Saturday, July 08, 2006

Fun with my host family

Today has been a really fun day. We left the center today to stay with our host families. Originally, we were supposed to stay just the weekend and then one other weekend in July, but the center was overbooked with students for an upcoming short course and so we will be staying with our host families all week. Next week we’ll be in Dar as Salaam and Zanzibar and then we’ll be back with our host families for another week.

Yesterday was the graduation ceremony for the 36 students in the Development Studies course (a BA course with students from around Africa – I’m actually very impressed with the goals, format and content of the course). I had a very nice time discussing development with these students and hearing about the work that they do. I have friends now in several parts of Tanzania, Kenya and Zimbabwe that I will try to see if I can get a chance to visit in the next 7 months! After the graduation ceremony, I met Qorro’s brother who is a doctor. So, they suggested that we should come to their part of Tanzania where Dave could work in the hospital/clinic with him and I could work with Qorro on the community development side. I wish I had more time to ask them questions and to get into some deeper issues with them. The next group, however, has already arrived, so I will need to make an effort to get to know them and begin building the same kinds of relationships.

After dinner last night, there was a band playing and dancing to celebrate their graduation and also Labor Day , which meant that I got to bed WAY too late, but still had to get up early to finish packing before my host family came to get me. By about 8:00 tonight, I was pretty ready for bed!

So, back to today. My host family came to get me this morning and I have spent the rest of the day with them. My host dad (Ahmed Msangi) is a police officer and was recently transferred to another region, so I haven’t met him yet, but when he called this evening, I talked to him on the phone (in Swahili, of course) and he sounds really nice. He is also the cousin of one of my Swahili teachers here. My host mom (Umi) works for a safari company (or possibly a travel company) in public relations. They have one daughter, Monie, age 7. Her niece, Asha, age 6, also stays with them so that she can go to a better school here in Arusha. The girls both stay most of the week with their grandmother, who lives in Arusha, because it’s easier for them to get back and forth to school. Another woman is here that the girls call Auntie Ellie and Umi’s mother is here right now too. I’m planning to go to the Catholic church with her in the morning.

The family lives in a really nice house, has two cars and only one child of their own – totally different than my host family in Kenya. I think it’s good for me, though, to get beyond my idealized picture of village life in East Africa and to remember that not everyone lives the same way. It’s also a gradual transition from life in America to life in the village, which I think is good for me now because it gives me time to mentally prepare. I started out at the center, which was really nice. Then I moved to my host family’s house, which is still very nice, but also more African. Then I’ll go to the village. My transition back to America will probably be gradual like that too. Dave and I will probably be staying at a guest house while we’re in Malawi.

Once we got back to the house this morning, Monie and Asha turned on the TV and we watched part of a show in Swahili. Then they started pulling out tapes and we watched a little bit of the Teletubbies, part of The Little Mermaid and some Mr. Bean. Because they’re supposed to be helping me with Swahili, Monie would narrate in Swahili what was about to happen in the videos. It was really cute. After lunch, we went for a walk up the road a bit, mostly to get out of the house and also to see a little bit more. I was definitely an interest-catching mzungu (white person) again. I had gotten used to being in Arusha town and around the center where people aren’t really surprised to see wazungu (plural of mzungu) around, even those who speak Swahili. We’re far enough (a few kilometers) away from the center, though, that people aren’t used to seeing wazungu around, and especially not ones who speak Swahili. We stopped at a few shops to greet the women there and two of them gave the girls and me each a piece of gum.

A little later in the afternoon I went with Umi and her sister to a nearby (BIG) market to trade a pair of jeans that didn’t fit for something else. They also did some other shopping in the used clothes market. I actually saw some really nice things there at pretty good prices. I saw one shirt that still had its thrift store tag indicating a price of about $2. The price in the market was 200 shillings (about 16 cents). Being in the market with so many people doing their business was really fun. These are the kinds of places that I feel very comfortable because it’s totally real life. I wish I could post a picture, but I wasn’t comfortable taking my camera there.

When we first arrived, there was a group of young kinds (probably all less than 5 years old) in the back of a pickup truck in the market (don’t worry - the truck was parked). When they saw me coming towards them, I heard “mzungu” and I saw them jumping up and down. So I greeted all of them, shook their hands and talked to them. They were definitely surprised to see a mzungu who could speak Swahili, We also saw (and were almost deafened by) a truck driving through the market making announcements over a speaker system about public health clinics in Arusha). Before we left, we watched the prime minister drive by on his way into Arusha town and had some ice cream.

When we came back, I helped with preparations for dinner –grating coconut, chopping cabbage and peeling carrots. There is a special tool for grating coconuts: a small stool with a round metal attachment with small teeth kind of like a saw. You sit on the stool to hold it steady and then grind the flesh out of the coconut by rubbing it along the teeth (kind of like using a juicer to make fresh orange juice). I do have a few little cuts on my hand from when the coconut slipped and my hand hit the (sharp) teeth.

From the back of the house, where we were working, you can see the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro when the weather is clear. Today was clear and I was quite excited to be able to see it. Umi’s mom even went out to the yard to hold a branch out of the way so I could take a picture. It’s exciting to see the mountain (which we cannot see from That was exciting because Kilimanjaro is definitely quintessential Africa.

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