Sunday, January 22, 2006

Home again, home again

1. Got into JFK 11:30 Friday night after a 2-hour delay in London due to a smoldering oven in one of the galleys. My mom, waiting for me outside of Customs, was all squinting at me as I walked out. I forget that the hair is something new. In any case, I've been at my parents' house in Baltimore since 5 am Saturday and it's not as weird as I thought it would be. I think partly because I'm still in jetlag fogland and home is home is home, and also at this point I'm used to leaving their house for long periods of time and whatnot. I figure being in Gainesville will feel much stranger. In any case, yesterday was just about perfect. Got up, went to the lab to have bloodwork done (make sure I don't have malaria again or whatever), went to Sam's Pinewood Derby, went to Target with John and Liz (Liz and I got matching track jackets from the children's section because we fit the large/extra-large sizes, mwahaha), came home and sorted through clothes, Antonia came over, bought my first bottle of wine in the US for dinner (which was delicious, pasta and crab cake and GREEN BEANS and RAW SPINACH salad), visited Antonia's parents, came home and fell asleep on the couch with my mom. Ahh today we are having a big family breakfast and then the packing must begin in earnest. David also comes today! Which is crazy. And at some point we're going to have Christmas/my birthday, which will be nice. Tomorrow I have a 9:15 dentist appointment and then we're basically heading straight for Florida so I can start classes Tuesday or Wednesday. Wish I could stay in Baltimore for the week or something but I've already missed 10 days of classes at UF.
2. So that law I wrote about in the last post...turned out it was a rumor going around Dar Es Salaam, probably sparked by a radio talk show during which a Muslim civic leader suggested such a law. However, before I left I heard about 2 separate incidents in which women wearing pants were beaten in the street. Leila saw it happen near her father's house, and Ali only heard about it but he called it on it being just a rumor so I'm going to go ahead and figure his source is good. Either way, it just shows that there are people in Tanzania who would be perfectly supportive of a law like that. Assholes!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Utter nonsense!

So just a real quick note about how Tanzania's president, Kikwete, has gone nuts. According to Carol and Leila, he has drafted a dress code bill that prohibit women from wearing pants and men from having braids, dreadlocks or earrings. I've been checking the English newspapers and online wire services but striking out which is kind of weird. It goes to vote on January 28. Our Tanzanian friends think it's going to pass. It's not like Kikwete has anything to fear--he won over 80% of the votes. None of the other parties have even the slightest chance. (The lone female candidate received .17%.) If passed THIS WOULD BE A NATIONAL LAW.
- There are middle-aged guys in the English class who are just now receiving the closest thing to formal education they'll ever get. When we learned the words for breakfast, lunch and dinner last week, a lot of their homework sentences the next day were about not being able to afford one or another of those meals because they didn't have enough money.
- Way more than half of their GNP is generated by an underequipped, undereducated agricultural sector with only scattered access to social services and basic infrastructure.
- Inter-city busses don't run after 9 pm because of highway bandits; robbers armed with machetes run around on UDSM campus.
- The HIV/AIDS infection rate is still on the rise (UDSM's rate is actually higher than the national average) and ravaging what should be the most productive age-range of the population.
- The short rains season that is now coming to a close has been crap so even though most of their food supply is donated Tanzania could be in danger of food shortages if the monsoons don't come this spring because irrigation is pretty much nonexistent.
- The tiny percentage of students who do make it to university find, at least at UDSM, not enough housing or books, underpaid and largely uncommitted professors, and burdensome curricula further weighed down by a ridiculous obsession with the English language.
- Female genital mutilation is still widely practiced throughout most of the country.
- Many children are working or begging instead of going to school; some of them are housegirls, teenaged domestic laborers who earn less than $10 a month and, since many of them live with their employers because their own families can't afford to keep them, often must cope with physical and sexual abuse.

My point being, there are plenty of actual problems that Tanzania's government needs to address rather than spouting this puritanical bullshit. Leila says that if it passes people will strike, but I have this terrible feeling that the Tanzanian women will just take it. It's not like they can count on all the men to support them. Leila told me yesterday that at a barbecue this weekend some of the guys were all "Hey you better enjoy wearing those jeans while you can, you're not gonna have much longer, we'd better not see that in a few days."

In other Kikwete-is-an-asshole news, 5 people have been killed since Dar Es Salaam received shoot-to-kill orders this past weekend. It's supposed to target armed robbers and apparently they're generally well-known so innocent civilians have nothing to fear. I guess a bullet is a more humane way to go than the shower of gasoline and a lit match that unlucky petty thieves get from their fellow Tanzanians. Good thing that the University hosted that 2-day Walter Rodney conference yesterday so that various African intellectuals could sit around and get pumped up about helping ordinary people.

More on shoot-to-kill: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/4621356.stm
More on Kikwete's approach to "lawlessness" in Tanzania: http://www.nationmedia.com/eastafrican/current/Opinion/opinion160120061.htm

Thursday, January 12, 2006

They all said it couldn't be done...

But I have indeed managed to purchase more than 20 Zanzibar scarves in the past 4 hours I've been in Stonetown. In the meantime, I also checked myself into a hotel (dorm-style room for $10, meaning I'm sleeping with some randos tonight so hopefully they will be either nice or irrelevant), made sure the ferry ticket I didn't use on Tuesday would be good for going back tomorrow (it wil!), had a leisurely lunch, got my friend a t-shirt at the restaurant named after Freddie Mercury (he was born here and lived here until his family moved to India; name at birth: Farookh Bulsara) and stood around sneezing in the junk room of a curio shop while Tonje and Kine, whom I met up with yesterday, picked up and put back down everything in the store. Taking a break at the internet cafe now because I'm sunburned (for only the second time since I've gone to the beach near the equator, a record to be proud of I feel) and all the colors were starting to swim before my eyes. Man when I was here in September scarf prices were much more negotiable but the ladies have collectivized or something because you can't get it below 3000/= ($2.70) to save your life. I walked away, came back, made a scene, flirted with the old Muslim ladies, used ridiculously outdated bargaining lingo, all the tricks I have up my little sleeves and to no avail. I mean, they're still the most beautiful things in the world for less than $3 and it's actually pretty awesome that they've gotten it together to keep themselves from getting screwed, but after 5 months of bargaining I really like getting shit for dirt-cheap.
I got to Zanzibar yesterday by plane, which was neat. On Monday I bought a resident-price ferry ticket (12,000/= as opposed to 40,000/=!) for Tuesday morning, but then I ended up having to stay in Dar until Wednesday. Got up 5 am on Wednesday, taxi driver is there at 5:45 like he said he would be, all is fine and dandy...then we get down to the pier where I discover that my ferry line isn't running because it's by Pakistani Muslims and it's Idd al-Fattr. There was one boat going but it was sold out and the scalper wanted 45,000/=. The plane ticket, tax included, was 36,000/=, so even with the taxi up to the airport it was 1,000/= cheaper than the stupid ferry. (I chose to ignore the money I dropped on the taxi downtown because I pretty certain I would puke on the boat but didn't want to admit that so financial justification was necessary). Either way, I really enjoyed the plane ride. It was one of those tiny planes, I think there were thirteen passengers plus the pilot, who sounded South African. I wanted to sit up front with him but this asshole beat me to it.
I say asshole for several reasons. First of all, he was a middle-aged man smoking menthol cigarettes. Not ok, and I think most people would agree with me. Then he said "No, definitely not" all snotty-like when I asked him if he had a travel guide I could use to find the beach where I met my friends. He and his friend were wazungu wearing khaki shorts and baseball caps with snazzy little fannypack situations happening, what was I supposed to think? Ha and then when I was haggling for a taxi at the airport in Zanzibar I noticed them getting picked up by a tour company. Bastards! Third of all, the wazungu need to start refusing to be ashamed of using guidebooks. Sometimes they suck but they're also the cheapest and easiest way to get fairly reliable maps of remote places and sometimes they have really good tips about scams and whatnot. Finally, he all hopped over to the pilot and kissed some ass for shotgun before I had a chance to.
In any case, there are all these tiny little dots of islands off Tanzania's coast that from the air look like someone dumped a shit-ton of mango trees on a rusting key--the shelf of land submerged in shallow water around the edge of the island looks is the color of oxidized metal because the Indian Ocean is so blue-green. We were low enough that you could actually see how the islands are round underneath like little bowls. It was also cool to see Dar itself from the air. Even the slums were quite beautiful from the air, which is kind of sick. The 6 high-rises in Dar all clumped together in the Indian district were hilarious. And it was really nice to have gotten there in 20 minutes at 8 am instead of 10 or 11, because then it didn't matter when the minivan broke down on the way Jambiani, the beach down on the southeast coast where I met Tonje and Kine. Although I have to say that it was one ofthe more pleasant breakdowns I've had in Tanzania. Even outside of the plentiful shade it wasn't 900 degrees, and lots of ripe mangoes were just laying around. One of the Tanzanian guys in the van sliced one up and offered it around; it was delicious, just the right hint of pine or whatever that sharpness is about really great mangoes. There was an Italian couple and a white South African couple in the minivan too, and they must have read in the guidebook not to ever eat unwashed fruit or whatever because they were foolish enough to pass up the mango.
Got to Jambiani where I found Tonje and Kine at the Rising Sun, the cheapest hotel in the village at 10,000/= per person per night. It was right on the beach and everything was clean with ceiling fans in the room so you can't beat it. I was pretty beat so I'd planned on just passing out in some shade for the rest of the day but then Kine was going snorkeling so I figured I'd go, since when I'd gone my last time in Zanzibar I'd sworn that I'd go again. Another Norweigan (Tonje and Kine are both from Norway, as are lots of the wazungu in Tanzania since they have a fairly intense donor relationship and then there's the socialist connection) whose name I'm not going to even attempt to spell also went. He was very nice, and good company on the long-ass boat trip out to the coral reef. I'd never seen anything like the boat we took. The body itself was like a really deep, narrow canoe, and then there were four huge booms mounted in a square on top of the hull that the "captain" used to lounge on. One more mast at the fore with one huge sail made out of nylon sacks sewn together that was attached to one corner or the other of the square depending on the direction of the wind. The design was pretty much ingenious. I need to make a diagram or something. The only bad thing was there wasn't much shade and like an ass I was wearing a tank top and no sunblock--hence the sunburn. Plus the snorkeling itself wasn't that great, although there were all kinds of starfish, different shapes and colors and whatnot, and a few different kinds of fish that I hadn't seen when I went off the coast of Changuu. By the time we were done I was starving because I'd only had that slice of mango in the 7 or 8 hours I'd been up, but on the trip back the wind was in our favor so we got back for a lunch of nasty nasty tomato sandwich (the bread was sweet or something, and there was no cheese which would have been gross too but I was in the mood for it) and French fries. Took a shower, passed out for a couple of blissful hours, played a few games of bao with one of the guys who took us snorkeling. There was this hilariously smart-assy 12 year old kid hanging out with us who must have been his cousin or something and it was fun until he started telling me how he loved me and this and that, and why can't I do this and that even though I have a boyfriend. The conversation with guys at the beach always comes to that, and of course it's in Swahili so I don't have all the comebacks I need. MEHHH. Then dinner was delicious, went to bed early, woke up in the middle of the night to take a cold shower, and got back to Stonetown this morning, which commenced the scarf-buying.

To change topics completely--the rest of our time in Addis was marvelous. Only two things I would need to bring with me if I wanted to live there: a humidifier, because by the middle of the week my lips were cracking something serious; and David, because I don't think I can do the long-term, long-distance thing again. Like, ever. (Although once we're in the same town again he probably won't send me delightful mix tapes and zines and fun things from Target like glitter pens and whatnot.) At this point we have been together 13 months and 7 of those we have spent living in separate states if not separate countries/continents. But there are pastries and great shopping (gorgeous jewelry and textiles and whatnot, plus lots of good Western-style clothes--I got some really great silver Mary Jane sneakers and you could get Seven jeans for Birr200, which is something like $26, as opposed to $100+ or whatever they are in the US, Lisa help me out here with your area of expertise) and great Italian food and our hotel and all the people who worked there were great and, yeah. Just everything was great.
I really enjoyed traveling with Nikki and Tanisha. Not just because they're just smart and interesting and assertive and sensible, good qualities to have in travel companions, but also because we're all friends with Camille so we all wanted to take things easy after we got the news of her passing. And in some ways it was easier not to travel with any men. Tanisha and Nikki didn't act like I was being weird or paranoid when I was brisk with strangers or didn't want to go certain places, although I felt more comfortable walking around Addis at night than I do in Dar or Baltimore or even Gainesville. Ha and it definitely beat UDSM's campus--not only have there been a few student rapes this semester, but in the past month foreign students have been robbed at machete-point three times while walking back from UDASA. They really need to get some guards or streetlights or something over there. The campus police were of course useless--Kevin didn't even bother to go. One group of people who went to report being robbed were just laughed out of the police station. It was the first place I've gone that I was really sad to leave, and not only because I didn't want to be back in Dar.
In any case, I have a little book that I carry around with me where I've been taking notes. I will write more about Kilwa and Addis and everything else that has happened since I basically stopped keeping this up, but I just haven't been in the mood lately. Besides Camille, a lot of other things have been hectic too and the next week is my last so I figure I'll just wait until all of my friends in Gainesville are sick of hearing about it to spend hours and hours writing everything down. Ahh and the internet will be so fast, I'll get to put up so many pictures. In the words of my friend Ali, "It will be bomba!" (See and that just isn't as funny as when he says it with his wondeful accent, but in any case bomba = awesome).
So yeah, I get on a plane to London in 8 days. Wildness. I just hope that it's a good one so I don't leave with shitty feelings towards Dar Es Salaam, but I don't know. Tomorrow I'll head back to Dar early in the morning so I can straighten out a mishap with my final exam schedule (hopefully people will be in their offices, because that was the main obstacle before I left for Zanzibar). Perhaps at some point the water will come back on; I haven't been able to wash clothes since December 29 and probably haven't put on a truly clean shirt since Saturday; I don't know what I'm going to do about going out for fancy dinner with Alicia and her dad and some other people tonight because I don't think noticeable sweaty-person smells are up to dress code. Then I have exams Saturday, Monday and Wednesday, and in between there will be chemistry homework due to a UF professor via email on Tuesday the 17th, lots of last-minute shopping (I need to ask Njudi, one of the guys in the English class, to carve me a little wildebeest), final visits with friends (pilau with Robie on Sunday, I can't wait!) and my last 5 English classes with the guys. Ah and the packing! Miserable business! I think I'll have to mail some stuff back instead of trying to cram it under the weight limit; for instance Choc-kits, my favorite cookies here, and other light stuff I can do without for a while like my Little Mermaid sheets. If only I wanted to ship literature for the blind, then it would be free!
And then when I get back to the US I'll have to just pack some more, although my mom and sister have been nice enough to start organizing my shit at my parents' house in Baltimore. My clothes are going to be the biggest problem, from a sheerly volume-related point of view. From an email Liz just sent me: "you have about 6 tubs worth of stuff.... no, seriously. how many times have you bought a shirt from goodwill and then cut the sleeves off? about a million." This is true. But after having 7 - 10 shirts at my disposal for the past 5 months, I should be able to handle paring down the t-shirt collection.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Camille

Called Dar today, Camille passed away yesterday when her parents took her off life support. I feel weird announcing this on here but I figured since I mentioned she was in the hospital. Her poor parents...Camille is their only child. None of this makes any goddamn sense. In any case, we might go back to Dar early, we haven't decided. I don't really want to but for purely selfish reasons so we'll see.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

I'm in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

So I hope everyone had/is having (I guess it's only 1:49 am at home) a fun, safe New Year's. I slept through midnight here and at home, which is perfectly acceptable because I'm in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where they use the Julian calendar, so their New Year's was back in September. It's also 7 years behind our calendar, so I'm about to turn 14, which is pretty sweet. But yeah, Addis: in short, I love it. Not only because I am just so glad to be away from Dar but also because..."The weather is cool, the stores are painted all kinds of crazy colors, everything is even cheaper than dar (except sim cards, which is why i don't have an ethiopian phone number yet, possibly not ever), the people are, as a rule, drop-dead gorgeous and also extremely friendly and helpful, the city is all hilly so you get all these amazing views (which i can enjoy without walking too much because we've been living the taxi life for one), the food is delicious (all kinds of italian pastries, i haven't had a decent pastry in goddamn centuries)...." (I was quoting an email I wrote, no point in writing the same crap twice.) On the other hand the city is full of beggars and it's overwhelming. Little kids younger than Sam (my 9-year-old brother) run into traffic to ask us through the taxi window for one birr (12.5 cents American) and then when you run out of one-birr notes you can't give anything, you just look straight ahead, because if you give more than that (and less is the norm, but we've been lean on coins) you'll have a mob of people at your taxi window which is not good. And older people and disabled war vets too, but it's the kids man. The fucking kids. Once I was talking to my friend Innocent (who speaks incredible incredible English, no matter how modest he is about it) and when I used the word "childhood" he had to ask me what that was, and I think he even said there wasn't a word in Kiswahili for it. And that's just not right. 6 year old girls do not need to be running into Addis rush-hour with their baby sister strapped to their back to ask me for money through my fucking taxi window that I can't even roll down (the handle was broken). And then I go and eat a sweet-ass meal at a nice restaurant with live singers and dancers and whatnot (which for Tanish, Nikki and me still only came to Birr115, which is maybe $14 or so, including tax and tip). There's a place we can go in the city where you can buy 8 meal tickets for Birr1 for children so we're going to get a bunch of those, plus go change some paper notes into coins, and I hate talking about this shit because I feel like I'm sort of saying "oh sad for me I have to look at poor people while I'm on vacation" but it just sucks to feel useless. In any case, we are going to try and get on a flight up to Bahar Dar which is kidogo north of Addis so we can check out some stone monasteries out on an island in the middle of Lake Tana and also the Blue Nile Falls (Tanisha and Nikki have gone rafting on the Nile in Jinja but I haven't seen it yet so I'm pretty pumped). And then back to Addis on Wednesday so we can go out for a sweet meal for my 21st birthday, and then shopping on Thursday (we're thinking about renting a car so we can drive ourselves around because they drive on the right side of the road and traffic here is relatively sane unlike Dar--people seem to follow the traffic lights and right of way and use turn signals and whatnot, and Tanish and I figure that if we can drive in Washington, D.C., and New York we'll be fine), and then we fly back to Dar on Friday.
Dar...our friend Camille was in a car accident in the Ngorongoro Crater last Tuesday (5 days ago). Her mom has a broke leg and pelvis, her dad has some back injuries, the cook and guide are basically ok....but Camille (as far as I know, we've been out of touch for a couple of days) is in a coma and it looks really bad. She was airlifted to Nairobi almost immediately but her condition hasn't been stable enough to take her to Johannesburg, which would be the ideal place...The driver is also in critical condition, and as far as we know he hasn't even been taken to Nairobi and I suspect it's because he's Tanzanian and not because he shouldn't be there. Hopefully they've at least taken him to Dar, which I think has better hospitals than Arusha. So if you pray or meditate or think good thoughts with purpose, do that for all of them please. And for her friends and family at home in America; being so far away must be positively hellish. I've been trying but I'm kind of too pissed off for multiple reasons to sustain any kind of positivity in regards to the whole thing. 20-year-olds are not supposed to die going on safari with their parents, that's just ridiculous and fucked up. Especially on roads that lots of us (including me) have driven without any problem at all. Fuck fuck fucking shit. So yeah, that's the biggest of many reasons that I'm glad to be away from Dar for the week and happy to be going home in less than 3 weeks. It's just been a shitty 2 and a half weeks at this point.
So y'all take care, and if any of you are even thinking about drunk driving right now I hope someone has sharp words for you and the sense to lock your stupid ass in a bathroom. Otherwise, Happy New Year's!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Eating-related news

Well since I have been so negligent, I haven't even put up Thanksgiving pictures yet! Mostly what I need to say about Thanksgiving is that it was awesome. Alex, Tanisha, Mercer, Kevin and I spent the day at our friend's house making a shit-ton of food.
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[Tanish, Kevin and Mercer prepping the veggies.]
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[Triumphant chefs Alex, Tanisha, Kevin, me and Mercer, after dinner.]
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[I just really love this picture. And man growing out the hair is going to be horrendously awkward, huh?]
Using 2 burners, a tiny tiny oven and an electric hot pot, we made enough pasta, arroz con leche, chicken, green beans, sweet potato pie, pumpkin, mashed potatoes and cornbread (some with chocolate frosting, some without) to feed somewhere around 40 people, WITH LEFTOVERS. (Like the pot of arroz con leche that sat stinking on my balcony until the Sunday after...) Man and that day was hot as hell, especially for spending 8 hours in a tiny kitchen, but we took turns at the stovetop and got it done. I was responsible for the mashed potatoes, green beans and pumpkin--which, as it turns out, is quite delicious if you peel it, slice it up, scrape away the seeds and pulp, and then stew it in a little bit of hot water with salt, sugar and black pepper. I was so proud of us. Thanksgiving was kind of a weird holiday to celebrate in a post-colonial country, but everyone enjoyed it and I got to make everyone going around the table and say two things they were grateful for, which was nice.
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The other great meal I've had in the past couple of weeks was at Innocent's sister's house two Sundays ago. He is one of the best people I've ever met so I knew his family was going to at least be really nice, but then they were really funny and warm and welcoming too. His nephew, Joseph Jr., is a total ham.
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Plus, as if to prove that he is wonderful, Innocent remembered that Tanisha and I love Stoney Tanga Wizi and bought an amply supply for us. And then the food was soooo good. Pilau and chapati, which I'm seriously going to miss when I go home but I think I can handle making them, chicken (which I didn't eat although I'm going to go ahead and slip in a confession to having a little bit of goat the other night) and then these amazing pumpkin leaves cooked in coconut milk with other vegetables. And next time we go, since it won't be our first time there, Innocent's sister Elizabeth will let us help with the cooking, which will be sweaty but fun, and there really isn't any way around sweaty whether you're coooking or not.
So mostly it has just been really really hot lately. Going into town during the day is especially hellish, between the cramped bus rides and then even though it's right next to the sea you don't feel much of a breeze, and there aren't many trees for shade. Campus is on a big old hill so as long as the wind is blowing from the ocean in the east, you can stand and catch a lick of coolness. From other directions the breeze is mostly a hot breath that may or may not be more unpleasant than the movements when the air is just hot and unmoved. Of course my fan picked right when summer was really kicking in as when it felt like crapping the bed, so the main solution as been siesta in the afternoon and sleeping with the balcony door open at night, which as worked pretty well. I'm getting to the point where when I walk outside I can recognize that it's 900 degrees but it doesn't really feel like it to me anymore, so I don't get that miserable, and the other international students don't mention it nearly as much as they did a couple weeks ago. Although I've noticed that we definitely move a lot more slowly when we're walking around and like to shower multiple times a day if we have water. The Tanzanians think it's hilarious how uncomfortable we are. I mean, they're hot too, but it's just not an issue. I'd like to point out that my roommate Diana still uses a comforter at night. I prefer to sweat myself to sleep, because it doesn't really cool down until 3 or 4 am, when I might pull a sheet up to my waist. Winter, even Florida-style, is going to be a strange thing to come home too.That's another thing I've been thinking about a lot lately--what it's going to be like to come home. 5 weeks from today I'll be on a plane! This sounds like wonderful news on some days, when school is hectic or I'm sitting on a bus being sweated on by 3 different strangers or I'm just plain old homesick. Other days, think about it gives me a profoundly disapointed feeling. Mostly I just think it's going to be weird. Not like Tanzania is my newfound home or anything--I feel like I've been hyperaware of the fact that it's not, just because I've known from the start exactly when I would leave--but because it's been such a vacation from all the entanglements of life at home. I do a lot of work for school, but I know it doesn't really matter how I do because it doesn't affect my GPA and the things I learn ouside of class seem more important anyway. I don't have a job, which hasn't been the case since my senior year of high school. I enjoy the friendships I have here but oldest one is what, 3 months? And David and I have done a mostly great job of staying in touch and keeping up with each other's lives but we're still going to have to get to know each other all over again when I get back. And who knows what that will lead to, although I have a good feeling that we will make it work. Ah, consequences! Although one thing I've gotten more conscientious about is not wasting water and electricity. I have many weird squirrelly habits to show for it, namely that everything that would go down the drain goes into the toilet flush tank (which is pretty much always empty), some of which I want to keep up at home. Especially once it warms up a little, which won't take long in Florida, I want to start line-drying my clothes (the washing machine will be a welcome change) and setting aside time each day that I am awake but not using electricity. Other than that, everything's been pretty much mellow. The regular part of the semester is over in a couple of weeks, so it's just going to be a lot of seminar presentations, projects, papers. I did my first seminar presentation this past Monday--on living in a multi-racial society for Race, Class and Ethnicity. This class has pretty much just been a disaster, especially because the professor is not a fan of Westerners, especially white ones. Ah I wish he would quit being crazy and do his job! Because the 6 or so lectures that we've had (he cancelled the rest of the semester's lectures a couple weeks ago) were really interesting, if a little weird sometimes (he claimed that Vasco de Gama circumnavigated Africa purely out of his sense of adventure...it is especially weird that he's cutting de Gama a break considering how much he used to enjoy standing in front international students and asking questions like, "So, what do you think about your people's role in the underdevelopment of Africa?") but whatever. In any case, I did my part on white privilege, which was simultaneously impossible to fully explain in 4 minutes of simple English and a nerve-wracking topic to address as a white person speaking in front of 30 black people, but I guess those two elements kind of cancelled each other out, because no one brought it up during discussion. In fact most of the Tanzanian students acted bored while we were speaking and then 4 people in a row asked us during the discussion time what the main point of our project was, but Nikki looked interested and the professor was actually nodding along with us through most of it, so we'll see. One thing that will be nice to go home to is anonymity. Although there's definitely an mzungu cycle in which there are peaks and valleys of how much people seem to notice that I'm white, because I can go days without it being an issue, it's still weird to be sitting on a packed Greyhound-sized bus and realize that people are staring at you because every white person there is either you or one of your friends. I've gone shopping at the arts market in Mwenge a couple times in the past few weeks, which is pretty much THE place to go if you want to be referred to as mzungu and feeling noticed for a couple hours just makes me tired. (Then too you get get ripped off like one, which is also exhausting). And I think that because I'm aware that I've been here for a while and feel pretty comfortable with being here, it's all the more surprising when other people point it out that I don't belong. But really the only time it bothers me is when I can tell people are using it to be mean, or when they're talking about me and laughing when I'm standing right there because they think I don't understand. Man that does piss me off--as if "mzungu" wasn't one of the first 5 words that I learned.It's weird how often stuff like that happens on campus, where the Tanzanian students have been seeing us around and in class for a few months now. I get put on the spot during seminars a lot. My Rural Development seminar leader loves to force me into the discussion by saying, "Our sister from the North, what do you think about neo-colonial trade structures" or "Our fair American friend, please explain to us why the agricultural sector in your homeland was able to consolidate and incorporate." These are exact quotes. It's pretty much horrifying. And there's no backing down. Although at least it's only in front of 20 or 30 people. In one of Rob's big lecture classes, the professor used to spend at least a couple minutes each class quizzing "Mr. Florida" on global politics and geography and whatever else. Only once have I been called out during lecture. The professor had just used the phrase "lip service" and this murmur of confusion went through the students so the professor asked me to explain (I'm the only mzungu in the class). So I tried, and then everyone said "No" when the professor asked if they had understood, and then he professor laughed, the students laughed, the lecture when on and the guy sitting next to me said "Nipe tano, mzungu" (Give me five). Not so bad at all. And I feel like I understand a little better how annoyed non-white people at home get when everyone at a meeting or in a classroom looks to them as the representative of their race or ethnicity or whatever. And at least people here are upfront about it.Which reminds me--so yesterday Kevin was feeling achy, which is how he felt last week when he was told he had malaria at a local clinic and then only given 2 pills to take, so I went with him to the nicer hospital downtown to get it checked out. (Partly because he promised me a delicious feast of palak paneer and butter naan and raita afterwards, but also because I am a high-quality friend.) As he's filling out the basic form and under the religion part he puts "Christian" even though that's not true because if you don't put something then you've bought your way into a ridiculously unnecessary conversation with a stranger about why you are neither Christian, Muslim nor heathen, and then he gets to the race question and the options are European, African and Asian, and no "Other ________" option. He is none of those, but he checked off European, again to avoid absurd debate. But what would Tanisha, who is Jamaican-American supposed to check off? Because she's obviously not European or Asian but if she checks off African people here will treat her like she was actually born and raised in Africa, which may or may not work to her advantage but will be at least slightly bewildering either way. On the plus side, the waiting area offered excellent people watching. About half the patients were upper-class black Africans, who generally tend to dress more Western, although it was interesting to see how class and culture intersect--more than one very nicely-dressed African woman who probably could have afforded a baby stroller or whatever (I think a lot of wealthier women go there to have their babies) just had their baby strapped to their back with a khanga like poorer women do. The other half were Indian or Middle Eastern--men dressed mostly in slacks and button-down shirts, but some of the women had beautiful henna all over their arms and ankles and a lot of the babies and toddlers had serious jewelry happening. I played with one little girl, maybe 2 years old, who had silver hoops in her ears, two silver chains around her neck, a silver bracelet on each wrist, and a silver anklet with bells on each ankle. BELLS ON A TODDLER, and she was the busy kind. Her mom was totally hyper too and kept getting her daughter all wound up until the grandma, who was feeding the baby, would shush both of them in this very sweet, funny way. The little girl even had a pink flower scribbled on her hand in immitation of the henna flowers on her mom and grandma's arms.Looking back over what I've just written, I feel kind of weird about it because it's all about race. I guess doing that project put it on my brain, and it'd just be weird if I never thought about it while I was here. But also I need to just get over that. Although not thinking about race is one of the options open to me as a white citizen of a white-dominated country, and not thinking would also let me ignore all the racist bullshit I've got happening in my head, that'd be pretty much just lame. Part of it is feeling like I poke at it too much some ugly shit is going to come out and I'm going to make a fool of myself, especially because I don't feel particularly well-qualified to talk about race, especially with other people who are not white, but oh well. Time to get over that.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Cole Edwards!

Thanks for writing, it's so good to hear how everything is going. My email is kmullan@ufl.edu. Write me and then I can take this down!