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Entries in Africa (9)

Tuesday
Jun112013

Tanzania Mission, Day 3: It’s full of stars

Busy day.

Met with the Secretary General of the mission, who talked about his visits to the US and how everyone has everything and is so terribly unhappy. Reminded me of a Lewis CK bit. Too true.

We shopped in the Iringa market (where we ran into the Lutheran Bishop of the mission, as well as Mama Toni who runs the mission house).

We visited an Anglican mission from the UK that employees locals with physical handicaps to create arts and crafts, weave, make prints, clothing, and enjoy a life of opportunity instead of begging. The Anglican mission also ran a lovely espresso bar where the everyone (including a few expats) hang out on the veranda checking email.

Then it was a 55km, two-hour journey to Pommern. We made it just in time for a pick-up football game with some seven-year-old boys who are better at soccer than I’ll ever be, and caught our first Pommern sunset. We also wandered over to the mother/baby clinic and another clinic where the residents were happy but were shy to talk. We later realized that was the AIDs clinic.

Dinner. Meetings. Bed. Then Lucas woke up, throwing up at 3 AM. Bedroom shuffle, clean up, disinfect, pass out probiotics, and then I caught the sub-Saharan night sky, 500 miles away from the nearest light pollution. The sky was so bright I thought it was a full moon, but that was just the glow from the “milk” in the Milky Way. Even saw three shooting stars.

Now warming up next to the fire. As soon as I’m warm enough, back to sleep.

Pax.

Monday
Jun102013

Tanzania Mission, Day 2: Things I learned today

Spider-man is alive and well on the road to Iringa.

Leaving the towns behind, today we head for the bush and Pommern.

1) When driving ten hours in a van with eleven people, no AC, and 500 lbs of medical supplies strapped to the roof, Bob Marley on cassette makes it a pleasure cruise.

2) While taking photos you should avoid men in uniform: police, military, traffic cops, etc. We crossed a hill and I was so enchanted by the view that I completely missed the police station on my left. (Special thanks to Mohammed for gently, but firmly, lowering my camera from view).

3) I could walk around naked, playing the bagpipes and not stand out any more than I already do. We drove for hours without seeing another European-looking face and then glimpsed two white women as we entered Iringa-town and my first thought was, “Holy cow, do we stand out THAT much?” Why yes. Yes we do. Even more so because once we left Dar es Salaam, we’ve been traveling through villages and towns where tourists don’t tend to go (unless they’re really lost). I did see two Chinese men, oddly enough, but they looked like transplanted workers of some kind.

4) Speaking of work, we passed a school for Tanzanian children donated and run by the Cuban government. There are several that were built in the 70s and still operate today as strange specters of geo-politics past.

5) Don’t steal. Yikes. We passed a hillside with 100+ people who had tied up a local thief and were waiting for the police to arrive.

6) But, I can understand why: poverty. We saw so much today that it’s hard to quantify, especially when mixed with foreign marketing. Think tiny thatch-roofed mud huts with newly minted Coke signs. Crass commercialism boggles the mind.

7) People without Starbucks still smile a lot.

(P.S. I'll have limited net access from here on out, but I'll catch up soon).

Saturday
Jun082013

Tanzania Mission, Day 1: Leaving the tourist behind

A gorgeous afternoon in Dar. Haley tried the shellfish, Kassie tried the goat. Lucas tried...everything.We're been in Dar es Salaam for 24 hours, practicing Swahili, buying elephant-print kangas in the market, eating cones of tiramisu-flavored gelato, and watching fishermen tend their nets along the pier. But haunting us all day has been the reality that we are currently dwelling in a sanitized, monetized, seaside villa version of Africa and that the real trip begins tomorrow.

Actually it began tonight when we had dinner with Edward Mgeni, the amazing Country Manager for Global Volunteers who is also our team leader. Dinner was everything from curried vegetables and banana soup, to french fries and pizza. And conversation ranged from the number of students enrolled in the three Pomerini schools (Edward knew the exact count, by day), the role of women in the village (they do a LOT, traveling many kilometers for firewood) to the number of cars (two in a community of 4,000).

We talked about how we'd be put to use in the village, but more importantly, Edward encouraged us to spread out in all directions after our orientation—to get to know people, to feel the community.

If the pleasure of Edward's company is any indication, we feel it already.

Okay, time for bed. We hit the road at 6:30 AM for a ten-hour journey that will include a fifty-mile short-cut across Mikumi National Park. We're not allowed to stop without a permit, though if there are safari animals roaming about we're allowed to drive really slow to snap a few photos. Or really fast if a bull elephant is charging.

Monday
Jun032013

We call it Malaria Monday

In planning for our trip to Tanzania, not only did we have to get passports for all the kids, visas for everyone, but we also had to get the requisite shots: typhoid, hep A/B, polio booster, tetanus booster, which much to my disappointment did not combine into the super-soldier formula and change my physique to that of Captain America. (Though the tetanus shot did make my bicep swell for a few days, does that count?)

In addition, each week now begins with what my teens have now ominously dubbed "Malaria Monday," in which we all take our Mefloquine. I argued that there is also malaria-fighting quinine in a tall gin & tonic with lime, unfortunately my pharmacist must have fallen down and broken his humorous.

But here's the really crazy thing about Mefloquine, and I mean crazy in the best possible sense in that this particular anti-malarial is also a hefty neuropsychiatric drug, which as a side-effect causes intensely vivid dreams. And by vivid I mean red pill/blue pill Matrix kind of journeys across time and space.

So even before I hit the airport I'll have flown around the world a few times.

Oh, and in case you're wondering what the top ten diseases in Pommern are, here's a list from the village health clinic run by Dr. Godlove (who has the coolest, most appropriate name of any doctor, ever).

No, the big killer in Africa is not AIDS, despite what the big, scary news-reporting agencies might infer. It's Malaria that kills. Followed by diarrhea and malnutrition, and to a greater degree...apathy.