Did It Really Happen?

I’m sitting at home wondering:  Did the past two months really happen?  If it weren’t for the over three hundred pictures proving that I went to Africa, I would be convinced that the past two months have been a dream.  I’m sure that just yesterday I was sitting in bed dreaming about the day I would go to Africa.  It was supposed to be someday in the future when I would have an incredible experience that would change my life.  But that someday already happened.  It’s done; I’m back – my life is changed, I am changed and I’m wondering, what now?

That’s the only problem when you’re dreams come true; what happens after?  I mean going to Africa has been number one of my list of things to do and it’s checked off.  And I still have my whole life ahead of me so how do I top that?  Well the answer is obvious: go back, go for longer and see more of Africa.  I only got a small taste of a small part of the continent and am hungry for more.

I read something in a book recently that had a profound effect on me.  It said we should beware of using the word “someday”.  This ambiguous word can cause us to continuously put off our dreams until they never come true.  One elderly person I talked to about my trip said, “I had always dreamed about going to Africa ‘someday'” and guess what? she never did.  Since reading this, I’ve become very conscious of using the word and try to avoid it.  I didn’t save Africa for “someday” and I’m so glad I didn’t.

Now jet lag is setting in so I’m going to say goodnight before this turns into incoherent babbling…

Not Goodbye, But See You Later

I leave here tomorrow but I’m actually not too broken up about that fact, because I know I’ll come back to Africa as soon as possible.  I’m also excited to tell everyone about my experience.  Sharing all that God has done in these past two months is definitely a way of evangelizing.  I even have an interview with my local newspaper(thanks Dad), which I’m very excited about!!  I’m finding that Africans don’t like saying goodbye and usually part by reassuring each other that they will meet again.  I have a feeling I’ll be back in Machui before long.  The people here have definitely worked their way into my heart and I wish I had longer to get to know them (and to learn Swahili!).

My last week in Machui has been busy, busy, busy and I apologize for the lack of blogging.  When I get home and have a chance to process the experience, I know that I will be doing a lot of writing.  Now I’m off to pack!

Finally Teaching!!

I’ve been trying to pack as much as possible into my last week here so I’ve been really busy!!

The students started classes again on Wednesday and I jumped right into teaching them.  Normally on Wednesdays they are taught lifeskills all day but the teacher for that couldn’t make it.  So, a few minutes before classes started, they informed me that I would be teaching Spanish(yes you read that right).  I’m finding that this sort of thing happens a lot.  There is a schedule, but it doesn’t mean much.  Since most of the students will be working in the tourist business and will meet people from all over the world, it is adventageous to learn a little of many languages.  Therefore, I am sharing my small knowledge of Spanish with them, in addition to working on their English skills.

I realized right away that teaching Spanish would be much easier than teaching English.  This sounds strange at first, because English is my first language.  The students have almost no knowledge of Spanish though, so I can just cover the basics.  Also, because I don’t have much time with them, I am just teaching them phrases and words, not grammar.  English, on the other hand, is a whole other story.  I’m starting to appreciate how competely obnoxious and complex the English language is.  I know there are grammar rules, but sometimes I seriously doubt their existance…

Anyone who knows me, knows I love grammar, but I had a very difficult time explaining why we use certain words, forms, etc.  My limited knowledge of Swahili isn’t helping either.  Needless to say, I am very confident in my decision to switch from an education major to a social work.

Zanzibar International Film Festival

The Zanzibar International Film Festival is held annually in Stonetown and I was lucky enough to be here while it was going on. ZIFF is an organization which works to preserve and support the Arts in East Africa.  The other volunteer and I went this past Monday to check it out. To make it worth the 10,000 shillings we paid, we decided to stay for three of the films.

The first one we saw was called “Finder of Lost Children” and was very strange. This man had fathered children with many women and after he died, two of his daughters tried to find their brothers and sisters. The film was about their search and attempt to understand and forgive their father. It touched on many ethical and philosophical questions, which made it interesting.

The second film was a documentary about the mining industry in the Democratic Republic of Congo called “Katanaga Business”. I was prepared to be somewhat bored, but it turns out that the problems and issues connected to mining in the Congo are complex and deeply related to the poverty of the people. First of all, most of the mining companies are owned by foreigners. They enter into contracts with the government so that the country gets some money, but the agreements are never fair. Other people, mostly the Chinese, come into the country and mine illegally without the government even knowing. The people who dig in the mines and the country in general, are being exploited by foreign companies. The film focused on the region of Katanga, where most of the mines are. The Governor of the region says he wants to protect the worker’s rights, but is also interested in keeping foreign investors happy. I wonder which one is really more important to him? “Katanga Business” showed the poverty of the people in this region and what globalization and industrialization means for them. You can watch a trailer on the ZIFF webiste: http://www.ziff.or.tz/films/katanga-business-war-copper

The third film was called “Once Upon Our Time” and I enjoyed this one the most because it was about music. It was also a documentary, this time about a boy named Annas from Tunisia who plays the violin. A few years ago, a French organization that supports the arts wanted to assist musically talented children from around the world who didn’t have the money for further lessons. Annas was one of the children chosen and was given a grant to study with top notch teachers internationally. The film followed him for two years, as he progressed as a violin player.

While I enjoyed this day, my favorite films were the ones we saw the second day we went. Later in the week, on Thursday the students went to the festival and I went with them. That day the films were all about children and we stayed for two of them. The first was called “Ana’s Playground”. It was a short, but extremely powerful look into the life of inner city children living in a war zone. I can’t even begin to describe it so just watch the trailer: http://www.ziff.or.tz/films/anas-playground

The next film was “Themba” which showed how the HIV/AIDS epidemic is tearing apart families. The main character, Themba, found hope by playing soccer though and it definitely ended on an uplifting note. There is also a trailer for this one: http://www.ziff.or.tz/films/themba

I didn’t miss the significance of watching these films with the students. It dawned on me that was I see as a heart breaking movie, is every day reality for some of them. There was a discussion afterwords and I was upset that I couldn’t understand most of it because I was really interested in what the students had to say. There is a very high possibility that some of them have AIDS or that they have been affected in some way by the disease. Now that I have experienced some of the reality of Africa’s poverty, I’m sure I will never see documentaries and movies in quite the same way.

Week 7!! 12 Days and Counting…

I’m sitting here astounded at the fact that I’ve been here for 7 weeks already.  My time here in Machui has gone by in the blink of an eye and I’m trying to savor my last days here.  After a quiet few weeks, things are starting to pick up around here.  The children in the kindergarten started school yesterday and the college students came back today to prepare for classes tomorrow.  I’m still not quite sure what I’m doing with them but we’ll see what happens!

Looking back on the last week, a lot has happened since my last post about the Spice Farm.

Last Sunday we celebrated The Feast of the Precious Blood properly.  There is another community of Precious Blood serving in a village a few minutes away from Machui, called Welezo.  We joined the Sisters there for the Feast.  Their main ministry is running an old age home and we took a tour of it while we were there.  One man, who had fallen out of a tree and broken his leg, wanted me to take a picture:

Mzee(Elderly Person) at Welezo.Strangely, I think this is the place where I have been most exposed to the poverty of the people.  Some of the Wazee(Elderly people in Swahili) couldn’t get out of bed and were riddled with disease.  It’s important in situations like that to look the person in the eye and treat him or her normally, to preserve that person’s human dignity.  The respectful greetings for your elders in Swahili is “Shikamo”, to which they respond, “Marahaba”.  We went around to the rooms greeting people in this way and they were delighted to find that I can speak a little Swahili.  Knowing that I brought a little joy to their day was wonderful.

On Tuesday, yet another visitor arrived in Machui but this time it was a familiar face for most of the people here.  The visitor was a Sister from Austria who lived in Machui for nineteen years.  She was here from the beginning, when everything was just starting to be built.  As I’m sure you can imagine, talking with her was very interesting.  She is a nurse and worked in the dispensary while she was here.  Since I’m helping there now took a special interest in me.  In the afternoon, after I was done working, she invited me to take a walk around the compound with her.  As we ran into people she knew, watching her interact with them was delightful.

The German benefactor of the Sisters that I mentioned in my posts is still here and planning many things for Machui. He wants to build another water tank, new classrooms and add rooms to the dispensary. He even put together a 35 ton container of supplies from Germany to be sent here! After a week of stress because they were having trouble collecting the container after it arrived, a truck finally pulled in on Saturday carrying it. The huge container was full of tiles, pipes, bags of cement and building materials. I was amazed at the generosity of this man. This isn’t the first time he has done this either. For at least fifty years, he has been assisting the Sisters and practically built the entire compound here in Machui. He is truly an inspiration and I only wish that more people were as generous.

Here are some pictures of us unloading the supplies:

Me carrying some tiles.
Unloading the truck.
Does this count as child labor?
Cans of Paint.

The Spice Farm

Zanzibar is known as the Spice Island because of the many varieties of spices that grow here. Most of the world used to get its spices here, in fact. One of the things that you have to do when you come here is tour a spice farm. There is one main one owned by the government, but also many private farms. All of the farms are still in use today.

Yesterday two girls who are volunteering in Dar es Salaam came to visit Machui and of course had to tour the Spice Farm. Since I hadn’t gone yet, I decided to join them and was glad I did. I also took lots of pictures so this definitely deserves its own post.

The Spice Farm was the original Spice plantation started by the first Sultan of Zanzibar in 1860 and is still in use today. Many of the students from Machui actually work there, so we were able to get one of them to give us a tour. After giving us a brief history, our guide led us to the first spice. He had us guess what it was and while it was familiar, none of could place it. He revealed that what we were smelling was ginger and broke off a piece of the root for us to eat. The taste was subtle at first but then exploded with spiciness. I was surprised by the taste and it lingered in my mouth for a long time.

Mr. Butterfly climbing the Palm Tree.

Although it is called The Spice Farm, many kinds of fruits also grow there. During the tour, we saw a man harvesting coconuts. The man we saw is called Mr. Butterfly and is famous all over Zanzibar. To get the coconuts he tied a rope around his ankles and shimmied up the tall palm tree. As he climbed he

A Palm Tree Flower

sang and even did some tricks. Along with the coconuts, he cut down a flower which actually doesn’t look like a flower at all(see picture). Our guide told us that most toothbrushes in Zanzibar are made from this flower. After climbing down, he cut open the coconuts and we were able to drink the “milk”, which was more like water and eat the fleshy insides. It was delicious!

Drinking from the coconuts

Throughout the rest of the tour we saw and smelled many other spices, some of which I had never heard of before. There was cinnamon, pepper, lemongrass, cardamon and vanilla to name a few.

I bought some lemongrass tea and checked one thing off of the must see list for Zanzibar.

Learning Patience…and Some German?

It’s been busy here in Machui but it’s time to get caught up on the last week and a half.

As I continue working the dispensary, I have become painful aware of the poverty here. Many of the patients look at me in distress when I tell them how much their medicine costs and it kills me to see them digging in their pocket for the money. Most of the medicine is between 6,000-10,000 Shillings, which is less than $6-$10 but that is a lot of money here. Often the patients don’t have enough to pay but the doctors are very compassionate and allow them to pay some of it at another time. There have been times though, when patients could only get some of the medicine they needed or just left without anything. I can’t imagine being the doctor who has to deny people medicine, especially if they are seriously sick.

For the past week, it seems like there has been visitors coming every day. Last Thursday, a group of Franciscan Sisters from India who live in Dar es Salaam visited Zanzibar for the weekend. They stayed in the same house as me so I had some neighbors for the night. They only stayed for Daily Mass on Friday and then left that afternoon, so I didn’t get to talk to them much.

On the same Friday those Sisters left, the Provincial Superior for the Precious Blood Sisters came to visit and for a meeting. She is originally from Germany but speaks English and Swahili. Two days after she came a benefactor of the Sisters came from Germany. From what I could gather, he manufactures tile and roofing. He organized and paid for the building of many of the structures in Machui, including the bell for the Church. He has come back to see what else he can do. He only speaks German, so it has been quite interesting having him around. My head is starting to spin with all of these languages! The volunteer from Germany was still traveling when he arrived but luckily one of the Sisters speaks some German or we would have been in trouble.

This past Tuesday and Wednesday I went into town and I think I’m starting to get oriented, but its still confusing. There are apparently street names but I can’t see any sign of them. Also, many of the streets and shops look identical. This makes finding a certain shop especially difficult, which is exactly what I was trying to do. There are five orphan children the Sisters are taking care of and one of them asked me to take a picture of them. I dropped off the pictures to be developed on Tuesday and didn’t even think about remembering where I dropped them off. Since I went into town with different people on Wednesday, we had quite the adventure trying to find the shop again. When I finally had the pictures in my hand I was at the end of my patience. Seeing the Sister’s face when she saw the pictures made all the stress and trouble worth it though.

Thursday, July 1st was the Feast of the Precious Blood, understandably an important day for the Sisters here. To celebrate, we went to the beach. It was a different beach than I went to the first time, but very nice. Unfortunately the waves were very rough and we had trouble swimming. If you weren’t paying attention they would pull you right under the water. The other volunteer and I returned home sunburnt and tired, but happy after a wonderful day.

On Friday I found out that the students’ vacation has been extended and now I’ll only be teaching for two weeks. This was disappointing news, but I know God has a plan. I’m just trying to keep up with whatever He throws at me.