Africa: Creepy Crawlies!

I’ve been meaning to do this post for a while, but have been distracted.  A friend posted this picture the other day on Facebook and reminded me:

pretty cute for a spider, no?  He/she looks relatively small and harmless (and not even real, really), and of course it’s a picture on a computer so I can remain relatively sane about the whole deal.  That being said, I’ve got this irrational fear of spiders.  I’m not a big fan of bugs in general, but travel in the tropics and other parts of the world has forced me to get. over. it. (for the most part, anyways.)

The spider fear stems from an incident with a ginormous spider in my bedroom in when I was little – I swear it was – T H I S B I G !  The family still mocks me about it, but it was huge and it was real and scary even if none of them ever saw it.  So there.

Samoa had some big cockroaches that had a zest for life and sometimes took more effort to kill than expected, but the real issue was those centipedes.  I’ll never forget when I got bit.  I had no idea how much pain could be caused from an insect bite.  I sucked out as much venom as I could, but was amazed as I literally watched the venom travel through my finger up my arm.  A benadryl and a vailima were the cure.  And finding the damn thing and killing it also helped (thanks to my neighbor at the time, Eric the red).  Needless to say I kept  my laundry OFF the floor and sprayed poison Mortein around the house regularly. Nobody wants to come face to face with one of these guys:

So, what does Tanzania have to offer me?

From the WikiTravel website:
Tanzania has its fair share of venomous and deadly insects and animals, such as Black and Green Mambas, scorpions, spiders, stinging ants, lions, sharks, and others. You should take care when walking through high grass; when visiting national parks, or when shoving your hand under rocks or into dark holes — unless you know what you are doing. In actuality, the likelihood of encountering these and other similar dangers is remote.
The insect/animal most residents fear is the mosquito.

So, I guess it could be worse.  Mosquitos I can handle, or at least try to repel as much as possible.  Which reminds me – I need to start getting my shots and malaria stuff in order soon!!


Africa: I haven’t forgotten you.

For a while Africa was all I could think about.  It is still something to look forward to, but I’m currently occupied by being just one week in to the semester.  I’m realizing that Africa will be upon me before I know it.  This semester is going to fly!  I’m not ready for it to go by as quickly as it is about to, but I don’t have much choice, it seems.

East Africa is going through a rough time right now – drought and famine.  Things I can’t really imagine, and would imagine that most of you can’t either.  I don’t have a ton of money right now, but I did make a small contribution to Oxfam recently.  I would encourage those of you who have the means to do whatever you can to help the situation – maybe what it might cost to go out to dinner?  The Centre for Research on Globalization has put together a list of agencies who are helping.  You can find it here.

In the meantime, I’m neck deep in syllabi and trying to keep up with all of the reading’s I’ve assigned my students… I’ll try to get better about blogging, now that I’m over the plague and working on getting into a routine again.  This pales in comparison to what is going on right now in Africa, but it is what I am dealing with.  I’ve included a video below with a little more background on the current famine issues.  Don’t let the AlJazeera tag fool you – it’s some of the best reporting out there…










Africa: Illness

I was home sick yesterday, and now again today.  All the running around and fun-having while Kisha’s been visiting has caught up with my immune system.  Nothing too serious, I hope, but enough to keep me home and a cough that doesn’t want to give up.  Super-duper annoying.

I also read a blog post today from a PCV in Tanzania about the general state of health care (westernized, that is) which doesn’t look to be real good.  I am guessing it was a new-ish volunteer (turns out when I looked she’s been there almost a year) because she was overly critical and didn’t really seem to be understanding some of the bigger issues.  I suppose we were all like that once though. At one point she remarks “Overall, the entire experience was extremely eye-opening and I now understand why the Tanzanian citizens, at least around my area, seem to distrust medical care and tend to opt for solutions provided by witch doctors and superstition.”  I get where she is coming from, but I wish she wasn’t so down on the solutions provided by witch doctors and (so-called) superstition… because right now all I could use is a good Samoan fofo (call it what you will, but it sure ain’t western medicine!).

Being sick though has reminded me of all the times I’ve been traveling and gotten sick. The time in El Salvador when I forgot and brushed my teeth accidentally with the tap water without thinking and then asked to die later that day.  The time I was in Cuba on an old Russian plane and thought my sinuses might actually burst.  All those times in Samoa – strep throat was the infection of choice, but I really remember the time when we were all waiting to move to our posts and a bunch of us were still at the Tatiana.  I had come down with some sort of flu or something, and before the Peace Corps nurse had gotten to me, I was relying on other volunteers for help.  We had been boiling water and putting it in a variety of containers and sticking it in the fridge.  I remember at one point asking someone for cold water.  Turns out the water out of the niu vodka bottle in the fridge turned out to be niu vodka – which I didn’t realize until after I had already downed half the glass.  I was tired and weak, but managed to curse at them in two languages, and tell them that they better get me Teuila (our nurse/mother).  Now.

After reading about all of the potential illnesses in Tanzania, though, I’m glad to have this cold or flu or whatever it is.  I made a joke about having the plague yesterday to a friend, but that appears to be a possibility in Tanzania.  Good times.  Wishing good health to everyone!



Africa: 3rd World? Underdeveloped? Developing?

I’ve never done well with labels, whether personal or more global in nature.  The whole notion of the 3rd world has always bothered me a bit. How are some countries better at being countries than other countries? I didn’t know it was a competition.

I’ll never forget being in a Pacific Island Studies class, reading “the africanization of the south pacific” and discussing the arc of instability.  I remember classmates being all up in arms about the Pacific being compared to Africa.  I remember being pissed that some of them couldn’t see how screwed up it was that Africa was being put out there as some kind of worst case development/democratic scenario – just another opportunity to reinforce stereotypes, delve into racism and deny the impact of colonization (you guys know I can work that discussion into almost anything, right?)  Haha.

The longer that I’m in any place that is considered “developing” I am always reminded at how much more I like myself in that setting.  That I’m not distracted by a bunch of stuff. That I have more time to focus on people, not work or things.  That I sleep better. That I don’t need to compulsively check my email.  That I am reminded of what is important. That I’m not caught up in the rat race and could give a shit about publishing or perishing.

People make all kinds of assumptions about Africa and the “developing world”, myself included.  Sweeping generalizations – whether it’s about AIDS, famine, instability, corruption, or whatever else.  (I also have some assumptions/fears about the spiders there, but that’s a later post.)  These assumptions and generalizations are not fair, to anyone – but it seems like they’ve been made about the countries that make up the continent of Africa more often and longer than anywhere else.  As with most of my travels, I always try to go in open-minded, but usually get handed an ass kicking pretty quickly, which is good for me. It’s humbling and reminds me that I wasn’t being as open-minded as I was supposed to.

I wonder when we’ll finally get over this need to categorize everything and everyone.  A comic, below, to show how the 3rd world is often portrayed.  I wonder if globalization and capitalism is ever brought into the discussion, if blame will ever be placed where it should…?

Africa: Travel Friendships

Whenever you’re in a new place and experiencing new things for the first time, I find that friendships often form more quickly and can sometimes be longer lasting than your standard friendship.  I guess this can be applied to many situations, but two experiences really pop into my head when it comes to this. (Along with a current visit from a grad-school friend – trauma also inspires fast friendships.  Haha.)

The first is the summer that I went to do research in the Sierra Nevadas with Earthwatch‘s Ford Future Scientists program.  Back when I was going to be a biology major.  And then an English major.  And then an Education Major.  But I digress.  I think this was the summer between my junior and senior year in highschool.  They sent a bunch of us to work on a project to collect data for a woman who was doing her dissertation research on the spotted owl and some other stuff (I don’t remember much about the research parts of it other than cutting open owl pellets and getting bit by a flying squirrel that we had trapped).

We were young.  It was the longest many of us had been away from home without parental supervision.  We learned a lot and did our work, but we also had a lot of fun.  Saw some bears, told some scary stories, went swimming in a freezing lake, avoided the hanta virus together, and had to deal with some crazy ornithologists who were staying at our campsite. We talked and talked and talked and talked because we had time to fill and that was just what we did.

And, in the beginning, after we left, we wrote REAL letters to each other (the email was just starting to be a regular communication tool).  We don’t communicate as often these days, but have recently found ourselves in touch again, and while we’re all grown up, we’re all still those nerds that we were in high school – one’s an MD, one’s a geography/GIS guy, one does stuff that I don’t really understand but it’s science/chemistry related.  And we’re still friends.  Almost 20 years later after spending a few weeks together in the woods.

The other, of course, is peace corps.  You get thrown into chaos and start saying words you don’t understand and before you know it you have friends who have seen you violate 3 cultural norms at once and know about the time you either pooped your pants or didn’t poop for 10 days.  I’m still in touch with many of these people (thanks, Facebook!) There are still a few people who know entirely too much about my digestive (and other) issues even though we’re back in the states.  Get a group of us together at any point and bodily functions will take up an hour of conversation, at least.  We were close.  Real close.  All jokes aside, peace corps has given me some of my best friends on this planet.

Coming into a new situation like this, where I’ll be with a group of people for at least 3 weeks – it is prime time for developing a lifelong friendship or two.  Someone will undoubtedly have crazy culture shock.  Someone will be sick the entire time (hopefully not me!)…. I’m just hopeful there are a few good people going on this trip who a) don’t think I’m completely nuts and b) aren’t completely nuts themselves.  I don’t think that’s asking too much, do you?

Have you made some lasting friendships while traveling or living abroad?  Do tell…