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The views expressed herein are mine and not those of the Peace Corps.

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Mawazo kuhusu Marekani

I got home three days ago, and it’s almost like I never left. I get flashes of “…wait, that’s not right”: looking right instead of left when I cross the street; a doubletake when I reflexively poured myself a glass of tapwater; astonishment at the cleanness–no dust! no mud!; the feeling that I should know every white person I see on the street. But it feels natural to be here, feels normal to be seeing family and friends.

Will culture shock come later?

Nipo Marekani

So I’m home! I’ll be around until January 8th. Drop me a line if you’ll be in DC or Philly!

Nakula ugali

Sitting with my friend at her duka in the afternoon, her daughter brings food and we move behind the counter to eat it. As we eat the ugali and beans with our hands I flash back to the trip I tagged along on with my father, when we went to Zambia. In Livingstone, the town on the Zambia side of Victoria Falls, we sat outside, under a tree at a beautifully decorated restaurant that served local food to tourists. We ate with our hands: nshima (ugali by any other name is just as bland), beans, fish, spinach. At the time I regarded the meal as an interesting insight into how locals lived, never once thinking that a few years later I’d be living in a nearby country and eating such food as a matter of course. I remember to remind myself that the future is more infinite than I can possibly envision.

Unajua najisikia vipi

I notice a strange sepia light coming through the curtains, so I pull them aside and look out on the most beautiful evening I’ve seen here, which is saying quite a lot. It’s like a Lisa Frank landscape come to life, but subtle and natural and minus the unicorns and dolphins. Each cardinal direction has something different: in the west, delicate white clouds edged with gold from the setting sun; in the north, two birds on a wire flank the bottom of a rainbow; east, a soft grey cloud tinged with pink on the edges hovers over the edge of glowing mountains; south, the other side of the rainbow descends into dark mountains, silhouetted against a subtly beautiful pastel sky.

I put on my best Nina Simone voice and sing to the cats. “Birds flying high, you know how I feel; sun in the sky, you know how I feel…” They remain nonplussed, reminding me that they’re only feeling good when there’s fresh food in their bowl. (If you were wondering–and I know you were–my best Nina Simone voice sounds good, but also sounds nothing like the great lady.)

Maji yanatoka!

Walking back to my house this evening, I noticed a kid at the tap in the back, filling a bucket with water. As a rule this would be par for the course here, but today it made me unutterably happy: the water had been out for more than a week, and on the walk home I’d been mentally weighing the fact that I really needed to bathe against the fact that it would use up most of my remaining water. I only had water at all thanks to a fortuitous heavy storm, the first of the season, last Thursday, which netted me 80L of water.

So, so many things I can’t do without water! As soon as I walked in the door I started refilling all my buckets (130L worth–I filled them all this time. May sound like a lot but think about all the things you use water for in a day) in case the water cut out again, then started heating water for a bath. I washed dishes, flushed the toilet, washed my underwear (which was getting to be a desperate situation: only one clean pair left!), mopped the floor to get rid of the smell of cat pee, cleaned the toilet, started boiling more water for drinking once the bathwater was ready. Bathed, wonderfully. Every time I bathe here I rejoice in being clean, and then forget how wonderful it is until the next week.

And now I’m clean and tired from all that work, but deeply happy to think about the full buckets of water in the bathroom and kitchen. Even if the water goes off again, it should last for another week.

Nitasafiri

Tickets have been purchased for my visit home this winter. I’ll be coming in to DC the evening of December 15 and leaving the evening of January 8. I’ll be in DC for much of that time, hopefully spending the days around New Year’s in Philly, and a weekend sometime in Delaware.

Kiswahili changu

A quick primer on Swahili I’m likely to use without realizing it:

Lakinibut or though. More like though, since it’s usually tacked onto the end of a sentence.
Pole–Accurately described by a friend as “like sorry, but better.” An expression of sympathy, for anything from dropping an orange or tripping to the death of a family member.
Sanavery. Pole sanavery sorry.
Kumbe–“Like surprise, but better.” Tanzanians don’t use it sarcastically, but PCVs do.
Labdamaybe. Ask a linguist about why this word is fascinating, I don’t remember.
Kwa hiyoso or therefore. I don’t use this a lot but several of my friends do.
Safi–literally clean but more colloquially used as nice or awesome or just generally good. PCVs call stores that carry luxury items safi dukas (a duka is a store). When someone makes a good play at a soccer game, the students on the sidelines yell “Safi!” It’s a common response to any “how are you?” type greeting, meaning excellent.
Sawaokay or clear
SijuiI don’t know.
Vipi?–literally How?, more like What’s up? The most common response is Safi.
Nini?What [thing]?
Bee (pronounced “bay” or “abay”)–for a woman, like saying yes? or yeah? when someone says your name, or what? if you haven’t heard what someone said. Men say nam in the same situations.

Swahili has also been messing with my English. Don’t judge too harshly if I say “even me” instead of “me too”, or “Peace Corpse” instead of “Peace Corps”. Also, pronunciation note: Swahili is said exactly like it’s spelled, unlike some languages I could name.

Ee

This afternoon Mama Ismael told me that I was coming with her to visit a bereaved friend in the evening; having nothing better to do, I agreed. She came by to pick me up a short while before it got dark and we walked over. After saying “pole” (sorry) a lot when we arrived, the conversation turned to other topics. These included: the friend’s trip (she apparently had both good luck, getting a free ride, and bad luck, having to wait a long time); hospitals (the consensus: clean, but they don’t treat you like people. Visiting hours in particular were complained about; the women agreed that it’s inhumane to prevent family and friends from seeing the sick people, and furthermore postulated that the sick people might die from lack of human contact. Given how social Tanzanians are, both theses might well be correct.); and concluded with a rousing session of gossip, much of which went over my head, involving a prodigious amount of agreeing with each other, speaking over one another, and repeating a single word back and forth in agreement. I said next to nothing, aside from various greetings and a few questions for her son, but it was definitely interesting to listen to the conversation and to observe the conversational twists and tendencies. While sitting there, it finally dawned on me that the reason I use “ee” so much in conversation is that Mama Ismael says it all the time, and maybe half the Swahili conversations I have are with her. So if nothing else, the evening provided that small revelation.

Baharini

The ocean is Dutch Blue. I painted it today.

Inspired by the previous resident of Linda’s house, and the fact that my cats are slowly shredding all the paper maps I have, I’m painting a world map on my living-room wall. I took down the small map I’d had up, overlaid a grid (10 squares down, 16 across; each block is 6″ by 6″), and penciled it up on the wall with the aid of a piece of posterboard. Then I drew on the oval shape of the projection; went to the market; bought paint, brushes. Laid down newspaper. Filled in the whole oval with a rich medium blue, glossy.

Now my living room smells like paint, a good clean (but strong) smell. So I open the front door, the back kitchen door, the kitchen door in between, and let the dusty wind run through my house. My cats and I stay in my bedroom, they because I’m afraid they’ll run out while all the doors are open and me to keep them company.

I’d wanted to paint the continents in blackboard paint, like at Linda’s house, but I haven’t been able to find any yet. Besides with, the blue is darker than I thought it would be, so it might be best to go with bright green (Brilliant Green, it says on the cans). If I were really ambitious, or more artistic, or crazy, I’d try to do it green and tan, for forested and deserty areas. That seems like much more of an undertaking, though, and I’m not sure I’m ready for it. Just straight green would be much safer.

That step’s still in the future, though, waiting for the paint to dry so I can draw the grid, then the shapes of the continents over the Dutch Blue ocean.

Sina maneno

Things here proceed as usual. September 17 was our one-year anniversary in country. Looking back, if I look at the experience overall it seems like much less time, but if I review events in my head I realize that rather a lot has fit into that year.

Also, there are a few more pictures up on Flickr.