Friday, November 28, 2008

Settling in.

Wed morning November 26, 2008

The last 2 days have been intense. We have orientation and get to know each other. And we learn basic Kiswahili. One of the exercises sends us out into the community to communicate with the locals in basic Swahili. I’m partnered up with this guy called Andy. We’re supposed to find out the name of the river that runs by the house and where the river goes. There’s a hut with a dirt floor about 10x5 ft. A woman and her toddler live there. That’s it. That’s all they have. No running water, nothing else except a few pots and space. Really tiny. And this is the good area – what they call semi rural. A lot of hand waving and broken words from the phrase book ensues. We finally get through to her and she takes us to the river, which is called Karanga (in English, this means peanuts). The river goes to this valley called mbengi.

We’re introduced to our volunteer placements. My placement is at WEECE. We don’t really get to choose our placements, it’s based on our educational/work backgrounds, despite our interests. Originally I thought I was going to work with HIV/AIDS patients or education. But I’m not. The NGO group I was assigned to works with women’s education and empowerment but it also funds many other activities such as supporting HIV patients by giving them a purpose and financing educational initiatives in computer skills for girls 14-25. It is really rural here, for the most part, but almost everyone has a cell phone. It seems that tech development has progressed so far along here that they really want my computer skills pretty badly. I don’t really mind, but I find it really weird that I have come all this way and I am getting plopped in front of a computer when everyone else is going to teach kids English in rural schools. I feel weirdly out of place. It is a different vibe.

Most of the people in this house are psychology majors, working in counseling or teachers. Some are gap year students in environmental studies. One nurse, one environmental econ student. Right now I’m the only asian and the only engineer. There was one other engineer – mechanical, who was here but had left 2 weeks ago, Leah. She came back to visit during my 2nd day. Leah had just climbed Mt. Kili. I’m really impressed because she actually made it to the top and Ann Curry’s team (from the Today show) didn’t even make it to the summit with a support team of about 100 people. I hear that the some people from previous group of volunteers that had recently left the house got smashed and drunk every night. Excellent. I can’t blame them. It’s emotionally difficult for a lot of people.

Most volunteers are teaching English or just spending time working with orphans. In my opinion, the ones who are teaching English as a second language at the secondary level in a vocational school have probably the hardest placement of all. There is a strong language barrier. None of us know Kiswahili. And we’re given a crash course in it for 6 days. But 6 days can only get you so far. And it is hard. The language is strongly influenced by Arabic. Some of it also has asian sounding tones.

As for WEECE, the first day – they actually give me a schedule for my time. I’m impressed. For a local NGO, they’re way more organized that I’d imagined. My job is split into 3 parts.

1) Work with 6 girls in secondary skills and teach them basic skills in computers, Microsoft Office basically. It’s fun. I’ve done the same in Hong Kong before. Its challenging with a language barrier but they seem to know English fairly well and it makes my job really a lot easier. I notice that they can be a bit shy, and some don’t want to ask if they don’t understand. But it works out. There is one that things she knows everything and can’t focus to finish tasks to completion. This is going to be challenge. They treat their equipment with a great deal of care here. Its not like us spoiled Americans.

Also – I’m pulled aside occasionally to work on improving staff computing skills, work on staff documents for various projects, including a clinic that is being sponsored by WEECE and Terres sans Frontiers & Canadian embassy? in extremely rural area in Kilimanjaro.

2) Visit local businesses supported by WEECE microfinance and try to understand their means of operation, the problems, issues and possibly how to improve it. I will write more about this, but there will be about 10-15 field visits. Really excited about this. The loans are all given to local women and include those who are HIV/AIDS patients who need a sense of purpose in life, and weece supports them in this manner.

3) Fund Acquisition: Research, and possibly implement means for acquiring more funds to support WEECE initiatives, either by grant writing or figuring out a way to increase donations. I’m pretty sure I can rework their website on #3 to help secure more funding, but I’ll do this when I go back home because I know I can work on that anywhere in the world, no problem

The next day the program director at our home base approaches me and asks me to build her a VB database program to manage information about spending and volunteers that come into and out of the house. In most 3rd world countries, Microsoft rules. It’s ok, I’m not a fan but hey work with what you got, right? For her, right now everything’s on a bunch of looseleaf spreadsheets and with more than 30 people in the house on various occasions, it can be really difficult for her to manage. Oh sure, I’m happy to get my mind off the stress. Please! I am beginning to realize that I distract myself from people problems by trying to focus on concrete problems. Sure more stuff to build, I’m actually really cool with that. I tell her I’ll start this weekend. No problem.

Moshi certainly is more technically advanced than the Carribean - BVIs in 1994. And they think that learning tech skills are a way out of poverty. I agree and disagree with this; it is a Catch 22. For some yes, for others no. It’s really impossible to do much with computers when you don’t have any power? Power comes and goes here. At anytime. The further away from town, the more unstable the power source is. There is developing business in town. If they are planning for the future – tech skills, definitely needed as the infrastructure grows. At the same time, it is really somewhat confusing to see the split in wealth – there are people who have mansions here and right next door are dirt huts where people are living on like 1000 Tsh a day*. Why did this happen and why? There aren’t any answers. But everyone is exceptionally happy here. The kids – I have never seen such happy kids. They scream and smile and yell and are seriously very happy. There is a lot of undeveloped land and the fruits and vegetables here smell wonderful. Who

Most of the roads here are dirt, except the main highway. In town, there are a lot of small shops, food stands, stores. They’re not commercialized to death, but at the same time you know they are going to be within the next 10-20 years. That’s where everything is heading. I did not believe my eyes when I saw it. There is a MIT here (Moshi Institute of Technology). Lots of shops setup for business and computer education. Lots of small vendors. Some of the coffeeshops and the Ex-Im banks approach 1st world quality – minus the pit bathrooms. Moshi is declared, cleanest town in the area, possibly country? But there are a lot of local practices there that I have issue with. They burn their trash here. And you smell it, a lot. I really wonder how much of this is contributing to Kili melting and global warming. Then there are the giant petrol tanks here. Everything runs on diesel. And a ton of pollution. The buses and cars here are really bad with pollution.

We have a health education session where we meet with a local health worker who answers questions about malaria, HIV, and other types of diseases. Most of us on anti-malarial drugs are on malarone. Some on others. But even though there is malaria here, it is less than the coastal areas. The locals here get malaria before they are age 5. After that, they have immunity and most people are too poor to be on anti malarias anyhow. Even the wealthy ones aren’t on anti malarials. And the risk in this area isn’t that much anyhow because right now it’s pretty dry. It’s only bad when its raining. That’s when the mosquitoes come out. I am really irritated. We are like, stupid Americans on a stupid drug that we probably don’t even need. But I’m being cynical. We’re getting bitten on a regular basis here but they’re not mosquitoes. They come and go within 24 hrs. There are ton of bugs here, even with insecticide in the surrounding yard. Some people have side effects from their drugs and mood changes, especially mefloquine.

After our afternoon lesson in Kiswahili, we have some free time. Our house is down a dirt road and it is a bit of a hike to get to the main road where there is food and a few huts where you can buy basic goods. I convince Sarah to come with me. We make it to the end of the road and look around for drinks because we are so thirsty.

Across the main road, there is a prison. And next to it there is a small bar. We walk into the bar and buy drinks. There are two guards behind us and I practice my Swahili with them. They are not convinced I’m American. I have to tell them I’m American and Chinese. I say I’m both. Ninatoka mamerikani ni mchina. Sarah and I get up to leave but then there is a lot of yelling at us and with our rudimentary Swahili we really have no idea. Deer in headlights. They tell us that the fanta chupas we’re drinking are supposed to stay. Oh. Yeah stuff is actually recycled – glass bottles go back to the coca cola factory. But you know, it’s not really that great – there are TONS of bottle caps just littered on the dirt roads and main roads all over town. So much for recycling and being environmentally safe. Erg. It’s a bit of a, um…... I can’t even describe it.

* 1300 Tsh (Tanzanian Shillings) ~= 1 USD.

No comments: