Saturday, August 27, 2011

Revenge of the Dala Dala: The Goat Incident

Just when I thought I had the most ridiculous experiences on the dala dala the “Goat Incident” occurred. I have seen many things in my time in Tanzania, but nothing compares to the sheer ridiculousness of the “Goat Incident”. I was on the dala dala for an hour ride between two towns. In typical African fashion, a local decides to board the dala dala with not one, not two, but three goats. Obviously, the goats have to ride in the trunk, and they need to be secured. In order to secure them, their leashes are tied to the backseat. As the ride continues, I peacefully drift off to sleep, only to be awoken by skrieks and pandemonium. I awake, to see the trunk door open and three missing goats. “Oh wait, what is that gray mass dragging behind the still moving dala dala?” you ask. That’s right it’s the goats. Surprisingly the goats took it like champions, they did a combination of running and getting dragged behind the car. The best part was that the goats were unscathed and fine. 

Doing Work: Let There Be Light

Working at the Marangu Lutheran Hospital was fulfilling and frustrating, slow and rushed, but overall just incredible. After four weeks of working there, my partner and I touched about 30 pieces of medical equipment. To our surprise (and the hospital’s) we managed to put 29 of the pieces back into action. The pieces we worked on included small things like blood pressure cuffs and stethoscopes all the way up to oxygen concentrators and centrifuges. On top of it, we interviewed much of the staff to discover what they really wanted to make the hospital a better environment. Given the Tanzanian power outages, it was no surprise that the doctors and nurses agreed that light was key. Many times power would cut out during the day and if patient volume was not high, the hospital would not turn on the generator and doctors would work in the dark. We tried to help by getting the doctors headlamps and installing rechargeable lights. The headlamps were LEDs that were bright enough to let them carry on work or patients rounds if power cut out. We also installed lights in the wards and surgical theaters that charged when there was power and provided light when power cut out. The hospital staff was extremely happy with our work. All in all, despite our fears of inadequacy, we were able to make a positive impact on the hospital by repairing equipment and providing a sustainable source of light.

Marangu Lutheran Hospital: Experience Number One

It is almost impossible to transcribe my second month’s experiences into words. It was the combination of radically different and difficult experiences combined with fun and fulfilling ones that made the month unforgettable. On my first day, my roommate and I decided to get to the hospital early and sit for morning church service. This was a good way of getting to know the community and the hospital staff. When we got there, we were the first, so we thought why not look super excited and attentive and sit near the front. As the service filled in behind us, the pastor began the sermon, which was all in Swahili. At this point, the pastor kept glancing over at us awkwardly. I originally thought it was because we were new or foreigners, but it continued for quite some time. Eventually, I wondered, “oh maybe he isn’t looking at me, probably someone behind me.” So I just casually turn around, and to my surprise and embarrassment, the entire congregation is standing up. My roommate and I are the only ones seated, and at this point we can’t even get up in the middle of the sermon. Afterwards, we introduced ourselves and talked about what we would be doing. While, we were still a little embarrassed, it was clear that they were very accepting. And that was our very first experience at the hospital. It was great way to break the ice and transcend our differences in order to come together to actually accomplish something. 

Finally Back

Sorry that the posts have stopped coming. For my second month in Africa the internet was extremely difficult to find. Now that I am finally back at home, I will be putting up some of the last few posts about my experiences. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Nature at its Finest: Cow Dung and Coffee Beans

One of  the trips that our group took together was to the Tenguru Village and Lake Diluti. The scenery provides for an incredible hike and a great time. The hike also included a tour of the village, which was very interesting. The Tenguru village is self-sustained; they produce their own biogas, grow crops, and serve as a tourist attraction. The biogas was nasty (both in the literal and slang definitions). Three cows were kept in a tiny 8’ x 8’ compound. All the cows had to do was eat, eat again, eat some more, and then provide large amounts of waste, they lived a pretty luxurious lifestyle. The waste was then collected, treated and used as gas to power lights and stoves. Once you got over the general stink, their method of energy is actually quite marvelous.

The next attraction on the trip was a long hike through the plantations. Bananas, avocados, and other fruits that I did not even know existed grew, beautifully through the lush plantation. Surprisingly, they also grew large amounts of coffee. On the tour, we were able to pick the coffee beans that were ripe, then shell them, roast them and crush them. Once that process was complete we sipped on the fresh coffee that had been created by the beans we picked. It was delicious and ridiculously pure.

Finally, we hiked through caves and visited a historic lake. The caves were used for prayers and the lake was used for baptisms. All throughout the hike, the local children that saw us would get really excited and shout “mzungu” (Swahili for white person). They would come down and hold our hands and walk with us. Holding of hands is a sign of welcoming or friendship that is very common in Tanzania. The only downside of the gorgeous hike was that it was a near death experience. The terrain was straight out of an Indiana Jones film, narrow walkways, rope bridges, easily dislodged rocks, steep cliffs, and dangerous plants. There were several times when a shriek would be heard as someone in the group lost their footing. Luckily, I survived and had an awesome look at Tanzanian village culture and the natural beauties that are seemingly hidden across the country. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Walk Away

As my Swahili skills have progressed, it was time I was put them to the ultimate test. I was given 1000 shillings (about 66 cents) and dropped off at the incredibly large Tenguru market. The goal was to buy as much produce as possible by bargaining with the locals in Swahili. The obstacle was that I was not African. As soon as I was spotted the carrots that I wanted to buy were now quadruple the price. Little did the Tanzanians know that I was a master of bargaining. Some would go as far as to say the master of bargaining. Of course I had a few steps and stumbles and was suckered in by their sob stories. For those reading this post, consider yourselves lucky because I am about to share the secret to my success. The first thing is the mindset. The vendors are tricky, they will give you a ridiculously high price and then make it seem like a penny less and their 15 children will have dirt for dinner. The counterattack, always offer just as ridiculous a low price. This sets the stage, shows you are ready to bargain, have a sense of humor, and also are not going to pay an exorbitant amount. The next part is the hardest, it is the banter. You have to go back and forth to reach your target price. When you think it about it you are bargaining over mere cents but remember it is not the money, it is the principle. This is an art. If you have trouble bringing them to price you want, it is time for the master stroke. If enacted correctly there is 84% success rating. This move is not for the faint of heart and it requires the utmost precision. The grand strategy is dubbed the “Walk Away”. In a final act of frustration, you must drop a convincing “Hapana” (no in Swahili) and start to walk away. It is important to let them see the sadness in your eyes, as you are so disappointed the deal did not work. Chances are three to five steps and you will hear a call. Do not let them see your victorious grin just yet. Turn around make the deal, and then walk away triumphantly. Continue this and watch your grocery bag grow at a rate far exceeding the slimming of your wallet. With my 1000, I bought 6 oranges, 15 carrots, a cassava (I don’t know what it is, it just looked awesome), sugar cane, and a bracelet. If you stopped reading to applaud, thank you. But now you too have the ability to make record breaking bargains. Good luck! 

Monday, July 4, 2011

Dala Dala

The local transportation in Tanzania is absolutely crazy. Everyday I take a dala dala to and from my homestay to my training center. A dala dala is nothing more than an average van. A car that is meant to fit about 8 people. In Tanzania, however, that means there are anywhere between 20-25 people in the car on average. To say it is packed is quite an understatement. Each day we ride the vehicle, it is a different adventure. On one specific trip, every bump that we hit there was this “baa” sound. After several more of the odd noises, I looked in the back more inquisitively. Still I saw nothing out of the ordinary. Just then, another bump and another squeal, but this time I saw that it originated at about floor level. When I looked down, I could not believe my eyes. There was a sheep, a real-live sheep, just chilling on the floor of the dala dala. And apparently I was the only that thought this was weird. In Tanzania, livestock are allowed to ride public transport as well. Another interesting occasion was the record high volume ride. There were 28 people crammed into the vehicle. Sadly, I was one of the last and so was hanging out of the door. There were so many people that they did not even close the door. My backpack and one leg were hanging out of the door as we zipped through town. That was an equally terrifying but interesting ride. This is only the start, I will probably ride this contraption at least twice day for the next month. Luckily it is only about 15 cents ride, hence the 60 mile per hour death trap.