Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Many Realities of Tanzania

I hardly know where to begin as so much has happened in the last few weeks. It has felt like several life times or at least a whole childhood relearning patterns of behaviour and communication. I guess I will start with some of the lessons I have learned and then go onto my exciting plans that have gone from seeds to sprouts before my eyes.

To be honest Reality is harsh here and so sometimes the people seem to be too. It is not a place where people are constantly concerned with how you are (though they may not actually care). You have to say what you want and what you don't want, there are no games in the way they communicate. It has been an intense lesson and I am still working on it. People care for each other but only if you ask and this is something we don't do at home. I almost feel guilty asking them for help but they don't care they expect it of you. It is an excellent practice at looking at what you really need and what you don't want. Saying no is particularly important, as they will not stop if you fumble on your answer. I can see why people do not have the neuroses here we have in the West but I can also see why so many of these people get cheated out by foreigners and locals who know how to play games with their words. There was a German doctor staying at the Jeshi for a few days before Christmas. He was about 65 and came from a very different generation than me. I had quite the love hate relationship with him. I loved having someone to talk to and some of the stuff he said was interesting the other stuff was slightly horrifying. He has been too many different countries during times of war or suffering to help people, and perhaps you would expect him to be a calm, caring fellow but on the contrary he was an abrasive, angry man who likes the drink. He sees life here in a startling and yet refreshing way. He sees the life of these people living with nothing and understands why they would rob each other or get stuck on a mzungu (white person) in hopes of salvation and yet he often referred to the people here as barbaric and stupid. He himself has a Tanzanian girlfriend who he says helps keep him in check while he helps her and her baby survive. His words all seemed to contradict each other and yet they all spoke of his reality. He seems to have taken on the abrasiveness that people here have but doesn’t quite have the calmness that they possess. One thing he said which I really liked was that people here will always forgive and once they forgive they will not bring it back up and rub it in your face, it is gone forever.

My days have become filled with much more action and I actually haven’t been studying or doing yoga as much as I was. I have started to teach English to a friend on Saturday mornings and I make a journey to the market ever second day to pick up the most fabulous fresh produce, a ripe juicy mango only costs 30 cents. I also have been to visit my friends in Mbande, the village I lived in last time I was here and went to the most amusing Christmas party ever. I was invited by Alex (who works at the Jeshi) to come to his house for christmas, so Abdallah, his daughter and I got all dressed up and hopped in a cab. The safari took us threw the small streets on Mbagala a large settlement on the outskirts of Dar to a beautiful home in the midst of great poverty. It was actually Alex’s friend’s house and by the time we arrived at 4pm they were all well on their way to being inebriated. They welcomed us warmly and immediately began to feed us alcohol. The yard was filled with children; some relatives, some the house girls and others kids of the four families gathered together. I was very thankful that these were all quite well educated people, even their kids went to private school and thus they could speak English because it gets tiring trying to understand people speaking Swahili after many hours. After many drinks and lots of laughing we were invited to the back where a beautiful feast had been spread out; pilau, rice, beef, chicken, salad, fruit and an amazing chilly sauce. We feasted and ate our fill and then came the music. Tanzanians really love ridiculously loud music, I don’t fully understand it but I highly enjoyed it this time. After a few more drinks (I had consumed a whole bottle of wine by this point) we started to dance to joyous African gospel, middle eastern inspired Tarabu and some bongo flava. I even learned a South African Kwaito line dance. It was a great party and
We partied hard until after 11pm. It was definitely the most action packed Christmas I have ever had.

Since Christmas I have been on the hunt for somewhere to live as the Jeshi will leave me bankrupt soon and haven’t had much luck yet, as I had to check out the beach area which was really pricey ($80-300/mth). But I have faith as I have some friends who pay as little as $12/mth for a room to $65 for a modest two bedroom home. I have also just put in my application for my residence permit which will allow me to stay in the country and volunteer for a year. I have started working with a wonderful local NGO started by an inspiring young man who comes from a very poor area near lake Victoria and was lucky enough to meet Jane Goodall at a young age and his involvement with her foundation roots and shoots has changed his whole life. His foundation is called Rafiki Development Foundation and works mainly with sustainability projects to help local people live a better life and take care of the environment.  I am currently putting together an environmental education program to pilot at a few schools and an orphanage here in Dar and we also hope to build an educational centre where people can learn about sustainable building, organic farming, wildlife and forest conservation, the 3 Rs and renewable energies. I am starting to help write the proposal for this and will let you all know more soon. At the moment though if you feel so inclined I would love it if you would download the igive donation button. It is a simple download and whenever you purchase anything at an online store $5 or a % is given to RDF.

Many thanks and so much love to you all

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Tanzania First impressions the second time round

I have now found myself in Tanzania for a little over a week and it has been an intense 10 days. Last time I came here I was blessed to come with my professor and 6 other students and I didn’t realize till now just how wonderful it was to have them around. It is quite ironic that on my Europe trip I longed for time alone and now I long for someone to talk to who can understand what it is like to be here as a Mzungu (white person). It has taken me a good week to get a handle on the language again and be comfortable with venturing out to new places on my own. It feels a little like a test on my abilities to survive and to trust while being careful. Most days I meet men as they are the ones out and about working and usually they are the best educated, though yesterday I met my friend Abdallah’s brother who is in his third year of high school and studies everything in English and was unable to speak to me in English. Most of these men are usually only attracted to my white skin and the thought that I have money. Ninakupenda baby (I love you baby) is a phrase I often hear. Though some genuinely want to share ideas and learn about different cultures and people. It is hard to trust in this situation as most people here I would say who are my friends constantly warn me to avoid these people.

Education is greatly lacking here and many people only finish grade 7, some don’t even get that far. There is also an incredible amount of unemployment here, I am not sure of the percent but about a third of the people I meet are unemployed and another third are surviving off of petty business ventures like selling underwear or fruit or anything they can afford to buy. I find it amazing that people always try to survive here, they don’t give up and family and neighbours help each other out. Though sometimes that means they will steal your stuff or give you company in order to get food and drinks.

I did meet some very cool young ladies who were here from Kenya for the East African Handball competition. They spoke English which was a nice change of pace and they were all in university or high school. I went to watch the finals that they lost to Tanzania and the Men’s semi finals. This is quite an interesting game. It is super fast, very aggressive and oh how the people in the crowd get worked up. It was hilarious like a hockey game times if everyone in the crowd was yelling at the players, coach or refs. We also went out to possibly the most hilarious bar I have ever been to. Not knowing where to go we want to go their driver took us to a random bar and we walked into to this place with a circular stage in the middle and people all seated around. It was some sort of a strange talent show or karaoke event, people would get on stage and dance, lip sync or impersonate the singer and people would get up and give small change to the people on stage if they liked it. There was some amazing ass shaking and impressive gymnastics from the men, there even was a midget who got up and danced several times. During breaks from the performances we all got on stage and danced and the ladies taught me all sorts of amusing dance moves. I wish I had of had my video camera.

This week my days will be expanding from doing yoga, studying Swahili and going to town. I finally got my professors kitchen goodies so I can start cooking for myself. Today I went to the market and got two bags of produce for $5, yum yum. I will also be going to a school in a village near by to teach some English and tutoring math at an orphanage in town. I am also in contact with a developing NGO who I want to help in implementing an environmental awareness course in schools using English, art, music and gardening. 

Granada and the end of Spain

Oh Granada, what a love song I could write for you. If you have never been to Granada you absolutely must go!! It is exactly what I love in a place. Old buildings created over the centuries by many different cultures, tapas that come free with your drink, three exclusively veg/vegan restaurants, hills and mountains to climb in, amazing sunsets, hot springs, caves where hippies and gypsies live, flamenco on every corner, and of course the Alhambra watching over all of it.

After being told by many people to go to Granada, we found ourselves there after 13 days on the road staying at the fabulous hostel Rambutan. It was a welcome change from the busy streets of Amsterdam, Barcelona and Sevilla. Ashley and I immediately felt at home in the amazing landscape, tucked into the hills the perfect balance of civilization meeting nature. The Rambutan happens to be located at the top of albhaycin the oldest part of town just below the caves. This area is amazing with tiny little winding streets moving up a vast hill. It was a great workout and an amazing adventure every time we ventured to and from the Rambutan. In fact it was so fabulous we ended up staying there for 12 days.

We stayed for many reasons, first because it was incredibly beautiful, second because it felt safe enough for Ashley and I could have time alone to reflect on our journey, third because the food and drinks were amazing and lastly and most importantly we met some super awesome people; Isa and Nick who ran the hostel, Alex who worked there and Doris from Amsterdam who shared a glorious week with us and many others we met there.

Everyday was refreshing and relaxing; I arose early and ate a damn fine breakfast for hostel with fresh baked bread, eggs, muesli and coffee. Then we would wonder about the streets, go shopping, eat amazing food, go on one of the many free tours, relax in the Arab baths, walk in the hills or just chill out at the hostel reading and playing on the internet. We went to two superb flamenco shows, one was a weekly event in the local theatre and another was a nightly gathering in a little bar in a cave. The fierceness and power of these dancers is amazing and the facial expressions they use are so intense. I had hoped to study some flamenco while we were there, but it will wait for another time when I have more time and can really immerse myself in it. As Granada will definitely be a place I will return to! I of course did get to dance in Granada. The first weekend we were there we were told about a pirate bar by some gay guys at a tapas bar. Oh and I was hooked the minute we went in. Pirate paintings all of the walls, the dj booth looked like a ships helm, their mojitos were seriously strong and seriously delicious and they played the most fabulous Latin music that I just couldn’t stop shaking my hips to. We went back our last night in town needless to say ;)

Finally we had to say goodbye to Granada and so we headed to Madrid to visit Cristina who was so lovely as to host us. Madrid again was a nice change from the quiet of Granada we were once again in a big city but it doesn’t seem as crazy as Barcelona. This time we did the real touristy stuff. We went to see the Egyptian temple and then went and tapas bar hopped, another day we shopped around and went to the national geographic cafĂ© and finally on our last day we to the prado, which was a nice treat. Though I must admit the intense amount of religious art that is in European museums does very little for me.

And we had reached the end we flew to London and slept in a little Japanese style bunker hotel in the airport and in the morning we drank our last coffee to together and had a good cry as Ashley went to board her plane at London Gatwick and I journeyed on by myself to Heathrow to begin my long journey to Tanzania. It was a magickal journey filled with much learning about relationships, patience, boundaries and supporting ourselves and others. So much love to you Ashley!!!