Monday, May 11, 2015

Site back up!

Thanks to my awesome brother, my blog is back and running, so I will return to posting there. Thank you for your loyalty and patience :)

Friday, May 1, 2015

Sixth sense

'How are you today, Shannon?'
'Really? You seem tired.'

Hmm. Come to think of it, I was kind of drained. How do these people know?! Am I that obvious?!

Students and TZ teachers seem to know when I'm lacking in energy or not feeling 100%, even when I don't say a word. And my neighbor girls who lifted my spirits on that muddy day. 

I made a couple local friends. One asked what I was doing on a Saturday and I said I was going to Arusha to run errands, then without really thinking, invited him to join. As soon as he accepted I thought twice. I really just wanted to check email and get groceries and had looked forward to doing it alone for the past week. But as soon as we arrived at the internet cafe, he asked how long I needed, then disappeared. Maybe it didn't appeal to him to stay, but I think he could sense that I really was just going to need space. 

Another day after school I went with a fellow teacher to visit his former high school boarding school. It was great to experience, but at the end of the day I was definitely drained. And once again I thought I was rallying, but my friend called me out for being tired, and went on to say how thankful he was that I had joined, even though I was tired now. 'Friendships are so costly sometimes, in time and effort,' he said. Very true, but some are truly worth it, aren't they?

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Roller coasters

On a long walk home from school I was discussing with my friend/coworker how my students aren't creative bc they haven't been exposed to the outside world. They don't know that they could have power thru the night or drinking fountains or paved school roads or pizza. 

My friend brought up a great point though that since it's so underdeveloped, tanzania could actually easily jump ahead in the modern world. Someone donated solar lights to the students so they could study at home at night in their electricity free mud huts. And the school run off of solar panels...meaning I typically recharge my phone there instead of home.  

I don't see landlines so perhaps they skipped ahead to mobile phones. And with lack of running water perhaps they can start installing gray water systems. 

But any desire to develop needs to stem from the locals. Sure I can put ideas in their heads. I asked students to share complaints that they had about anything (in hopes that we brainstorm inventions to fix them) and they could barely come up with ideas. They complained about school uniforms getting worn down, or having more than one teacher, or having to walk to school,  but only one complained about standing on dolla-dolla buses bc they were so crowded. No one complained about mud on their shoes or being without power or running water. They see these as luxuries for the 'developed' countries. End of story. They don't care to change and quite frankly there isn't a need to change for them. They aren't starving or poor unless compared to other countries. The power becomes an issue for people like me who are used to having refrigerators for food and internet for work. Businesses rely in these things so will eventually modernize the country. But otherwise it's going to be slow movement because the people will just put up with whatever is dealt to them. 

It's these extremes that are so difficult to internalize. US you can have whatever you want, whenever you want. Tanzania you take what you can get. I have pretty good days here until I have to rely on a modern feature and it always seems to fail. My laptop has died and I'm ok with that. I really don't need it and frankly don't want to design with these internet speeds either. But now I can't upload to my blog for some reason and I don't know how to fix from my phone internet connection. I've gone days without internet an it's been great...I just make myself a list of what I want to check once I do get it. But then I plan a skype call with a friend and look forward to it, and that's the one day internet doesn't work...and suddenly my entire day is ruined by not seeing my friend. Then the entire day is saved again when I'm chased down by children and given huge hugs. What a roller coaster ride!

Mud season

Semi-jokingly I gestured the catholic cross across my chest as I sat squeezed in the back bench of the land rover. 

'Criss cross your legs with mine' my roommate told me. On the Chicago el this would be awkward, but in Tanzania, this is normal and I was appreciative for the extra stability for the muddy ride home. 

2 minutes and 100 feet from where the school was perched on a hill when we veered off the 'road', or rather path of mud. We skidded into more mud, and a sole large bush kept us from sliding further down the hill into the watering hole. Everyone was speaking swahili and the Tanzanian teachers got out of the land rover, so the rest of us followed suit. In the commotion of getting out of the vehicle and out of the way, I tumbled into the mud on my hand and knees. Luckily only my pride was damaged, but my knee length skirt was not. 

Our fearless and well-respected driver maneuvered the car only to make it slide further down towards the pond. With nothing in his way except more slope of mud, it didn't look promising. But somehow he made his way upslope, and with the help of guys and a rope, he was able to make it completely back up to the road. 

We climbed back in the land rover, nervously quiet to put ourselves back in this position, but white knuckling would still be much easier than walking. After the worst of it, we could let out a sign...and an honorable laugh at the boda (motorbike) navigating cautiously ahead of us. 

At the end of the trip, our driver was all smiles. I think he lives for this. I wanted to take back all the love I was feeling for TZ and the school. How can people put up with this? Why are we driving in this? Why is there no pavement? 

To top off my humiliation of my dirty knees, everyone along my walk noticed and said 'pole'...meaning 'sorry'. In my mind it was more hurtful that they called attention to my dirt instead of just ignoring me so I didn't respond. Though I'm told that they actually truly empathize and are meaning 'I feel your pain' vs 'it sucks to be you'. Lost in translation. 

My walk uphill home seemed so much longer than normal, and I was seeing familiar faces that I'm usually so happy towards. I burst into tears, waved my white flag. This was it...this is the moment I was warned about that you just want to give up. I had to stop crying when I had to breathe for the steepest part of the hill.  

Then the darn kids, like they always do, came running up to me. They always say 'good evening!!!' And this time, one girl just took my arm an put it over her shoulder, and she skipped beside me. I asked her what her name was and you know what she said? 'Faraha'. Translated, that means 'happy'. Yes, a common name here, but ironic, and definitely exactly what I needed. No words or translation necessary. 

To see the muddy day:

Return from break

Even though I didn't do much in Kenya, I wasn't super excited to get back to the grind of living in the 'bush'. I loaded up on steel cut oats and flax seed for breakfast, and had enough lattes to exceed my latte budget for the month. Back on the bus it was back to the world of swahili. Back to making a fool of myself not understanding. This time the immigration lines were much longer and the girl behind me kept pressing her chest onto my back, she was that close. How do you explain to someone about personal space...or that no matter how much I'm pressed, the line will not move faster. 

Needless to say I was a bit bitter on the bus, so I stuck in my headphones and reunited with my familiar tunes. Not more than 30 minutes after the border, I spotted a giraffe in the bush. I thought I was dreaming. It was so quiet and close and huge. I pointed and said 'wow!' out loud. No one in the bus responded. Yep, I'm the tourist. Two minutes later the guy a couple seats over from me tapped me on the shoulder and pointed ahead to another giraffe, about to cross the road. I got out my camera and he asked the driver to slow down so I could get a photo. The entire bus was watching it now. Again, I don't think I heard a sound of it's hooves across the pavement. It was like a curtain blowing in the breeze across the plains, catching up to its mate. 'It was a male' my neighbor said. 'How did you know?' I asked...then, thinking twice about that, said 'nevermind, I can guess' and everyone was laughing. Guess 'they' are right when 'they' say travelers/expats just need to have a sense of humor bc we're going to get laughed at and we're going to do a lot of stupid stuff that we might not realize is stupid. 

Back to school I was a moth to the flame, heading straight for the garden. Everything had sprouted, even peppers and eggplants and melons which I had lost most hope on. Of course from a distance it looked covered in a sea of weeds...and the students ask me for more seeds so they can plant 'vegetables' aka 'sukuma wiki' aka 'kale' instead of all these weeds. One day I harvested a bucket full of purslane 'weeds' and gave it to the mama chefs for lunch. Even they looked at me like I was crazy but they cooked it nonetheless. I foresee trying to teach them how to cook some of these veggies bc so far they are all (over)cooked to same...with lots of vegetable oil and salt. In stew form the veggies are just mush and breaking my heart seeing them in a completely different form. I forgo the rule to not eat freshly washed raw veggies...and just eat straight out of the garden, peppered with a little dirt...that's not any different than eating straight from a garden in the states right? Knock on wood...haven't gotten sick yet. 

A couple form 1 (9th grade) girls helped me cut the purslane and we talked about what we eat for breakfast. They typically have bread,  then are served maize porridge at 10:30 at school. One girl told me she has cake sometimes, which I'm guessing is like a doughnut. Form 1s are just cute in general because they are still timid with using their English, having learned a bit in primary school, then having a semester immersion program in September before officially becoming form 1s. 

I finally made it back to entrepreneurship class after 2 days straight in the garden. The students are starting to create business plans and it was great to sit down with them one on one and talk about their passions and how to translate that to a creative business. They are such bright students and can memorize like crazy. They are very mathematical and scientific, but it's hard for them to think outside the box. Perhaps we need to work on left brain activities like drawing to get them thinking of super creative inventions. Otherwise I think they will go far at least having shops in the villages or selling goats and chickens. No one seems to want to cater to my needs of making pizza or raising pigs...they don't see a need/profit. Guess I should start my own pizza business here if I want it! 

At the end of the week it dawned on me that I am finding my place here. I'm not learning much more swahili but maybe it's ok to just speak English. After all, the Tanzanian exams are all in English, and wouldn't it be useful to have the locals practice English with me? The neighbor primary school children run to catch up and walk with me, greeting me then just walk and look up at me dearly. When I start speaking to them in English they are excited to talk about what they know: colors, body parts, numbers. That makes my day. 

Sunday I dreaded going to the local market, but I know I needed to buy rain boots, and I'd need to bargain. On the way I had my students come out if the woodwork, calling me by name, not just 'mzungo!' I barely recognized them without their uniforms! In Monduli fashion, when you say hello to someone, you don't just pass by. You stop and make sure you shake hands. At first I found this a hassle, but it's actually a friendly greeting but short and sweet...not like in the states when you stop and say hello and have the awkward 'how long should we talk' thoughts. One of my students was buying pens with her sisters and she asked to escort me to buy boots. I happily took up her offer! She saved me $5, I'm sure the seller wasn't too pleased but I didn't hassle him too much. 

As I tell my entrepreneurship class: do one thing a day that you fear and you will push your comfort level and grow from it. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

my blog has a new site!

I will no longer be posting to blogger, but instead, a new real grown-up blog!

All my previous postings should have transferred over. So bookmark it and be on the lookout for new posts!

Thanks for following me in my travels...even the cyber travels :)

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

My SE Asia route

Here's my itinerary to give you an idea of where to go and what to do:

Thailand: Bangkok >> Chiang Mai 
I landed in Bangkok and went straight to the other airport, and flew right up to Chiang Mai via Air Asia. If I had more time, I would have taken the train through the countryside. 

Chiang Mai is a mini-Bangkok. Easy to navigate as the city is a big square. There are many temples, lots of great food, and some of the cheapest hostels and smoothies! Also a great place to play with baby tigers, trek with elephants, or learn how to cook Thai.

>> Pai >> Chiang Mai 
From Chiang Mai I took a short bus to the backpacker town of Pai. Super chill place, lots of hippies, lots of hammocks and lots of great food...even decent mexican burritos and all-you-can-eat-sushi if you're craving something other than Thai. I'd recommend Darling Viewpoint Bungalows across the river.

Vietnam: Da Nang >> Hoi An >> Hue >> Ninh Binh >> Hanoi
Again, for lack of time, especially with the upcoming Vietnamese Tet (New Year), where it is recommended to not be in the country unless you know a family to spend it with, I flew from Chiang Mai to Da Nang. I had reserved the flight months in advance on Vietnam Airlines, but apparently hadn't actually booked the flight, so had lost my seat. Thankfully I was able to buy the flight on sight, but at about $60 more. 

As the cheapest option, and with some time to spare, I took a city bus to Hoi An from Da Nang. A bit confusing, but I made it. Hoi An is a beautiful small city of love, situated inland just a short cruiser bike ride from the coast. I'd recommend the Sunshine Hostel - and book in advance! This is the place to buy silk clothing. The waves were also small but powerful enough to try my legs at surfing. Afterwards, I celebrated with my new French friend at a restaurant called Bale Well tucked in an alley, and had 4 cent glasses of the daily brewed beer.

I left Hoi An for Da Nang and Hue, but wouldn't really recommend either of them, even though there is some history there, it didn't seem relevant (like the Vietnam war memorials closer to Ho Chi Minh City, which I thought would be too overwhelming for me but other travelers loved it!). I took the last seat/bed on the scenic train up to Hanoi, although it's not so scenic at night! Beware those who are claustrophobic, as the trains aren't exactly Amtrak.

Fellow travelers told me that Halong Bay was too touristy and too overcast that time of year, so I chose the 'mini' Halong Bay of Ninh Binh, a very long and confusing city bus ride from Hanoi. Regardless, I made it, rented my first motorbike, and attempted to find this park. Lost in translation with a hand drawn map, it was still a beautiful scenic drive outside of a big city.

Laos: Vientianne >> Pakse >> Don Dhet (4,000 islands)
I flew from Hanoi to Vientianne, taking a $5 taxi which took me to the wrong hostel as soon as the sun had set. A couple hours later I found my hostel. The city had delicious French and Italian food, from it's European roots. And cheese! The first I had in weeks. Otherwise, the city didn't offer much that interested me. While I should have backtracked north to go floating in a river of Vang Vien or Luang Probang, I took a fancy sleeper overnight bus south to Pakse. It was basically like sharing a twin bed with a stranger, but thankfully she was a nice German, also a freelance designer, also about my age. Pakse was another small city, not much to do, but I did have a wonderful 90-minute $9 swedish massage.

Next stop was a 4-hour bus ride to the 4,000 islands, right near the border of Cambodia, along the Mekong River. From the bus stop, long boats take you a short ways to a small island, which is about 3 miles in circumference. I paid $6/night for a couple's bungalow, with both sunrise AND sunset view. I ran into previous backpackers, including my German bunkmate, and sat on the beach and rode around the island on bike cruisers for the next couple days.

Cambodia: Siem Reap >> Phnom Penh 
I took the long bus ride to Siem Reap, which ended up being a bus ride that packs people with bags of rice, as tight as sardines. Everyone needs to try it at some point in their life. This is also a time where you've hopefully figured out how to use pit toilets. In my humbled opinion, I think they are better than the seatless South American toilets long as you don't have a 25 pound pack on your back.

Siem Reap is a must. Ankor Wat is an easy bike ride away to save you from renting a driver for the day. I'd also recommend stopping at the hospital afterwards to donate blood to the locals who are in desperate need. After you've done your good deed for the day, celebrate with a beer and happy pizza at Happy Herb's, and proceed with caution to the adjacent street's bar scene and begging families.

Next stop, Phnom Penh, where the Genocide Museum / Killing Fields is another place you must stop. You will look at these people with a much softer eye and much warmer heart. 

Thailand: Bangkok >> Koh Phangan >> Bangkok >> USA
I flew from Phnom Penh to Surat Thani, then took the last ferry to Koh Samui, and a speed boat to Koh Phangan. Avoid the extra expensive speed boat by not missing the last ferry! I stayed with friends in Tantawan Bungalows on Haad Yao beach, which is the NW part of the island. As tough as I thought I could be to bike around the small island, it would be strenuous with the hills, so we rented a scooter, or we walked everywhere. Koh Phangan is known for its full moon parties, which I did not desire to partake in, but I would recommend going if you have someone to go with. Even if you're a few years older than 21 :) Haad Yao beach was beautiful with the calmest waters I've ever seen. You won't see the limestone formations until taking the ferry back to the airport. If you care to scuba dive, Koh Tao is the next island over for that.