Saturday, May 17, 2014

Kwaherini Wageni

It's hard to believe it's already May 17, that tomorrow we will be heading to Dar es Salaam, and that on Tuesday I will be back in the states. Now that I think about it, it's weird that four months seems like a whirlwind trip. It's been an incredible time, and I feel very blessed to have had a home to miss and this program to look forward to, and now to have a home to look forward to and this program to miss.
"What's this crazy mzungu doing?" -Eliza
As some of you know, part of the program was a field research component in Mufindi District with the Foxes NGO. The NGO has five sectors: education, health, orphans and vulnerable children, environmental, and community, and serves 16 villages in the area. The village that we lived and worked in was called Igoda Village, and it is also home to the Igoda Children's Village, a series of houses which accommodate ten children and one "house mama" per home. One of these houses is informally known as "the baby house" because it is home to eight precious little ones. My job with the NGO was as an "early childhood therapeutic assistant", which meant that I provided one-on-one care to Eliza, an eighteen-month-old little girl who suffered from malnutrition and failure-to-thrive as an infant and is now the fattest baby in the baby house but still in need of extra attention to meet some of her development objectives. Every day from 7:30 to 12 I was in the baby house playing and doing exercises with her (she is working on improving her leg strength) or some days I picked her up in the morning and took her back to the volunteer house where I was staying.
Some of her favorite things are playing peek-a-boo by pulling a hat over her face, practicing her standing, and singing. Some areas she's working to improve are moving independently, expressing emotion, and the aforementioned leg strength. This job wasn't really up my alley in terms of gaining experience that is applicable to my future career, and at first, to be honest, I found it boring. But seeing Eliza improve over the time I was there was incredible. One of my mini-goals for Eliza to accomplish while I was there was to clap her hands all by herself, because she likes to hold onto other people's hands and clap them together but won't clap independently--or, I should say, she didn't until the last day that I worked with her. It was great to be able to see that!

When I wasn't looking after Eliza, I was working on the quite hefty assignments from my University of Iringa professors or on my own research for Justin's Field Research course. My research was on self-efficacy and self-esteem in two villages, one which was served by the NGO and the other which wasn't. The data collection was intense, because even though the data was collected via survey, the surveys had to be administered orally because of concerns about the area's high illiteracy rate. Bw. Paulo was awesome during this phase, translating the questionnaire into Swahili and accompanying me on the interviews to help translate and avoid cultural misunderstandings. Libe, an employee of the NGO, also came with me on some of the interviews and was very helpful as well.
Research in rural areas is difficult for several reasons. Rural roads make it difficult to get around, and patchy or non-existent (mostly the latter in my case) internet and phone service makes literature reviews and communication difficult. At the same time, much of the Tanzanian population lives in rural areas (not to mention those living in rural areas worldwide) which makes research in these areas essential for making these populations statistically visible. And, geeky person that I am, I really enjoyed doing the research that I was interested in and having so much support from the NGO and from Justin and Paulo.

And now that I've pretty much told you about what I was doing over there, I'm just going to take a moment to talk, with the aid of pictures, about how gorgeous Mufindi is. I can talk about the rolling green hills with the mist rolling over them every morning, the glittering spider-webs (with about a thousand giant spiders on them), and the bright flowers. I can also talk about how we were there during the rainiest of rainy seasons and how the dress I wore on Easter still has the mud stain (despite washing) it acquired when I slipped in the sticky clay while walking to the festivities (but I won't.)

This will be my last post from this trip, but I look forward to telling you more when I get back. There's so much to say about the past few months that I will have to do my best not to annoy everyone. The best thing about it has been the people. I have loved getting to know my fellow students and professors, and spending time with my dadas here (even if they don't want to talk about the nature of the self). From our last "daladala" ride to our last trip to Hasty Tasty (an Iringa restaurant that lives up to it's name, especially the "tasty" part), I have started to realize how much I will miss being a part of this program. Before starting the program, my brother, mom, and I were talking about the importance of being invested in whatever you do without looking backwards or forwards too much--in essence, "being where you are." To express this we said "home is where your self is," and although I have often thought about home while I was here, I think that everyone did a good job of bringing their selves along on the journey and investing in the people they came into contact with. As we leave this program, it will not be a struggle to reconcile "being where we are" with bringing our memories with us. Like our memories of our homes, the memories we have made over the past few months have become a part of our selves. And so, my sisters, I am using the topic you have avoided all this time to finish my writings about this trip, but I hope you know what I mean.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Open Water, Open Sky

Well, it's been a while since my last post due to a lack of stable internet in certain rural areas, and I'm dreadfully behind. For now, since you have read about the "fake spring break," it's time to tell you about the real one. For the weeks preceding spring break, my fellow CIEE students and I were discussing what to do, and from the beginning I was an advocate of spending the week on Pemba SCUBA diving. In the end, that ended up being the only option in the running that didn't involve spending over half of the break just travelling, so Pemba it was for Emily, Renee, and I (I also like to think that my persuasive Powerpoint presentation had something to do with the decision). We started out on March 28 by heading to Dar es Salaam by bus, and when we got there we indulged in some delicious Japanese food followed by a delicacy we wouldn't have expected in our wildest dreams--frozen yogurt. We stayed at the YMCA that night, and in the morning we boarded the ferry to Unguja (also known as mainland Zanzibar or just Zanzibar, although technically Zanzibar is made up of Unguja and Pemba islands) and finally to Pemba. The ferry to Pemba was hot and miserable, taking six hours to reach Pemba. But it was worth it when we arrived at Swahili Divers and ate our first meal there. After an endless supply of rice and beans, we had soup, fresh seafood, and even a little dessert every lunch and dinner.
The next day, we began our diving courses with our instructor, Beltran. Emily and Renee were doing their open-water certification and I was doing the advanced open-water certification, which meant that for the first three days we did separate dives, but for the last two we were together. The NAUI advanced open-water course consists of a deep dive, a drift dive, a low-visibility dive, a peak-performance bouyancy dive, and a night dive. However, there is no night diving on Pemba because of the remoteness of the location, so this was not included in my course. I won't bore you with the details of the technical dives (though if you want me to feel free to ask) but will say that on our first dive we saw clams as big as children and nudibranchs that looked like neon stickers on the corals. When we weren't diving, we were relaxing by the sea and reading almost constantly.
On Wednesday, it was my birthday and Emily, Renee and I got to do our dives together. It was on one of those dives that we saw a sea turtle, but on the next day's dive that we were most reminded of the East Australian Current scene in "Finding Nemo." Although this dive wasn't supposed to be the drift dive required for the advanced open-water course, the current was incredibly strong. So we floated along, trying to kick efficiently and not to run into each other, and Renee and Emily gained an experience they weren't really supposed to have but, like many of the experiences that we didn't expect to be given this semester, they handled it with grace. In that current as well as in other experiences, I have felt like Marlin in the aforementioned "Finding Nemo" scene, amazed at other people's (or in Marlin's case, turtles') calm handling. But as I have always(?) said, studying abroad is like finding your son--you can't give up even when there are sharks (they might turn out to be nice people sort of). Before I get too caught up in this analogy, let me get back to the actual dive. It was a challenge beyond the natural challenge of the drift (and beyond the philosophical connections to "Finding Nemo") for my right foot because it had been stung by a sea urchin as we were walking to the boat. I have been stung by an urchin before, but that was a small one and it stung my fingers. This time, I freaked out a lot more than the first time and probably a lot more than I should have. While I was on the boat complaining and waiting for Beltran, another more experienced diver was further worrying me by discussing possible infections. When Beltran got to the boat and learned the news, his reaction was immediately reassuring and embarassing considering my whining. "A sea urchin? Oh, come on, that's like nothing!" Their spines are made of keratin, the same material as humans' hair and nails, so they will disolve once in the skin. The remedy for their sting is to break up the spines so that they will disolve faster by--to my dismay at the time--pounding the skin with a dive weight. I wasn't up to doing this to my own sad foot, but Renee was quick to oblige. I ignored her excitement and rendered up my foot. Actually, it worked like a charm and no infection ensued (although sadly for Renee and Emily I was the only person who did not get an infected bug bite or blister on my foot, but those are their stories to tell or not tell). 
On Friday, we officially gained our new certifications and headed back to Dar es Salaam (this time by plane, but 24 hours after our last dive), and on Saturday we headed back to Iringa so that on Sunday, we could set out for our fieldwork component in Mufindi. But that's another story for another day.