Friday, August 29, 2008

mystery solved...and some clean clothes too

As I posted previously our washer was busted. It gave us some hope after carrying it in here and washing two loads before it sadly ceased, no water, notta spin to be heard. At least I did not spend the time scrubbing it clean like the other appliances because I have wised up to their "I promise I will work, buy me and take me home and then spend 2 hours scrubbing me, c'mon you know you want to." Ok, maybe I am going a little nuts thinking these appliances are conspiring against us but we have the stupid things break after one day 3 times in a row. I was especially desperate to get the washer working after hand washing all of our clothes yesterday and then carefully hanging them all on our line only to then have a terrential downpour ruin all my efforts. My neighbors thought it was pretty funny though; at least we offer some Mzungu comic relief around these parts. Again, we had negotiated a one month "warranty" of sorts; nothing is written just a verbal agreement but so far everyone has honored their word. Jason called the appliance seller the next morning and he said he would have a fundi ready and that Jason should swing by and pick the guy up bring him to our place and he would work some washer magic. Once the fundi got here he basically took the whole darn thing apart and the pieces were littering our bathroom and hallway. I cannot fathom how these guys know how all these used appliances from Europe and the Middle East work but apparently they do, or at least he hoped he would figure it out. After a couple hours of Jason and the fundi trying to figure the thing out he said he needed Jason to take him back to the shop to get money from the owner and then to a hardware shop to get some piece that was worn out in the old machine. The cool thing was that in this whole process they also found 3 items lodges inside the washer; an old screw, a necklace charm, and a Swedish Krona. How crazy is that? I immediately got all Red Violin about the situation and wondered where the life of this washer has taken it, where it has been? whose dirty clothes it spun clean? Why did they get rid of it (ok, besides the obvious it doesn't work?) and how in the heck did it land on an island off the coast of Africa? Maybe there was no romantic tale and a communist threat in there but still with no TV I make up stuff. The next day we picked up the same fundi and he came, reassembled the washer with the new part, and it worked!! So after it is 3 random items lighter and one new piece heavier it washed two loads today. The best news is that I am a Kroner richer and I am happily going to stop typing and fold some clean, fresh off the clothesline clothes.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

over eat or color...hmm?

So after another day (yesterday) of feeling like one step forward, 3 steps back I felt like locking myself in my room and just surviving. Just a brief list of the issues: curtain rods falling off the wall, lights burning out everywhere and a trip all around to try to find bulbs to no avail, Anni falling off her bed and bruising her collarbone (we took her to see a friend who is a nurse and she will be fine but it was sad), washing machine busted (yeah, it gave us a glimmer of hope by washing 2 loads and then stopped), skirt ripping all the way up the side to show way more white leg than most around here have ever seen, and in general more of the same, stuff not working and everything taking forever. None of things by themselves is actually worth any fretting (ok, just Anni) but combined with the adjustment and pressure we feel to just "be settled" it was a bit much. Just as I was wishing I had a tub of Edy's (could we have a moment of silence in honor of Edy's ice cream? especially the low fat kind that does not taste low fat at all! ......ok, I miss a few foods but that is a place I cannot go now). So, as I was wishing I had a giant tub I could drown my "feel sorry for myself" emotions in there were little knocks at our door. I think I have become known as Mzungu woman who plays with kids around our neighborhood as each day more and more seem to be showing up. They jump the fence and call Anni's name and mine "mama Anni, Anneeeca?" Although I felt like locking the door and in general hiding under a bush (er banana tree) I decided to check my attitude and try to muster some "I want to be here" energy. Turns out it was one of the funnest afternoons yet. First, I brought out some stackable cups (thanks MOM!) in different colors and a giant bowl filled with water. I think it is a universal truth that kids everywhere LOVE making messes with water. I sat out on our front porch with the kids and watched Anni and the girls laugh and play together. One of the older girls also taught me the Kiswahili words for blue, green, red, yellow, and most of the PG rated body parts. I was eager to write them down and practice and the kids thought this was hilarious, especially when I made up some dances to go along with them. This then led to Anni and I teaching about 6 kids the Hokey Pokey which was so fun. Annikah has had some rough days here but she loves the kids, she rushes to the door when she hears them and wants to pass out candy to "anni rafikis". After some initial "this is mine" grumblings she has also gotten better about sharing her toys. I cannot help but think how blessed she is seeing everything around her and I am a proud Mama (most days) about how she is handling everything. After most of the kids had to go home around 5pm Anni and I were still waiting for Jason to come home so we invited the Mmlizi's daughter in for some art projects. I cannot tell you how excited she was when I showed her how the glue worked, how markers colored on the paper, and how to stick stickers. She was elated and Anni could not stop laughing. The two of them touched my heart as they sat at the table gluing and coloring like mad. It was a precious reminder of a few things. I love to teach and be with kids and I like to watch kids being joyful. Language barriers aside there is so much beauty in smiles and so much medicine in laughter. Another reminder; I need to get over myself; in general, most days. Small annoyances are not what is eternal, not what memories are made of, not worthy of my time and energy. So, here is to choosing coloring over overeating......(of course it was an easy choice given the no Edy's situation)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

It may not work but at least it is ours

After almost 2 solid months of travel and living out of our backpacks we are finally in our own house!! Not that we have not learned a ton and appreciated the amazing hospitality of those we stayed with but I must say it was rough to always be on someone else’s schedule and sharing tight spaces with Annikah. We are blessed now to have more control of our time and way more room to spread out. It even has started to feel more like a home especially after a Mexican dinner including home -made tortillas (it is amazing what I can do when there are no other options and you are craving; no desperate for, Mexican). Although after just a few days I have realized why it really is necessary to have someone to help me with cooking and cleaning, I literally was in the kitchen all day (which I did not mind as I have missed cooking) but I am sure it will get old soon not to mention I need to attend language school and attend team meetings. We found a house helper and she starts Monday: yeah!! We were sold on hiring her after we found out she makes multi grain bread and sells it on the side, yummy! Our Mlinzi and his family also moved in to the small house outside our house. Mlinzi is like a watchman but really they also help with everything that we clueless Mzungus need help to understand like where to dispose of waste (there is NO waste disposal here, we compost and then he buries the rest-crazy! And he is even going to help us plant some veggies in our yard. He has a wife and two little girls, the oldest one is a little older than Anni and the girls are already rafikis. When Anni gets up she wants to run outside to greet her and they hold hands and walk around; too precious.

It is so hard to get used to being a small family but having the bigger space and they are loud, music blaring and up early in the morning to sweep. Ah, cultural differences, we will learn a lot from each other. They speak no English at all so it is also good for us as we have to speak; however broken and incorrect, Kiswahili to them. They laugh at us often but we are used to that by now. I shared some Swedish pancakes I made for breakfast with them and they thought they were a bit bizarre but happily tried them and seemed to like them. They also offered us some of their dinner of rice and veggies last night. The family is very grateful to have the job and we hope to build a relationship with them as we live together. In my cooking and baking frenzy I made some apple spice cakes made with the fresh island spices and we walked around our neighborhood armed with the few phrases we know in Kiswahili in an attempt to meet our neighbors. We met about 15 people, mostly women and children and tried to stealthily write down names so we can try to remember them as we handed out the cakes. We were invited in to a few yards and homes and people were very gracious to us and seemed pleased that we are trying to learn their language. Although moving in has by far been great we have also had a few setbacks. It seems that there must be a universal rule here that not everything is allowed to work at one time, that would make life too easy, too predictable, too manageable. We bought all used appliances because there is no way we could afford any new. We started with the fridge and oven and after hauling them home and scrubbing them we discovered the oven did not work we had to go pick up a fundi to fix it. Luckily we had negotiated a one month warranty so although it took most of the day it did not cost us any extra. Once the oven and fridge were working Jason went out and found a washer. In other words we got a little too bold. The washer required our friend coming over to help us hook it up (nothing is simple) and after numerous trips out to the hardware store and one search through some stuff our Mliniz (see did I mention he is awesome?) to find a random piece of rubber (it is amazing how resourceful people are here) it appears to be working (I am running a test load as I type so we shall see). Yesterday as Jason and Eddie were working hard on the washer and in need of cold drinks we realized the fridge was no longer very cold. Of course this is after a trip to the market to stock up that morning. We had our boiled milk that needed to be cooled, some yogurt I just made, and cheese that is very pricey here we got as a special treat for pizza. As an aside we are still eating only veg as after several great trips to the market I thought maybe I was ready to beef up my courage (pun intended) and actually go to the butcher. I walked over to the window with Anni on my hip, a huge straw basket full of veggies and there they were: about 6 goat heads just sitting on the counter. I swear they were staring at me, eyes glazed, and I freaked and made a mad dash back to the veggie market, ahhh carrots and tomatoes, my comfort zone. I will keep you posted on my meat attempts. So far no complaints from Jason as I have been cooking up some yummy veggies. I digress, so after running all our food over to another team mates house for safe keeping we are one step forward and one step back. Since it is Sunday we may have to wait until tomorrow to begin our crusade of getting the fridge working again. Jason also continues his epic journey to get Internet but that is a story I shall let him tell as there is no way I could do it justice; a computer geek with no Internet, a tragic tale of the lengths he went for love. From my sense of needing to accomplish things this stuff is so frustrating but I am learning that I can get by just fine without everything I once thought a necessity, I am learning contentment and I that has never been my forte. I am also learning to not count on everything working all the time. Power goes out, things break (or never work), and everything takes time, lots of time. I can chose to let it get me down (which it has) or I can chose to look at things that would otherwise annoy as opportunities to be kind, gracious, and love people. This is hard for me but I am growing. It is easy to focus on stuff and getting things done but everything good here so far has been about people. Thank God we have friends here that who have already gone through most of this and are helping us cope, what a blessing!We are still working on the fire ant situation and got some powder that came highly recommended so we shall see. We had a ton of rain last night which brings them out and I do not have the courage yet this morning to go see how many have gathered to greet us. Some other exciting news is that got some furniture. We even have a hand-made wooden dining room table with 6 chairs (it only cost about 90 dollars) and only took a few days to make! We never had anything this nice in the states. It is so different here as some things cost way less because the materials and man power are cheaper and then some things (like appliances and plastic junk are so expensive) because it is an island and everything has to be imported. We bought a used bed from our friends who wanted to have a new one made and a carpenter made Annikah a canopy (for her mosquito net) bed that really is pretty. We also got some cheap rope furniture made for our living room and although it is not very comfortable at least we can sit and invite people over. Although there are many moments each day where we feel like we just cannot survive here when nothing works and we have uttered more times than I would admit "lets just hop a plane home." These are mostly expected and fleeting emotions. Overall, I am feeling less overwhelmed and more like this could be home; a bit more settled, ready for what is next, and confident He has a plan.

Our first dinner at our new dining room table
Our living room

Our room
Miss Annikah on her big girl bed
Our kitchen (those are some yummy hot peppers called pili pili)
Annkah outside our language school

Monday, August 18, 2008

a long time coming

I had to post this picture of Miss Annikah Joy in pigtails, finally, a couple weeks before her second birthday. This is a major thing, mostly for me who ever since finding out I was carrying a girl had visions of her running around in pigtails being completely adorable and irresistible.
Anni also decided she wants to carry her baby local style and always asks "mama, baby back, baby back" when she sees the Mamas walking with their babies.
Annikah standing in front of our friend's house...check out the beautiful carved door, they are everywhere and the craftsmanship is just amazing.

spiders, lizards, & fire ants…Welcome Home!

I knew in moving here I would encounter a vast array of creepy crawlies and I was prepared, sort of. After all I am from Chicago, the home of giant rats that would give some cats a run for their money, I have starred them down in many a times in our alley late at night. We have spent the last week cleaning our new place, usually going over for about 2-6 hours a day just to clean. Now part of this is because it is larger than our place in Chicago (which is so weird and will take some time to get used to) but mostly this is because it has been a good long while since it was really cleaned……like maybe never. We found some local cleaning products, rags, and sponges from some dukas and also made some glass cleaner with vinegar. We were armed and ready. The toilet cleaner they sell here is actually 22% hydrochloric acid and it is crazy strong, like makes your eyes water and burns your skin off strong (we have the sores to prove it). We used 4 entire bottles to clean the two bathrooms and although I am usually opposed to using such harsh chemicals, trust me, it was needed. We sprayed the walls with the acid and black sludge leeched from the tile. We then would rinse and repeat the burn off all the nasty process about 4 times until bleach and water could be used and then came scrubbing (a note for all concerned….Annikah was happily sleeping at our friend’s house while we were using body chemistry altering products). Each room also has these great built in carved shelving units (they are extra storage space as there are no closets). Those were pretty brutal to clean as well; inside was always an adventure in bravery as there were many of my crawly friends, some alive and some dead, and a ton of lizard poop (well, I think it was lizard poop although I am no expert in feces it was someone’s and not mine). After all my efforts in poop scrubbing I will actually have space to put things. The ironic part is that when we lived in Chicago we never seemed to have enough storage space for all our stuff and now that we moved to Africa we have a bigger place with plenty of storage but no stuff to fill it.
During our cleaning escapades I encountered 11 spiders (when I started counting) some of them pretty amazingly huge and hairy. At first they made me jump a bit (call me a wuse, I know) but after number 5 I was pretty used to it. While I was opening and cleaning windows a lizard about 5 inches long ran up through the window and just hung out on the sill. I have of course seen lizards and spiders before but without any ability to shut windows here (no glass) I feel as though we are going to get pretty tight over the next few years. Plus, I have heard that spider and lizards are good because they eat other nasty bugs that you do not want in your place; so I say welcome home lil’ buddies! There are however, some crawlies that are not welcome. When we walked up to our house the first time there were a ton of small ants. If you stand for more than 5 seconds your feet and legs will be covered. I made the local fundi laugh with my “get these things off me dance.” In addition to being disgusting the lil’ boogers also pack a sting. We sprayed with RAID and even tried that acid stuff down the holes they appeared to be crawling out of. The next day they were still hanging out and appeared to not be affected. Since we have to run to our front door and anyone who comes to visit will be attacked we are not allowing them to stay, kerosene and a match is our next plan of defense.
It is the best feeling to have the cleaning almost done as we are one step close to moving in. After buying a used fridge and a used oven (they are pretty costly here) we moved them in as well only to find out that the oven does not work. Luckily we had negotiated a 1 month warranty of sorts and so Jason and our friend Eddie loaded it up and took it back to the guy we bought it from to have his fundis work on it. Jason and Eddie are out today getting a mattress for Anni’s big girl bed and hopefully picking up the oven. It is such a blessing to have some friends here as they already speak the language well and have helped us in getting the necessities for our house as well as introducing us to many of the local shop owners. We have started gathering some food items and soon we will be on our own…I feel a lot of rice and guacamole coming on until I can figure out just how to cook here. It still feels so bizarre to be starting over but we are ready to settle in after almost 2 months of traveling and living out of our backpacks. Reality of the workload involved in just living in setting in but we hope to find someone to help with our housework (cooking, washing, and language learning) soon. That will also take some getting used to but I know that without some help I will be stuck in the house all day and never able to build relationships here. The locals also seem to really mistrust Mzungus that do not hire local help as they see them as selfish. I think it will also be a blessing for Anni to interact with another woman and learn Kiswahili. We are praying for a good fit and someone we can learn from and that we can bless as well. I know all my mama friends back in the Chi are gonna be jealous of me having someone to help me with the house!!
Last night we were invited over to Iddi’s home to meet his sisters and mother. We drank some coconut water and had some fried potatoes and peanuts that his mother makes and sells in the neighborhood. It was awesome to be invited in and to see how locals live, makes me really think that many of the things I think of as necessities really are not to most people here. We are really trying to find a balance between our cultural norms, the culture surrounding us, the desire to live simplify but safely,what God wants for us, and the goal of building relationships here. Tough issues but for now I will concentrate on obliterating the fire ants….

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

for the sake of....friends

An awesome blessing to us this past week was meeting up with our friend Iddi that we met four years ago when we were here building houses with Habitat for Humanity. He was a fundi (carpenter) on our work site and was very eager to learn English. He was always making all of us laugh on the work site with his English skills as he would say very formal and round-about phrases like “I need to go to work for the sake of to get money for the sake of to go to school for the sake of to learn.” I now realize the real humor is in my Kswahili as I probably say just as many ridiculous things! Jason gave him his email when we left and they have been emailing for the past four years. When we told him we were moving here a couple years ago I don't think he ever thought we would actually be back. He sent us his phone number and Jason called him and we planned to meet in town a few days back. We took a Dala- Dala in and after a short walk we immediately recognized him waiting for us. He ran toward us (although spotting three white folks may be a little easier) and gave Jason and hug and greeted Annikah and I. He also introduced a friend that he brought with him. To our joy he still says “for the sake of” for everything and we immediately smiled. We walked through town and he helped us negotiate a trade of our cell phone (long story but we cannot find a data cable for the one we brought in the U.S and so it is useless to us for Internet purposes, so far this epic journey has been a 5 day ordeal to no avail, remember I said we are learning patience :)). We also were stopped and he was harassed for a few minutes as a man in town thought he was illegally giving us a tour (you need a permit to be a tour guide and since he is black and we are white it is assumed he was giving us a tour), yet another reminder that we need to learn the language so we can say “we are not tourists, we live here.” After a few minutes he communicated that we were friends and the man left us alone. It was so awesome and encouraging to see him again!! He was equally excited to see us and said he could not even sleep at all the night before as "I know I would see you today." What an awesome blessing to have a friend here!! We invited both of them to our place for chai once we move in and they kept asking “tomorrow we come? When?” It was difficult to explain that we will invite them once we move in and have cups and tea and maybe something to sit on. They are very eager to learn more English as we are eager to learn more culture and Kiswahili and we are praying we will build a friendship for the sake of getting to know them!!

*they really want to learn more American slang (they know some from movies), all I could think of was “you have done lost your mind,” “let’s roll” and “we be out” Any suggestions for good slang I can pass on?
Iddi also helped Jason negotiate and find a great used bike from Japan (they are stronger and more durable then the mountain bikes from China here). Baba said "if you buy China bike maybe good one week then it will sit on roof", we followed his advice and went with the nicer used Japanese version even though the process took about 3 days of looking and bartering. Jason and Iddi negotiated the price and then got a fundi to pimp it out with a bell and a basket- check it out- we be ridin' in style!!
The funniest part was the night Jason got his bike I swore I saw Baba's son taking it oue the gate. We discovered, by some clever sleuthing, that he was indeed taking it on joy rides at night after we were in bed. It was always back in the kitchen by the morning but we thought it was a great example of the African mentality that if it is here, I can use it. He did start asking Jason if he could ride it to his friends by our last day but we had a great laugh about the whereabouts of our only method of transport.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

life & art

"Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life." Pablo Picasso

After the youngest daughter came home a few days ago with beautiful henna on her hands I complimented her on it and started asking about the art form and the cultural significance. I had discussed this before with an Indian teacher friend of mine in the States but wanted to see the similarities and differences here in Tanzania. Life and art and the fusion of the two fascinate me.

Their daughter's friend does it for her and they often decorate their hands and feet for special occasions like weddings or other celebrations. The next day when she came home from school she told me her friend was coming over "bado" (later) to do my hands for the celebration of our new home. After about 2 hours of her diligent freehand work here is the result. She used henna dye, an old plastic bag and tape to make a tube, a razor blade (to cut the bag not me), and a pin from her head covering. Pretty amazing, huh? She actually did both my hands and both feet.

The best part was that Baba and Mama let me out of dish washing duty so not to mess up my beautiful henna :) I did also get to attend a wedding last night which was an amazing cultural experience so my henna fit right in (although my wardrobe did not except that their daughter fixed a head covering for me from one of my scarves. I now know I need to save some money to get a dress as the women wear incredibly colorful and elaborate dresses for weddings and I was a bit under dressed. Since I hope to attend more weddings in the near future and because I had about 5 minute warning that we were attending this wedding I am not counting on time to pick out a dress later I will venture out soon to find a suitable dress.) We said goodbye to the family today but they said the day we move into our home (they are still fixing a few things so we are staying with friends) they will come over to help clean and bring pilau for a celebration dinner to mark the occasion. It is a blessing to have made some friends here and they treated us like family while we were in their home. I have a lot to lean about hospitality. They also took me out shopping two mornings and helped us get a ton of stuff for our house at a non-Mzungu price. Baba kept yelling at the merchants saying in Kswahili "she is not Mzungu (white) she is my daughter." It was so awesome to spend the time with them, see where they shop around the island, and of course our cheap selves love a great deal! We exchanged gifts today and we gave them a coffee mug (to keep their tea hot since they admired ours) and the framed photo I posted of the twins with their Mama and Mama F. They loved it and also gave us tons of veggies and fruits, some of these amazingly yummy peanut bars, and a jar of the home-made hot sauce. Mama also gave me a kanga that means blessing to you (a bit more appropriate then my enemy one). She also told me that after I master the recipes she already taught me that I must come back to learn more. We are really going to miss them but we exchanged numbers and as we told them "we know where you live so we will be back." Sharing their everyday life with them was something I will never forget and I am grateful for the opportunity to learn, be stretched, and grow, while we were there.

a few more pictures from the last week

Baba & Jason

Anni's favorite mode or transport

Anni rides Baba's vespa

Monday, August 11, 2008

a piece of cake

During our home stay the youngest daughter asked me to teach her to bake a cake. Since she was teaching me so many things I desperately wanted to contribute something and what she really wanted to learn was to make a cake. When I was telling her the different types of cake we have in America she was most interested in a carrot cake or cake ya carrot. I had a moment of panic because I think I have maybe made a cake from scratch like once but I certainly do not know any recipes from memory (and had no access to Internet at the time). Luckily I remembered I had my make a complete meal out of dirt and sand cookbook written by people who lived in the bush for years- good purchase from back home!! Ok, maybe not just dirt and sand but seriously this book tells you how to make ketchup, yogurt, and many other things out of ingredients that are common in Africa, a very handy book for my Mzugu self where there is no Target. The only problem was it was buried in our crates at our friend’s place so we needed to take a Dala-Dala (local bus) to get there. This trip was yet another misadventure resulting in Jason changing his mind about boarding the Dala- Dala last minute (he thought there was no room when in reality the "Dala-Dala never full" as we have been told by the locals and Anni and I were already wedged tightly in the back as the Dala-Dala sped away). Anni and myself were riding off into the sunset with NO IDEA where to get off and only a vague recollection of where our friends lived. The situation was made even more thrilling since Jason had no minutes left on his phone to call me. Everything was resolved after I got off and walked around aimlessly trying to locate our friend's place (about 40 minutes with Anni hoisted on my back) until a car with our friend came to rescue us. Ah, adventures around town, so many to tell, no Internet time or working computer to tell them. Hopefully, I can soon update about the week and a half of trying to our computer to work, the search for household items, Jason's search for a bike, and many other things that are teaching us to relax and not expect things to be done quickly (or at all).

After successfully getting to our friend's place and nabbing my cookbook I was so relieved to find a carrot cake recipe. I also had to hunt down some baking powder at the local market. When I did finally track it down it was only about 40 cents a box. When I arrived home to make the cake their daughter had a few other people that wanted to learn as well; her older sister with the twin boys, her house help, and a few women from the neighborhood. The pressure was on! I had a basic recipe but no measuring cups or teaspoons, no mixer, and no baking dish. I also had no powdered sugar but the older sister suggested we make some with the brown sugar we did have so we used a mortar and pestle to ground it up by hand and then sift onto newspaper (a process that took about 2 hours for 2 cups of sugar). While we were preparing everything a few other neighbors stopped by and guy was amazed that we shredding carrots for a cake. He was very skeptical that one could make a cake with carrots and kept laughing at me. This may sound completely ridiculous but I was seriously praying while we were adding all the ingredients. I was using my best estimations because while I like to experiment with cooking at home I am usually not a baker nor do I know anything about the local ingredients and I so badly wanted the cake to turn out well. The family had taught me so much and it was my turn to teach them something. We mixed everything by hand adding some extra cinnamon and cloves and finally located some bread pans to bake it in. I watched the cakes’ bake with a careful eye to make sure they did not burn because I had no idea what the temperature of the oven was but it was a great sign when the kitchen started smelling yummy. We then mixed the somewhat powdered sugar with lemon juice, vanilla, and some butter to make an icing for the cake. The moment of truth came when we sliced it and passed it out to the gathered crowd at the house. It was actually pretty yummy!! The older sister loved it and said to me through someone who spoke a little English “I will come back and you teach me every cake you know.” I could not help but laugh as that will not take long, let me see: one cake, done. I told them we could try a chocolate cake soon if we can find cocoa powder. It was such a blessing to me as for about 6 weeks I have felt completely unable to teach or be in a position of knowing much about anything, everything is so new to me but this was something somewhat familiar and comforting. This was by far the longest amount of time I have ever spent on some simple, unimpressive, and quite ordinary carrot cakes but it was one of my favorite experiences here so far!

some video evidence that Anni is alive

right now I am actually dancing (no exaggeration) because I actually uploaded these 2 videos (I am learning to appreciate the little things) are some moments from our last 2 weeks.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

hot chai, cooking, & the misadventures of my kanga

the spices here are amazing!

If you only read my last post I must say that we actually are enjoying our stay with the family despite our initial clashes with the kukus. After we found our United States purchased, Taiwan made foam earplugs we had an entirely new outlook on the situation. Although, I had to fight moments (or hours) of feeling like we need to be doing more, getting a house ready, and learning more about this new place instead of just sitting around. The reality is that even though people here seem busy most of the day the pace of life is still much slower. It takes longer to cook, clean, even to go out. It is such a part of my culture and personality to be “doing things” constantly. It has also been a bit challenging to keep a busy almost 2-year old occupied and NOT breaking, pillaging, or otherwise looting the house where we are guests. I have been amazed at how many games you can play with some cups and washing basin. A slower pace is something I will have to adjust to over time. We have learned the hard way after hours spent trying to accomplish one simple task like getting milk or getting a cell phone that actually works you cannot let the little things get to you. Everything just takes longer and patience is a virtue I need more of, lots more.
We learned a ton just hanging out with the family, observing, cooking, washing clothes, and going out around town with them. Almost every day new extended family members or friends would come by. One day one of their older daughters who no longer lives at home stopped by with her twin 6 month old sons and I was loving holding those sweet babies!

Anni loves the twins too!!

I also have a new name: Mama Anni as most women are called Mama of their first born child. It took some time getting used to it but now I answer to Mama Anni right away. We also had a ton of laughs about our miscommunications and cultural differences. One of my favorite differences is the disagreement over the ideal temperature of beverages. Baba O (the father of the house) asked us why we would want to drink cold water. We laughed and tried to explain that when it is 90 degrees we crazy Americans prefer cold beverages. He just could not understand why on earth anyone would drink anything cold. He was absolutely appalled when we told him about iced tea as he explained that if he is served chai that is not scalding hot he sends it away. They all drink hot chai all day no matter how hot it is and they laugh at us with our need for cold water and soda.
Over the last week I spent most of my days with T (their youngest daughter in high school who speaks some English) and Mama F (the matriarch of the house who speaks no English). I think in one week I spent more hours in the “kitchen,” which is a small room separate from the house, than I spent in my own kitchen all last year. One morning I spent almost two hours just peeling like 10 entire bulbs of garlic with a knife that may have never been sharpened. Despite the fact that I normally do not desire to be cooking that long I did learn so much and was crazily writing down the Kiswahili words for the ingredients, the many spices, and tools. I also just enjoyed being with the women and sharing in their time together. Here is a brief list of my new skill set: how to get the bugs out of rice, how to start the fire burner, how to peel and chop just about every vegetable around, how to grind spices by hand, how to wash rock salt, how to make butter, how to make chapattis (flat bread) from scratch, and how to scrub dishes clean using just a coconut husk. Everything is labor intensive: No microwaves here folks. In addition I saw many things I do not think I will repeat in our home like using fish that had been sitting outside for 2 days in the stew for our dinner. It was actually harder for me to eat the days I cooked with the women as I knew just how much oil was in the food and just how long the meat had been sitting outside in the heat before serving it (about 8 hours one day). Don’t judge me, I am a boneless, skinless, want-to-deny-it-was-ever-alive prepackaged girl, in other words I have been a veg gal since arriving here. So far I only have gotten quasi- sick once from some questionable milk in my chai. Other than those minor but not so fun digestive issues (I will spare you the details) we have been fine. I am very thankful as I learned a ton about how to cook and prepare food here. One night as I was frying the chapattis T was asking me questions about American movies and other things when Mama asked her to tell me “when you cook, no more talking” because I was charring the chapattis (in my defense they tasted fine to me). I guess even cross culturally I talk too much. Once Mama discovered my affinity for spicy food she taught me to make homemade hot sauce or as they call it pili-pili. It is fabulous and I had it at lunch and dinner every day on anything and everything, it will definitely be a staple once we move into our place. Annikah got in on the cooking as well and she made the women laugh with her mad chapattis rolling skills (I have a video I will post later). She managed to keep away from the army of knives lying around and many open flames at toddler level and I surprised myself at how quickly I became less paranoid. She also learned how to sweep and loved moving dirt around for at least a half an hour each day. In my brief observations it is really the women who hold everything together here, they work so hard all day preparing food, washing, taking care of the home and children, cleaning and even the youngest girls are involved. Everything happened in the outdoor kitchen; they talk, give the babies a bath, cook, and just spend hours together each day. In one way I see that it creates solidarity and a sense of stability and closeness among the women and in another way I am tempted to stand up and burn my bra in protest. Maybe it is just because the spheres for what is acceptable for men and women are separate and clearly defined, more than I am used to, that a part of my cultural lens sees much of it as unfair. It will take a while for me to unpack these issues but for now I will head back to the sweaty kitchen and cook up some food for the man folk.

Each day we would get up around 6 or 7am (we of course we actually awoke to our kukus rafikis much earlier but would finally drag ourselves out of bed around 6) and usually I would go for a run before breakfast. One day I tried to run around 9am and did not even make it 20 minutes so I realized the necessity of running early in the morning. The heat is just unreal here and this is the coolest part of the year! It is about 85 degrees with 80-90% humidity every day. Running in a long skirt on sand is also quite a challenge but I am determined to work my way up to a full hour in the next few months. I have been running various routes around their house but my favorite is the beach. Many people, mostly men, run along the water and one morning just as I was thinking “I hate this long skirt sticking to my sweaty legs” I saw a woman run by in full head covering and long skirt and decided I have it pretty easy!
One morning as I was leaving to run Mama told me I must not wear the skirt I had on. I thought maybe it was because it was just a kanga wrap and because of my abundant height it does not go all the way to my ankles and may have been considered immodest. I changed into another kanga that was a bit longer and Mama-approved. I thought nothing of it until a few nights later when I was doing dishes with T after dinner and I asked her what the writing on my kanga meant (all the kangas have a Kswahili phrase on them). My kanga that I selected based solely on the pretty purple, white, and black print says “I know you, my enemy and I am boiling medicine for you.” Suddenly it was all making sense as to why Mama did not want my white butt running around the neighborhood inciting a major smack down, Oh vey for cultural opps!! At least T’s kanga said “my enemy should not talk about me.” We had a good laugh and now jokingly call each other enemy as we say good night, good morning, cook together, etc. She is such a sweet and beautiful young woman and she is so awesome with Annikah. Every day when she come home from school she yells through our window “mama Anni?” to see if we are here and gives Anni high fives at least 10 times a day. I told her when we get our place she will be invited for chai and she is very excited to stop by.
So back to the insanely hot weather….It is a blessing that there is a cool ocean breeze and at night the temperature goes down to at least 75 degrees (I know, break out the flannel). Most days we usually just sit around and wait to see what the family is up to. Some days this is cooking, going to the market, or school. We asked if we can accompany them places just to learn about the culture. Jason got to visit a local school and hospital. We also walked to the beach a few times and saw kids swimming and fisherman hauling in their boats. Most days something totally unexpected just seems to come up. The funniest example to us was one of the first days when we were just sitting around chillin’ with the kukus and Baba O came out and announced that Jason was to come with him to a wedding of a neighbor. Jason jumped at the chance and was gone only about an hour. I wanted details when he returned; he never even saw the bride who must have been in another house with only women. He did see the groom taking vows which Baba translated to mean “I will not beat my wife and if I divorce her I will do it quickly without taking anything from her.” Not exactly our idea of romantic fairy tale, eh?

Another day I accompanied Mama on one of her outings. I had no idea where or what we were doing when she called for me but I was happy to get out for a while. Turned out we were going to the market to look for fabric to make a dress and head covering for her. I followed her from dukani to dukani understanding only fragments of the conversations but I am pretty sure most of them involved phrases like “Mama, what is up with the white girl with you?” To which she laughed and responded in Kiswahili something about me wanting to learn about the culture. Most of my experiences have depended on my outlook and attitude at that moment. It can either be really frustrating to know people and talking about me when I cannot understand or it can be a chance to try out and perfect my few phrases and greetings. I must be honest in saying I have had both reactions in the past week. We have enjoyed staying with the family but are also eager to get out and begin real life here. Baba O said he will invite us back for one of meals after Ramadan and we also said we would invite them for chai soon, but we promised only HOT tea of course!In other news we have a house!! We found a house to rent and the funniest part is that it has four rooms and two bathrooms- bigger than our Chi-town digs (read here YOU must come visit!). We are renting it for year and have put down a deposit but we received some good advice to not pay the rest until the painting, lights, and windows are fixed. It is so crazy that we have a house, here in Tanzania! Our first house! I will post pictures soon.
the beach!!

making chapattis

Anni & the Mama of the house

Chapattis dough
no bugs in my rice!

Even the kukus ride the vespas!

Annikah loves Mandazi!!

*we have had an INSANE time getting access to the Internet, a five day epic journey so far that I will post about soon but for now I am using a friend's computer. We hope to have better access soon. Thanx to everyone who has sent emails, we love you all & miss everyone!

Monday, August 4, 2008

If I had a gun I would I would kill the kukus…and other culturally inappropriate things

We have no internet while staying with the family we are living with, so we walked into town and posted this from an internet cafe. Hopefully in 2 weeks we will have a regular method of getting online and can post more often. Here's a post from a few days back (after our first night.) more pics to come.

We were so excited to finally arrive to our destination after over a month of training and traveling. As we were flying we checked our passports and realized it is almost exactly 4 years after we had come here for the first time (3 years and 364 days to be exact). It was steamy, hot, and sunny as we waited for our luggage at the airport, just as we remembered it.

Last night was the first night of our 2 week home stay with a local family. We arrived around 7pm and had dinner of chapatis, stew, fish, and fruit (plus a few other things we could not pronounce and did not recognize). After dinner we were all exhausted and knew we needed to unpack a bit and get Annikah’s things set up as much as possible. We wrestled through our stuff to try to set up Annikah’s pack and play, misquote nets, and find something that would serve as PJ’s. In the process of trying to get her ready we just decided we should crash as well as it was about 9pm and we had all been up since 4:30am. Annikah refused to sleep in her pack and play (it is a lot easier to ignore a screaming toddler when you are happily 3 doors down a hallway watching an episode of 24 AND not in a house full of people you just met). Since we were about 4 inches from her irrationally loud protests we gave in to her requests to “night night here” with us. There we were, 3 of us desperately trying to fall asleep in a new place, a tight space, fighting with a misquote net that barely covered us. As you can probably tell all did not end well. We got maybe 1 hour of sleep and that is actually generous. In addition to the aforementioned barriers to us sleeping we were also incredibly hot in the small room. The worst by far was the kuku and jugo situation as I like to call it (chicken and rooster). The family we are staying with owns at least 30 of them and the wonder around the outside of the house at their leisure. Parents of the world please do one thing for me: no longer propagate the outright lie that roosters only crow in the morning. All children’s books must be in on this terrible deception of kids everywhere, especially us city folk who do not know better. They actually cluck and crow and cock-a-doodle-makes-you-want to-scream all the LIVE LONG NIGHT! It was horrible and at one point I looked over at Jason who was equally distressed about not getting any sleep to see him quietly (so not to wake up Miss A) lift his hands high above his head and make a ringing their lil’ necks motion which was enough to turn my near tears to giggles. As if the farm yard concert was not enough there was also sweeping outside our window starting at around 4am, it sounded as if they hooked up some sort of amplified sound system to the broom and apparently the plot of dirt right outside our window requires at least 30 minutes of sweeping back and forth. Then, just in case it was at all possible to sleep there was the blaringly loud and piercing call to prayer at just before 5am. Annikah awoke to the sound of a growing chorus of kukus and jugos. She sat straight up and yelled with glee “kukus mama, kukus.” Yeah, Annikah, I know. She insisted that we get up at that moment and rush out to see said kukus that were making all the ruckus.

Around 6:45 am at Annikah’s request (and it was time we faced facts that we were not going back to sleep) we got up, gathered some appropriate clothes, and tried to find our shoes that had been moved we braved the day to allow Miss A to see her beloved kukus.

Almost as soon as we were outside our room the M’zee (respected older man of the house) asked in Kswahili “how did you sleep?” We responded with an outright lie of “mzuri” (good), I mean what else could we say? We took Anni out to see the kukus and jugos that she so desperately wanted to gaze upon. As I looked at these chickens wondering around, well rested, and seemingly having no worries (ok maybe a few as they could be dinner any given night) I could not help but wish ill upon them for their blasted screaming throughout the entire night. Instead of thinking wonderful things like “what an amazing opportunity this is to see cultural differences” I kept thinking “if I brought a gun you all would be dinner.”