Posts tagged poverty

The great escape

Phew! Feels like I escaped Arusha with a million hands clinging to my ankles, begging me to stay and help some more. I want to help as much as I possibly can, but there’s only so much I can do. It’s really overwhelming. I’m glad that Danio is not asking for help but just accepting what I give him, and even tolerating my tantrum over my embarrassing luxury problem as if it were a real problem. But then, Tanzanians don’t complain or express any sort of negative emotions. Waow. It makes me nauseous to think that the money I spent on shipping is two month’s salary of his dream job. Two month’s salary of a middle-class income in TZ. and I complained about having to go to the ATM twice to get it.

I came hoping to get perspective, but if anything I suspect this trip made me want to retreat deeper into my American Princess lifestyle. Poverty scares the living shit out of me. Danio and I ate at a nice Ethiopian restaurant, and they had a fireplace. When I mentioned I have one too, D asked me if I cook in it, and when I told him I didn’t, he replied “You know, if you were cooking, working over a charcoal stove every day and taking care of the kids and all, your color would change, maybe you’d turn black too…” Wow. I told him there’s no way I could live like that, the village life is not for me. If I moved back here, I’d have some huge house with a full staff to do all that stuff. I’d be too busy making money to cook all day and take care of kids. Yes, everyone here seems to be handling it quite well, but I have never known what it’s like to be poor, and the thought of being poor in a country as poverty-stricken as TZ scares me much more than the idea of being poor in the US. Yes, poor people, at least in TZ, seem to have richer social lives, the TZ people are so incredibly friendly and charming. But do wealth and compassion have to be inversely proportional? I know I want to help people, even when I do have money, but I don’t like being around people so much, especially when I feel like some kind of celebrity, being pulled in every direction by so many people who see me primarily as a potential source of income.

It’s a relief to be away from all that desperation. In Arusha, much of it is contrived, as their vendors, streetchildren (many of whom are runaway drug addicts) and flycatchers are known for being exceptionally aggressive. And with the wealth of food readily available there, I know those people aren’t actually starving, as evinced by the rarity of emaciation. Everyone keeps cows, goats and chickens, plus banana, corn and avocado practically grow wild, right in the middle of town. The big problem is school fees, I read that something like only 5% of the TZ population goes to secondary (Jr. high and high) school, and that even those who do, face tremendous difficulty finding work. On a lighter note, here’s one of my favorite memories; when the monkey snuck around behid me and snatched the mango piece right out of my hand. Whitney has great timing with her camera!

Post from Tuesday night…

Today was awesome, but tiring. Did our first session of actually teaching and it was great! The students gave us good reviews, and it sure felt good to be doing what I came here to do. The school we’re teaching at is a vocational secondary school, so we’re working with late teen-early 20’s students, the highest-risk age group. The school teaches many vocational courses, including tailoring. I was so intrigued, I asked the headmistress to see the tailoring class, and told her that that is what I used to teach in the US. It was really neat to see my old career manifested in such a different country. Most sewing machines here are pedal-powered, as electricity is a real luxury. The cool thing about this, is that many tailors work on the (awning covered) sidewalks in front of their shops, so they can chat with their friends, and watch the world go by while they work, which is so much more pleasant than sitting in some stuffy room all day. The students, however, work in a classroom, and I was overjoyed to be able to greet them, and tell them I used to do the same sort of work, and teach it as well. I also told them how hard it is to find good patternmakers in Los Angeles, and wished them well in their careers. The headmistress said she has been desperately trying to find a volunteer to help teach tailoring, and would love it if I could teach sometime. I said I’d be happy to give her about 1 hour a week, to try and help, so we’ll see how it goes. It will be interesting to teach something so familiar with a translator, making it a whole new experience.

Then I did some shopping downtown, and discovered that blackouts are so common here that everyone has a generator! Many businesses were open, with noisy generators belching diesel fuel out front, making me long for the fresh country air that exists only a few steps away from downtown Arusha. Apparently some a-hole multinational (Bechtel, presumably) decided that hydroelectric is the best type of powerplant to build in a place that has no rain fall most of the year, so the dry season can mean months with no power. Why it’s spotty during these rainy days (this is the heart of the 2-month long rain season) is beyond me. I sure wish someone (BP, perhaps???) would bring affordable solar to the people here in Africa! Even natural gas is bought in canisters, there are no natural gas pipelines around to bring gas to people’s stoves! If hot water were as important to people who’ve done without for so long as it is to me, I’d consider buying a solar water heating system for the woman who owns the place where I’m living, but she needs a PV solar panel much more than she needs hot water. She’s concerned that when her current job ends in 2008 she won’t be able to afford the $32 p/month electric bill. I read in “Business in Africa” today that Lake Victoria has experienced a 45% decrease in water since Uganda built a dam to power a hydroelectric plant. But that’s impossible, so I’ll check the facts and get back to ya. I think what they meant is that 45% of the loss could be attributed to that dam, but did not specify just how much the water level had dropped.


As a child, I was a very picky eater. Getting me to eat anything other than chocolate was always a terrible chore. So, like many American mothers, my mom would tell me, “Think of all the starving children in Africa!!!” As if guilt would work on me. It didn’t, but I have become very conscious of waste in my old age, especially here in Arusha where the starving children right outside the restaurant will fight over the leftovers we give them. It feels good to know I can finally leave some food on my plate without guilt, as there is always someone to give it to.

Today was labor day (International Worker’s Day) for the rest of the world (outside the US) and there was an excellent parade through the center of town. Didn’t take any pix, as adults just aren’t as cute as kids, and well, I was running late. It was fun walking in stride with the parade, though. Most shops are closed for the holiday, and I am growing weary of the lack of modern conveniences I have had all my life. So, today I’m a little cranky, but I’ll get over it. I might hit a meeting tonight, but will definitely go to one tomorrow night. I’ve been bucket showering the past 3 nights and line drying just doesn’t have the same effect in the rainy season. A bucket shower involves heating up some water on the stove, puring it into a large bucket, mixing it with cold water to temperature, then pouring it over your head with a smaller bucket. I’m not really enjoying it, and I sure hope the hot water spout is working when I get home, as I can’t keep this up. Friday night we’re going to a “Sending Off” party, which is like a bridal shower, then the next morning we’re off for Ngorongoro crater…


Arrived in Arusha after a very long but comfortable flight, next to a German woman who was on her way here to help with water treatment and delivery. The night before I was very trepidatious, wondering what it would be like, thinking of the stories I’d heard from others. There was a little drama at the airport, as one of my bags (luckily the one full of gifts, not necessities) had been left in Amsterdam by KLM. So after some paperwork, I joined my fellow volunteers and our two counterparts (escorts) for an exercise in creative packing. We stuffed 5 adults, and a boatload of luggage into a Rav4 for the 25 miles trip into town. We’re staying at this hostel at a Catholic school in a lovely part of town, and it’s easy to walk around town. The city center is tiny, crowded, dirty and busy, but so exciting. Street vendors are constantly trying to sell us things, and I have promised all of them that I will be happy to buy their merchandise later, since I will be here for a month.

The foliage in Arusha is stunning! I’m so glad I came at the tail end of the rainy season, it’s gorgeous here. My fellow volunteers and our local counterparts are all really nice. Right now we’re hanging out in the office of a Scottish Safari tour operator, who is nice enough to let me use his DSL. I am loving the people, and the extreme difference of the culture here. This week we are in training, learning some Swahili, and about to learn the program we’ll be teaching. I was under the impression it’d be like Planned Parenthood, teaching high-school kids, but it’s even better. What GSC does here is have us teach a carefully selected group of people from certain villages, who are then certified to teach the course to others, thus making it exponential education.

Frida, the boss, told us that there is also a lecture presented by a local healthy, HIV-positive woman who tells the trainees of her experiences. Luckily, HIV testing here is very cheap, the cost of a can of Red Bull even free for students! So the only thing keeping people from testing is fear and ignorance. Frida told us that the clinic has reported to her the number of people who came for testing after hearing our talks. So I’m happier than ever to be a part of this organization.

Tanzanian people are gorgeous, even if most of the men are shorter and younger than me. Some of these women make me wish I was a model scout, as they are devastatingly gorgeous. The street kids are interesting, and I’m glad that my counterpart Euphrasia (awesome name!) told me the story.Yes, there are many AIDS orphans here, but it is still possible for a kid to go to school without money or sponsorship, so the children who say they cannot afford their school fees are just making excuses. Most primary schools in Tanzania are boarding schools, to keep the critters out of trouble, and also to encourage inter-tribal interaction. Kids are usually sent to boarding schools far from home. Street children are often drug addicts, just like in “Darwin’s Nightmare,” so I want to find a way to help them find recovery, but the best I can do for now is tell them to go to school.