Food Poisoning and a Panga

Good news, folks! I’m still alive! Back story: I spent all last week camping in a Masai village (Tinga Tinga) near Kilimanjaro. The first few days went really well but most of the other volunteers and I started getting sick on Wednesday. I’m guessing the culprit was the extremely dirty water that was probably used for cooking and cleaning. I’m on day 6 of feeling crappy and have had to miss two days of sustainable agriculture work. Since leaving Tinga Tinga my days have consisted of eating saltines, drinking orange Gatorade, and watching the same movies (Mean Girls, the Blues Brothers, and Ever After) and episodes of Monk. These movie marathons are often interrupted by my mama trying to force feed me. Hopefully I’ll be feeling better soon.

We’re starting our 3rd sustainable agriculture work week and I’ve been looking forward to checking out the village. This week we’ll be training villagers on how to construct kitchen gardens that utilize only resources that most families have on their property. These kitchen gardens are low cost and highly productive ways of growing diverse vegetables for a balanced diet.

I made it to work today and was barely helpful until our leader for the week (Venance) handed me a machete and told me to cut a bunch of branches into meter long pieces. Now I’m on my way to becoming a machete master. We’re done for the day and ready for lunch after building keyhole gardens for 3 families. I’m done to less than 3 weeks here so I’ll try to post a couple more times!

Word of the week: panga – machete

Fun facts:

1. I’ve had 2 slices of bread for dinner every day since Friday.

2. Watching the Blues Brothers gave me the idea to carry my own white bread around with me. If its good enough for Elwood, it’s good enough for me.

3. I think my dad got all of his dance moves from John Belushi.

4. There was an election this past Sunday and I don’t think there were any bombings!

5. If you’re from the DC/MD/VA and have heard the Jerry’s Subs and Pizza radio commercials with people who impersonate politicians: they have basically the same thing on Tanzanian radio. Except its for a TV station and it barely sounds like Obama.


Boy, girls, and bombs

It’s been an eventful two weeks in Tanzania. The last two weeks marked the beginning of the HIV/AIDS portion of work here with “Day Camp 2013.” This camp was conducted at Nduruma Secondary School. I had 24 students and have spent the the past week teaching them about HIV/AIDS, reproductive health, and life skills. My students were in forms 1 and 2, which means they range from 13 to 17 years old. These students had never had any human anatomy or reproductive health classes, so what we taught was their first formal education on the matter. Despite this fact, I truly believe that the most crucial, and challenging, portion of the two week course was the life skills sections. Because of both culture and the nationally accepted style of teaching, students never learn about decision making, communication skills, resisting peer pressure, etc. The most difficult day for me last week was after teaching about self esteem and getting questions in our Swali Box (question box) asking what self esteem meant. The following morning was even harder as I spent a good portion of the it starting from the ground up, trying to convince 24 beautiful teenagers that they are unique and special, that they have gifts and talents to share with their community and the world, and that they have tremendous value.

Things got much easier after the first few days of camp and I think the students finally started understanding the life skills and their significance. This past Saturday we had a very fun and extremely long graduation ceremony followed by food and dancing. I’m posting some pictures so you can see some of my students!

On June 15th all seven GSC volunteers and Edwina (the newest member of the GSC staff who is working in marketing) went on a safari in Tarangire National Park. After that, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to go a zoo and enjoy it. The park was indescribably stunning and it was surreal to be so close to so many giraffes, elephants, baboons, etc. At lunch we stopped at a designated picnic area where our drivers warned us about monkeys that would come and steal our lunches. They weren’t kidding. Small monkeys would literally attack you and steal your unopened Lays potato chips if you weren’t looking. This happened to many people, including a few people in our group. Moral of the story: never trust a monkey.

After the safari, just as our safari guide/driver was about to drop us off so we could walk home, a grenade was detonated down the street from where our car stopped. Luckily our driver recognized that something bad happening and quickly got us back in the car and away from trouble. It was interesting to see how law enforcement handled the situation and how the public responded over the following days. There were a few riots which the police responded to with lots of tear gas. In turn, rioters responded by setting fires in the middle of the street and smashing car windows. Despite all of that, after a few days, Arusha was back to normal. Global Service Corps made sure that were driven to work and home everyday so the volunteers felt safe and secure during the unrest.

Right now we’re in the middle of sustainable agriculture training so I’ve been pretty excited! So far we’ve learned about the tenets of bio-intensive agriculture, a history of farming in Tanzania, and how to construct compost piles, on bed nurseries, double dug beds, and key hole gardens. Tomorrow we’ll be traveling to a village to see the impact of keyhole gardens for small scale farmers and households as a solution to food insecurity.

Hopefully I’ll be able to post again this week to write about my home stay, food, and daily life here!

Words of the week: I chose “wasichana” and “wavulana” which mean “girls” and “boys” because of all the great students I had the pleasure of teaching over the last two weeks 🙂

Interesting (not necessarily fun) facts:

1. I saw a patriots 19-0 perfect season shirt last week so all of the championship T-shirts for the losing team really do get sent to Africa.
2. I also saw a South River Seahawks lacrosse shirt last week.
3. Corporal punishment is alive and well in schools. I had the truly awful experience of watching one of my students being beaten by 3 teachers with sticks.
4. My kittens’ names are Chaupe/Mzungu (Whitey/white foreigner), Simba (lion), and Melu (don’t know what this means but my host brother likes it)
5. I plan on finishing The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings before I leave. One book down, three to go.

Pole pole

Mambo from Tanzania! I’ve had a wonderful first week in this beautiful country! But before I give you an update on what I’ve done so far, I think I should tell you why I’m here in the first place!

After months of searching for a study abroad program that focused on sustainable agriculture in the developing world, I finally came across this program. It’s a partnership between SUNY Albany and Global Service Corps, a non-profit that has provided opportunities for students, as well as working and retired adults, to participate in short and long-term community development assignments ( – visit their site to learn more!). The program that I am participating in is a two month integrated service learning program. The first four weeks, my fellow students and I will be facilitating a day camp for secondary school students, which teaches HIV/AIDS education and prevention. The following five weeks will consist of visiting different villages in rural Arusha where we will assist in teaching workshops that will promote food security within the community. I’m especially excited for this part 🙂

During this first week of orientation, we’ve also been having Swahili lessons for two hours every morning, and today we meet our host families who we’ll be living with for the majority of our stay. Occasionally we’ll be camping when our work sites are too far away from Arusha to travel home at the end of the day! So that’s the gist of what I’m doing here! Now, I’m terrible with remembering to write/update things, but I’m hoping to get wifi occasionally!

So for each blog post I’m going to teach you a Swahili word or phrase and provide you with a list of fun facts! Here we go! This post’s phrase is … pole pole! It’s pronounced like “pohlay pohlay” and means “slowly” but has been adopted as the mantra of the GSC student volunteers. We say “sema pole pole” to ask someone to speak slowly and we are told to shop “pole pole” by the people trying to sell us souvenirs while we walk through town. We just say “pole pole” whenever we struggle with Swahili, catching a daladala, or have difficulty adjusting to pretty much anything here! The phrase also indicates how Tanzanians feel about time. Things typically move slowly and definitive time restrictions are nonexistent.

Fun facts:
1. Taking a bucket bath is a skill I have not yet perfected.
2. I made a baby cry and almost caused a car accident in my neighborhood the other day because the people in my neighborhood are not used to seeing white people.
3. I have been asked to “dougie” several times.
4. Pedestrians do not have the right of way. Ever. Even when you have a green walking man sign. Does not matter.
5. I have 3 new kittens at my homestay and I’m brining them home with me (sorry Dad…).
6. I think I’ll be gaining weight this summer. Chapati is dangerously yummy.

Checking in!

Greetings from Amsterdam! I wanted to quickly let you all know that the journey to Tanzania is going well! I left Maryland at 3:30 AM Thursday, flew out of JFK at 12, arrived in Boston at 1, and left from there for Amsterdam at 4:45 PM. I arrived here a little over an hour ago and I’m feeling a tad loopy. Oh! Forgot to mention that I found a friend with the exact same itinerary prior to boarding my first flight in New York! The travel gods have definitely been watching out for me! Hopefully I’ll be able to update this after a few days in Arusha. Thinking of you all and sending my love!