Africa: Baba-isms.

Fulgence, affectionately known as Baba (or “father” in Kiswahili) is the man who deals with us the most.  He reminds me very much of Silao, the man who ran my Peace Corps Training, and who I was lucky enough to collaborate with on a Fulbright grant a few summers ago.  Their similarities are many.

Patience.  Baba seems to have an unending supply.  He puts up with question after question and sometimes whine after whine.  He is always ready with a joke or a smile.  He has many stories to tell if you are willing to sit and listen and show some interest.

Teaching ability.  Baba is a trained teacher at many levels, including teaching teachers at a local university.  I could tell immediately from his instruction that he was a trained teacher.  You can just tell when someone has done this for a while.  He has been great in teaching us Kiswahili, and discussing many other things.  He has also taught Geography, political science and other courses.  The man knows his stuff.

Sense of humor.  Baba is not easily ruffled and laughs often.  Just as easily at himself as anyone else.

Baba, as most fathers do, has a few signature go to lines that we hear regularly.  They include:

  • That’s life!  This is applicable in almost any situation and is usually accompanied by a shoulder shrug.
  • This is Africa Baby! This sometimes gets shortened to TIAB!, and is also applicable in most situations, especially those for which Americans may need a little bit of patience or a reminder of the fact that they are in Africa.
  • Attack the plate from both sides.  This is in reference to how we often eat our meals (somehow we seem to be starving three times a day!), or if we really need to eat fast before heading somewhere, and Baba will tell us to attack accordingly.
  • We are all different but equal.  This one Baba doesn’t use as much, but any time comparisons are being made between America and Tanzania, this one certainly does come in handy.
  • “You get the message?”  Baba uses this one to clarify when he’s teaching us or telling a story, or even if he’s using indirect communication – just to make sure that we’re not totally lost.

What I do know, is that this man has a true gift with people, and that he has certainly made my experience and transition in Tanzania smoother than I could have ever imagined.  I will miss him very much when I leave in a week or so, but I have already told Baba that I will return.  His response was, “I will give you a big hug and say karibu!”

The pictures below are of Baba in action.


Africa: Zanzibar Day 3

I got up early that morning, around 5:30 or so and went down to the beach with Joanna and Meagan to watch the sunrise.  It was a little cloudy, but still spectacular!  A lovely start to Christmas Day…. After watching the sunrise, I didn’t want to go back to bed, so I went back to the room, changed into my swimsuit and headed for the pool.  At that point, I was still pretty pink from the day before and figured I would get my pool time in before the sun was a hazard.

We all hung out at the pool for a bit and then went back to our rooms to get cleaned up and finish packing because Hassan was picking us up at 10 for the spice tour and then Stone Town.

The spice tour was great – we got to see what everything looked like growing naturally – from nutmeg to allspice to lemongrass to curry; as well as a lot of local fruits – starfruit, the jambo apple, limes, jackfruit, etc.  It was a very hands on tour and we got to taste and smell everything.  By the end of the tour we were on sensory overload, but we all really enjoyed our spice guide who shared a ton of information with us.  At the end of the tour we were able to buy some spices and things made with the spices and local plants.  I was able to pick up a few things, and even got the essence of the ylang-ylang plant (which is what is used to make Chanel no. 5).

We then drove to Stone Town for our tour there.  We started at the last operating slave trade sight in the world (I think – don’t quote me on this!).  A church is built on top of the former slave chamber.  We went down to check out the slave chamber which was very small and the whole experience was very intense.  We got some history about the church, and one of the ministers there who was very involved in the abolition of slavery in Zanzibar.

After that, Hassan took us all over Stone Town.  The streets were winding and reminiscent of Europe — if I had to find my way around by myself, there is no way I would’ve gotten to see what I wanted, and would probably have gotten lost several times.  We saw several historical sites (two on the UNESCO register), stopped at a great coffee shop, some great hotels, and I took a bunch of pictures of doors – they are all carved so intricately, and I’m a big fan.

Below are some pictures:  first is a christmas wreath that was placed on our door on christmas eve, a plant we saw on the spice tour that is used for lipstick or decoration, a church and mosque in the Stone Town skyline, and a street in Stone Town.

Africa: Zanzibar Day 2

This was our “chill the eff out” day.  Which consisted of: eating, beach, pool, eating, drinking, beach, nap, shower, drinks, listening to a local choir sing some Christmas songs and then more eating.

In the morning, I had gone to the resort shop looking for some sort of cold medicine.  They offered me panadadol, which I knew wouldn’t be of any help, but told me that the doctor would be there around 11.  When he arrived I was able to see him quickly and get some meds.  He was an older gentleman from Belgium, who moved to Tanzania about a year and a half ago.  He volunteers his time at the local hospital and then puts in a few hours at the resorts to be able to live there.  He was lovely to me – didn’t charge me for the visit or the meds, which would have been at least $100 USD.   He just asked me that I send him some medical supplies when I get back to America.  So, if any of you have access to medicine or medical supplies, let me know and I’ve got someone you can send it to.  They don’t have much and are always in need of more.

The tide eventually came in and we were able to do some swimming, which was wonderful.  I’ve never been in ocean water that warm.  I thought Samoa was warm, but this was even warmer!  It really was bathwater.  At some point someone compared it to the temperature of tea, so that became the running joke.

We were able to see some of the local sailboats (dao) do their thing once the tide came in.  They are very much reminiscent of the outrigger canoes of the pacific.  The whole time I was in Zanzibar, I felt very much like I was on a pacific island, that just happened to be off the coast of Africa.  The food is similar – breadfruit, mango, banana, papaya, starfruit, citrus, and lots of fish!

There were some great beach chairs down at the beach so we were able to take a lovely nap after our swim.  The resort’s property goes down only so far, and then there was a public beach.  Once you step foot onto the beach, you are fair game for all of the guys selling their wares and trying to make a buck – everything from shells, to getting henna tattoos, your hair braided, a trip on a dao, paintings, jewelry, etc.  We could only take the aggressiveness for so long and eventually came back onto the resort property just because it was easier, and less annoying honestly.  I was trying to imagine walking down Lalomanu beach with someone following me trying to sell me tapa cloth, or a tanoa, and it was hard to picture.  I’m all for haggling and aggressiveness when on the streets of a city, but the beach seems sacred or something.  That being said, that is the way those guys make money, and if it didn’t work, they wouldn’t do it.

We had another great meal that night for dinner.  Afterward, Meagan and Meko went to mass, but Joanna and I stayed back and attempted to watch some stuff on Meko’s computer, but we both crashed out.  The sun had sucked the life out of me, and I had the sunburn to prove it!We had another great meal that night for dinner.  Afterward, Meagan and Meko went to mass, but Joanna and I stayed back and attempted to watch some stuff on Meko’s computer, but we both crashed out.  The sun had sucked the life out of me, and I had the sunburn to prove it!

Pictures below are:

A traditional canoe, my spot on the beach for most of the day (under a tree) and us before dinner on Christmas Eve.


Africa: Zanzibar Day 1

It really is as beautiful as I had imagined it.

I went with three other volunteers – Meko, Meagan and Joanna.  After placement on Friday, we came home, and as Baba says “attacked the plate from both sides” before our ride came to get us and take us to Kili airport.  It was about an hour’s flight to Zanzibar.  We got to see the island as we were on our descent and it was breathtaking.  When we landed and stepped off the plane into humidity that hits you like a wall, I was a happy girl.

Hassan was the representative from Pristine who picked us up at the airport and took us to the hotel that we stayed at.  It was an all-inclusive resort called Mapezi Beach Resort.   We got to drive through town and then another 45 minutes before we got there.  Zanzibar is over 90% muslim – so people dress quite differently.  It is very similar to the Tanzanian mainland, just more relaxed!

We got to the hotel and were greeted by Suleiman who got us some fresh squeezed passion fruit juice, and some hand towels to clean ourselves up after the flight.  Zanzibar is known as the spice island, and the towels were scented with cloves.  It was so refreshing and we were very happy.  We got checked into our rooms and didn’t waste much time before exploring.

The resort grounds were amazing.  There is a lot of Arabic influence there – the architecture, especially.  There will be lots and lots of pictures eventually.  Meagan, Joanna and I couldn’t wait to get our feet into the Indian Ocean, so we got down to the beach pretty quickly.  The tide was out – for which appeared to be miles…. So we walked and walked and found little puddles here and there to put our feet in.  The sand is SO white and SO fine – it is almost like clay.  The sun was pretty much down by this point, so we went and got cleaned up for dinner.

Dinner was amazing!  I’m usually a little bit skeptical of the “all inclusive” resort, but this was a lovely spread with just about everything.  Meko and I had been daydreaming about sushi – which we never got, but I did have fish for just about every meal while we were there.  Lovely vegetables and fruits, fish, desserts and several main course options.  We ate and ate and then went back to our rooms and passed out.

By this time, I knew I was coming down with something.  I had woken up on Friday not feeling so hot.  My sinuses have been bothering me since I got here (I’m guessing the combination of something blooming that I’m allergic to and the general dryness), but this was a different kind of annoyance.  I’m guessing that because several of my kiddos have perpetual runny noses, I was the lucky recipient of some of those germs.  On Friday I even had my littlest one (who is usually covered in some combination of snot and porridge) fall asleep on me during the movie, which probably didn’t help things.  Anyways – I was congested more than I expected so I didn’t get the best night’s sleep (and neither did my roommate, Sorry Meko!).  I wasn’t about to let that stop me from enjoying Zanzibar though.

Below is a picture of our feet in the Indian Ocean for the first time!!

Africa: Movie Day

The rest of last week went well at placement.  We did a variety of things: math, spelling, some story time, we decorated christmas trees that I cut out of green paper, songs and games.  I tried to teach them the 12 days of christmas and I think we got to eight maids a milking and they were over it.  They are big fans of jingle bells and we wish you a merry christmas though.

A previous volunteer had started the tradition of Fridays as movie days for the kids.  So on Thursday afternoon we went into town and I was in search of some cartoons/movies for them to watch on the following day.  It’s pretty easy and cheap to get bootleg movies here. I got a collection of kids movies (shrek, tarzan, kung fu panda – about 7 or 8 all together) all on one DVD for 8,000 shillings (about $5 USD).  I also stopped at Highway Supermarket, a big supermarket near our home base and bought some popcorn.  Who doesn’t love some popcorn while watching Shrek?  So I was all set.

Friday morning I went in with my laptop and they knew what that meant.  We did some quick stuff before the movie and got things rolling.  Another volunteer, Joanna came with me that day and helped me with the kids who weren’t interested in movie watching (there were a few).

We ended up watching Shrek and Kung Fu Panda – the kids seemed to enjoy themselves, and some of my older boys were very thankful and came up and said “thank you teacher!”

Some pictures are below, from top to bottom: kids gathered around the laptop to watch, my youngest eating popcorn in a bowl made out of his shirt, and another one of the kids enjoying popcorn.  I think we all enjoyed ourselves.  Today when I came in, I heard lots and lots of “teacher! teacher!” and then pretty quickly after, I heard, “laptop?”

Africa: Catching Up!

The more time I’m here, the less time I want to be near the internet… it’s handing for keeping in touch but looking at email gets overwhelming and I just want to shut the computer down!!

That said, a lot has happened since I l.ast did a blog post so I will be doing several posts this afternoon between lunch and Kiswahili class to try and catch everybody up on what has been going on!!

I hope you all had great Christmases and today is another public holiday here – Boxing Day.  However, a few of us still went in to our placements.  I just got home a bit ago and was happy to see the internet up and running again!

Baadaye (later!)

Africa: Umeshindaje?

Hujambo!  Today was the first day at my volunteer site.  I am working at an orphanage – many of the children are boarding at school or other places right now, so today, I had about 15-20 kids, ranging in age from 2 to 9 or 10.  They were quite interested in the new mzungu and were entertained by my lack of Kiswahili.

They managed to teach me to count to ten, and in exchange I read a few stories to them.  We also did some math exercises and spelling.  When they finish – they shout “teacher!” and bring me their exercise book to check it.  Then I get to write something and draw a smiley face or a star which goes over quite well.  I’m also getting a refresher on my multiplication tables and addition and subtraction – it’s been a while.

The orphanage itself does not have a lot – my coworker/buddy Preska reminded me today how hard it is to teach without a chalkboard… anything we do with the kids we have to write down and they have to copy it into their exercise books.  Things seem fairly structured – there is time for math, spelling, a break time that consists of some fun songs and dancing (today we sang you are my sunshine, a fun song about shaking your booty and feliz navidad!).  I may introduce head, shoulders, knees and toes and another christmas song tomorrow.  There is a paper christmas tree stapled to a “wall” in the facility.

The facility itself is an open courtyard surrounded by their bedrooms, the kitchen area, bathroom, and offices.  The courtyard is all dirt, and our teaching area is on the side of it,  two long tables with bench seats and we are covered by an aluminum roof, thank goodness, because it was hot today!  I didn’t want to take pictures today, but will do so a little later in the game.  I may have my phone with me tomorrow to get just a few.

When we got home, Primo had fixed us the best lunch ever.  Pumpkin soup and grilled cheese. It’s like he knows when we’re going to need comfort food.  We then had a health session with a doctor from the local hospital and by that point we were so full and tired, Baba let us all take a nap before our Kiswahili lesson.  I think I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.  It reminded me of all the naps I took in Samoa during training – your brain is fried and you’re full – combined with the heat of the afternoon, you have no choice but to sleep.

We had a good Kiswahili lesson, and I feel like I’m picking it up fairly quickly and not mispronouncing too much.  The vowels are the same as in Spanish or Samoan… I’m just getting used to grouping all of the consonants and what that sounds like.  Umeshindaje, the title of this post, is a question asking how your day has been.  I now know several ways to greet and respond, counting, other random things like “let’s go!” and please and thank you and “bless you” when someone sneezes.  That I learned mostly because my allergies have been crazy since I’ve been here.  No idea what the cause is, but I’ve been saying samahani (excuse me) quite a bit.

All that said, it’s time for another lovely meal from Primo.  So I’m going to go wash up and get ready for dinner!  Tutaonana kesho (see you later!).