Africa: the Packet!

I got my packet yesterday from Cross Cultural Solutions, along with a card from my best friend congratulating me on winning the trip.  Not a shabby mail day.  It sure beats bills, anyway.

The packet.  It included:

  • A welcome letter,
  • Some terms and conditions,
  • Stickers (yay!),
  • My (volunteer) placement guide,
  • My Participant Handbook for Kilimanjaro,
  • The Volunteer Abroad Program Handbook (i.e. the Rules),
  • A luggage tag, and
  • A t-shirt.  Boy, do l have enough of those to clothe a small village  love me a t-shirt.  (You can also get a t-shirt, or some other stuff too!  10% of all purchases go to CCS.)
I read through all of it immediately.  It answered some questions.  Some of the information is generic and reminds us to be flexible and that kind of stuff.  As much as I like to obsess plan and know what to expect, I’m okay with not knowing either. I’m pretty used to the “hurry up and wait” that goes on in places.  I know to bring a book with me (Always Bring A Book). I had to make up my job in Samoa.  I work at a University now where I still make up my job have some flexibility with what I do.  That being said, I know it will be overwhelming and information overload while I’m there and attempting (probably badly) another language and making a complete fool of myself.  Good thing I got used to that in Samoa.  After playing competitive dress-up in the village, making speeches and being told to “Siva!” my once former ego is fairly non-existent.  Palagi and Mzungu seem like pretty interchangeable terms.
Reading the packet was definitely a good thing, and also a reminder to let some things go.  And to pick up a book that a friend sent me before I left for Peace Corps all those years ago – a collection of letters that a volunteer in Kenya and her friend in New York sent back and forth.  I’ve read it several times, but I think it’s time to read it again.

Africa: Six Degrees of Helpfulness

When I first applied for the travel grant, a few people mentioned they knew someone or knew someone who knew someone who knew something about Tanzania.  Now that I’ve won the trip – it’s official… I know people who know people!  (and they’re all helpful!)

The medical and safari and Kilimanjaro advice and information has been invaluable, but the emails and Facebook messages saying – I have a friend who is from there, or did you meet the woman at the East-West Center from Tanzania?, or my coworker is there right now and I’ll hook you up when he gets back – have been amazing and totally unexpected.  I know I’m only going to be there for a short time, but an opportunity to meet and hang out with some locals is my favorite kind of traveling.

I always joke that my book about Hawai`i or Samoa will be about how there’s about a half a degree of separation most of the time…which can be a wonderful thing or make you crazy.  The more life goes on, the more I really do believe the 6 degrees theory – and not just as it relates to Kevin Bacon. So in turn, you all now know some people in Tanzania if you decide to go. 🙂

Undoubtedly this will be one of the many times I need to say thank you, mahalo, fa’afetai and asante!  And if you have any more information to share, please do!

Africa: Rules. (those things I don’t do so well with)

So, I talked with the fabulous Katie today at Cross Cultural Solutions.
Lots to get figured out.  She was super nice and helpful and gave me the rundown on some things.  Like the rules.

I understand the rules.  And the reasons for the rules.  But those of you who know me, I don’t do so well with rules.  (i.e., living with the nuns in Samoa, keeping my mouth shut when I’m supposed to, and anything that makes me feel restricted in any way.)
After watching a bunch of twentysomethings go batshit crazy exploring in Samoa, there is something to be said for a rule here and there.  Apparently there are already 10 people signed up to go in my group.  Ranging in age from 19 to someone in their 60s.  It’s like peace corps all over again.

Anyways.  The rules.  Not that stupid dating book, either.
I have to try to cover my tattoos as much as possible.  Shouldn’t be too much of a problem except for my taulima and my ankle/foot tattoos.  We’ll see how that goes. Tattoos are apparently not so common over there.  So I’ll do what I can to cover them while doing the work thing.

I’ll have a curfew – 11 p.m.  Not too big of a deal.  I’m sure I’ll be up early and to bed early, if past travels are an indicator.  That being said, I do like to explore the nightlife of anywhere I’m traveling.  I’ll just get the nightlife prior to 11 p.m.

No alcohol at the house.  Now this one might be difficult.  I like to try the local brews.  Or the imports.  It’s gonna be hot.  And I’m gonna want a beer or a glass of wine.  Apparently that will not be happening at home.  Which is funny – I thought they would not want us drinking in public, and want us drinking in private… but hey… I’ll go with it.
There’s also lots of rules about picture-taking… which will be hard.  I understand that pictures I’m taking at my work site are of a sensitive nature and should not be made accessible to the general public.  But I LOVE to take pictures.  Especially of people.  I guess I’m gonna have to learn how to say “Can I take your picture?” in Swahili.

(But I’m SO much better at languages after I’ve had a drink or two.  Damn.)


Africa: Questions…No Answers.

Should I go on Safari?  Who’s good and cheap?
Should I hike Kilimanjaro?  (See Safari)
Where am I going to end up volunteering?
How am I going to save money for all of this?
When do I leave and return?
How am I going to survive 30-40 hours of travel to the other side of the globe?
What do I wear?
Will I cry?
How many times am I going to offend someone?
Should I go to Zanzibar?
How big of a pain is it going to be to get this visa?
Am I going to get sick while I’m there?
What will the New Year be like?
Are you going to make me not want to come back to America?
How many pictures do you think I’ll take?
Are the other volunteers on my project going to be fun?
What’s the food like?  More importantly, what’s the alcohol like?

Africa: Off the Grid

I’m not sure what kind of access I’m going to have to communications while in Tanzania.
It seems like there’s pretty good internet in the bigger cities, and judging from what I’ve seen from the peace corps blogging community, they seem to do ok.

I’m an internet addict.  I know this.  However, when I’m traveling, it doesn’t really phase me.  When I went to Samoa last summer – I remember being teased “what are you going to do without your iPhone?!”  And I was absolutely fine.  Email actually became stressful. Whenever we’d be in the village for a few weeks and I’d come back to town to check my email, I’d practically have a panic attack at the internet cafe.  It was information overload. Seeing that I had 72 Facebook notifications was overwhelming.  People needed to stop “liking” my photos because it was stressing. me. out.

The reason I’m writing this is because I just spent the weekend in Hau’ula with some friends.  No tv.  No computers.  We did have our iPhones, but those were primarily used to instagram with each other.  I caught up on my short story reading.  We shared a trashy tabloid magazine. Played games (Apples to Apples, and Trivial Pursuit, anyone?).  Came up with our top 5/top 10 lists.  Learned about each other’s families.  Cooked.  Ate.  Drank. Beached.  Planned someone’s wedding (we at least have the food and photography and wardrobe covered).  It reminded me of weekends in Samoa with other volunteers.  Where the biggest agenda item was simply filling time.

You can get a lot done while you’re off the grid, people.
Especially with a view like this:

Africa: Tears and Threats

This blog entry is dedicated to a friend.  Who cries more than I do.  And who has threatened me with everything short of (and at this point I think, including) death, should I not return to Hawai`i after my trip.

I’ve gotta be honest.  I’ve thought about the possibilities.  Of finally having the Africa experience that so many jobs are looking for.  Of the networking I’ll be able to do.  Cross Cultural Solutions alone looks amazing – and an organization that I could definitely work for.  The HIV/AIDS work – meeting people who are doing the work regularly in the field and getting their thoughts on things.

At the same time, while I procrastinate the dissertation look for jobs – I look mostly in the Pacific and in Hawai`i.  This place is home now.  November will be our 8 year anniversary.
Someone asked me earlier today if I had any desire to go back to the continent.  My response is typically: “Um, you have to dress up there…. and wear shoes… and it snows, so maybe if someone offered me a dream job and paid me a bunch of money.  But only maybe and I wouldn’t stay there forever.”

I’ve gotten spoiled here.  I have friends and networks and a way of life that works.  I’m not rich.  I’m not going to be able to afford a house by myself.  Maybe a condo.   And I’m totally okay with that.  I get year round summer.  I wear flip-flops to work.  There’s mango season. There’s the ocean.  There are lots of intangibles too.  I may not be at the beach everyday, but I can go if I really need to.

So my drunk tearful friend.  No worries.  At least not too many.
I’ll never love this island as much as you do, but I sure do love it a lot.

Africa: Blood.

No, not blood diamonds or that stuff.

Blood.  Itself.  I have a rare blood type.  B-.
I’ve been donating since high school, when a classmate was diagnosed with a blood disease.  So I donate as often as I can, usually.   This gets interrupted by my love for tattoos and international travel from time to time.

When I haven’t been in for a while or forget to schedule, Char at the Blood Bank of Hawaii calls to remind me.  She called me again this morning.  Thankfully they’re on campus a lot so it makes things very convenient.  I started wondering how long they’re not gonna let me donate after this trip.  They didn’t have anything specific on the website about travel, other than malaria – and I know I’m going to be in an area where malaria occurs.

I’ve never had to do the malaria pill thing.  But it seems everyone has a story… ranging from crazy dreams to real psychiatric symptoms.  Anybody out there have any advice or experience with the malaria stuff?  I’ve got to schedule an appointment with the doctor soon to make sure I have all the immunizations I need, and figure out what I’m gonna do about the malaria situation.

And in the meantime I’ll donate blood a few more times before they ban me for a year or so.