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Monday, July 31, 2006

Schistosomiasis, NOT!

Oy, what are you exposing yourself to all those diseases for?

That is what my Grandmother asked me ten years ago when, in a brilliant case of foreshadowing, I took my first trip to Africa - Tanzania. Of course I took all the precautions a virgin traveler to the dark continent might take. I visited a travel medicine clinic and got a multitude of shots against everything from typhoid to hepatitis A, from yellow fever to polio. I religiously took anti-malarial medicine. Not knowing what to expect, I bought myself a safari hat with mosquito netting hanging over it - so when I was in the deep dark jungle of Dar es Salaam I would be protected from all the little evil bugs that bite.

[Looking back on it - I find the hat thing kind of embarrassing, especially when I think about how proud I was when I told my boss (who had lived in Africa for 30 years) about my amazing ingenuity.]

I was protected from all the bad health outcomes I could face - I told my Grandmother. And I really thought so - at least until I had that month-long case of amoebic dysentery. [But that's a whole other story involving lots of intestinal dysfunction - and I know you don't really what to hear about it now.] But I must say, that aside from that first trip - I've never had a tropical illness during my travels. The flu, yes. Menstrual cramps, yes. A corn on my pinky toe from sandals that were too tight, yes. But black fever, no. Dengue fever, no. Malaria, no (and knock on wood).

After you travel to Africa and Asia for 10 years and never get sick, you start to think you may be immune to all those terrible diseases. After all, I've had tons of mosquito bites, but never contracted malaria. And even though my Johns Hopkins University public health degree taught me that there is no such thing as immunity to malaria, I thought perhaps that I am different.

Am I, indeed, immune to tropical diseases?

But then there was last week. I woke up one morning and I was really, really, really sick. I could barely get out of bed. It hurt like hell to swallow. My glands were swollen into golf balls. I was certain that this was it! My time was up! See... I was reckless the weekend before. I bit my fingernails without washing my hands thoroughly. This was typhoid, I was convinced. Or maybe it was an unusual presentation of malaria. Or perhaps there was schistosomiasis in my pool?

The doctor thought my self-diagnosis was pretty funny - so funny that he had a big belly laugh over it. See... he rarely sees malaria in ex-pats, has only once seen someone with typhoid, had a case of suspected dengue fever once which turned out to just be a common flu, and has never treated a patient with schistosomiasis.

Turns out I had strep throat (for the first time ever - actually). And man, that sucked. It really had me down for the count - for an entire week. And now Jaden has some version of it - and that sucks even more.

But the good news is that I remain invincible - knock on wood. There is no avian flu in the Mahler household! Bring on the common cold!

Monday, July 24, 2006

Rowan Mahler, Fashionista

One if the first things you notice when you come to Dar es Salaam (ok maybe not one of the first things) is that there are clothes hanging all about. As with most of the dryer-less world, there are clothes hanging on clothes lines - drying in the sun after having been washed. But most of the clothes you spot in the city are hanging from trees - part of an extensive system of informal used clothing "stores" at the side of the road. They hang pants on round hangers so you can see how nice and butt-beautiful you'll look in them. (Yes... only in Africa.) They hang shoes cascading one below the next - sometimes 20 in a cascade. There are fabulous looking sexy outfits, frilly and shiny little girl dresses (made in China), and full length body-hiding black abyas (you know, the kind you see Saudi women wearing), and lots more - all hanging in those there trees. I think it is kind of quaint and colorful to have so many clothes in the trees. Many of my smaller American colleagues have bought tree clothes - and after a good washing - all have been happy with their purchases. And if I saw something I thought could fit me I would buy it, too. Not because I liked what was hanging there - but because it is part of the African experience.

Yet, despite the fact that there are clothes in the trees everywhere we go, Rowan only just noticed them - today. We were driving to a new school (yes the camp across the street is over) and at some point Rowan looked up and said, "Mommy. Shirt. Pants. Shoes!" And the only thing I could think was...

Oy vey!

You see, Rowan has been indulging in an ever increasing obsession with clothes. I suppose perhaps it is age appropriate for a girl. But for the past month or so, she jumps out of bed every morning and instead of asking for milk, begs for me to open her closet doors so she can start picking out clothes.

And as you'd expect of a two-year-old, sometimes she is right on, and sometimes she is so very very off. The biggest issue we have is that she would prefer to wear pajamas - all day long. Even better if the pajamas are adorned with a flowers pattern. And oftentimes she wants to wear long sleeves in the 100% humidity.

Rowan's biggest rule, however, is the pinker the better. And let me tell you, pink has never been part of my vocabulary. I'm a black girl myself.

But frequent costume changes are now the order of the day. She usually changes at least twice before school, once when she gets back, after her nap, before her bath, and then there are often two post-bath outfits before an appropriate set of pajamas drape her little body. At least it means the housekeeper has laundry to do every day - and that keeps her happy. (My housekeeper seems obsessed with the washing machine - but that is a blog for another day.)

But no matter what Rowan is wearing, after she's managed to dress herself, she always lets me know...

I so pretty

And so she is.

But, you can imagine that it is with much trepidation that we move forward into the era of noticing tree clothes. See, I bought out all the 2-T clothes I could find at Children's Place, the Gap, Old Navy, and Overstock.com before we got on the plane to Tanzania - thinking that we wouldn't be able to find acceptable clothes here - not. I bought so much stuff that when the housekeeper unpacked Rowan's suitcase when we moved into our house, her eyes just kept getting bigger and bigger until she looked like she would faint under the burden of my American consumerist ways.

But the thing is we didn't really need to bring clothes at all, because all of the clothes donated by American families to Goodwill or their local church - by you - will be hanging in the trees of Tanzania by next year. So don't be surprised if you see a photo of Rowan in your darling daughter's favorite Hanna Anderson ensemble. In Africa, Hanna Anderson grows on trees.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Jaden in an Alternative Universe

Jaden and Rowan love our driver, Paul. Perhaps it is because he drives and they still love the car, but Jaden in particular, has really bonded with Paul. And Paul has resonded with lots of love and affection. This makes me think that Paul is going to be a wonderful father.

You see, ever since I hired Paul, we've been on a baby count down. His wife was 7 months pregnant, then eight months, and then finally nine months pregnant. Although lanugage constraints have dictated that Paul and I have not been able to have deep conversations about his impending fatherhood, I could tell he has been excited. This is his first baby afterall. He even asked me if I could find him a book of baby names, which I borrowed from a colleague. He liked the names Lisa and Carol for a girl.

Although we never discussed it directly, I had been mentally preparing for the day he told me that his wife is in labor, and for the week or two of vacation that would follow. I've learnt how to drive myself to work, the kids have been in a pre-school just across the street for the summer - so haven't been in need of mid-day transportation, and I figured I could get myself just about everywhere I needed to be for a few weeks.

So imagine my surprise when last Tuesday he dropped me off to work and we had our usual conversation (Me "How's your wife?" Paul: "My wife is fine.") but then picked me up later that afternoon (early because I had Swahili class) with the news that his wife had delivered the baby and it was a boy.

"Wow," I said! "Did you go home to see the baby yet?"

"No," he responded.

"Well, just drop me at Swahili class and I'll take a taxi home."

"No," he responded. "I will wait for you at Swahili class and take you home."

"But it is your first baby, don't you want to see him?"

"I can wait," he resonded. "First Swahili and later baby."

And not only did he wait for me at Swahili class, but he offered another student a ride home, as well. And, he refused to take off the next day, or the next. In fact, he hasn't missed a moment of work, even though I have offered him time. You see, he won't. It is not expected of him. In Tanzania, the husband works and the wife delivers. The man has no place in the delivery room (home or hospital) - and there is no expectation or guilt that he should participate in any other way than to give the baby a name.

And Paul took that job seriously. He went through a long list of boys names, but in the end he came to me when the baby was five days old and asked if I could do him the honor of letting him name his son, Jaden.

Of course, I said yes.

But it got me thinking about this Jaden - growing up in an alternate universe. In the US we put such pressures on boys... to grow up to be sensitive but manly men. To bring in the money, and treat their partner with the right amount of respect and affection. To be in the delivery room, when maybe that isn't where they want to be. The list of musts is long. And although the list of musts is not short for a Tanzanian man, maybe it is easier to be Jaden in Tanzania because there is not a lot of whishy washiness about who you are supposed to be as a man and what your role in the family is.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Will You Be My Mule?

I'm sure you know that Tanzania is most famous for its magnificent wildlife. The national parks, which cover a huge percentage of this country, are filled with lion, cheetah, giraffe, and elephants. Twice-a-year one of the worlds most magnificent natural spectacles takes place when hundreds of thousands of wildebeest and zebras migrate from Tanzania to Kenya and back again. In addition to the tourism dollars that these animals bring into Tanzania, they also have value for darker reasons. People in Asia pay big bucks for rhino horns (an aphrodisiac) and elephant ivory . The money that can be earned by poaching is extremely tempting for people who live in and around the parks - and even though it is abhorrent to think about killing these animals for money, you can sort of understand why some people do.

But for an ex-pat, none of these animals are as magnificent, or as valuable, as a mule.

Actually, I'm sitting here in my dining/living room waiting on the arrival of my very first mule. Jane. Jane, one of my best-est friends, and former colleagues, in on her way to Tanzania and arrives tonight with refills... bras, Dora the Explorer and Elmo DVDs ,and Pria Bars.

I asked her to bring a box of diapers but she said "no". I'm trying to understand.

For 13 years I have asked my colleagues in the field if they needed me to bring them anything when I was planning a trip to their country - always with my fingers crossed that they would say, "No, I can find everything I need right here in Haiti/Rwanda/Mali (etc)." Or it would be A-OK with me if they asked for something simple and light - like a book of stamps. I admit it. I asked because it was expected of me. But I cursed the heavy bags I was then asked to carry. I cursed them all...

Over the years I've been asked to carry cash (over $10,000), giant bags of popped popcorn, New Yorkers, STD specimens, New York Times magazine sections, tampons, underwear, nail clippers, balloons, Mardi Gras beads, light bulbs, and most recently - a lawn mower.

I cursed my friends and colleagues, but I did it anyway. All while at the same time telling US-based friends that I just didn't understand how colleague X couldn't live without her copy of The Red Tent. For godsake, why'd X move to Africa in the first place if she couldn't survive without Amazon.com?

But of course I take it all back now. My friends and colleagues, I'm begging you to consider me as you plan your next trip to Tanzania. I'll try not to ask for a lawn mower. But I might ask you to consider stuffing a box of Huggies Overnights into the crevices of your $300 suitcase. And I'm hoping to prove to you that the mitzvah of being a mule for a friend in Tanzania will be rewarded a thousand times over when it is your turn to move.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Deciphering the DaVinci Code

I know why the DaVinci Code was so hard for five billion people to solve.

Call me a goober, but one of the things I was looking forward to here in Tanzania was the easy availability - actually the abundance - of bootleg DVDs. Sure, there is a movie theatre here which plays first-run films (both Western and Indian). And yes, I know I'm letting down my friends in the movie industry by paying for unauthorized copies of films and driving down salaries and profit as a result. Thank you ma'am, for pointing out that I could be arrested upon my return home should I show up with a big bag of bootleg films. But I'm willing to take these chances... film industry and customs and immigration officials be damned.

Try not to begrudge me this simple pleasure. It's not like I can survive on Seinfeld re-runs alone.

In preparation for buying bootleg films I bought a special "universal" DVD player before I left Washington. This DVD player just arrived here with my air shipment and I finally connected it to my TV and confirmed that it can at least play DVDs of Elmo and Dora the Explorer ("Dorla" as Rowan calls her) over the weekend.

Just as an aside, I bet some of you aren't aware that there are 5 zones for DVDs. US DVD players only play zone 1. If you want to be able to watch any DVD you can do it on your computer or buy a universal one. (Although someone told me that especially electronically inclined people can mess with the settings of most DVD players so that they can play multiple zones, but it is a highly held secret, known mostly to MIT students and people from India.)

Before the DVD player arrived, I had looked longingly at the guys (all guys) who walk around outdoor restaurants and markets selling bootleg DVDs. These guys specialize in "composite" DVDs - usually 5 or 6 films with a connecting theme, all on the same DVD. I've seen Arnold Swartzenegger composites, composites of Nigerian and Indian films, a composite of Friday the 13th films, and even an Eddy Murphy composite. It is one-stop shopping for all your favorite action adventures - all for the low price of $4 for a single film and $8 for a composite DVD. The film covers are often at least half in Chinese, Hindi or some Eastern European Language... but the DVDs inside promise an English language tracks and English subtitles.

In particular, I had been eyeing The DaVinci Code. As bad as the reviews were I still wanted to see the film. And frankly, although I know it is an unpopular opinion, I really enjoyed reading the book. I was curious. And so Saturday afternoon, while I was out shopping for vegetables in my local market, I purchased The DaVinci Code. The cover was mostly in Chinese. I took it home. Sunday night after the kids went to sleep I filled a big glass of water and poured a big bowl of fruit salad and sat in front of the TV with tremendous anticipation of the thrilling DaVinci evening ahead of me.

But the whole damn thing was in Chinese.

The Chinese track was in Chinese. The English track was in Chinese. The French track was in Chinese. And all the subtitles were in Chinese. Shit. Evening spoiled. I looked at the cover to see if there was any indication that this whole film would be in Chinese, and I suppose I missed the signals. Besides the actual title, the only other English on the cover was a quote - the kind that usually praises a film. The quote on this cover said,

"The DaVinci Code is not nearly as bad as you've heard. It is a medium quality thriller that runs a bit long."

Not the kind of quote you expect to read on a DVD cover. It should have been my second clue.

So the next day I sent my driver, Paul, back to the market to find the guy who sold me the film. Much to my surprise, Paul was able to get him to exchange my copy of the DaVinci Code for another copy. The cover of this copy was in an Eastern European language (I think). And so Monday night, once again, I put the kids to sleep and got ready to watch. And lo and behold, the film was in English.

But the English subtitles weren't. Well... they were in the kind of non-sensical English you get when you plug a letter into one of those internet translators. They made no sense at all. And that was a bummer, because a big piece of the film is in Latin. But I kept watching. And although the quality of the DVD wasn't great (clearly filmed in a movie theatre) it was sufficient. And just when they were about to solve the DaVinci Code....

It switched into Chinese.

Clearly the code was meant for one billion Chinese people to solve.

Here in Tanzania, one English and French speaking woman - with a hint of Swahili - had to guess. And now I'm thinking... the Customs and Immigration people won't need monitor my bootleg DVD buying habits at all - at least until I learn Chinese.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Happy 8th of July

Americans living overseas tend not to be an especially flag-waving lot, particularly those working in health and development like myself. It is not that we don't love our country or feel particularly American (because there is no choice but to feel American over here), but I think that we tend to be more reflective of the strengths and challenges of America - what with having lived outside of it for awhile - than the average patriot.

Personally, I've never felt more patriotic than during the times that I've spent living overseas. Seriously. Somehow the current US government fades away and what I remember are the nostalgic things - like how the electricity works all the time, and how escalators are good for my knees, and how nice that once-a-year BBQ hotdog tastes on the 4th of July. However, even though I often think of my country fondly, I would never be so arrogant as to think that my country is the best in the world. In any case, pretty much everyone - even people trying to immigrate from their countries - think that their country of birth is "the best". I'm just not into playing that game of one-upsmanship.

So it was with great interest that I attended the US Embassy of Tanzania's 4th of July party this past weekend - held fittingly on the 8th of July. The party promised hotdogs, hamburgers and games to those with an American passport and their guests. I thought the kids would have fun and perhaps I would met some new people to socialize with. So I packed up the kids and Secunda and off we went... through the three layers of security at the gate, paid our $40 dollars for entry and food(which is seriously a lot of money here for just about anything), and entered the sacred American territory of the embassy compound.

And what did I find when I got there? Well... it felt just like... humm... a high school carnival, except without the good food and fun games. After the kids and Secunda were safely carted off to the bouncy castle (which seems to be the highlight of every single kid event we've attended here), I stood in the middle of the ground to take stock of what was before me.

Let's see... There were the:

Hippies - Lots of them... most of whom were on round-the-world tickets and decided they liked Tanzania and are staying for awhile. Tanzanians call them - in Swahili - "the dirty people".

Development Folks - Like me (I was in a tie-dyed shirt) informally dressed with big "public health" rococo jewelry. Our kids ran wild followed by harried looking nannies. We pretty much all stuck together, as we usually do. For my Mamaroneck High School readers, the public health crowd is pretty much like hanging at SWAS wall.

Business People - There are quite a lot of business people here in Dar these days. These folks were dressed much nicer - perhaps wearing pearls with their sweater sets and khaki capris. They were mostly without their kids, because children don't belong at these sorts of social events. I'm sure that they were all the jocks and cheerleaders of their high schools.

Embassy Officials - The main clutch of embassy people could be found clustered around the dunking tank. Word has it all the most difficult embassy people (the ones who say "no" to everything) were letting themselves get dunked and it seems like the staff were really enjoying it. I'm sure it was the biggest money-making game at the fair.

Marines - There is a group of US Marines here who protect the Embassy - and I suppose I would have to rely on them to get me out of here should there be some type of emergency. I don't want to say anything negative about these bald young men, except to point out that they were in charge of the beer.

The Ambassador - I met the Ambassador and his inner circle for the first time. He looked just like your high school principal.

The Girl Band - The most incongruous thing at the party was the entertainment. Some girl band, on a USO tour to perform for the troops in the Middle East, was detoured to Tanzania for our 8th of July party. They were all blond and buxomous and wore very short skirts and very low cut halter tops. They didn't sound so great, but the Marines clearly enjoyed them. It seems like the USO knows their target audience.

So you see, Americans in Tanzania did come together to celebrate their heritage and diversity, even if we were a few days late. I kind of enjoyed getting to see my "community" here. And although the kids and I left before the fireworks began, I'm told that no one in that section of Dar es Salaam would have been able to miss the fact that the Americans had arrived! They were loud and flashy and ruled the night sky.

P.S. As I was introduced to Ambassador, my USAID colleague told me that the Ambassador, a Bush appointee, owns about 30 McDonalds in the Midwest. He is evidently interested in knowing about how we at T-MARC are implementing our marketing and communications and wants to teach us a few things about how to do it. Now... selling safer sex like McDonald's sells Quarter Pounders with Cheese Meals might be tempting to a man of his background - and I must admit, I'm curious what he might bring to the table. I'll let you know how it all works out... it could give new meaning to a Happy Meal :)

P.P.S. The hamburgers they served at the party sucked. Connections aren't everything.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Game Boy Not Required

The other day I was over at the house of an American family and I watched as their son spent two hours playing on his Game Boy - some kind of speed driving game. And it led to a deep thought... Tanzanian children don't seem to have the same need for gadgets that American kids have.

"But wait," you might say, "Tanzanian children are poor and their parents don't have expendable income with which to buy video games!"

And if you said that, you'd be mostly right.

But still... who needs that kind of on-the-edge-of-your-seat stimulation when your life is like one big Game Boy program. For the sake of elucidating this story, let's just call this game Killer Pedestrian. (You need to say it with the appropriate gravitas... try it... Killer Pedestrian!)

I play Killer Pedestrian every single day on my way to work. My driver plays it. And the kids play it, too. The object is to get to work or school without killing yourself or an unsuspecting pedestrian. I'm expanding the term "pedestrian" to mean anyone not in a car - so it would include people on bicycles, ox-carts, wheel chairs, motocycles, and people actually on foot.

At the beginning of the game you choose your route - which selects your level of difficulty- anywhere from killer easy to killer hard.

You can also select your character. You can be the driver of a 4-wheel drive, a truck driver, a taxi driver, a Dalla Dalla (local bus) driver, an ox cart puller (although in this case, the puller is human, not an ox), a man, a woman, or a toddler. Whichever character you choose, you start by pulling out into the street and trying to avoid all the obsticles you encounter. If you are a car, obviously you are trying to avoid hitting another person, but since you get three chances before you are out, you take your chances on the road.

This is also a speed game, so you must pass slow trucks and frequently stopping Dalla Dallas .

You can collect extra points by I-Spying anomalies, like the Buddhist Monk I saw on the way home from work today, or a person wearing a Baskin Robbins uniform or Mamaroneck High School t-shirt (which I've really seen), or a person with no arms or legs being carried around by a person who is blind. (Seriously, I saw that one morning.)

If you are a pedestrian, the goal is to get to your low-paying job that despite being low-paying keeps your whole extended family from going hungry every month. You must weave in and out of pedestrian and vehicle traffic, walking as fast as possible. You get extra points for jumping on the right Dalla Dalla, but loose points if the Dalla Dalla starts moving while you are still trying to get on and you fall off.

OK, what's my point here?

I guess my point is that video games are frivolous in a world where danger lurks on the street. And I'm not talking about drugs or gangs here. I'm just talking about how dangerous it is to get to work or school - when life is a more challenging game than art.


Sorry for the bleak blog. I've been thinking about that one for several weeks and probably should have kept it inside a bit longer... perhaps the thoughts weren't ripe yet. Nevertheless... it was time to write... so voila...

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Due to Popular Demand - An Update

Happy July 4th Everyone. Greetings from Tanzania.

I've had a lot of requests lately for a proper update letter for my friends and family. Now that I have some non-friends and family readers (thanks Mom-101 otherwise known as Liz) I am hesitant to write a X-mas letter type blog entry. But, since the demand seems high, I will start to do an update blog once-per-month - and here is the first one.

Jaden, Rowan and I have now been here for a little over a month - although it feels like a year - but in a good way.

At 5 weeks in I am happier and healthier than I could have imagined back in mid-May (when I thought I'd probably be depressed for the first 6 months until I make friends and start to feel like I know my way around). I can't explain it. It is just the way it is. We have settled into our new home, our new life, and my new job well - but not without some bumps in the road. And please don't take this to mean that we don't miss you terribly - because we do. But we are here for two years and I intend to make the best of it.

The Kids - Jaden and Rowan are the center of all life here. They have an infinite number of people to attend to their every need. And in fact, I'm more concerned with making sure that they don't get their every single need met (e.g. never learn to clean up after themselves) . The first few weeks in the hotel were hard. And it was particularly difficult just after my mother left. Every single day Rowan asked to go to the airport - incessantly. And the first few mornings she cried for her grandmother - lying on the floor - until she got tired and finally completed her comfort circuit (thumb in mouth, finger from other hand in belly button). I think that it didn't help that we moved into the new house on the same day my mother left. It was just too much change for her. Jaden was also pretty whinny at first.

They started going to school pretty much right away. They are going to a great pre-school run by a former IST (International School of Tanzania) teacher. There are kids of every color and creed in their school - and in fact at their end-of-the-year party I was surprised to find myself being the only American (or the only American who showed up). They feel in love with the person who runs the school - just in time for school to end. As of last week, they are going to a summer camp/school which happens to be literally across the street from us. They seem to like it. These people have a huge playground. For me, I'm just enjoying getting out and crossing the street. Until last week, I had never walked outside my gate - a terrible side-effect of compound living. And trust me - it is safe out there. It's just that no ex-pats do it. In fact, I've been trying to figure out how to meet the two American families that also live across the street from me. But they are in Embassy houses which are guarded by a special police force. I would essentially have to stand outside their gates and wait for them to drive by me in order to meet them - and that hardly seems worth it. But back to the kids...

What a difference a few weeks makes. After a tough few weeks they are now happier than I've ever seen them. They adore their nanny, Secunda. Secunda is an amazing person. She worked for an Embassy family several years ago. These people took her back to the US for 9 months while they did their language training and so Secunda speaks nearly perfect English and has great nanny instincts and way more patience than me. She can get the kids to do things I can't. And they have really taken to her. Perhaps it is also because Secunda makes them their favorite meal in the world - macaroni and cheese - at least twice a week. Secunda moved into the "servants" quarters on our compound and so now she is always just a yelp away. She has sworn off men - after watching her sister and her sister's baby die from AIDS brought home by her husband.

The kids were also very happy when our air shipment came with all their big wheels and other games.

They ask about all of you from time-to-time. We are waiting for you to call us on Skype or MS Messenger so we can talk by video!

Me - What is there to say? I was sent here to take over a non-performing unit, but I arrived to find an amazing group of professionals that I'm very happy to call my team. The project I'm working on has two main tasks. First, we work with pharmaceutical companies (yes - Dad - you heard that right) to bring to the market products that are in the public health interest. Right now we have a male condom (Dume - which means Bull) and a female condom. We also have pills and we are in the middle of developing an injectable contraceptive, oral rehydration solution and zinc. The second goal of the project is to develop communications initiatives that support healthy behaviors in the area of HIV, reproductive health, malaria and child survival. We are right now working on a big campaign to promote partner reduction (see my blog about being Jewish here) and another one to promote condom use. We have a radio soap opera focusing on contraceptives and are working on the island of Zanzibar to eradicate malaria. And soon, you'll be hearing from me all about how we are communicating around diarrhea. I can't wait :)

I'm lucky because I made some friends on earlier visits to Tanzania. But also, this place is kind of like the anti-Washington in that people make friends easily. And the people you befriend you invite over often and socialize at home and out-and-about. The challenge for me is to make certain that I make Tanzanian friends, as well as ex-pat friends. So far, so good. We spent a big piece of this weekend with Vicky Chewa and her family. Vicky is a young woman who worked for FHI 10 years ago when I first came here to Tanzania and is now at USAID. She and I spent a month back then traveling around the country. Now she has a kid a few months older than J&R and we have been getting together for playdates and socializing. Sunday we took the kids to a local country/golf club where they are putting together a toddler soccer league. We drank on the balcony while we watched the kids and their nannies play ball. Ah... the life.

But in addition to having more time for the kids and enjoying my work I'm also trying to make more time for me. The last few weekends I've gotten out for pedicures - this last time in a salon overlooking the beautiful Indian Ocean. I have a very strict plan of pedicures, massages and beach trips ahead of me.

The House - Our small but very pleasant house is just fine and getting lovelier. When we moved in there was no green space at all. Now we are in the middle of having a garden built just in front of the front door. At the moment it is all mud and manure. But within a week or two it will be morphed into a tropical paradise. When we moved in there was a stairway to the roof, but nothing protecting a child from falling off the roof. The landlord agreed to build a railing around the roof, which has now become a bigger project in that we are building a roof for the roof so that it will be pleasant to socialize up there - even in the heat of day and the rain. This is going to be a very pleasant outdoor area once I buy some roadside furniture. On the way home from a meeting last week I stopped at a stand along the road where some people were carving beautiful Zanzibar-style furniture and I bought a carved bench and table. I'm expecting them to be delivered next week.

My only complaint is that it would be nice to have a little bit larger indoor space. AND it would be nice to not be without electricity every-other-day. Seriously. The generator makes a racket. So much, that it is not pleasant to be in the pool area when the darn thing is running. And right now it is not such a big deal because the weather is beautiful - in the 70s and not humid. But in another month or two the humidity and the god-awful heat will be back and I will depend on that generator for my life. Seriously. I'm just a nice Jewish girl from NY. I need my amenities.

Other Random Thoughts - Come visit us! We will take you on safari and to the beach. And if your hair is like mine or Rowan's hair you will love it here. I can't explain it - but we've both never been so fabulously curly :) I am in the middle of planning a safari for when my parents come next month. And the kids, Secunda and I are headed to the beach this weekend because it is a long holiday weekend here. I'm really looking forward to it. I'm told that the ocean just south of here is pristine.

I've got to go. Lunch time is over and there is work to do. I start Swahili lessons tonight, but first J&R and I are going to make an appearance at a 4th of July party.

Are you still with me?

We love you.


Saturday, July 01, 2006

The Answer To All Your Problems

I've been prompted lately to think about things that help to solve your problems. These can be everyday problems associated with life, or they can be existential crises. I thought I would share the beginning of my list for Tanzanian problem-solving.

Things That Solve Problems

1) A Bookclub - I've now been a founding member or establishing partner of 3 bookclubs in my lifetime - about to be 4. Bookclubs are a very modern way of giving like-minded people an excuse to get together for a supposedly intellectual pursuit - when really you just want a good excuse to get to know some new people and to socialize. Earlier this week I was out for Indian food with two lovely ex-pats who had been here for a year or more. We were having a somewhat intellectual conversation about the fact that intellectual conversations are rather rare here - even among the elitist ex-pat community when all of a sudden, one of my dinner companions had an epiphany about what would solve the problem of ex-pat anti-intellectualism - A BOOKCLUB! And indeed, I jumped right on the bandwagon, because although I'm not yet suffering from lack of intellectual conversations (as I did during my years living in North Carolina), I'm in need of new friends and companionship. So a bookclub it is! We start meeting in three weeks.

2) A Generator - Since I haven't really been talking about the day-to-day hardships of life in Tanzania, perhaps you are not aware of the dire electricity situation here. Although it seems as if we've had enough rain to fill Lake Erie, evidently it is not raining in the central part of the country where the dams and electrical plants are located. Here at my house, we've been without electricity 12-hours or more a day at least 4-days a week since I moved in. The answer to this problem is, of course, a massive, noisy, smoke-blowing generator, located conveniently just next to my pool (so as to prevent a relaxing afternoon swim surrounded by the sounds of birds, the breeze, etc.). And luckily it only costs $30/day to run! (Reimbursable - luckily.) And although I dread the moment when I'm groggily lying in my bed in the comfort of air conditioning at 7 AM and lights and air turn off and the hum of the generators in my over-priveledged neighborhood growls to life - I am most certain that a generator is the answer to all my problems here. And I feel very sorry for nearly everyone else in Tanzania (especially the small business owners) who have no generator to solve their problems.

3) A Fundi - I've already waxed poetic on the virtues of fundi, so I won't bother you with more about it here. I only want to tell you that at this very moment there are two fundi standing next to my pool, examining my generator which bleeted out smoke blacker than usual this AM, and it makes me even more grateful for the fundi in my life.

4) Tanzania Shillings - Ah... there is hardly any problem that cannot be fixed by Tsh (Tanzanian Shillings). And in a sick sort of way, that brings me comfort. I've got Tsh. I can use my Tsh to grease some pockets if I need to to accomplish my objectives. Of course I don't WANT to participate in this kind of bribery and - although you may not believe me - I have not yet had to do this. But I know that the day is coming. (Specifically the day when I'm trying to get my car out of the port without the radio being stolen.) And if I must, I will use my economic power to make things happen for me. Please don't hate me for that.

5) Malaria - Are you indignant yet??? I've called malaria - one of the worst killing diseases in the world - an answer to all your problems. And yes, of course, malaria is terrible. It kills so many children unnecessicarily and causes countless hours of lost productivity. But that's just it. Malaria is the perfect excuse for not showing up at work, and not getting work done if you do show up. It works a lot better than saying you have a lowly headache or you need a mental health day. And as far as I can tell, people wield it widely around here, and for that reason, it solves problems.

Thank you for your attention.