Wednesday, April 30, 2014

While I was in Tanzania... Part A

Part 2 of my commemorative mini-series about Tanzania. (Yeah, it's going to be a four-part series now.)

Before I get into talking about my day-to-day life in Tanzania, let's address the issues that I mentioned yesterday and see how they actually turned out.

- I took exactly zero malaria pills during my eight-month stint in Tanzania. A member of my church, a retired dentist who travels often to do volunteer dentistry in needy places, advised me to wait to fill my prescription until I was actually in Tanzania. He told me that malaria pills (and probably many other medicines) are way cheaper in developing countries, and since I had been informed prior to my departure that the area I would be living in was at a higher elevation and didn't have a high prevalence of malaria, I took his advice. And I never actually filled the prescription. (I also learned later, from some other volunteers, that taking malaria pills continuously for more than six months can have some serious side effects - not really sure what the travel doctor was thinking when he even prescribed them to me...)

- I walked around the area, with others and by myself, quite often. I walked alone to the nearby cafe, the post office, and a couple times even all the way to the village center to go to the small grocery store or the market, though it was a long walk and taking the dala-dala (mini bus) was usually a better option. I never did walk around Arusha Town alone, but that's mostly because whenever one of us volunteers wanted to go into town, more often than not another one would want to come along. But while traveling with ADRA I did spend one Saturday wandering around the coastal town of Tanga alone, never once worrying for my safety and thoroughly enjoying the sights and sounds of the town.
Wandering along the Tanga shore on a Saturday morning

- I pretty much forgot about rabies or making a rabies plan the minute I walked out of the travel doctor's office. I never once did see a dog, monkey, or any other living thing foaming at the mouth while overseas. I guess that doesn't mean it couldn't have happened, though. I did keep my distance from the large monkeys that liked to wander about our campus and swing through the trees overhead, but mostly because I was wary of their huge teeth.
Two monkeys very interested in the mulberry bush

- The morning after I arrived in Tanzania I learned that all the water on our campus came from a mountain spring and was clear as crystal. I washed my hands in that water, used it for cooking and drinking without worrying about boiling it first, and used it periodically to clean my contact case. First thing every morning I popped my contacts into my eyes and showered with them in all the time. I wore my contacts pretty much every day, except maybe while traveling if I wanted to sleep on the trip. When traveling to other areas of the country, though, I was a bit more cautious, but if I'm remembering correctly, I think I still showered with my contacts in, just made sure to keep the water from getting into my eyes (or my mouth).

- Since I wore contacts pretty much all the time, I very rarely had the opportunity to try out my new glasses lenses, and I surely never unwound those carefully-wrapped older lenses.

- I learned the capital city of Tanzania within the first few days of work since I sneaked a lot of looks at the large map of Tanzania hanging on the wall in my boss's office (sorry Max, but it was a very interesting map, and I'm afraid I never was too good at writing grant proposals...). From that map I learned that the capital city is Dodoma, but the largest city is Dar Es Salaam (which many people just assume is the capital).

- The nannies at Cradle of Love Baby Home (the baby home that shared a campus with ADRA) told us volunteers that there were hundreds of tribes in Tanzania, and said that they could often tell which tribe or which part of the country a baby was from just by their skin colour, facial features, hair textures, or other features.

- I learned my first Swahili words from that large map hanging in my boss's office (ziwa - lake and mto - river). Although I never took Swahili lessons, I slowly amassed a child's-sized vocabulary (which makes sense since I learned many of the words from the toddlers, their nannies, or other volunteers who worked at the baby home). By the time I left I probably knew around 120 Swahili words and phrases. Sometimes some of those words still come to my mind before the English word (asante - thank you, karibu - welcome, pole - sorry, hapana- no, njo - come, simama - stand up, sasa - now, wewe - you, wapi - where, watoto/mtoto - children/child, maji - water, chafu - dirty, chupis - underwear, darasa - class, and a random assortment of words for foods and animals). (For anyone who's interested, I kept a running list of the words I learned here.)

- I quickly learned that the Tanzanian currency was Tanzanian shillings (Tshs) and that the exchange rate was, then, approximately 1,500 Tshs to $1 US. I also learned that the local ATM, halfway between our campus and the village, was often in high demand, with line-ups stretching across the parking lot and waits of anywhere between 5-30 minutes.

- The first full day I spent in the country, we went into town for the new volunteers to buy groceries and other staples. On this trip I saw many women with babies tied to their backs. Once I had seen a few, I realized that I had definitely seen pictures and probably videos of women carrying babies on their backs, but had never really thought about the logistics of it before. During that year the nannies would often help us tie babies to our backs to take them on walks to the park on a neighbouring campus, or to a nearby cafe. Although I never totally figured out how to do this myself, I did learn that all those specialized baby carriers we use in the West are kind of overkill (and cost a lot more than a length of cloth), not to mention the large strollers we're all so fond of using. One of my favourite things ever was when the toddlers asked the nannies to tie dolls or stuffed animals onto their backs to pretend to mother their 'babies.' Just adorable!!
Ashley on her last day in TZ with Hidaya tied to her back
Mama Jackline and her duckie-baby - The sweetest!
As for cloth diapers, I never learned how to use them, since the nannies did most of the changing and dressing of the babies, but I did learn that they are fairly effective, and that they line-dry quite nicely.
TZ cloth diapers drying in the warm breeze
Colourful diaper covers airing out

As you can see, I learned a whole lot very quickly. Come back tomorrow to find out more about my day-to-day life in Tanzania!

Read Part 1 here - Before I left for Tanzania...
Read Part 3 here - While I was in Tanzania... Part B
Read Part 4 here - While I was in Tanzania... Part C
Read Part 5 here - Since I've come home from Tanzania...

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Before I left for Tanzania...

I can hardly believe it, but it's been three years since I left Tanzania on April 24, 2011. The eight months I spent living there tremendously impacted many aspects of my life and how I've decided to live since then.

Since the anniversary of my return from TZ just rolled around again, I decided to write a blog post commemorating my time there, but I soon realized it was going to be really long, so I'm going to break it up into three parts: Before I Left, While I Was There, and Since I've Come Home. Here is Part 1.

In August 2010, before I left home for Tanzania...
  • the travel doctor who gave me my tetanus booster shot, my oral yellow fever pills, and a prescription for malaria pills had a stern and serious talk with me, telling me to make sure to take my malaria pills every single day, and about how he didn't want me to go anywhere by myself while I was in Tanzania (or anywhere in Africa). "Always have someone else with you wherever you go!" he admonished. I, not knowing any better, just nodded my head, deciding that that was probably sound advice.
  • the travel doctor also said, "You can get a rabies vaccine now, but it costs [some large amount of money that I definitely wasn't going to pay]. Or, if you don't want the vaccine, you should have a rabies plan in place, just in case you ever get bitten by a rabid monkey or dog. You will need to be immediately flown to Europe or North America, if you get bit, to get tested for rabies and get the shots to prevent you from getting it yourself." Again, I just nodded, reminding myself to stay away from monkeys or dogs foaming at the mouth.
  • my optometrist told me to never, never, never wear my contacts while showering. "We had a patient who went to [some country in Africa that I now forget] for a few weeks. She wore her contacts in the shower once and got [some kind of bacteria or virus] behind her contact that festered away there for days, eventually turning her eye green and causing her to have to be medevaced home to save her eye." Yikes, that sounded scary! I assured him that I would take good care of my eyes.
  • the glasses professional at the optometrist office told me I definitely needed to get new lenses for my glasses (in case of the aforementioned eye apocalypse). When the new lenses came and were put into my frames, the glasses guy carefully wrapped up the old lenses in layers of plastic wrap and handed them to me, "just in case something happens to your contacts and your new lenses. You'll have these as backup-backup."
  • I didn't know the capital city of Tanzania. All I knew about the country was that it was in Eastern Africa and the official language was Swahili. The only city I knew was Arusha, in northern Tanzania, which I would be living near. The only Tanzanian tribe I knew about was the Maasai.
  • I didn't know a word of Swahili, or that Tanzanians drive on the left-hand side of the road.
  • I didn't know the Tanzania currency or the exchange rate between the TZ currency and US or Canadian dollars.
  • I didn't know that the ADRA Tanzania property also included a baby home, and that there would be other volunteers on the campus throughout the time I lived there.
  • I didn't know people actually still cloth diapered babies or that just a piece of cloth could keep babies securely fastened to their mother's backs. Very fascinating for me to see and learn more about these topics!
And that is just a very little bit of what I didn't know before I left for Tanzania. Come back tomorrow to find out what my life in Tanzania was actually like!

And just because blog posts are nicer with some pictures, here are a couple from just before I left for Tanzania.

Jonathan came to visit BC for a few weeks in early-August 2010. Just a few days before we left to go to Maine for another week and a bit, we went boating with my parents and some family friends.
Boating on Kalamalka Lake in Lake Country, BC

We flew to Maine in mid-August, and I spent some time with Jonathan and his family before flying across the Atlantic. The last week before I left was spent camping with some of Jonathan's fellow church members and family friends on a remote island on a lake in western Maine. This annual camping trip has been a tradition for this close-knit group for years, and it was nice to be able to join them for this special time before heading off to Africa.
Walking back from a beach church service
at Metallak Island on Richardson Lake, Maine

Read Part 2 here - While I was in Tanzania... Part A
Read Part 3 here - While I was in Tanzania... Part B
Read Part 4 here - While I was in Tanzania... Part C
Read Part 5 here - Since I've come home from Tanzania...

Friday, April 18, 2014

Five Minute Friday: Glue

She was the glue that held us all together.

She was the one who organized our annual family Christmas name draw and kept it going year after year, for several decades. The one who sent out the birthday cards - and later included homemade birthday chocolates - early so they would arrive on or before the actual day. The one who gave advice when asked, but held her tongue and let us figure it out on our own sometimes, too.

She was the one who started our family e-mails, and was always faithful to write every day unless she was on a trip or sick and in the hospital. And she was the one who prompted those of us who weren't as faithful to keep on writing because what we had to say was interesting and important.

She was the one who invited large groups of people to her house for Sabbath meals, who planned family game nights and pizza suppers, who got excited when all the relatives would be in town for a holiday or a family event, and made sure the occasion included a meal or two at her house.

She was the one who did so much to make everything flow smoothly, but the one who probably never got enough praise or recognition. She bound us all together with love tighter than any ropes.

And now we all feel unglued without her.
What do you do when the glue in your life suddenly disappears?

My Grandma's birthday was a week ago today. She would have been 86. Two days later marked the third month since she died. Some days it feels too real; others it doesn't seem real at all.
Her name was Esther Linda. I always found it so fascinating that her name was so similar to the word Easter, and I often told her that I thought her parents should have chosen the name Lily rather than Linda for her middle name. All I will be thinking about the whole day this Easter Sunday is Gram.

My musings on the prompt 'glue' for Five Minute Friday. Join in next week if you feel inspired!