Thursday, 22 December 2011

Tis the season of improv

Christmas time!!!!!!!!!! I’m amidst the preparation of my first Katesh Christmas. And it’s wonderful. It’s included decorating Justin’s house, making stockings, wrapping presents, making cards, and finger painting the shape of a xmas tree and “Merry Christmas” on huge pieces of paper. Being from the “Second City” I’m accustomed to improvisation, but being in Tanzania for the holidays has taken that idea to a different level.
Being in Africa for Christmas was a bit intimidating to think about at first. Perhaps to understand how the idea would be incomprehendable you’d first have to know how we usually celebrate xmas in Libertyville. Since all of my extended family lives at least 13 hrs away via car ride (and usually more…), it’s almost always just the 5 of us. Which I actually have really come to appreciate and love. We have had a lot of time and freedom to celebrate the holidays how we wanted and as a result of that, we’ve shaped our own (what I’d consider) unique traditions that I love repeating. Some of them aren’t all that unique and have persisted since who knows when such are going to Christmas mass the night before and on the way home going completely out of the way and driving around random neighborhoods to look at Christmas lights. We always have our favorite neighborhoods to visit and have watched how some houses have evolved or devolved their decorating techiniques. Then, after xmas mass and lights, we open our first present of the season, our own xmas ornament which my mom picks out each year. Sometimes we get lucky and she can’t decide between two really great ones and we’ll get two. We put them on the tree before bed and, when we were kids, would then leave out the plate of cookies and milk for Santa. One tradition that started quite recently due to my acquisition of the idea after reading some xmas magazine is that of the pickle ornament. I bought an ornament shaped like a pickle and you hide it on the tree and then xmas morning the first person to find the ornament gets the extra gift that I picked out. I loved doing that each year despite the fact that finding gender neutral gifts is quite challenging. Another tradition that I started as a pre-teen was that of hiding everyone’s presents (the one’s from me at least) and then giving them clues in order to find them. This usually took a good hour of our morning and I loved seeing people circling the house as they dashed from clue to clue. Recently, I’ve abandoned this tradition and my sister happily and, albeit, more successfully, picked it up, constructing riddles and clues with much more ingenuity than I ever could muster. She’d even adapt them to each person’s strengths, like my Dad’s would be math based since is a computer engineer and I guess that means that he’s good at logic puzzles. A completely correct assumption.
While contemplating how to celebrate xmas here, I did a lot of reflecting on my favorite xmas traditions, including the ones listed above. And, I came to realize that my favorite was the one upon waking xmas morning. Me and my brother (before Mish was old enough) would wake up before our parents, sneak down stairs, empty our stockings and scour the
So, all that being said, I was wondering how to substitute my usual Christmas doings with African equivalents so that it still felt like the holidays. I was, at first, going to go down south and be with a large portion of my friends in country. At IST I was still set on this idea but after being around all those people for so long and traveling so much, the thing that I realized would mean the most for me, was being somewhere that felt like home. And the place that I feel the most at home in Tanzania is Katesh. So, after my adventures in the East and South, I trekked back to Katesh and knocked on Justin’s door. He’s been really generous in letting me taking over his home for the holidays and decorate incessantly. I went back to my site for a half a day as well to drop off some stuff, pick up supplies and visit my neighbors. My closest neighbor came to say hello and had me over for tea and I caught up with her and her kids. They really do feel like family. When I told her that my birthday was after xmas, she said that I needed to come home then and she’d cook me my favorite dish, nyama choma, which is like roasted meat. It’s delish. And she makes it with fresh ginger and, oh, just heaven. Unfortunately, we were thinking of climbing Mt. Hanang the day before my birthday and then camping up there and waking up and seeing the sunset on my birthday. We’ll see how the weather pans out since it’s been raining a lot and it’s not the smartest to climb the mountain while it’s so muddy.
So, back to my adventures decorating. The girls that live by Justin have been over the last couple days and we’ve made a xmas tree drawing out of finger paint, a construction paper chain of red, green and white, a hand print wreath, a huge “Happy Holidays” drawing that they colored in with crayons, green and red balloons and, my favorite accomplishment thus far, hand sewn stockings. I went to two fundi’s (tailors) and got scraps from the suits and dresses that they’d made and pieced them together to make stockings and embroidered our names on the top in xmas colors. I also made wrapping paper by decorating some extra paper I’d found at my house and using it to wrap up presents for Lauren, Uma and Justin, the three people that I’ll be celebrating xmas with. Our plans for the holidays are as follows:

23rd: xmas dinner and small gift exchange at the missionaries in Katesh
24th: go to Lauren’s for a xmas eve dinner of tortellini and tomato sauce and sleep there (she lives like an hour dala ride away)
25th: breakfast at Lauren’s and then come back to katesh for lunch at Antonio’s with his family. Afterwards me and Justin will come home to make mulled wine, chocolate pudding and open presents. I can’t wait : ) Hopefully this will also include a phone call from my family from the States.
26th: relax
27th-28th: attempt to climb Mt. Hanang
So, alas, this is how my holiday season is progressing thus far and I couldn’t be happier. I hoping that we can decorate xmas cookies and finish some of the cards before we leave for Lauren’s on Saturday but we’ll see. Lots of love for the holiday season! <3

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

“It’s like I waited my whole life for this one night…and dance forever…”

Forever: Chris Brown

Sometimes all I want to do is just have a huge dance party either by myself or with everyone else. Doesn’t matter. I just want to burst out dancing. And sometimes I do. One of the things that I really do like about Tanzanians is their love of American pop music (that seems like a tradition that traverses continents) and the other day I met Justin’s previous counterpart before Antonio, who is actually Antonio’s little brother Benny. We sat in Justin’s lil living room and listened to the most recent pop songs and music videos and amidst the music, we’d burst out dancing as we did random tasks the rest of that day. I love how I don’t ever have to feel embarrassed to dance here and that they dance just as ridiculously as I do. One of my favorite moments from IST is the random dance party that me Hannah and Mar had in our house one night. We blared Justin Beiber and Lonely Island and Rihanna and went crazy. Sometimes I wonder why I feel so free here. Maybe it’s because sometimes the stress of living here gets to be more than I feel like thinking about. I don’t think that I’d cope as well without music. In fact I know that for a fact because after my Ipod got stolen, I went through a funk and really missed having it while running or traveling. There’s so many stimuli between other Tanzanians talking, Tanzanians talking TO you, random shouts of “mzungu” and other heckles and just the loud blaring of repetitively annoying gospel music that you just need to escape into your own thoughts. I’m so glad that I got a new Ipod. Thank you parents for sending it because it made me happier that I’d ever imagine. I feel whole again. Maybe its just the option of being able to escape from it all that is enough. Despite getting back my Ipod, I still haven’t picked up running again like I had been before and maybe I just don’t need it as much, maybe its because of the incessant rain, or maybe its just because I’ve found other things to relax me and make me happy. Like dancing.

“All you gotta do is watch me…look what I can do with my feet"

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

“In the streets our heads a lifting, as we lose our inhibitions”

K’naan – Wavin’ Flag
I arrived back in Katesh quite happily and safely a few days ago. I went on a wonderful journey to Dar and then Iringa after training. Dar was a busy fun-filled adventure of American food, ice cream, and lots of cool experiences. Iringa, in contrast, was a slow paced, relaxed voyage into a hillside town that offered an astonishing array of jewelry and random luxuries, like French press coffee and delivery pizza. Granted, the delivery was bike-delivery, just to clarify. So it was a bit cold. But still a wonderful concept. I stocked up on presents for my friends and family and mailed quite a few letters and one giant package home. I thoroughly enjoyed chatting with the Maasai women that made the jewelery I bought, the teenage boys that sold the little knick-knacks in the craft shops and miming my order at Neema’s CafĂ©, a restaurant and craft shop which employed deaf and disabled Tanzanians (and also one of my favorite places in Tanzania). Turns out, if you flirt enough with people, aside from getting lots of useless numbers (Tanzanians ALWAYS want your cell number…oye), you also can get some sweet advantages. Over that week I acquired gifts including a leather bracelet, a necklace that I still wear and, the most random I think, is a red bull that the guy next to me on the bus ride from Singida to Katesh insisted that I take. I felt especially bad accepting this one since Red Bull is a reasonably expensive luxury. In fact I have yet to have tried one in country. But, I realized mostly over the process of my journeys, that being personable gives you good advantages to getting your way and finding out information that you need. This may sound selfish but in a country when everyone is competing for attention and has little regard for others while traveling (they just shove everyone everywhere…) its nice to find methods that help you find your way around successfully.
I think that my biggest accomplishment from my travels were the fact that I felt more confident, one, with traveling alone and, two, with myself in Tanzania. I feel like I am getting good at judging who to trust and when and with what. And also as taking chances and talking to random people to figure out what I need because, you can’t really get anything that you need or want here on your own. And that means speaking the language, knowing the culture and just acting like yourself but always being aware that you in a foreign place. It’s a feeling that I didn’t realize that I’d experience but am adapting to none the less. I know that this well be an ongoing journey and I’m not going to suddenly and completely adapt to traveling and living here, but I’m figuring it out piece by piece, and that, alone, is exciting. Enough self exploration. Later!

Saturday, 10 December 2011

“And I’ll find strength in pain”

Song of the week: The Cave – Mumford and Sons
Today was our first full day in Dar. And it was amazing. I haven’t written in a while so lets do a brief catch up. I finished teaching. I had Thanksgiving in Katesh. I went to IST (inservice training) in Morogoro for a week and a half and it was wonderful (seeing people, not the actual training…that was pretty stupid). Yesterday we left Moro for Dar (the capital of Tanzania and biggest city aka most – America like city). Got in about 2:30, got some food and a checked into our rooms. In the midst of hanging out I felt so tired that I just went to bed (at like 8pm) and didn’t wake up until 8am. It was amazing. After a yummy breakfast of egg sandwiches, we headed to a crafts fair (called Makutano) on the peninsula (which is like the richer area in Dar). I needed some allergy meds so I stopped at the PC office and met with the Dr. real quick. While waiting for the dala to pass by afterwards, I was chilling by a little duka and started chatting with the lady there. They were eating papaya and offered me some so I ate a slice while waiting and we chatted about sharobaros and Tanzania. After I caught a dala, I got off at the Black tomato, the venue of the fair. It was 3,000Tsh cover to enter but had really wonderful upper class jewelry, paintings, clothes and miscellaneous things. I bought a few things on the cheaper side for presents before we headed out to Slipway, the outdoor mall on the very end of the peninsula, for food. It is also pricey pricey but nice and there’s an almost legit grocery store there. We loaded up on juice, cookies and mini warmed up pizzas before getting soft serve ice cream (in actual big cones!) and then browsing another crafts section. I chatted with this sweet old man who paints these little drawings daily and showed me how he did it. It was really cool. I can’t wait to show my parents all the cool things that you can see and buy here. We headed back towards Posta (downtown) and the hotel for a quick rest before peacing for the football game. I had literally a piece of paper with 3 things written on it (the name of the dala we needed to take, and the word for soccer stadium in Kiswahili) as we walked out the door of the hotel/hostel. We just asked around at the standi and on the dala and made it a half an hour later outside the stadium. I started chatting with a guy from Rwanda as we were entering and he showed us the entrance. We weren’t really sure how much it cost and had heard that it started at 4:00pm. The guy thought that it started then too but somehow it got moved to 3:30 because they were halfway through when we walked in. Even better, since it was the Tusker Cup and Tanzania lost in the Semi-finals, only Uganda and Rwanda were playing and basically the stadium was like a 1/12th full. It was sooo empty and because like no one was there, the match was free. We walked straight through the gate and up the steps. Some security guards tried to stop us and say that we had to pay to enter, but the Rwandan that I was with told me just to pass and that it really was free. The guards were just trying to milk some white people for a bit of cash. But we continued after like a minute of they pestering us and found seats like 6 rows up from the field. The game was 0-0 and it was at 40 min when we sat down. Before the end of the game, each team scored 2 goals, bringing it to extra time, where no one scored. Then it came to PK’s. It was so exciting. The actual soccer being played was college level at best but it was still exciting b/c the stadium was pretty evenly divided on who wanted who to win and the PK’s were really intense. I was cheering for Rwanda b/c of my newest friend but the other half of us wanted Uganda. Each team made 2 and missed 2 for the PK’s so it came down to the last shots. Uganda made theirs and Rwanda missed. Oh boy it was so great to be there in the stadium, under the lights, sitting on the edge of our seats as they shot. I loved it. This was the whole reason that we originally came to Dar so I’m glad that it actually happened. After the game, we headed back to Posta and went to one of the 2 Subways in Dar. Yep. Real live subway. The only real American chain that you can find here. I got a veggie footlong and it was DELISH! So wonderfully tasty with crisp veggies. I’d forgotten what that was like. Now, we are relaxing before going to Hookah on the rooftop of the Holiday Inn here. Sounds like the perfect end to a great day : )