we traveled through the night. During the trip, I kept a travel journal, and this blog entry is essentially a transcription of its contents (slightly revised, of course). I’ve tried to highlight the important, interesting, or exciting moments of each day and to leave out the less stimulating details. This was a difficult task, since nearly every moment had a buzz of delight or the unpredictable thrill of a kick.

Overall, the trip was outstanding, certainly my favorite experience thus far of Peace Corps, and probably one of the best adventures of my life. Now for the play-by-play:


Day #1, June 6th: Philip Mangula Secondary School to Njombe Town

At 7:15am, I met my students at the bus stop in front of the school. There were a large number – maybe thirty or forty – of other students hanging about, mostly in clique-ish circles, and I was confused to see that so many were leaving school mid-way through the summer session. But I had a lot on my mind, and the daunting task of making sure my five travelers hadn’t forgotten to pack anything, so I didn’t bother asking to see their permission slips. Fifteen minutes later, when the bus rumbled up our single-lane dirt road, pumping dust into the air and onto our clothes, the gathered students began to disband their huddles and weave among the six of us who were leaving. “Haya, safari njema,” they said, as they shook our hands. Ok, have a good trip. Some added, “Mungu awabariki.” God bless you. They weren’t leaving at all; they had come only to see us off. No other members of the school community –students, teachers, or anyone else – had ever embarked on a journey of this magnitude, which merited their presence as we boarded the bus and left campus.

On the bus, we sat with the school’s Academic Master, Mr. Kigobo, who is also the Form IV History teacher. He offered a prize to the first person to reach Uhuru Peak, Mount Kilimanjaro’s summit, which caused a rise of challenges, bets, and even some mild threats.

Once we arrived in Njombe, the day was relaxing. We settled into our hotel, had a preliminary meeting, and discussed the lessons that would be integrated into the trip (lessons: “Money Management,” “Culture and Tourism,” “Geology”). We distributed small notebooks that the students were to use as “bank books,” to keep track of how, when, and where they spent their daily allowances. Then, the female students presented a lesson at a girls’ empowerment conference organized by some of my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers. Afterwards, Nicole and I set the students free to roam the town until dark.


Day #2, June 7th: Njombe Town to Moshi City

Today was our sixteen-hour ride from Njombe to Moshi. A cramped minivan, twelve full-grown adult bodies. Just two rest stops, one at Mikumi and one at Segere.

We crossed the entire diagonal length of Tanzania, which thrilled the students. They counted the regions and the kilometers. The first big excitement was Mikumi National Park, through the center of which the TanZam (Tanzania-Zambia) highway passes. The students spied their first antelope, giraffes, baboons, and elephants.

Next, a wave of screams erupted as we passed Mzumbe, the site of the best A-level school for boys in the nation. Apparently, it is Hekima’s “dream school,” as we would say in the U.S. Think Harvard or Princeton. Unlike an American student aiming for those schools, though, this drive-by sighting is the one and only glimpse of Mzumbe that Hekima will have before he applies and, hopefully, matriculates. The teasing of his classmates was good-humored, and even somewhat awkward, since they all know that he has a legitimate chance to be accepted at the school.

When we reached the Pwani (Coastal) Region, the students asked to borrow my phone so that they could text their Geography teacher, the Assistant Academic Master and a good friend of mine, Mr. Kamala. They wanted to tell him that they had reached the edge of Tanzania.

After that, the excitement dwindled. We were all starting to get tired. But I had come prepared with several decks of playing cards and travel Connect Four, which enthralled them. The game was a first for them, and explaining its rules in Swahili was a first for me. In the beginning, they sometimes wouldn’t realize when they’d won – they’d have four in a row, but simply continue playing. In no time, though, they were experts, staging tournaments and calling winners.

Following our second rest stop, at Segere in Tanga Region, the morale almost dropped. We were tired, our legs were cramped, and the rest stop had come at an awkward hour – 4:30pm. The question then was: Do we eat, or do we wait? Most decided to wait, which meant that when we still hadn’t arrived in Moshi by 8:00pm, we were tired, cramped, and starving. Hekima, as always, picked up the emotional slack. With his typical alacrity, he started a betting pool, the pot to be awarded to the last person to fall asleep in the car.

Overall, the journey wasn’t so bad, and the kids didn’t seem to mind the cramped space. But I guess they’re used to it. (If you’ve ever heard me talk about a daladala, this won’t surprise you.) We arrived in Moshi after 10:00pm, and took the students out for dinner before collapsing into bed.


Day #3, June 8th: Walk-Around in Moshi

The students’ first experience with a city. We walked them around town, keeping close tabs. The tour was more difficult than we’d imagined, since Nicole had never before been to Moshi, and on my only previous visit, I had focused on things which are only of interest to white people, like hamburger joints and wine shops. But the students enjoyed the city atmosphere, and we bought them ice cream, a white-people Moshi attraction we knew they’d appreciate (after all, who wouldn’t?)

The students, especially Hekima and Patmos, were very interested in discussing cultural differences between America in Tanzania. Is America more like Moshi than Njombe? they wanted to know. How about the prices? Are things more or less expensive in America? Why did that man just ask you for money? Do even you, as a teacher, dress like that in America? they asked, pointing to a white woman in tight jeans and a tank top. They were also very interested in my political affiliations and opinions. After I took a picture of a pick-up truck with Obama’s portrait on its rear windshield, they asked, Why do you think George Bush liked Tanzania so much, when Tanzanians like Barack Obama so much more? Why hasn’t the Tanzanian government repaired the roads, even after Bush gave it so much money to do so? Because of Peace Corps restrictions, I had to be careful about answering these questions, but I’m sure my democratic bias shone through just the same.

Back at the hotel, Hekima and Patmos approached a Belgian tourist named Geoff. One of the students’ lessons during the trip requires them to interview tourists, so I was pumped to see them doing their assignment. Afterward, they told me all about their conversation, which had gone on for at least half an hour. They were so excited about what they’d learned; they were all smiles. They really enjoyed doing their homework. Fantastic! (If you’d like to know more about what the students learned from these conversations, just let me know. There were other interviews that won’t make it into this synopsis.)


Day #4, June 9th: Moshi City to Marangu Village, the base of Mount Kilimanjaro

This morning was restful. We had a short meeting to introduce the third lesson for the trip, a geology scavenger hunt. Nicole and I checked up on the students’ bank books, reviewed mountain safety, and distributed the snacks our families had so generously sent – Powerbars, trail mixes, and packets of energy-boosting Gu.

We gave the students two hours to explore the city and to eat lunch. Nicole and I took the opportunity to gorge ourselves on white people food. (Moshi, a tourist city, is a haven for the familiar foods we’ve been craving for 23 months.) I ingested: a chicken & cheese “bagel” sandwich, a chocolate ice cream float (with Coke – unfortunately, root beer does not exist here, even in Moshi), and a cheeseburger with fries. It was a little too greasy to qualify as healthy, but nevertheless, I excused myself with the reasoning that it was my last “power meal” before starting the climb.

After lunch, we met the kids back at the hotel. We had borrowed fancy, outdoorsy backpacks from a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer with a “Youth Adventure Club,” so I showed the students how to wear the packs properly. Then we squeezed back into our van, and set off for Marangu. We stayed with a man named Honest, who has a lovely house just a five minute walk from the park gate. Honest is also the caretaker of all of the equipment that Peace Corps Volunteers’ students use when climbing the mountain. So at his house, the students had an absolute blast trying on and choosing hats, snowpants, boots, etc.

Next, we met our mountain guides: Thadeus, Bismus, Festo, Mark, and Thomas. All of them are a bit older, but then again, they have to be in order to have achieved the status of guide. Professional mountain trekkers start off as porters, with whom the paying climbers have almost no interaction, and then get promoted to cooks. Only after several years as a cook can a worker be awarded the title of guide, for which he must have extensive knowledge of the mountain, its routes, and its safety regulations…not to mention of Western tourists and their demands.

Immediately after settling down and packing up our borrowed equipment, we had our first trouble. The students broke one of Nicole’s and my seven rules – they went somewhere without telling us. With a girl name Glory, who lives at Honest’s, they went to a shop to buy supplies for our upcoming six-day hike. When they returned, we scolded them appropriately, and I told them that for their punishment, Nicole and I had eaten all of the food (which had been served in their absence), so they wouldn’t have dinner. It wasn’t true, of course, and since everyone was happy and they hadn’t really put themselves in danger, we let the whole incident slide with a warning.


Day #5, June 10th: Starting the Climb, Marangu (1860m) to Mandara Huts (2705m)

We strapped our packs on and set out up the mountain this morning. We were the first people to enter the park, so we glided through the registration procedures and started our hike.

The first stage of the Marangu Route leads through a rain forest, so we saw tons of interesting vegetation – vines wrapped around massive tree trunks, boulders blanketed by thick green moss without a patch of gray to behold. Blue monkeys were everywhere.

We hiked through the forest for about five hours, taking a short break for snacks at a picnic area along the way. This stage of the route was pretty posh, with metal picnic tables and a clean, indoor squat toilet (choo).

Once we arrived at and checked into the Mandara Huts, we went for a short hike to a nearby crater. This walk would help us to acclimatize, since it led to a higher elevation than that at which the huts sit, and when climbing, the adage is, “Walk high, sleep low.”

On our acclimatization walk, the students posed for pictures in the tall grass of the crater. They sprawled on the ground, crossing their legs and flashing peace signs while their friends snapped away with the disposable cameras my mom had sent them (Thanks, Mom!). During one of the photo shoots, Hekima’s cell phone rang. (Unbelievably, there is cell phone reception everywhere on the mountain, right up to the summit.) He spoke for a few seconds, and when he hung up, Norah asked, in English, “Who is calling you?” Hekima replied, “My…my young fa – no, no. My small father.” He had translated directly from Swahili, in which “uncle” – the brother of one’s father – is “baba mdogo” (small father) or “baba mkubwa” (large father), depending on whether the uncle is one’s father’s older or younger brother. It was an honest mistake, but Norah would not let him off the hook. She laughed relentlessly. “Just say, ‘my uncle,’ is it?” she asked, looking at me for confirmation. Before I could reply, Patmos took over and said with a teacherly tone, in Swahili, “Unless he wants to say that his uncle is very short.” It took several minutes for the students to recover, as they dropped into hysterical laughter. Norah quite literally laughed herself to the ground.

On the way back to camp from the crater, Norah made everyone laugh again when she said happily, “Wow, descending is so easy." It was mostly funny, but also a bit unsettling, since most of us don’t believe that Norah will make it up the mountain. She’s not in great shape, physically, which I didn’t realize when I chose her for this adventure. I’d only known that she’d promised me, “Sitakubali.” I won’t give in. Even our lead guide, Thadeus, noticed her lagging behind today. Just an hour into our walk, he asked me if I had arranged a place for Norah to stay at the base of the mountain if she had to turn back before the summit.


Day #6, June 11th: Mandara Huts (2705m) to Horombo Huts (3719m)

Today we got our first taste of real hiking. Within the first hour of today’s walk, the jungle vanished into vast stretches of bush-like moorland. We choked on dust. The path angled upward much more steeply than it did yesterday, which was to be expected, since we knew we’d end the day at Horombo Huts, 3720 meters above sea level.

Before we even left the forest, Norah started to struggle. Her pack is much too heavy for her. A guide, Mark, exchanged with her, since his pack is much lighter. It clearly helped, since Norah arrived with the rest of us to Horombo. I think we’re all worried about her, though. Of course, if she can’t make it, she’ll descend to Marangu and stay with Honest for a few nights, but we’d rather not have to resort to that.

There was one massive, steep hill today. I booked it up the son of a bitch. I had the energy, so I used it, and practically ran. My mentality is such that I find it much easier just to get it done, rather than taking my time and having the hill seem like it will never end. This might be a bad idea for acclimatization purposes, but mentally, I really just had to get up the damn hill. Patmos, Frank, Hekima, and I were the first to arrive at the day’s “halfway point” and lunch spot at the top of the hill. Emmanuel, Esther, and Nicole came next, while the other girls followed.

After the “halfway point,” we had about two hours more to walk. Through this stretch, there were lots of bridges over deep ravines etched into the curves of the mountains. The last bridge led directly to the Horombo Huts, where I’m sitting now, looking down. Tonight, for the first time, we’ll sleep above the clouds. The simple lodgings in the sky are a lot like the Mandara Huts – small, black, A-frame houses with two rooms each. Each room has four beds, which means the boys fit perfectly in one room. The five girls, like last night, have decided to sleep all together rather than banish one of their own to the teachers’ room. In fact, they use only three beds, doubling up as much as they can to “minimize the cold.” It’s fine with us; I think Nicole and I prefer to have our own space.

I have a slight headache from I don’t know what – maybe altitude, maybe lack of sleep. I’ve hardly slept at all these past two nights.

At least the students are having a blast. I’m listening to them outside our room playing cards, and they really seem to be enjoying themselves. They wear those hilarious hats, and they laugh a lot. Hekima has endless energy.

Tomorrow, we acclimatize. Then we hit Kibo Huts. Then we (hopefully) summit.


Day #7, June 12th: Acclimatization at Zebra Rocks (about 4400m)

While the boys were washing their dishes after breakfast this morning, they noticed the ice. Mostly, it snaked over the ground in thin, crumbling sheets, but in a few places, it had spread and frozen thickly, bumpily, in the congealing patterns of spilled paint. Hekima, Patmos, Frank, and Emmanuel broke off a few sheets with their bare fingers, cursing the cold, and ran off with their prizes. I don’t know what they did with them, or if they knew how quickly the ice would melt.

A little later, we hiked to Zebra Rocks, a smooth rock wall of natural black-and-white stripes. Of course, we had another photo shoot. The students found an alcove equipped with a boulder that served as a sort of elevated platform, on which they posed.

Then we hiked up another steep slope, minimizing the gradient with sharp switchbacks, weaving through boulders. At the top, we had a wonderful view of the saddle, stretching vastly between Kilimanjaro’s two peaks, Mawenzi and Kibo (our glacier-capped goal). We could see the rubbed-out line of sand marking our intimidating path to the summit. Straight up Kibo. The boys were really excited; the girls seemed bothered. I think most of the girls are feeling sick, either from altitude or exertion. I’d bet exertion.

On our way back to Horombo camp, Thadeus approached me again. “Some of the girls,” he said, “seem like they are not enthusiastic about this exercise.” He named Norah, Agnes, and Belina. “What are you going to do if they can’t make it?” I told him that we’d made arrangements, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Back at Horombo, we had lunch and relaxed all afternoon. I took a nap, and as a result, I feel rested for the first time in days. Hopefully that will help me out tomorrow. I’m terrified of getting altitude sickness. The climb is intimidating, and it’ll be tough, but if I don’t get sick, I’ll get it done. We’ve got a strenuous morning climb tomorrow, and then a grueling nighttime summit. We’ll give it our best shots.

We’ve set an 8:00pm curfew. It seems excessively early, but by that time, no one is left outside. We don’t want the students roaming around, waking up other trekkers who are paying the full fare.


Day #8, June 13th: Horombo Huts (3719m) to Kibo Huts (4713m), Sleep and Wake Up Again

We lost Belina today. As we started our climb, she was already struggling. She would take three steps and stop. Three steps, stop. She found it hard to breathe. Though she wanted to continue, Thadeus told her she was getting sick and must stay at Horombo Huts. And then there were ten.

The rest of us have arrived safely at Kibo Huts, though today was arduous. Not to mention freezing cold. The wind on the barren saddle is brutal. The whole day, during our walk, we were staring ahead at Kibo Peak and our path to its top. Every time I look at it, I can’t help but laugh because it is just so preposterous that any of us should want to exert ourselves in that way. It looks like misery. Except to Hekima, who says simply, “It looks like a challenge.”

I think we’re all surprised that Norah is still with us. We’ve been expecting her to turn back at any moment, as have the guides. She hasn’t carried her pack for two days now, and she huffs and puffs her way through each kilometer. Each time I look back at her, I think of my fellow teachers at our school, who knew sooner than I that she would struggle. “Norah is so fat,” one of my friends, Mr. Mhanzi, said to me two weeks ago. “All of the other students you’ve chosen are fit and strong, but Norah cannot make it up that mountain.” Well, she’s made it this far, which is quite an accomplishment in itself. We’ll see what happens tonight.

Back at Mandara Huts, we all agreed to participate in a Scottish study on altitude sickness. When we signed up, they measured our height and weight and took a DNA sample by swabbing the insides of our cheeks. (The students found the weight measurements hilarious; for two days now they’ve been asking each other and us, “What are your kilos?” When Nicole and I refuse to respond, Patmos, the skinniest boy in the world, says, “Don’t worry. My kilos are too high. I must decrease them.”) When we arrived here at Kibo, we filled out a survey (How well did you sleep last night? Do you have a headache?), and got our blood oxygen percentages and our heart rates tested. Right now, I have a blood-oxygen level of 88% and a heart rate of 102. According to the Scottish researcher, if I’d had this blood-oxygen percentage at sea level, I’d be in the ICU and expected to die quite soon. He was also interested to know that at sea level, my heart rate is typically much lower than average, since up here, it’s apparently pretty high. We’ll see what that means for tonight’s climb.

It’s 7:00pm, and we’re going to bed. Tonight, we’re all sleeping in one room of 15 beds. Patmos has already called Nicole and me out on our breaking of our Rule #1, “ABSOLUTELY NO co-ed sleeping arrangements!” We’ve decided it’s ok because we’ll only be sleeping for about four hours, until 11:00pm, when we’ll wake up and begin to prepare ourselves for the testing walk to the summit.


Day #8, June 14th: Kibo Huts (4713m) to Uhuru Peak (SUMMIT! 5985m), Begin Descent

(Unfortunately, I didn’t write a single word in my journal on this day. Instead, I’ll tell the story in retrospect.)

At midnight, we were all bundled into at least four layers of clothing, at least two hats, and as many pairs of gloves as we had mustered from the collection at Honest’s house, which we had rummaged through a full five days ago. Our flashlights shone, catching airy flakes of snow as they fell onto our frozen feet, walking so incongruously near to the equator.

We set out from Kibo Huts, 4713 meters above sea level. To reach Gillman’s Point, at 5681 meters above sea level, we would have to climb almost a full vertical kilometer. From there, the summit at Uhuru Peak would be just 214 meters higher, at 5895 meters above sea level. We’d been told that the whole trek would take somewhere between five and seven hours.

We began our final upward push in a single-file line, led by Thadeus and anchored at certain points by the four other guides. It was steep, and dark, and snowing. To be honest, my memory of the first few hours is shallow. We negotiated the sharp and precipitous switchbacks, following in the tracks of groups that had set out earlier in the night. We took rests, but only short ones, for our guides encouraged us to keep moving in an effort to combat the sub-zero temperatures. About every ten minutes, Thadeus would pause, turn abruptly, and bark, “Hakuna kulala!” or “Hamna usingizi!” which are both different versions of “Don’t fall asleep!”

I think I looked mostly at my feet for those first couple of hours, because the only thing I remember besides Thadeus’ urgent commands is the softness of the soil collapsing beneath my boots. I was walking on a narrow strip of black that had been carved out between short stacks of snow by the feet that had preceded me. The ground was so soft, so loose, that even my expensive hiking boots couldn’t grip it. The sandy dirt slid out so that where I would normally have taken one step, I took three or four to climb the same distance. Periodically, I looked up to check on the students, to make sure we still had everyone with us, but the most I could see were the beams of flashlights or the lumpy silhouettes of borrowed coats.

The last I remember seeing everyone together was at the halfway point, Hans Meyer Cave, at 5151 meters above sea level. We stopped here to rest, and thankfully, the cave also provided some shelter from the precipitation, which was now turning to sleet. (Here, Hekima took perhaps the most honest picture of the entire trip. He captured, in his photo, all of his fellow students collapsed against the wall of the cave, some apparently sleeping, some nearly crying. I wish I had the picture to post, since it was so real.)

After the cave, some of our group began to fall behind. I worried, but I was assured my anxiety was unfounded. Without our knowledge, the guides, led by Thadeus, had developed and implemented a master plan to get the remaining ten of us up the mountain, at least to Gillman’s Point, at 5681 meters above sea level, just 214 meters shy of the summit. The plan worked like this: All four of the boys, Esther, and I continued at the pace we’d already set, led by Thadeus. We painstakingly planted one foot in front of the other, ravenously sucking down the packets of Gu my mother had sent us (Thanks again, Mom!). The remaining trekkers – Nicole, Agnes, Stella, and Norah – each had a personal guide to push, shove, and encourage them up the mountain. While I was climbing, though, I was still unaware of the plan. I constantly looked behind us, trying to see if the others were still coming. Each time I looked back, I would break stride, and Thadeus would scold me. I tried to explain. “I just don’t want them to turn back,” I said. I was afraid that if I wasn’t there to encourage them, to keep them moving like so many teachers and coaches had done for me over the years, that they’d miss out on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reach the Roof of Africa. I was scared that they’d fail, and regret it. “They won’t turn back,” said Thadeus. “They’re still coming.” And I wondered how he knew.

That’s not to say that our lead group didn’t have its problems. My hands continually froze to the point where I feared frostbite. I smothered them in two pairs of gloves, the protective layers so thick that I could barely fit my hands into my pockets. Several times, after drinking water or eating Gu, I had to have Thadeus help me redress my hands and wriggle them back into my straining coat pockets. More troublesomely, each time we stopped for any reason, any type of break, Hekima collapsed onto a nearby rock and closed his eyes, prompting Thadeus to scream at him, “Hamna usingizi!” Rarely did Hekima respond. When we were scrambling up the final rocky ledges, close enough to Gillman’s Point to hear the whoops and hollers of hikers who had already arrived, Hekima collapsed onto a rock mid-stride. I took off my gloves and began to search Hekima’s pockets. I found the packet of Gu I’d given him at our meeting back in Moshi, removed it, and ripped it open. I commanded, “Hekima, eat this.” No response. Patmos slapped Hekima on the back of the head. “Hekima!” Patmos shouted. Hekima opened his eyes. “Eat this,” I said, and placed the open end of the packet in his mouth. Slowly, he sucked the gel out of its wrapper. He drank water, stood up again, and we all kept moving. After this incident, I mandated that we could not take any more rests, for fear that Hekima would “zimia,” or “turn off.” (This is the sort of thing I always thought was symptomatic of narcolepsy, but it’s fairly common among Tanzanians – they just pass out, lose all muscular control, and it’s impossible to wake them up. I sometimes wonder if it’s a lingering side effect of severe malaria.) Surprisingly, Hekima did not sit down again – not once.

It was Esther who gave us the next trouble. Just ten minutes from Gillman’s Point, she sat on a rock. She said to me, “Naishia hapa.” I’m stopping here. I probably don’t have to tell you that I nearly flipped. But on the outside, I kept my cool. Esther was the only female student in our lead group, and to validate all of the girls’ empowerment activities I’ve organized here in Tanzania, I needed her to finish. I told her, in my calmest Swahili, “No. You’re not stopping here. You’ve got ten minutes til Gillman’s Point. You hear those screams? That’s because the people who get there are so happy. You want to be that happy? You’ll never get this chance again. Get up. You’re continuing.” She sat, and she looked blankly at me. I breathed deeply, even more deeply than I’d been doing just to inhale an adequate amount of oxygen for my organs and limbs. “Don’t you want your certificate?” I asked. Immediately, as if at a magic word, her expression sparked. “We get certificates?” she asked. “Of course,” I replied, thinking that this had been common knowledge to all of us. She stood up and turned, resuming her spot in our single-file line without another word.

We arrived at Gillman’s Point on an adrenaline high, and as the pinks and yellows of the sun began to rise over the patchy net of clouds below us, we stowed our flashlights in our pockets. We took pictures. Through the slits between scarves and hats, we looked down, in the direction from which we had come. I was searching for the others, any of them. Most of all, though, I wanted to see Norah. Since the first time a fellow teacher scoffed at my choosing her, I had doubted her. Guiltily, I’d even second-guessed my selection. I knew she was tough, but could she make it, physically? Should I have chosen another student, who would have had a better chance of summiting? Because of this, because I felt I’d betrayed another student by choosing Norah, because I felt I’d betrayed Norah by thinking this, I wanted more than anything for her to defy my doubts, to prove me and everyone else wrong. I wanted her to give me and this mountain hell.

Looking down, we all expected, I think, to see Nicole, or Agnes and Stella, who had also fallen behind. Instead, we saw two figures, one supporting the other from the elbow. I jumped once, and grabbed Patmos by the arm. “Is that…” I started. I squinted. “Is that…Norah?” He affirmed. I whooped as Norah and her guide turned the last corner of the rocky scramble to the top. Nicole, whom I hadn’t seen because she had been too close and hidden under the jagged ledge on which I stood, arrived, and I shook her by the shoulders. “Norah’s going to make it!” I shouted, not caring that I was wasting valuable energy I might need to climb the last stretch to Uhuru Peak. Norah was going to make it to Gillman’s Point, at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. I refused to leave for the summit until she arrived, wanting to congratulate her before she turned back to wait for us at the huts.

When Norah arrived, we gathered around her. We took more pictures. She was breathless, clearly more tired than the rest of us, and her fingers were so cold that tears were streaming from her eyes. As I rubbed her hands to warm them, I told her I was proud of her. Then Thadeus explained that Norah would wait with her guide for the two girls who were still climbing, and then they would all descend to Kibo Huts. The rest of us would meet them there after finishing our trek to Uhuru Peak. Norah hardly blinked. She didn’t look confused or undecided. She simply looked resolute. “Miss Laura,” she said, firmly, “I’m going with you to Uhuru.” I was not as astonished as the onlooking guides. I was proud. I had chosen Norah partly for her toughness, her mettle. In our math classes together, I had seen her unwavering determination to understand. I’d had my doubts this time, and she’d shot them down. I could not refuse her now. “Tuende, kwa hiyo,” I said, fitting her gloves back onto her hands. Let’s go, then.

As we all turned to start trekking the 214 vertical meters to Uhuru Peak, Esther put a hand on my arm to stop me. “Sorry, Miss Laura,” she said in Swahili. “If I get to Uhuru, do I get another certificate?”

Hekima turned back, saying that his heart was racing and he was too tired to continue, but the rest of us – Patmos, Esther, Frank, Emmanuel, Nicole, Norah, and I – walked on.

An hour and a half later, after a trek whose memory has been washed out by the sleet that pummeled my cheeks, the scene at Gillman’s Point repeated itself. I stood with Patmos, Esther, Frank, and Emmanuel near the sign at Uhuru Peak, snapping photos, as the vision of Norah, her elbow grasped in the steady hand of a guide, emerged through the glassy sleet and snow that was slicing into the scant millimeters of our exposed skin. This time, Patmos was first to comment. “Oh, Norah,” he said, and in perfect English he added, “Slow but sure.”

The rest of the day was a blur of descent. The students loved sliding through the loose dirt that had been a burden to climb, getting a matter of meters out of each stride. I wasn’t sure how their hamstrings handled the pressure of a constant half-squat at breakneck speed, since mine were far too burnt out to keep up with them. Back at Kibo Huts, Patmos explained, “But Madam, you get so much distance from so little energy,” and I saw in my mind the posted chemistry grade: 82%. No doubt his physics grades are just as stellar. (It occurs to me that as Americans, you might not understand that an 82% in Form IV chemistry is stellar. Trust me, it is.)

At Kibo Huts, we took a short time to pack our bags, and then descended to Horombo Huts, where we slept that night.


Day #9, June 15th: Horombo Huts to Marangu, Marangu to Moshi

(Back to a journal transcription…)

So, yesterday was the summit. I made it with two Gu packets, a lot of strain, but no real problems. Nicole made it after puking many, many times. Patmos, Emmanuel, and Frank all made it without a break in stride. Esther packmuled it to the top with the sole encouragement of a certificate. But the story of the day was Norah. Norah the Underdog. The Doubted. Who would have thought? The reality is: No one thought it. Not even me. Everyone thought it’s opposite. Even me. Everyone thought she’d be the first to quit, especially the guides who carried her pack. But that girl would not give up. She just wouldn’t let the mountain conquer her. She was the hardest-headed person I’ve ever seen, and in the best way. I’m immensely proud of her.

Today, we descended the mountain, from Horombo Huts to the gate. Thadeus asked that we all stay together, but our other guide Thomas was the pace-setter. Every time Thomas has set the pace throughout this whole adventure, he’s set it far too high. So Thomas ran off with the four boys, leaving Nicole, the girls, and me to find our own ways down the path. Soon enough, though, Thadeus and Bismus caught up with us. They took Stella’s pack and Esther’s pack, since both are complaining about being tired and sore.

When we arrived at the gate, at about 2:00pm, the boys happily informed us that they’d been waiting for over two hours. We all signed out of the park and walked the short distance back to Honest’s for lunch.

The girls were reunited with Belina, who had descended the mountain completely on the day of our summit. She was no longer sick, but very disappointed. She had had no problems staying at Honest’s; to our relief, she was safe and sound.

We piled back into our van, which had been waiting with its driver at Honest’s, and rode back to Moshi. Nicole and I set the kids free for dinner and celebrated our achievement with pizza and wine. (I swear, Moshi is the white-people-food capital of Tanzania.)


Day #10, June 16th: Moshi to Dar es Salaam

(I’d rather not let the end of this post be anti-climactic, but even after Mount Kilimanjaro, we still had some adventures.)

Another long day in the van. We’re passing through Tanga now, and it’s my turn to sit shotgun. The students are not as excited about crossing regions this time, but they’re still enjoying the sights. We’re listening to our driver’s Akon CD for maybe the sixteenth time, but we’re all still enjoying it. I think.

We arrived at the YMCA in Dar es Salaam at about 5:30pm. Since we can’t let the students wander around Dar by themselves (Dar is significantly larger and more dangerous than Moshi), we took them out to dinner at a restaurant called Summy’s (or, in Peace Corps lingo, “street chicken”), and bought them fried chicken and chips, one of their favorite meals. We were provided with four kinds of sauce, one of which was incredibly, mouth-charringly spicy. I made an offer: Whoever could eat an entire spoonful of the stuff in one gulp would get an ice cream cone. To my surprise, both Patmos and Frank took the bet. Neither even flinched as he downed the sauce. So I was out 6,000 shillings – 3,000 shillings an ice cream cone.


Day #11, June 17th: Around in Dar es Salaam

This was our day in Dar es Salaam: a walk around City Center, which included dropping off our photos to be developed and drinking street coffee with Hekima’s newfound besti; a drive to the ocean (more on that); a short walk around the campus of the University of Dar es Salaam (we thought our exceptionally bright students could use the extra motivation); and a jaunt to the mall so that Nicole and I could pick up some white-people groceries like oats and chocolate at ShopRite (yes, it’s actually called ShopRite, but it’s not the same chain as we have in New Jersey).

(For now, I’ll transcribe only the paragraphs about our experience at the ocean, which was by far the funniest and most exciting of the above.)

We took the students to Coco Beach, the only sandy, swimmable spot near the City Center. Before we left the YMCA, I asked each student specifically if he or she was going to swim, and I explained that if they were going to swim, they should tell me now, so that I could bring extra clothes. “No,” they all said. “We’re too afraid to swim.” They had never seen a body of water large enough for swimming, and the sheer thought of it terrified them.

Well, how they underestimated their own courage. It took some doing, but by the end of an hour, all nine students were dodging waves in the Indian Ocean. I, too, was neck-deep in the water, though I hadn’t brought those extra clothes I’d wanted. Wearing my long linen pants and cotton t-shirt, I’d led the shiest of the students, Belina, into the water by the hand. The highest of the waves (about a foot and a half, maybe) was barely over my hips when Belina, alarmed by the rise and fall of the water, suddenly and without warning jumped into my arms, her hands gripping fiercely at my neck. I nearly fell over. “Are you ok?” I asked, horrified. But I looked at her, and she was smiling. “I’m fine!” she shouted over the screams of her classmates. “Keep going!” Puzzled, I tried to put her down. I dipped her legs into the water, angling them toward the sandy bottom, but she just held my neck harder. “Are you going to stand?” I asked her. “No!” she said, laughing. I was nonplused. Dumbfounded. Meanwhile, Nicole was snapping pictures. “You have to stand,” I said. “You can stand, look. You don’t even have to swim. You just stand.” “What about the waves?” she asked. “You just jump over them,” I explained, and demonstrated a few times. Eventually, with much convincing, she put her feet on the ground. Still gripping my waist, she tried jumping a few waves. Thought she never fully let go of me, she talked for the rest of the day about how she had swum in the ocean.

(If you’d like to hear about any of our other excursions in Dar es Salaam, just ask!)


Day #12, June 18th: The Long Road Home

Back in the van at 6:00am. A chronological list of our car troubles: 1) We ran out of oil; 2) We put the wrong type of oil into the car; 3) We got a flat tire; 4) Our spare tire burst; 5) Our battery went dead.

One highlight of our final road journey was the mechanic’s shop we stopped at, of which you can see pictures, below. The mechanic himself had rigged a very clever machine to pump air into tires. He was extremely proud of the machine, which ran like an electric generator, and he was quite sure he’d been the first person to invent anything of the kind.

The other highlight was the Mama who took us in when our spare tire burst. It was nighttime, and the van was parked on the side of the road, with its flashers on. Our driver and Hekima had caught a ride on a truck to the nearby town, Mafinga, where they would repair the tire. Because the rest of us were sitting in the car, Nicole and I thought it best to leave the flashers on. How were we to know that within ten minutes, the battery would die? When the lights ceased to flash, Nicole and I insisted that everyone get out of the car and stand farther away from the highway. (If you’ve ever seen a Tanzanian road, you won’t doubt this decision.) But then, we were confronted with the cold. Here in the Southern Highlands, in June, the temperature drops below forty degrees Fahrenheit when the sun goes down, which may not seem cold to you East Coast Americans, but when all you’ve got is a skirt and a loose-knit sweater, it’s freezing. So, we piga hodied. This means that we went to the nearest house and asked for shelter. We stood outside and shouted “Hodi! Hodi!” until the Mama inside woke up, dressed, and opened her door to us. Mama Regina. My savior in concrete walls. For over an hour, she allowed eight high school students and two white teachers to sit on her couches, our heads lolling with near-sleep. She even made us tea. Mama Regina represented Tanzanian hospitality with a smile and a good heart, when my students and I needed it most. Wherever you are, Mama Regina, we thank you.

When I walked in the door to my house at 4:37am, on the morning of June 19th, I felt a magnificent sense of happiness. It was partly relief, to no longer be responsible for the lives and well-beings of nine high school students. It was partly sweet regret that the adventure I’d been working so hard for and planning for so long was finally over. It was partly pure thrill that everything, excepting that last bit with the car, had been so perfect. And it was partly an inexpressible knowledge that I didn’t do this by myself. It was thankfulness. For every single person who encouraged us, who sent us gifts, who thought of us or prayed for us. For every person who supported us in any way. You are the ones who made this blog possible, who made Norah’s trek to the highest point in Africa a reality.

Thank you, thank you, and thank you. Watch your mailboxes.


June 29th: A Text Message from Norah

It’s been ten days since our return, and the school’s summer session has ended. The students have gone home to their parents. A moment ago, I received the following text message from Norah:



Hi how iz holiday madam?iwant 2 say thank u alot 4 choosing me 2 be with u in
the journey am happy 2 tell that I enjoyed alot &I studied alot of things! Thank u alot may God bless u more and more!norah




If that doesn't make it all worthwhile, I don't know what could...





Pictures!


























Nicole introducting an icebreaker at our first meeting in Njombe.











Ice cream in Moshi! Even if you haven't had it by your 18th birthday, you'll still enjoy it.

(On the right are Hekima (sitting), Agnes,and Patmos.



Obama truck! Obama Oye!





Trying on clothes at Honest's house. Try telling me these kids are not hilarious. (Right: Hekima; Middle: Esther; Left: Patmos)




Hekima, Frank, and Patmos...all bundled up!





At the park gate, ready to go. (Right: All students; Left: All reps from my school.)






Acclimatization hike to the crater, on the first day of our climb.




A blue monkey, just sittin' in the tree.





A photo shoot on the steps in front of the boys' hut (at Mandara Camp).







The sunrise outside of our hut at Horombo...looking down on clouds!





Kibo Peak - a view during our acclimatization hike to Zebra Rocks. If you look closely, you can see our path to Gillman's point - starting under the edge of a cloud on the far right side, climbing to the top.


Hekima and Patmos posing in front of Kibo.


The photo shoot at Zebra Rocks - Hekima, Patmos, and me.



This will go in Hekima's portfolio when he seeks modeling jobs.



Norah's feeling a little bit cold on acclimatization day.





Horombo Camp: the sign, some huts, and Kibo Peak.





Our first dining hall above the clouds, at Horombo.



Gillman's Point! The first group to arrive: Frank, Emmanuel, Esther,
Hekima, Patmos, and that's me, the white one above the sign.




Unfortunately, I forget the name of this glacier. But I do remember Bismus telling me that if I had stood in this exact spot, the spot from which I took this picture, seven years ago when he started climbing the mountain, I would have been on top of the glacier.



Snow and sleet on the way to Uhuru Peak.


Patmos greets the sign. The highest point in Africa!





The rest of us join Patmos' fun. On the left: everyone (except Nicole) who arrived at Uhuru. On the right: Patmos, Norah, and me. My school's representatives at the Roof of Africa.


The certificate. Sorry it's sideways, but I wanted you to know what got Esther so excited.





The garage we stopped at to get our van repaired...the first time, and the mechanic's air pumping machine. These pictures are especially for my brother Brian.

6 comments:

Monday, May 25, 2009

A (quite random) list of things you might find interesting about Tanzanian secondary schools (as opposed to American high schools):

  • The entry grade level is called Form I, not freshman year. Likewise, sophomore, junior, and senior years are referred to as Form II, Form III, and Form IV, respectively. Form IV, the eleventh year of formal education, is not the end of secondary school. At the end of Form IV, students take a nationally standardized test called the NECTA, the results of which determine who is qualified to continue upper-level studies. If a student scores highly enough on his or her Form IV NECTA exam, opportunities to finish secondary school – to continue to Form V and Form VI – become available.
  • The classrooms belong to the students. Here in Tanzania, it’s not the students who leave the room when the bell rings at the end of the period. It’s the teacher. I teach three streams of Form III students. I’ll enter the Form IIIB classroom, carrying my books and my chalk, and when the period ends, I collect my books and my chalk before heading to the Form IIIA classroom, where different students are waiting for me to enter and for their math period to begin.
  • The bell rings at the will of a student called The Timekeeper. This title and its accompanying responsibilities are awarded to a trustworthy student who is capable of telling time, and, at my school, who is also exceptionally short (for reasons as yet undiscovered). The bell resembles a gong, which The Timekeeper bonks three times with a stick at intervals of one hour and twenty minutes. Sometimes, The Timekeeper will make a stick-on-gong racket for several ongoing minutes. This means that all current classes and activities must immediately cease because there is an urgent assembly to which the entire school community must report. (Most often, these assemblies are arranged on a whim and involve the second headmaster hitting students with sticks.)
  • Corporal punishment: As far as Tanzanians are concerned, there is no alternative. Hitting students with sticks is the only effective method of disciplining them, and, yes, of course it leads to behavior change. When my coteachers heard that corporal punishment is illegal in America, they broke into riotous laughter. Recently, though, I gave my first punishment that was considered harsher than hitting the students. I teach my Form IIIB class on Monday mornings, first period, and they are always late. The period is supposed to start at 7:40am, but normally, they don’t enter the classroom until at least 8:00am. Until they rearrange the desks and settle in, it’s 8:20am, and more than half the period is over. So, last Friday, I warned them not to be late. I used a really threatening tone, I shook my index finger, and I even told them directly that if they were late, they would be punished. Well, don’t you know they were late again? So I assigned a writing punishment: 1) To write five hundred times, “I will be in the classroom and ready to study on Monday morning.”; and 2) To write a ten-sentence letter in English, explaining why they are always late and promising not to be late ever again. I told them that if the assignment was not in my hands by 3:00 that afternoon, I would take ten points off of their final exams. My coteachers were impressed that only three of twenty-eight failed to write the sentences. One even mused, “Maybe I should try a punishment like that.”
  • What’s a dining hall? Students take their meals outside, rain or shine. Currently, my school is building a sort of lean-to shelter under which the students will be able to eat.
  • All secondary school students, at public or private schools, wear uniforms. Skirts for girls, slacks for boys. Collared shirts and sweaters for all.
  • Cleanliness! Inspections are not just for military schools. Every Wednesday morning, the students gather for a huge assembly on the “parade grounds” (a dusty square lined by the school’s academic buildings). They sing the Tanzanian National Anthem, the School Song, and a special song to warn listeners against AIDS (this song, for reasons which are still fuzzy, instructs students not to share toothbrushes). Then, the teachers walk among the students, checking for dirt under their fingernails, untucked shirttails, unshaven heads (All students, even girls, shave their heads!), and the like. This is followed by dormitory inspection, for which teachers enter the students’ bedrooms (they sleep about fifteen to a room) to check that they’ve mopped the floors and made their beds.

And, another list of perfectly normal things I do, which get me laughed at relentlessly here in the Tanz:

  • I own bug spray and use it often.
  • I claim that actually teaching is more mentally challenging than grading tests.
  • It takes me more than “one minute flat” to bathe myself properly and thoroughly.
  • I buy toilet paper.
  • I read books.
  • I sometimes lose my temper when my teaching schedule is changed for the eighth (no joke) time in ten days.
  • I call students to my house to kill those mammoth web-dwelling spiders that Tanzanians just leave to hang in the doorway or over the bed.
  • I think I’d like to know someone well, maybe even date him for awhile, before I marry him. (Or, more accurately translated, before I am married by him. In Swahili, only men marry in the active voice. Women are married by men, in the passive voice.)
  • I feel awkward when I’m asked to punish other people’s children (small children, not students). This has a lot to do with the fact that punishing them involves hitting them with sticks.
  • I get lazy and don’t mop my floor for days at a time.
  • I always carry a flashlight when I go out in the pitch-black night.
  • I exercise.
  • I claim that exercise is good for your health.
  • I don’t wear a heavy winter ski coat when it drops to sixty degrees Fahrenheit.
  • I sometimes nap on my couch.
  • I continue to be white.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Workers' Day!

While you all were out twirling ribbons around poles this May Day, I was enjoying a different type of celebration: one to commemorate Tanzanian Workers’ Day, a national holiday akin to our own Labor Day. It was absolutely a blast from start to finish, complete with all the most potent Tanzanian foods (meaning, of course, that the seasonings were livelier than the salt and oil flavors pervading typical East African cuisine), as well as my own assigned chore of distributing sodas to students and collecting the bottles afterwards (the latter being much more complicated than the former, because apparently stolen glass soda bottles are in very high demand).

We began the day with a student talent show. For all performances such as this one, the students sit on chairs and desks arranged out in the sun, in an arc at one corner of the dusty academic square. We teachers sit on the concrete promenade that runs the length of each academic building, in the shade of the roof’s overhang. When I first arrived in Tanzania, I felt uncomfortable with this arrangement, since it essentially places the teachers in a row on a sort of stage, facing the arc of students. Performances occur at ground level, in the awkward space between the raised line of teachers and the arc of students piled in groups onto the tops of desks. By now, though, I’ve gotten used to being part of the scenery, a bright white distraction amid the backdrop for a skit or a song.
Two of my former students provided the first act: a cleverly-devised but badly-delivered rap welcoming the Form I (freshmen) students to the school. They may not have had beat or rhythm, but these kids sure had humor. Benedict and Ones, two very likeable teacher’s-pet-types who are also smart and decently popular among their peers, dispensed valuable advice to the first-years. On one topic, though, they had only to say, “Na swala la msosi, lazima uzoee,” which means, approximately, “And as for the food, you just gotta get used to it.” School food is quite the controversy here, where the daily fare consists of beans and ugali. (Want to try ugali? Ingredients: Dried horse corn, water. Directions: Grind the dried horse corn into flour. Boil water in a pot. Dump a bunch of dried horse corn flour into the boiling water. Stir. Continue to boil and stir until the mixture assumes the consistency of wet cement. Eat.) This is actually typical Tanzanian food, and it’s often all villagers can afford to eat day after day. But many of my students come from wealthier families in town who can afford to eat rice and vegetables quite often. As a result, the audience thought the reference to tasteless school food was a scream.
Another memorable act cautioned students about the dangers of falling into the patterns of corruption so common among successful Tanzanians. Through an interpretive recitation/skit, they depicted the Tanzania that would develop if they – the students of today – did not break the precedent set by the businessmen and politicians of their parents’ generation. Reminiscent of the regime ruled by Biff in Back to the Future II, the corrupt Tanzania of the future featured thieving politicians, careless doctors, and selfish teachers. But bahati nzuri, by good luck, a pure-hearted witch doctor was on hand to hypnotize those susceptible to corruption. The witch doctor, played by one of my current students, a popular girl named Eva, convinced the unscrupulous degenerates to rise above their venal ways. By the end of the skit, the characters were locked into a witch doctored trance, reciting quips such as, “I will not be corrupt,” and “I will never again accept a bribe.”
Among these clever performances were the usuals: several Christian chant-type songs, some hip-hop renditions, and at least two plays featuring a character who has sex, gets AIDS, and dies in quick succession. These standards have graced the “stage” at all four talent exhibitions I’ve witnessed here at the school Still, the messages are always good, and quite frequently the skits and songs are delivered with legitimate skill.

After the talent show, it was a regular party. We teachers had a momentary dispute about which classroom we would occupy, since it seemed that every location was somehow too near to where the students would be conducting their own festivities. Apparently, we wanted nothing to do with them. Finally, we chose a classroom and opened the buckets (literally) of food. There was pilau (spiced rice), cow meat (by no means steak), fried chicken, cooked vegetables, and even salad! The salad, called kachimbali, consists of tomatoes, green peppers, carrots, and other sundry vegetables drenched in their own juices and with some added flavors, such as lemon or salt. Asking for kachimbali is the only way to obtain raw vegetables here (unless you have a garden, which I…do not), so I go a little crazy when I have the opportunity to eat it. My plate was piled high, mainly with chicken and kachimbali.
We proceeded to have a mini-disco, during which I miraculously persuaded the teacher-DJ to play mostly American music. (I suspect that he just wanted to see me dance, and knows I have a hard time finding a hip-swayable beat in Tanzanian Gospel music.) Meanwhile, the students had their own parties: a hardcore, mostly-hiphop disco in one classroom, with a real DJ from Njombe town; Gospel music videos in another; and Gospel singing and dancing in the last. Supervision was light, to say the least, so who knows what other antics went down behind the dormitories and in the woods.

Eventually, I finished two beers without getting the slightest bit drunk (shocking the daylights out of the Tanzanians), worked with the school nurse to collect all 650 students’ soda bottles in their proper crates, and got my first legitimate Tanzanian marriage proposal (legitimate = not from a cab driver or other fleeting acquaintance). Just as the sun went down over the backs of the silhouetted mountaintops in the distance, the electricity died – in the middle of my favorite Tanzanian pop song, “Boy You’re Love is Wicked,” by Brick&Lace (Download it.).

"The generator is overworked,” the machine chief told me. “It won’t work again until tomorrow.” So the party ended abruptly, much like this blog post is ending right now.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Let There Be Light

…shouted the American Peace Corps Volunteer as the eight newly-installed tube lights in her bush house flickered on for the first time. Well, ok, only two of the eight newly-installed tube lights actually flickered on that first night. But thankfully, the fundi [fundi: (n.) a professional, or expert, who may or may not have any actual proficiency in his/her advertised skill, in this case electricity – an electrician, if you will…sorry for so carelessly neglecting this word in my Kiswanglish glossary of a few weeks ago] and his assistant hadn’t left the neighborhood yet, so I just called him back and had them fix the other six.

Just a few months after my school’s purchase of a powerful, diesel-eating, electricity-producing milling machine, the single row of ten teachers’ houses on campus, at the very bottom of which squats my own, was wired for electricity. The school, whose classrooms and dormitories are stationed across the main road from our homes, has always used a small generator to facilitate the students’ “evening prep” study hours. Until less than a week ago, though, come the 7pm sunset, my house was sunken beneath the heavy tide of darkness, preserved only by the flimsily buoyant wisps of candle flames.

And then the electricity arrived.

This wildly fortunate development was entirely unexpected. With decidedly un-Tanzanian speed, the authorities at my school notified us teachers about the incoming electricity and successfully carried out its installation in less than one week. Each house was fitted with as many tube lights as it has rooms and three outlets, all of which now function from 7pm to 10pm each evening.

When the fundi arrived at my house with his assistant, they tore a 3x3-foot hole out of my ceiling so that they could hoist themselves into the narrow space between the tin roof and the cork ceiling boards. When I asked them if they were going to repair it, they said, “Who, us?” Once the wires (which came, draped like clothesline through the air, from my neighbor’s house) were strung into my “attic,” they needed to somehow be fed down into my living space. As far as I could see, the greatest obstacle was the absence of a drill, which could have been used to bore small holes in the ceiling through which the wires could have been thread somewhat tastefully. The fundi and his assistant didn’t share my concern for ceiling aesthetics, though, which became obvious when they started smashing 3x3-inch hammer holes in my corkboard and sliding skinny little wires through them.

A small price to pay, I thought, and I was right. The large, tattered hole where the fundi and his assistant climbed through my ceiling seems an overly convenient entrance for creepy things like bugs, rats, and bats, but I’ve covered the smaller hammer holes up with duct tape. This looks a bit tacky, but then again so does the rest of my house’s pied, do-what-you-can-with-what-you-have decorative style. And the most important part is: it lights up. Since they bopped holes all over my ceiling, the lights have come on reliably, every night, and I’ve enjoyed three full hours of tube lighting and phone charging. Not to mention iPod and computer charging.

And my Tanzanian friends and colleagues? Well, they like it just fine. During one conversation, a teacher said, "These developments are coming so fast. Soon, it'll be just like Laura's home." Maybe not quite, but at least I'll be able to see the differences after the sun goes down.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Kiswanglish

It’s English! It’s Kiswahili! It’s…Kiswanglish!

Ok, don’t bother commenting on how lame I am, because I already know. But I also know a special American-in-Tanzania dialect of language about which I’ve been fielding scores of questions lately, mainly due to a full month of visitors and my increasing inability to recall details of American life. So I’m using this opportunity to clear some things up. The following is an abridged list of Kiswanglish terms, some of which have been mentioned in previous blogs, and their approximate definitions. Also included are some Anglophone-friendly explanations and real-life usage examples.

A small disclaimer: We all know those people who go off to foreign countries, learn new languages, and return with slightly annoying and somewhat sententious habits of “accidentally” slipping words from their new languages into their English conversations. True, this is often unavoidable. Our brains form linguistic habits which are sometimes hard to break, and our tongues have muscle memories. (When I got back from France, it was terribly difficult to remember to excuse myself with “sorry” instead of “pardon” – or, in NYC, not to excuse myself at all.) Other times these foreign language interjections are just methods of showing off a newfound brilliance in a non-native language. Kiswanglish is neither of these. Americans in Tanzania use Swahili terminology in everyday English because there simply is no alternative. Supposed English translations are inadequate or entirely inaccurate. That is why I’ve done my best to provide felicitous explanations for the most commonly used Kiswanglish words, so hopefully you’ll understand me next time you see me, in December, and I unwittingly drop a “duka” or a “pole” into our conversation.

The glossary (arranged in alphabetical order):

Bafu
Supposed English Translation: (n.) bathroom / shower room
Actual Definition: A space devoted to bathing, sometimes including a tin ceiling and a cement floor with a drain (as at my house), but typically consisting of a dirt floor, 2-4 stick and/or mud walls with (occasionally) a thatched roof. Never includes a shower or a shower head; rarely includes a faucet of any kind.
Additional notes: If a person says “I’m going to the bathroom,” (s)he means (s)he’s going to the bathroom. Maybe the speaker is at a fancy hotel, or maybe visiting a friend in town or in Europe. If the speaker is lucky, (s)he is home for the holidays. But in the village, we Americans in Tanzania say we’re going to the bafu, because really, we’re going to the bafu. We’ll probably carry with us a bucket full of water and a pitcher, because those are the tools of bathing.
Real-Life Example: Since I live by myself, I usually don’t close my bafu door when I oga.
Cross-references: choo, kuoga

Choo
Supposed English Translation: (n.) toilet
Actual Definition: A hole in the ground serving as a depository for human waste, sometimes including a porcelain bowl set in the ground and/or a slide pipe to carry waste into a “septic system” (as at my house), but more frequently consisting of a deep dirt hole in the ground, usually with two cement blocks on either side (that’s where you put your feet!).
Additional notes: Some of the nicest choos flush. Mine doesn’t, so I just pour some water down after each go. Again, at a safi hotel, I’ll say I’m going to the bathroom. In the village, I go only to the choo.
Real-Life Example: While the men were trying to push the bus out of the mud pit in the road, I had to pee so badly that I went to the farmer’s house and asked to use his choo.
Cross-references: bafu

Coasta
Supposed English Translation: (n.) coaster
Actual Definition: A large, rectangular vehicle somewhat resembling an oversized VW van, usually with about thirty seats and a maximum capacity of infinity.
Additional notes: A coasta is essentially an oversized daladala, except it’s usually reserved for longer trips.
Real-Life Example: To get from Njombe to Iringa, you can stand in the aisle of the big bus for about three hours, or you can sit on a coasta for at least five hours.
Cross-references: daladala, konda

Daladala
Supposed English Translation: (n.) N/A…no one’s even tried.
Actual Definition: A minivan, sometimes oversized, and sometimes with a raised roof to make standing more, um, comfortable. Serves as public transportation in and around big towns. Usually contains about seventeen seats and has a maximum capacity of…did you think hippies stuffed themselves into VW Beetles effectively? Think again.
Additional notes: In Kiswanglish, the redundance of this word is overwhelming. We shorten it to “dala.” There is no filling up a dala. Just when you think there is absolutely no more space, and you can’t possibly be wedged any further into the hairy, sweaty armpit of the smelly old man with no teeth who’s standing on your ankles, the driver hits the breaks, everyone sways forward with the same breath of inertia, and the konda welcomes three more passengers. The good news is, there are usually a few broken windows through which to stretch cramped limbs. And don’t worry for you’re your life on Tanzania’s undersized, unpatrolled roads, because most likely, the vehicle’s doors and cracked windows are painted with the name and face of a prayerful patron of safety, like Jesus, the Pope, or 50 Cent.
Real-Life Example: His butt was hanging over the window’s edge, and her boobs were draped over a nun’s face, but the dala still stopped to pick up eight new passengers!
Cross-references: coasta, konda

Duka
Supposed English Translation: (n.) shop
Actual Definition: Indoor, usually dirty, kiosk-type selling station with a counter behind which a customer stands to request items, which the seller will then retieve from behind the counter.
Additional notes: With the exceptions of specialized dukas and safi dukas, nearly all dukas sell the same items at the same prices, even if they are next door to or across the narrow alleyway from each other. In the words of one of my December visitors, “In Tanzania, I have not seen a single duka that, were I to see it in America, I would even consider buying anything from.”
Real-Life Example: (One Peace Corps Volunteer consulting another) You know that one duka sort of across the street from the curtain duka, the one with the really nice Mama who always takes 100 shillings off the price of toilet paper?
Cross-references: safi

Jiko
Supposed English Translation: (n.) 1) stove; 2) kitchen
Actual Definition: 1) Squat (about ten inches high), round stove powered by charcoal or kerosene; 2) Cooking area without running water, where food is stored, cooked, and eaten on the floor.
Additional notes: Yeah…we don’t have jikos in America. And we don’t have lighter fluid in Tanzania.
Real-Life Example: 1) I spent an hour trying to light my charcoal jiko yesterday, and I was fanning it with a bucket lid when my neighbor came over and laughed at me before she got it going full-blast in under three minutes. 2) We cut the vegetables on the floor of her jiko and then fried them in oil until they were soggy.

Konda
Supposed English Translation: (n.) conductor
Actual Definition: While a Tanzanian bus konda does collect money and hand out tickets much like an NJTransit train conductor, he has many other responsibilities unique to his nationality and his phonetically-spelled and abbreviated job title. A konda’s additional duties include but are not limited to: organizing fifty-pound bags of flour, sugar, etc. underneath the seats of the bus to maximize leg room and minimize spillage; refereeing spats (or fist fights) over stolen assigned seats; safely delivering bush mail (envelopes making their ways from senders to recipients by way of one or several bus dashboards – these envelopes often contain the life savings of senders); waking up dozing passengers who have reached their destinations; coaching the bus driver and directing bus pushers out of mud pits; playing mechanic to broken down buses.
Additional notes: For us Peace Corps Volunteers, it’s essential to make best friends of the kondas who run the buses from the villages to town, because kondas are important people who can help you out a lot or screw you over big time.
Real-Life Example: My konda gives me a 500-shilling discount every time I go to town because he’s trying to get me to marry him.
Cross-references: daladala, coasta

Kuchota
Supposed English Translation: (v.) to fetch
Actual Definition: Well, ok. I guess this one actually does sort of mean “to fetch.” But we use the phrase “kuchota maji” – “to fetch water.” And when’s the last time you used the phrase “to fetch water” in America? It just doesn’t feel right in twenty-first century English.
Additional notes: In Kiswanglish, the final “a” often gets dropped, making the more typically used form “chote.”
Real-Life Example: We went to chote maji, but the well was broken. (Or, more accurately: We went to chote maji and we broke the well.)

Kuoga
Supposed English Translation: (v.) to bathe
Actual Definition: To use a pitcher repeatedly to scoop water out of a bucket and pour it over the body in an effort to cleanse oneself/remove the ubiquitous dirt and dust of Tanzania. Additional notes: This word does not mean “to shower.” More often, the tone with which it’s said intimates, “Damn, I miss hot showers.”
Real-Life Example: I’ve been too lazy to oga this week, so maybe I smell a little.
Cross-references: bafu

Safi

Supposed English Translation: (adj.) clean
Actual Definition(s): Clean, cool, ok, excellent, American, new, great job, sparkling, washed, shiny, I get it, stellar, we’re done here, I agree, etc. etc. etc.
Additional notes: Probably the most frequently-used Kiswanglish term, with the possible exception of pole. It’s most often used to describe nice hotels with hot showers, safe buses with big seats, and other comparatively luxurious experiences. But it’s assigned permanently to certain dukas which sell safi items such as oats, ketchup, and wine.
Real-Life Example: Let’s stay at that safi hotel tonight so I can take a hot shower and finally wash my hair.
Cross-references: duka

Pole (pronounced “pole – ay”)
Supposed English Translation: (?.) sorry
Actual Definition: I’m so sorry. It must suck to be you right now. Please accept my condolences and let’s move on from this awkward moment.
Additional notes: Definitely the most important and most frequently-used Kiswanglish term. It’s good for any situation (i.e. someone falls in the dirt, someone fails a test, someone gets robbed, someone’s family member dies, someone’s bus falls over in a mud pit, someone sneezes, someone stubs a toe, someone breaks a sternum), and can be used genuinely or insincerely.
Real-Life Example: Pole that your cat got eaten by your villagers.


The Inconclusive End. Enjoy your day.

Monday, November 3, 2008

My First Village Wedding

I woke up early, at the same time I always wake up in Africa. 6:15am, without an alarm. It's about the time the light in my East window intensifies as the sun rises up and out of the early morning fog. Because it was Saturday, though, I decided to lie in bed for an extra few minutes. At 6:30 on the dot, I heard footsteps coming from up the road.
Many Peace Corps Volunteers in Tanzania suffer from what we have unofficially termed "Hodi Anxiety." As I've described in past blogs, "hodi" is a called word used in lieu of the Western knock on the door. In our inevitable and often unintentionally-used Kiswanglish, "hodi" may be used as a verb (e.g. I heard him outside, and I was afraid he would hodi, so I crouched down on the floor so he wouldn't see me through the window and I could pretend I wasn't home.), a noun (e.g. I think 6:30am is a little early for hodies.), an adjective (e.g. And then I did a hodi dance because she didn't want to stay and talk; she just wanted to give me a cob of corn!), or pretty much any other part of speech you creatively want or circumstantially need. Anyway, Hodi Anxiety, as I'm sure you've begun to deduce, is a fretful apprehension induced by a suggestion (such as footsteps) that a person is on the point of hodiing at your house. Hodi Anxiety is, I'm sure, spawned from some deep insecurity we all developed growing up in modern America and learning the culture of never, ever knocking on someone's door unexpectedly, since that necessarily means you are a solicitor or a psycho.
So naturally, when I heard the approaching footsteps at 6:30am, I was seized by an attack of Hodi Anxiety. I lay very still in my bed, careful not to make a sound. I breathed shallowly, since the concrete walls conduct sound inordinately well through their gaps and apertures. At 6:30 on a Saturday morning, I wanted the hodier to think I was still sleeping and go away without too much effort (the longer they try, the guiltier you feel). And then it came.
"Hodi!"
I shut my eyes and waited.
"Hodi!" It was familiar voices. I groaned. It was the oldest two of the four little girls who live next door, Neema and Martha. They're absolutely adorable, not to mention two of my best Tanzanian friends. As if that wasn't guilt enough, Neema has recently been diagnosed with some unmentionable disease, about which I can get no information other than that it is "incurable."
"Hodi!"
"I'm coming!" I finally called as I threw back the covers and climbed out of the opening in my mosquito net. On my way to the front door, I stepped into some sweat pants, since I had been sleeping in shorts, which are entirely unacceptable attire, even when alone. I opened the door.
"Laula," they said in unison, with two L's and no R's. They like to say my name. I don't know why. Every time they see me, they say my name and wait, as if I'm suppsoed to respond in a certain way.
"Mambo?" I said.
"Safi. Shikamoo."
"Marahaba." It was a quick greeting; after these simple exchanges, they jumped right in.
"Why aren't you dressed?" Neema asked.
"For what?" I said, as I suddenly noticed that they were wearing their best dresses and matching shoes.
"The wedding."
"What wedding?"
"Teacher Mdeka's wedding."
"That's not til tomorrow."
"No, it's today."
"At school they told us Sunday." (People get married on all days of the week here, even Tuesdays.)
"They made a mistake. It's today."
"How do you know?"
"Baba and Mama are the wedding sponsors. They left yesterday. The wedding is today."
"Does everyone else know it's today?" I asked, suspicious that I hadn't been informed.
"They'll figure it out," said Martha.
At the girls' urging, I got ready. I tried to wear my best Tanzanian "suti" (suit), a matching "sketi na sheti" (skirt and shirt), which I wore for my Peace Corps Swearing-In Ceremony last year, but as I was opening the shirt to put it on, the zipper broke. I had to settle for my other "sketi na sheti," which is, from a Tanzanian perspective, not as pretty because it's white and "white people don't look good in white clothes."
By 7 o'clock, I was ready. "So, where do we get the bus?" I asked the girls. Mdeka's wedding was in a village about fifteen kilometers away.
"At school," they told me. "But it's not coming for us until 9 o'clock."
"9 o'clock? Why'd you wake me up so early?"
"We wanted to make sure you were ready. We're going to go make sure Teacher Kapinga is ready now!" And they ran out the door, leaving me with two Saturday morning hours to kill alone in my second-best Tanzanian clothes.

Anyway, that was a very long preface to what this blog is actually about, which is the village wedding of one of my fellow math teachers. When I at last arrived at school, at 9:20 (I try to keep a somewhat Tanzanian schedule of lateness or else I'd spend half of these two years just waiting for other people to show up or for meetings to start), I was the first one there. Since I had still been suspicious that a 7- and a 9-year-old were better informed than me (although, I am a foreigner, which, in terms of information and understanding of my surroundings, ranks me somewhere between newborns and my water pipe), I had called a few friends to verify the "leaving at 9 o'clock" rumor. They had confirmed it, so I knew that I was not early and that the wedding was in fact not on the day they had originally said it was on. The Tanzanians were just all later than me.
It ended up that I rode with Neema, Martha, two other female teachers, and the school nurse not in our rented bus, but in the LandCruiser of our school's patron, who is a bigshot but was a biggershot in the leading party of Tanzania's national government. During the course of the half-hour ride, our patron told me three times that I had broken a rule by wearing Tanzanian clothes to a Tanzanian wedding. Apparently, I should have worn American clothes to demonstrate my unique style and draw even more attention to myself than I do normally simply by being white. After driving, lost, down a few random bush roads, we arrived at the church.
Outside, a large group of people were - in my best Kiswanglish - chezaing ngoma, or dancing to traditional African drumbeats. Except the traditional African drums had been preempted by large, generator-powered speakers thumping the "ntz ntz" bass sound we Americans associate with dance clubs.
Around the church were parked several flat-bed lorries, which had brought several large groups to the wedding. We were the first to arrive in a private car, with the exception of the bride and groom, who were driven to the church by my headmaster, a rarity with his own car.
The bride and groom began processing into the church together, arm in arm, while the crowd of dancers continued to stomp and shake, periodically approaching the couple to wave hands and ululate in their faces. If it had been my wedding, I certainly would have burst into delirious laughter at such a happy sight (I did this anyway), but Tanzanian cultural precepts demand that the bride and groom abstain from laughter and merriness on their wedding day. Friends, relatives, and crashers are welcome and in fact expected to dance in a frenzy, laugh uproariously, and cheer hysterically, all to the point of mayhem and pandemonium, but through all this, the newlyweds must crack nary a smirk nor a simper. Moreover, they are not permitted to speak to or look at one another. And since the Christian ceremony in Tanzania does not call for a kiss, this is but a matter of iron will power and self-control.
As the ceremony progressed, a number of things occurred that visitors might find strange. First, there was the steady whurr of the generator, powering the "ntz ntz" of the oversized speakers, which played during every musical interlude, even the relgious ones. It also powered the microphone, which was necessary so the priest could be heard by the guests who arrived too late to find a pew to sit on in the small, rectangular church. (Although we arrived later than most, we were called by the priest to sit up front because we're teachers.) Next, there was the recognition of our school's patron as the guest of honor, and the relocation of his chair to a spot on the altar beside the priest. This was promptly followed by a district head's public plea into the microphone for money to buy textbooks; he even cited two other occasions on which our patron had donated to different schools. Finally, our attention was directed to the bride and groom, who were patiently and solemnly sitting in their chairs facing the altar. Periodically, the sweat on their faces was dabbed away by the handkerchiefs of my neighbors, the wedding sponsors, who sat behind them.
The content on the wedding ceremony was quite like those in America, with one notable exception. Immediately before the vows, the priest gave his speech about the expectations and roles of each - the husband and the wife - starting after the wedding. The roles of the husband were brief: to love his wife, to understand her, to care for her and provide for her financially. The roles of the wife, however, required a history. The priest recounted in detail how woman was made from a piece of man and therefore is not as whole as him. But that is ok, he said, because she was created only as a helper. Man is the head of the household, and a wife's duty is singular - to obey her husband. Like the husband must try to understand her, she must try to understand her husband - although, as the priest understood, it would be harder for her, given her naturally inferior intellect.
Then the couple vowed to meet these expectations, fulfill these roles, and be faithful to each other until death. The guests shouted and sang and danced, crowding the newlyweds. They blew whistles (yes, whistles, like referees' whistles) and ululated and generally brought the house down. After a time, order was restored so that a few short speeches could be made and a few irrelevant autobiographies recounted. And then we were whisked away to the reception on our own sets of two feet each.

The walk was about two miles in the beating equator sun, but when we arrived, we reclined restfully on hard, backless benches made out of bisected logs. The benches sat underneath makeshift canopies of straw and old burlap maize bags, which were balanced atop bamboo crossbeams held aloft by heavy branches, carefully chosen for the v-shaped forks at the tops and hammered into the ground.
The bride, groom, wedding sponsors, their families, and our patron the guest of honor sat up front on wooden couches that had been borrowed from living rooms. The wedding chairman, who was also the MC, made it his first order of business to announce that he was ready to return the flashlight he had borrowed the previous night, and he asked its owner to come forward to retrieve it. His second order of business was to say, in Swahili, "I might have to speak some broken language or some French today. We have a white person here." Everyone looked at me, laughing, and I waved both my hands with disguised consternation. We continued to celebrate, eating with out fingers for lack of utensils and listening to various choirs perform. Then we offered our gifts.
Giving gifts at a Tanzanian wedding is one of the most unambiguously, outrageously fun experiences available in our perplexing little world. A line of people forms at the entrance to the bamboo/straw/burlap canopy and dances toward the still unsmiling newlyweds. They approach the couple as a collective, stomping, screaming, and dancing the color out of the flattened grass under their feet. The gifts are passed above heads, backwards and forwards among the processing dancers until the celebrated couple is reached, at which point everyone continues to dance while everyone else is shaking hands with the wedding party. Eventually, one group clears out and allows another to offer their own gifts. When our group of teachers frolicked up with our offerings, we made such a hullabaloo of screaming and banging sticks against our gifts of kitchen pots and hoe blades that the MC was moved to accusations. "These teachers act like students," he said into the microphone. "We should hit them with sticks."
Everyone laughed, and we left. We wanted to get home to bathe before Zee Comedy Show, Tanzania's primetime version of SNL. On the way out, I was stopped three times by people wanting to tell me how funny they found my (apparently unsuccessful) efforts to "cheza ngoma." Tanzanians, by the way, are not shy about laughing at a person. They'll do it right to his or her face, and even unabashedly ask you to repeat your feat of humor. One woman even yelled, laughing, to her friends as I passed them, "Tell the white person to do her dance steps again so we can watch!" I went home with my colleagues and friends to watch Zee Comedy Show and laugh at someone else.
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