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Africa: Mission Accomplished!

This past Wednesday I returned safely back to the states in what was a bitter sweet arrival. I’m not very good at goodbyes, so it was really difficult to say goodbye to all my family and friends back in Kenya & Tanzania. I must admit though, I’m glad to be back!  So far, I’m absolutely loving all the amenities of living in the states (bathroom, hot showers, laundry machines, cereal, high speed internet, driving etc…) and I absolutely can’t wait to see everyone again!

I wanted to take this opportunity to end my blog and share my final concluding thoughts from the trip. Since my last post, I had the most unexpected experiences with my uncles, which left a lasting impact on me.  I had travelled to Africa to play my small part in the battle against HIV/AIDS & nutrition, but in the end, the greater battle turned out to be against chronic diseases.

It turns out that diabetes is quite common in my family and much of East Africa. My grandmother suffered from many of the complications before her death, and two of my uncles currently have it along with my grandmother’s brother. Unfortunately for them and many of the other people in East Africa that suffer from chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, etc… there is very little awareness of how to manage these diseases, and from my experiences,  quality clinics where people can go to receive adequate care and counseling are few and far in between.

For example, one of my uncles has lived with diabetes for about 8 years now, and in that time had never gotten his blood sugar levels down to the appropriate range (7-11 mmol/L – post meal levels). In fact, his levels often ranged between 22mmol/L to 30mmol/L, and as a result he has lost all sensation in his feet and is quickly losing his eye sight. Both occurrences are hallmark complications of diabetes that could have very easily been avoided had he received the proper care. I was really taken back by this, and despite my initial skepticism that stories like his were not common, I quickly found out that it was quite the norm.

In several very eye opening conversations and interviews, I learned that there just aren’t enough resources and man power available to properly address the problem. In Kenya, the Ministry of Health has made a huge effort to train healthcare practitioners in the district hospitals out in rural areas. However, when it comes down to it, people don’t know any of these services exist and the practitioners at the hospitals are stretched too thin with their case loads to really do anything about it. In Tanzania, it’s even worse. Despite diabetes drugs being on the short list of government provided medication s for qualified patients, many healthcare providers know very little about managing diabetes and hold many of the same misconceptions the lay public have in regards to its presentation and treatment. In both countries, amidst the more common heavy weight regional diseases such as HIV/AIDs and malaria, chronic diseases just don’t seem like much of a threat.  Unfortunately, these diseases have taken the region by storm, and as a result, countless people are needlessly suffering. The way I see it, when it comes to improving the quality of life in the region of East Africa, it truly is an uphill struggle. However, in this day and age, managing chronic diseases is very doable. You have to take advantage of your winnable battles in life, and this is definitely one of them.

Despite the situation I uncovered, I still left East Africa with a lot of hope and optimism for their future. Over the past two months, in what has been the adventure of a lifetime, I have witnessed a people with a great sense of community and passion for their region. In my travels to Ngorogoro Crater last weekend, I was also reminded of the awe inspiring beauty and abundance of natural resources both Kenya and Tanzania boast. Despite very humble beginnings from the days of colonization, and the long road to stability and prosperity that still lay ahead for both countries, my experiences this summer have led me to believe that both countries have truly been blessed and will one day be great powers in the world.

In conclusion, I thank everyone so much for tuning into my blog and all the great support over the summer. I hope it was somewhat helpful in allowing you to share my experiences along with me. If you ever get an opportunity to have a similar adventure of your own though, I would highly encourage it. It’s been a pleasure, and I look forward to the many great conversations to come.

Cheers!

 
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Posted by on July 23, 2011 in Weekly Update

 

Journey to Ushago: Land of My Forefathers

This past weekend, in what was hands down the best weekend of the summer, I took an extended break from field work in Tanzania to tour the land of my fathers (Kenya) and visit my family. After 17 years, it was definitely long overdue.

Saturday:

 

After a 5 hour shuttle ride from Arusha to Nairobi on Friday, my uncle Peter and I set out early Saturday morning for the 6 hour journey to Western Kenya, a region often referred to as Ushago. Our launch point would be Webuye, Kenya, which is where my mom grew up and centrally located to where most of my family lives.



Our first stop Saturday afternoon was my Aunt Florence’s. Of nine children, she is number five and is my oldest aunt. After so many years away she warmly welcomed me back home with a very big hug and an enormous meal. I’m not sure what she put in the chicken she prepared, but it was arguably the best chicken I’ve ever had. Now I understand why my parents always used to complain about food in America not being as sweet as back home. Shortly after our meal, I was whisked away to my uncle Sioy’s house for dinner – as an aside, the whole weekend was pretty much a progressive meal from one house to the next…It was awesome!

Like my Grandfather, who I would meet the next day, my uncle Sioy is a cop. Also like my grandfather, I quickly found out, he is a polygamist. Although he was not home, seven of his children along with my aunt Emmaculate were there to welcome me graciously for dinner. In total, my uncle has two wives and nine children, of which includes two sets of twins. Up until then I had been pretty good about remembering names, but with so many faces staring at me when I arrived, I simply cut my losses at the door… At the end of such a long day, I didn’t stand a chance


Sunday:

Sunday marked my favorite day of the entire summer. First up was my babu or grandfather on my mother’s side. I’m not sure what it was or how to describe it, but meeting him just felt good. We stopped in unannounced while he was out working (at 75 years old), so he wasn’t really expecting any guests. My aunt approached him and announced that she had brought a guest from America. She teasingly asked if he remembered me then revealed my name. He hadn’t seen me since I was probably around four or five years old, but as soon as he connected the dots he couldn’t contain himself.

He enthusiastically exclaimed thank you God several times and gave me a long hug. He stared at me in disbelief and told me I looked just like mom, and then proceeded to give me his blessings to the point of tears. I’m not much of crier, but I may have shed one or two tears as well. The rest of the visit seemed to fly by. Over several hours –and many cups of tea and andazi- he prayed for me, gave me a tour of the farm, and told me stories of when I was young(er). He revealed his wishes for me now that I am a man, and finally, he gave me my very own chicken! A grandfather’s traditional blessing for his grandson. Although I grew up without really knowing my grandparents or having very many memories with them, this day totally made up for it.

From there, we made a short stop to my grandfather’s brother’s house next door. Unfortunately he wasn’t home, so we set off to the Ogweno family farm in Mumias. Located near Kenya’s largest provider of sugar, the Mumias Sugar factory, we recently purchased a 15 acre sugar cane farm as our home away from home in Kenya. Having only seen it on videos sent to us from my uncles, the farm I’m glad to say has come a long way in a fairly short period of time since we acquired it. The field workers were very welcoming and gave us a brief tour of the land. About ¾ of it is sugar cane, which is progressing quite well. The workers predicted that this upcoming harvest would yield almost 7 times more sugar cane than last time! I don’t know what they’re doing differently but I hope they keep doing it… The rest of the land is reserved for corn, beans, cassava, grass for grazing and various other vegetables. We don’t have any cows yet, but now the barn is completed and ready for occupants, and space for grazing seems to be plentiful, we can hopefully bring in a few to try our hand at milk production. All in all, I think dad will be happy with all the progress when he visits soon.


For the last stop of the day, we stopped by my great grandparents land on my mom’s side, which is also located in Mumias. My grandmother’s brother, who I call Babu Nelson, still lives on the land and very warmly welcomed us. Like my grandfather, he too couldn’t believe that I had come to visit and insisted that we stay for dinner. It wasn’t in our plans, but I’m very glad we did. He gave us a tour of the land and showed us all the crops he plants and maintains by himself. Considering the size of the farm, it was quite impressive. He showed me where my grandparents are buried and this secret rock basin overlooking the land, where my mom and my aunts and uncles loved to come and bathe and play when they were younger. Everything was surreal… To top it all off, for dinner we were prepared this special brown ugali made from cassava and finger millet from the farm. Hands down the best ugali I’ve ever had. A note to Auntie Hellen, I may never be able to go back to regular white ugali…

Monday

The next day we shipped off for a short visit to dad’s home town: Siaya. Due to cultural traditions, I must be accompanied by my dad in order to visit my grandparents after such a long period of time, so I didn’t get a chance to meet my grandmother. However, we did stop by to see my grandmother’s cousin. I’m not quite sure what familial term would apply in English, but I call him Babu Mashek in Kiswahili. He was at his project site just outside of town where he is constructing a secondary school. He too was very surprised to see me, and just kept staring in disbelief for the first few minutes of our visit. He introduced us to his workers and gave us a tour of the school. It all looked to be proceeding quite well. From there we quickly toured Siaya and then checked in on our small rental property on the outskirts of town. A note to dad, the property still needs additional renovations, but it’s shaping up nicely.

All in all, as you can tell, the weekend was incredibly busy. As it flew by however, it did seem almost too good to be true. As we travelled from place to place, I almost felt like I was in a movie… I grew up not really knowing my family history or where I came from, but then over two days everything came full circle as it was all finally revealed to me. You can’t really ask for much more in life. Thank you to my aunts and uncles for such a memorable homecoming. Though it took so long, I hope this will serve as the first of many more to come.

To see pictures from the trip, I have updated the pictures page (see top right corner) with new photos. Enjoy!

 
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Posted by on July 14, 2011 in Weekly Update

 

GSC Summer Day Camp

About few weeks back (June 13th) I took part in GSC’s annual two week long summer day camp, which has arguably been the best part of my trip thus far. When I started writing this blog post I quickly realized there was way too much to tell in just one sitting, so I have attempted to do a general overview of the camp along with some highlights of a few of the challenges and successes from the experience. The rest of the story will just have to wait until I get back. : )

Overview of the Camp

Every year when Tanzanian schools are on break (our summer, their winter break), GSC selects a rural school in the region to host a two week day camp. The school changes every year, but the focus always remains on teaching general health topics, HIV/AIDs awareness, nutrition, and life skills. Many of the rural schools don’t have much capital to stay open for two weeks during the break, so GSC brings the food, the supplies, and the teachers (us!) to run the camp. Unfortunately not all the students at the host schools can attend the day camp, but for those that are able the cost is free! In addition, to ensure that the lessons learned during the camp are carried on to all students, several students from each class are selected for additional training to start a health club at the school, which is charged with spreading the knowledge that we teach on to other students and the community. This year the camp was held at Namanga Secondary school in Namanga, TZ, a town which has truly become my home away from home in Arusha. Like most secondary schools, Namanga Secondary accommodates grades 8– 12, and has a total of about 380 students. Of those students, 180 students were selected to attend the camp.

Challenges/ Frustrations Teaching:

In my class, my Tanzanian counterpart (translator) and I were assigned 22 young minds to mold, ranging from 13 to 16 years old. Our class name was Tembo (Elephants). In retrospect, I’m not sure what we were expecting, but we quickly discovered teaching high school students wasn’t as easy as we thought it would be…

The first major challenge we faced was maintaining order in the classroom and capturing the students’ attention. We had a few older students that were straight business once they got into the classroom, but the majority of the students were younger and could hardly sit still for more than 3 minutes before you lost them. It was a huge difference from the vocational school my first week.

Second, during the first few days, I found making connections with the kids a bit difficult because of the language and generational barriers. The kids spoke particularly faster than the adults (as teenagers tend to do) so it was a bit harder to understand them than usual. They would also use words that I had never heard of. It was literally like they were speaking another language sometimes. Also, having grown up in a different country and culture, I had a difficult time making references or jokes the kids understood. For example, none of the kids had ever high fived! I stopped giving them out after the first few failed attempts… There was definitely a steep learning curve the first few days. I am really thankful my counterparts were awesome and were able to fill in the gap and help bring me up to speed.

Last, and the most difficult challenge to overcome, was the fact that many of my students came from very humble households. Consequently, they had fairly difficult lives. Many didn’t really have clean uniforms or clothes to wear every day; you could tell some only ate when they came to school; and many were just exhausted from the chores they had to do before getting to school. It’s hard to get mad at a kid for being late when he or she probably had to trek a few kilometers to fetch water before making their normal one km walk to school. I had a difficult time being understanding yet still demanding to get the best out of the students. I very much believed what we were teaching them was vital to learn, especially at their age, but wasn’t quite sure what the most effective way to deliver the message was given the challenges.

Successes:

Fortunately, Michael Paul and Tula Kiwovele,my counterparts, were great and very dedicated.

After feeling out the first few days, we sat down and restructured our lesson plans to include as many activities and role plays as we could to keep the kids from getting “cold” as Michael P. put it. Our lessons went a bit longer than they were supposed to (surprise surprise with me…) but it kept the kids moving through the day, and also reinforced the material in their books from a different approach. Who doesn’t like hands on learning!

From my old days in the Student Body Union (aka Student Council for the old timers), I remember learning it’s always better to lead with the carrot and not the stick if possible. So, we introduced a sticker reward system for students that answered questions correctly (that was key), asked insightful questions, and came to class on time. At the end of each week, we presented the student with the most stickers a Zawadi (present). The kids loved it! It definitely unlocked their competitive spirit.

Of all our adaptations, my favorite was our passport idea that accompanied our life skills lessons and the bridge model. One of the main focuses of the camp was teaching life skills like good communication skills, goal setting, values, avoiding peer pressure etc… To do so we used the bridge model, which presents each essential life skill as a part of a bridge. Ultimately the completed bridge enables people to reach a healthy, happy, lifestyle. To provide students with a continuous memory of our lessons and what they learned, we made everyone little passport booklets and gave them a sticker for each life skill lesson they attended and participated in. I’m happy to say all my kids completed all the lessons!

       

At the end of the camp we held a special ceremony for the class. We built a bridge out of the desks, with each desk representing one of the essential life skills. In order to enter the room and cross to the other side, each student had to present their completed passports (LXA brothers, sound familiar?). Once inside, each student received their very own STLCOP ballpoint pen (the fancy ones with the retractable maps), a few pencils, and an award for the life skill they exemplified best over the two week period. The Success Center/ Student Life and Enrolment departments at school (St. Louis College of Pharmacy) made some very generous donations, which enabled me to take a ton of school and art supplies with me before I left. We had just enough for everyone to get at least one thing (thank you all again!). In addition, the student with the most stickers at the end of the camp (who won it by just one sticker) received a soccer ball and pump. It worked out really well because the day before the student had been one of the brave souls to share one of his long term goals of becoming a better soccer player and maybe becoming a sportsman.I couldn’t have planned it better.

Graduation:

When it was all said and done, I couldn’t have been more proud of my kids. They worked hard during the entire two weeks of camp and I loved them for it. By the end it was very difficult to say goodbye. On graduation day, I sounded our infamous class call – Tembo Tembo Tembo….quack quack quack – one last time to gather them all together before we departed. I encouraged them to continue working hard in school and in life and to always believe in their abilities. I also told them that they were all very special and would one day go on to do great things for their community and the world. I’m not sure how often they hear those words, but I hope they never forget them.

I remember having a particularly wonderful conversation with Dr. Zebroski, our highly esteemed History of Medicine teacher and former student government advisor, about why he loves teaching. I’m reminded of it because after my day camp experience I have to agree, despite the long hours of preparation, the sometimes long and draining days, and the frustrations you may face along the way, there are few things in this world more satisfying than the influence you have on someone through teaching. I certainly have a long way to go before I can ever have as big of an impact on students as some of the great teachers I’ve had over the years, but I am certainly very thankful for the opportunities I’ve had. I will forever carry the memories from this experience and my kids with great fondness and gratitude.

 
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Posted by on July 4, 2011 in Weekly Update

 

First Village Training!

Hello again! I hope everyone is doing well since my last post. I apologize about the long gap between posts. I’m still not 100% sure why, but my computer froze up a few weeks back and has been out of commission since. Luckily, one of our translators (Michael Paul) is a computer genius and helped me get things up and running. Pending nothing else goes wrong, I should be able to update the blog much more often. Yay!

That being said, thank you for all the great feedback and support from my last post! It was great hearing from everyone that left comments. I definitely miss everyone!  A lot has happened since my last blog post. Below is an update from ~three weeks ago, the week of June 6th (pre computer crash). I am currently still in Namanga and teaching secondary school students (8th & 9th graders) for a two week day camp. I will try and type up my journal entries, plus pictures, and post them this weekend.

Week of June 6th

~Three weeks ago myself and a few other volunteers shipped off to Namanga, Tanzania, which is situated just on the border of Kenya and Tanzania. If you remember from my previous entry of my shuttle ride from Nairobi to Arusha, it’s the small town I stopped at to pass through immigration before entering Tanzania. The town has just over 12,000 people (wouldn’t guess it from the picture) and is largely dominated by the Maasai tribe. They would be the primary recipients of our training in nutrition and food drying techniques for the week.

 

Maasai are traditionally nomadic herders of cows, so their diet mainly consists of beef, ugali (a corn meal based food) and milk. Culturally, Massai men think very poorly of eating anything else but meat, so vegetables and fruits are very often neglected from the diet and left for the women (I personally didn’t see the problem…kidding). Unfortunately, due to the inconsistent rains and consequent droughts in Tanzania and Kenya, pastures for the cows to graze have been few and far between. Many cows have died, and as a result, many Maasai have suffered malnutrion and hunger from the lack of food. Sadly, when all you know is herding it’s difficult to survive such difficult times.

This is where we come in. Our efforts a few weeks back were three fold. First, we continued the ongoing efforts of explaining to the Massai women why other food groups are not only acceptable but essential to the diet. Since the women do all the cooking, by encouraging them to diversify the diet and including alternatives to meat – if they are able – malnutrition can hopefully be avoided in the children, women, and men that are willing to change their ways. Given the recent droughts, it’s been much easier to make this argument than in the past.

 

Second, we continued trainings on sustainable agriculture and conducted checkups on previously planted crops. Seeing Maasai men farming was definitely one of the highlights of the week. Traditionally, Maasai men eat breath and sleep herding. Anything else simply has no value in their eyes. Consequently, getting them to do anything agricultural is like trying to mix oil and water. It just doesn’t work… However, given the circumstances and the lack of food, GSC has been able to teach small groups of Maasai in the Namanga area how to grow small gardens of vegetables using Bio-intensive Agriculture (BIA) techniques. Through methods of double digging and no till farming, GSC has been able to teach the Maasai how to farm and maximize crop yields in fairly harsh conditions –as you may be able to tell from the pictures. They have also helped them develop systems of water collection and irrigation for their crops. It really is quite amazing what they have been able to do in such a short amount of time.

Third, for the periods where rain is plentiful and crops grow in abundance, we taught a small group of Maasai women how to build and use food driers.  By capturing the natural heat from the sun, the driers are able to dry vegetables and some fruits, which can in turn be stored for up to 6 months to a year. This enables those that are willing to adopt new ways to have an extra food supply during periods of drought and food shortages, like now. Between all the trainings that we offered through the week, I gave the nutrition training and assisted in constructing food driers.

Teaching out in the villages was definitely a completely different experience than the previous week in the city. For one, most of the Maasai only speak Maasai, so we ended up needing a translator for both English and Kiswahili. Usually when I said stuff everyone sort of had a blank stare on their face, but there seemed to be a lot of nodding and mumbling after the translator spoke. That was my cue that we were all on the same page before moving on.

I have to admit, talking to the Maasai about nutrition was really… awkward. For many of the participants, this wasn’t the first time they had received the nutrition lesson. From their feedback and responses I think they got the general idea of why it’s important to not only eat meat, ugali and drink milk. However, there wasn’t very much around to diversity their diet even if they wanted to.  I felt guilty teaching people something they wouldn’t be able to completely do. It’s definitely situations like this the saying “ignorance is bliss” was created.

In my guilt I ended up tailoring the lesson to focus more on making sure everyone got enough to eat each day to support all their physical labor, as opposed to emphasizing hitting all the recommended food groups. I also tried to help them identify other reasons people don’t get enough food. Though food shortages and lack of money are major obstacles, I didn’t want to neglect other road blocks that can be equally as obstructive to getting enough to eat, such as being too pre-occupied to stop and eat (I’m definitely guilty of this) or holding irrational beliefs about what is and isn’t acceptable (being picky…as Maasai tend to be). I’m still not sure if I was too presumptuous in assuming the Maasai aren’t quite able to provide fully balanced diets in their circumstances. My changes felt like the right thing to do though, and I made sure to be as respectful as possible. I learned a lot from the experience, and hopefully I will be more comfortable in similar situations in the future.

On a lighter note, another major difference from the previous week was the amount of physical work we had to do. I hate to admit it, but after 5 years of pharmacy school I am now definitely a city boy. I could talk about nutrition all day, but when it came to sawing the wood for the food driers I didn’t last five min. It was definitely a humbling experience.  I was a bit worried about the women being able to handle the work, but they were more than willing to have a go at it when it was their turn. They were like a swarm of worker bees until they got it done. Considering many of them traveled on foot from quite a distance away, not to mention had to wake up early to fetch water before coming, I was very impressed by their tenacity.

Overall, we had our ups and downs through the week, but by the end I grew very fond of the group we trained. For the first few days I found it difficult not to feel bad for the Maasai people in this region and their current circumstances. However, the more time I spent with them through the week, I witnessed just how much spirit and pride they had. With a little assistance from groups like us and a willingness to try new things, I have no doubt the Maasai people will pull through such difficult times.

 
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Posted by on June 25, 2011 in Weekly Update

 

Hello World!

Hello World!

Hello family and friends! I hope all is well! I have been in Tanzania for a little over two weeks now and am loving every minute of it. I have seen some amazing views, met some incredible people, and have experienced many firsts that I wish everyone could experience with me. Unfortunately, effective means of communication are a bit difficult to access and/or expensive, so I am starting this blog to hopefully keep everyone up to date on what’s going on.

I have never blogged (not sure if this is an actual word…) before, so I apologize if it’s not very good… I will do my best to post something at least once a week though and upload plenty of pictures. Please feel free to post comments and questions. I will do my best to respond.

Below you will find an update of my activities from the past few weeks to bring you up to speed since I have arrived. I am currently in Namanga, which is on the border ofKenyaandTanzania, training on nutrition and food drying techniques. The internet connection out here is a bit slow, and they charge every half hour, so I will wait until I get back to Arusha to give an update on the happenings from this week. I should be able to post something by Friday or Saturday.

My flight across the pond…

I arrived in Kenya late Saturday evening around 8:30pm KST [12:30pm US-EST]. Over 22 hours I had flown from St. Louis to New York, then from New York to Amsterdam and finally to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO) in Nairobi, Kenya. I didn’t think much about it at the time, but I was utterly exhausted. Upon arrival, I found that two other international flights had flown in at the same time and it was an absolute disaster.  Jommo Kenyatta International is Kenya’s largest airport, but it only has one terminal with three gates (or units)… so it got ridiculous when everyone arrived at the same time. To make matters worse, there was only one luggage carousel for pick-up, so it took almost 45 min to collect all my luggage. Thankfully everything arrived safely and on time. Also, since I am still a Kenyan citizen I cleared immigration and customs in ~10 min. The line for citizens was so much shorter than for everyone else. For all the trouble I went through to get my passport renewed, that definitely made up for it. After finally making it through everything I was greeted by both my Uncles Patrick and Peter who welcomed with great joy and enthusiasm. After 17 years, it was great to be back!

Shuttle ride from Nairobi to Arusha

My uncle Patrick kindly booked a spot for me on the Riverside shuttle from Nairobi, Kenya to Arusha, Tanzania. The drive is about 5 hours by bus, which includes a short stop in Namanga, a small town on the border of Kenya and Tanzania, to pass through immigration and get passports stamped. I still hadn’t quite adjusted to the time change so I was out of commission for about half the trip. Fortunately, I was awake for a few hours while there was daylight and got to catch some of the wonderful scenery. Being the rainy season, which lasts until June, everything was really green. Growing up in the Mid-West in the heart of the United States, and being accustomed to nothing but corn fields, the landscape was unlike anything I had ever seen before. There were a ton of trees and plants I had only ever seen in books, if it all, and the landscape would continuously change from rolling hills, to dry open plains, to farm land.  It was out of this world. Just before the sunset, I was able to make out Mt. Meru, which is located just outside Arusha, Tanzania, towering over the landscape. At just about the same time, the bus driver picked up the Arsenal vs. Aston Villa game on the radio (Arsenal is my favorite soccer team). Even though Arsenal went on to lose the game, I was in heaven.  What a way to kick off my adventures in Africa!

Center House Hostel:

My accommodations for the first three days in Arusha were at Center House Hostel, which is located right next to Sekei Secondary school in Arusha (a local high school day school). I’ve always associated hostels with having to “rough it,” but I thought the accommodations were really nice. For the most part the rooms were pretty spacious. My room had three double sized beds (with mosquito nets) and its own shower with hot water! The hot water had a switch that had to be turned on for it to work, which I was told was normally hit or miss. However, one of the girls I met on the first day showed me the “special” procedure to get it to work – I’m really glad I stopped to say hi to her.

As for meals, breakfast and dinner were both provided every day we were there, and were just as good, if not better, than anything we had at local restaurants. The mamas (unofficial term for the elder ladies that ran the hostel) really took care of us and made us feel at home.

At Center House I also met up with my fellow volunteers: Chad, Lance, Cara, Candace, Nora and Kelsey. Chad and Lance are both from Arkansas and are doing pre-med at Hendrix College; Nora and Candace both attend grad school at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor; Candace is form Ontario and attends Queens University, and Kelsey is from New York and attends the University of Maryland. Nora and Candace are both doing the sustainable agriculture program, and then the rest of us are doing the HIV/AIDS and nutrition program. In looking back over the past few weeks, despite coming from such different backgrounds, we have all become really close. Nothing forges strong bonds and friendships like spending a few weeks in Africa.

Host family

On Wednesday of the first week we were introduced to our host families for the summer. I was placed at the Maeda household, which is in North West Arusha in an area called Sakina, with mama and baba Maeda and their three children.

Mama Maeda owns two handbag shops in town and baba Maeda is an accountant at a chemical plant about 15 miles outside of Arusha. Their eldest is 26, and normally resides in Dar Salaam but is currently at home finishing up his MBA at a nearby international university. He also owns a pretty successful dress shop he opened close to home. He is a very promising business man.  Their two younger daughters are around 15 or 16 years old, and attend secondary school (high school) at a nearby boarding school.  Everyone is currently on holiday from school so the house has been pretty lively.

For the most part, everyone speaks at some level of English, so between my Kiswahili and their English communication has been fairly easy. However, I quickly discovered my Kiswahili is not quite up to par compared to the pure dialect spoken in Tanzania. Fortunately, my family has been great about teaching me new words and correcting my grammar. I hope to be much better by the end of the summer.

As for food, it’s very similar to what I eat at home: ugali (Google it), rice (wali), greens (mchicha), beef stew, chapatti, tea (chai) at least three times a day, etc. Also like home, the portions are far from moderate, so every meal is a feast. It’s awesome! Dinner is always together as a family, followed by the evening news before bed.  I really don’t think I could have asked for a better host family. They have truly made me feel at home, and have been extremely helpful in helping me make the transition to Tanzania.

Transportation

I wanted to make a special note of the transportation because it’s absolutely crazy. Within the first 5 min. in a car I very quickly found out that driving laws are more like suggestions and everyone pretty much does whatever they want. I know everyone complains about driving in St. Louis, but we drive like saints compared to Kenyans and Tanzanians.

The main mode of transportation for most in Arusha is via daladala (spelling?), which are basically small minivans that run different routes throughout the city. Each daladala has a color, which corresponds to its specific route, and costs about 200 – 300 Tanzanian Shillings (TSH) to ride one way. If I don’t walk I usually take a yellow then a green daladala to get to work every day, so about 600 TSH one way.

So like I said, getting around is madness. Normally, about 16-20 people can fit comfortably in a daladala. However, the more people the daladala guy (that’s my official term) can fit in the van in one trip the more money they make, so they literally pack people in like sardines. I was once in a daladala with 27 other people, some random chickens and luggage. It was insane. My parents always joke about public transportation in Africa but it never really hit home until now. A word to Brandon, Brianna and Byron: you officially don’t get to complain anymore about not having enough space in the back of the van…

Birthday Weekend Safari:

 This past Saturday we loaded up the trucks and went on a one day Safari at Arusha National Park. We saw some zebras, giraffes and a ton of monkeys. The drive around the mountain was also breathtaking. It wasn’t in my plans, but I think I will definitely have to make it out to some of the other national parks in Tanzania while I’m here. My goal is to snap a photo of each of the big 5 ( lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard and rhino) before I leave. Pictures to come!

 

 

What I Do Everyday…

My program in Tanzania is through Global Service Corps Tanzania, a NGO that provides a number of different trainings to natives in Tanzania, which focus on effective agricultural practices, nutrition, and HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention. Most of what I teach is nutrition and HIV/AIDS (HA) material.

My first week in Arusha was primarily orientation. We toured the city, got a crash course in Kiswahili, and went over most of the material we would be teaching out in the villages. Since I am in the HA program, we got to visit a person living with HIV/AIDS to see what their life style is like. It was really interesting, on a number of different levels. I don’t have time right now, but I promise to write more on a later post.

Last week I completed my first training at a near by vocational school called VOLAP- Vocational Learning Activities Program- Institute of Career Development. Out of 27 students, there were 26 women and one man, and they were all training to become primary school teachers. For this particular training I taught with one other program volunteer and a translator. Over the week we covered everything from sexual reproduction & anatomy and HIV/AIDS progression, prevention & testing, to nutrition and cultural & gender roles inTanzania.

I’m not sure how well I did as a teacher, but I absolutely loved every minute of it. I was nervous the first day because I thought a lot of the information would either be boring or common knowledge. However, the students were really open during discussions and great about asking questions, especially when we covered reproductive anatomy and HIV/ AIDS transmission and progression. I was really surprised by some of the misconceptions many of the students held, especially regarding effective prevention measures against HIV/AIDS and the importance of getting tested. It was great being able to talk through their beliefs and share the rational behind the current recommendations and best practices.

I’m not sure how much the students took away from what we taught them, but it was great seeing them engaged and critically thinking about practices people rarely challenge. We teach that ~68% of the world’s HIV/AIDS population is in Sub Saharan African. However, there have been some extremely effective efforts, like in Kagara, Tanzania, in which transmission rates have been cut in half. The secret: spreading a little knowledge and encouraging people to use it. There is only so much you can do in a week, but we certainly did our best to do exactly that. It was a great first training experience and I certainly look forward to continuing the work in the weeks to come.

As mentioned, I will do my best to post something by Friday or Saturday. Until then, please take care!

 
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Posted by on June 9, 2011 in Weekly Update

 
 
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