Wednesday, February 29, 2012

New outlook on my service

Post my appendectomy, I got a very serious eye infection.  After about 5 trips to the hospital and several ophthalmologists, I finally am on the right course of medication.  Having an eye infection right after my surgery left me with such little hope and I plummeted pretty far down into depression.  It was certainly situational depression, but it seemed like every day, I received more bad news.

As it turns out, I have come to realize so many things and I think the remainder of my time in Peace Corps is going to be so much better.  First of all, the only time I ever wished to be back in America was when I started thinking I needed better medical care for my eye.  I never wanted to give up on my village.  I never wanted to give up on Tanzania.  On some of my lowest of my low moments, I really wished I could see my mom and family to cheer me up.  But, I never had thoughts of leaving Tanzania.  In fact, I really long for my village.  I am so eager to get back to my school and continue work.  It's such a great feeling to be so sick and want to go back to your job because you miss it.  Because the truth is, there were so many times I'd be at school or in my village and think to myself or say outloud to Jon, "what the heck are we doing here?"  I am sure I will still have moments like these in future because Peace Corps isn't all about being the only white person in all of your pictures or happy villagers in African clothing, there are of course plenty of challenges.   But, I have the assurance now that this IS what I want to be doing.  When the possibility of being medically separated (meaning Peace Corps sends me home permanently because of poor health) goes through my mind, I get so upset and really want to get back to my village and do my work.

Secondly, I realize I should not be complaining about not having running water, because you know what?  I was at least able to fetch water from the well.  Now, post-surgery, I am not allowed to carry buckets of water.  At least I had my health to get water.

Thirdly, who cares about not having electricity?  At least I could open my eyes and see the world around me during the days.  Something I haven't been able to do in like 2-3 weeks.  At least my eyes were healthy to see during the days.

I have been living the luxury of air conditioning, amazing food prepared by a maid, being picked up after by a maid, electricity, running water, internet 24/7, TV, anything you could ask for in America, yet I just long to be back in my crappy house in my little village teaching my literally poor students.

I have come to realize I have taken so much for granted.  There will be much fewer posts about me griping about my living conditions in the future.  I will be lucky when I have my health.  I am thankful for all the support I've received from everyone at home and  your constants prayers.  I am thankful from the outpouring of support of my fellow volunteers here calling to check in on me, even skyping me!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Weight loss

Jon and I really joked about going on a "Tanzanian diet" when we did our road trip in America.  With this joke, we ate whatever we wanted.  Then, we got to Tanzania and lived with a host family with a mama who was a caterer, so we actually gained some weight during training.  However, now after 5 months in our village we have been able to weigh ourselves.  We knew we lost a ton of weight but we had no clue how much.  Jon's lost 32 pounds and I've lost 15.  We both weigh as much as we did in high school.  So, folks, it's true, there is a Tanzanian diet!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sawa Sawa le

This is another song that is super popular in Tanzania at that moment.  I wish I could download it onto my computer!

Friday, February 24, 2012

HIV/AIDS Awareness Dancing group

This video goes back to August, but again, without the internet connection needed to upload, I haven't been able to.  These are students that Jon & I taught during our training for one month.  When we left school, they gave us a performance of some of their HIV/AIDS awareness dancing group.  I compiled some of it here for you to get a look at it!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

School Kitchen

I have been wanting to post this video for ages!  My counterpart teacher took it while we prepared the food for graduation way back in September.  Shortly thereafter, I learned how to edit videos (very bad editing).  Unfortunately, my internet has never been fast enough to upload.  But, staying in Dar es Salaam post-surgery has allowed to me finally get the video up!  Please enjoy the short video of our school's kitchen and surrounding views :0)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Siafu Ants

Check out this video that shows these crazy siafu ants which can form ant groupings as shown in this video of up to 50,000 ants!  These ants are able to kill small animals and are sometimes used by tribal groups here to stitch up people.  They hold the ant to the wound and the ant bites on both sides of wound and it is so strong it holds the open wound closed for several days at a time.  If the wound reopens, they just have new ants bite the wound to hold it together.  Pretty crazy, right?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Supplies provided by the school

As a teacher in Tanzania, the only supplies you are provided with day to day is chalk, but only white at that.  The classrooms are not even equipped with a chalkboard eraser.  Basically, students’ old mattresses are cut up and used to erase the board.  Somehow, even though there are only 13 classrooms being used (for 1,000 students), these “erasers” always go missing to be used in another classroom.  Furthermore, each teacher is provided with a textbook of the grade and subject that they are teaching.  A week ago, we were given the yearly portion of other  school supplies – two pens and one notebook each.  I know that many American teachers do not get a lot of money to use for school supplies but I feel certain that even with the budget cuts they are getting more than two pens and a notebook.  But, just like American teachers, to make our lives easier, Jon and I have resorted to spending our meager income to supplement our classes.  Fortunately, we are able to do this, but unfortunately, the other teachers are not able to spend their income (or they are, but don’t). 

Friday, February 17, 2012


Unfortunately for Swahili speakers – the word shirt is shati in Swahili and so their English pronunciation for shirt comes out as shart.  In addition to that, since it sounds like shart in their head, they also spell it this way.  Now maybe some of you also don’t know what a shart is and I urge you to check it out on to see why this is so funny to read on their homework.  Some good sentences I’ve gotten:
Do you have a shart?
The shart is soft.
I like sharts. 
Recently, not only because of shirt/shart that I have started to stress the importance of pronunciation, but also because when you have a class of 60 kids trying to say the word “fork”, it definitely sounds like a chorus of profanity coming back at you. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


I can honestly say that I feel like my Swahili is finally improving.  My students are most to thank – they correct me when I make mistakes and help me when I ask.  However, I do notice that I am unable to retain and recall things that used to be so easy for me to do in Japan.  I think it’s a crap statement- but I think it’s because I am getting a little older.  Learning Japanese at 22 was probably easier than to try to do at 28.  Even though Swahili is a far simpler language, things just don’t stick as quickly as they used to.  But, trust me, my Swahili still sucks, so don’t expect great things from me.  It’s just a noticeable improvement for once.  And yes, Jon’s is far better than mine (he studies easily one hour per day as opposed to my one hour every other month).

Monday, February 13, 2012

What’s that scar from?

Unfortunately, that’ll be a question I’ll need to answer for the rest of my life as I now have about a 3-4 inch scar right on my abdomen.  At least I can answer it sounding cool, “oh, I underwent emergency surgery in a third world country”.  For some of you, you have heard from my mom or maybe through the grapevine, but probably for the most of you, this if your first time hearing about it.  That’s because even as I write this now, I am still in the hospital.  To prevent explaining it 1,000 times, I’m writing about it here and trying to put it behind me. 
For about a week, I was experiencing pain around my right hip and thought it would just go away, but of course it didn’t.  I promised Jon that after a week, I would call the Peace Corps doctors.  I did.  After a brief, traumatic trip to a local clinic (whereby the doctor told me to stick my finger up my butt to get a stool sample, which I did not do), I was told to make the trip to Dar es Salaam to be examined by the Peace Corps doctors.  This was the reason I waited so long to call.  It takes 12, long, cramped, hot hours on a bus to get to Dar es Salaam.  So, I went and enjoyed a night with an American family and went to the Peace Corps office by 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday Feb. 15.  By 8:30 a.m., the doctor escorted me to a hospital where I quickly got blood tests, urine tests, and IV fluids put into me .  I got my first sonogram where they found an ovarian cyst the size of a tennis ball in me.  And just to be safe, for good measure, they decided to check my appendix, too.  The next test was a catscan.  The result?  Well, my appendix is out of place, it’s not where it’s supposed to be and it appears to be a little inflamed.  The third test is another sonogram with three doctors together checking out my tennis ball and my oddball appendix.
What happened then?  Well, if I had brought my passport, I’d likely have been flown to South Africa to have surgery.  But, since I didn’t bring my passport and even though the American embassy managed to make one for me in two hours, two hours, folks (amazing!!!)….the doctors agreed it was far too risky for me to do the flight to South Africa with an inflamed appendix.  The result?  An emergency BOGO (buy one get one free) surgery.  A surgery to remove my appendix and my ovarian cyst.  So, after shedding enough tears to fill up Lake Victoria and having every single Tanzanian in hospital to tell me to stop crying, I was shuffled off to the surgery room.
After a surgery taking about 1 hour and 45 minutes, I was woken up with extreme pain and maybe a few pounds lighter since I had two things removed from my body.  Oh and I was screaming for Jon, just screaming.  Do they have morphine here?  If they do, I sure didn’t get it. So much pain and such bad painkillers.  It has now been 72 hours and one good night’s sleep since my surgery and I can kind of shuffle around the room without extreme pain.
But, I want to write about how amazing the Peace Corps staff here was for me.  Peace Corps has taken such bad press the last couple of years and I think it’s unfair because they don’t get highlighted for all the amazing things they do, too.  The Peace Corps doctor was with me the entire way advocating for me.  He got all the tests done quickly, he reassured me, he kept me informed, and  was even in the surgery room to make sure all went well the entire time.  He was with me after surgery and only left for a couple of hours while I was drugged up.  He returned and stayed the night in my room to make sure I was well taken care of and that everything was fine.  He didn’t leave until the next morning when another staff member was with me.  They ensured that until Jon was able to arrive to me that there was someone with me at all times.  They brought me soap,a toothbrush, toothpaste, magazines and they even brought extra blankets, pillows, and sheets for Jon to use while he stays with me in the hospital.  Every single day since the surgery, someone has come to see me and supported me in some way or another.  The outpouring of care and support was and still is unbelievable and the way they ensured I was taken care of as best as possible is highly notable.
So, while this ranks I am pretty sure as one of the worst experiences of my life, it could have been far worse.   I will remain in Dar for at least another week while I continue to recover.  Then, I will get back to my village and take it slowly.  I am really upset by the scar and can’t really look at it (I know it sound so ridiculous), but it’s not like in America where we have doctors that work hard to try to give you the smallest scar possible.  So, there you have have it.  That’s where my scar came from.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

School status

In Tanzania, the students take national standardized examinations in grades 9 and grade 11 (11 is their last year at high school).  The students who took the grade 9 examinations at the end of last year just received their results yesterday.  Less than 25% passed their examinations.  Our school ranked 311 out of 403 in our region.  As you can see, these aren’t exactly bragging points. The government is recently trying to implement a policy where students who failed their grade 9 examinations cannot move forward with their education – essentially, they are held back until they can pass their examinations.  That means, this year our grade 10 will have only 56 students, whereas our grade 9 will have nearly 500.  This is why I haven’t started my health class.  I initially wanted to do it with grade 9 students, but I need to figure out if it will be too large to do.  Our school still has not made a final decision (it seems mostly because of a lack of direction from the government as to what they should do) so the grade 9 and grade 10 students are in a limbo, not really being taught.  The highest English grade for my school was a 70, which equates to a mid- B in the Tanzanian grading system.  No one at our school received an A average, the number one student was a B (and she is very smart!  She is our neighbor). 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Who is your President?

I imagine that every teacher is as guilty as me in having a class that becomes your favorite which you look forward to teaching every day.  Ideally as a teacher, all of your classes are something you look forward to, however, this is really unrealistic since your class make-up is usually out of your control.  I teach three different classes of eighth grade and since week 2 I have a favorite class that only continues to remain in the lead as days and weeks go by.  If all my classes here were as good as this class, I would love teaching to death.  I am not sure what it is about this class – but I suspect that some factors include: it only has about 55 students as opposed to 70+ in the other two classes, there are more intelligent students in this class; my favorite class easily has 10 noticeably smart kids and maybe 5 each in the other classes (5 out of 70, remember).  My favorite class works quicker and harder and seeks to learn more than what I give them.  Whatever the reason is, it’s a  good ending to my day (4/5 days I teach them last).  Yesterday, the students got interested in knowing me better.  Here’s a bit of dialogue that really was entertaining:
Student:  Who is your President?
Me: President Obama, of course!  You know him (all Tanzanians know him).  Did you know his father came from Kenya, the country just north of Tanzania?
Entire class:  A huge round of applause
Student:  How big is your family?
Me:  It’s just Jon & me – so there are two of us.
Another student:  No, we mean how many children do you have?
Me:  None
Girl students: WHAAATTTT?  Why?
Me:  We will later, but if we have children now, we must leave Tanzania
Girls:  giggling. 
Boy:  How old are you?
Me:  How old do you think?
Boy: 23. 
Me:  Thanks, but I am 28
Girl:  How old is Mr. Jon?
Me:  How old do you think?
Continual class guesses:  40, 35, 30, 45, 33, 50, 28, 29, 100, 1000
Me:  Okay, I will tell you.  I write  a 2 on the board and dramatically wait to write the 5, finally they see the 25
Class:  A giant uproar of laughter and hysteria for about 3 minutes
Me thinking:  Are they laughing because he looks older or because he’s younger than me?  I conclude a little bit of both as they refused to guess under my age and let’s face it, he does not look 25
Me:  Let me tell you a story.  Mr.  Jon was 18 when I met him.  I was 21 (lots of laughter).  But, at 18, even then Mr. Jon had little hair.  I thought he was older!  We got married anyway.   *Applause from the students*
Student:  What is your father’s name?  and mother? 
I write my family’s names on the board (by the way, they find Amanda a funny name)
Student:  What is Mr. Jon’s family like?
I write out Jon’s family.  I tell them I now have a brother and 3 more sisters because of Jon’s family – the students applaud to this, too.
One of Peace Corp’s goal is for me to share American culture with the Tanzanians I work with.  On occasion, I try to bring it up, but I think I realized that the opportunity needs to present itself more naturally.  This teachable moment which shows a little bit about Americans culture also teaches my girl students many good lessons.  Most importantly, that having children is a choice and it is possible to plan a family for an opportune time.  It’s very unusual for women (especially in the rural areas of Tanzania where I work) to choose to have children even as “old” as I am. The fact that they see we are waiting, by choice, sets a good role model for them.  Hopefully, this message will also be spread – family planning by choice, not getting pregnant too early- that is when I can start a health class.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

A sea of potatoes

We live in the middle house.  All that green that you see – that is not grass.  Those are all potatoes.  This is how it looks everywhere right now.  These fields are dug by oxen with some sort of plow-like contraption.  Then, about a dozen people will go into the fields and plant the potatoes.  On occasion, there are men walking through the fields spraying them with insecticide.  They carry a container on their back and spray with a hose-like contraption.  All these fields are completely maintained by people without any machinery.  When Tanzanians ask me if there are fields like this in America, I say oh yes, there are, but the amazing part is that Tanzanians maintain it without machinery.  Apparently one potato plant can produce about 10-12 potatoes underneath the earth.  All of our neighbors growing these potatoes will sell them to the rest of Tanzania, going all over the country.  Jon & I hope to help harvest them when the time comes to see what it is like. 
walking home I posted this photo before, but these are the same fields that you see above.  I want you to see the difference!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Millions of peaches, peaches for free

One thing that I really appreciated in Japan was the seasonal availability of food.  During the fall, you could get persimmon and fresh edamame.  During the winter, there were a lot of gourds available, such as pumpkin, spring time brought cherry blossom desserts, and the summer lots of fruit.  I am finding that the same situation is here in Tanzania and it makes me so happy!  In America, for a price, you can get just about anything whenever you want.  It really takes away from appreciating the food available to you.  Being from New York, the only thing I can think of that was abundantly noticeable in season were apples.  When we arrived to our village here in Tanzania, potatoes were plentiful, as you may recall from all of the free potatoes we were receiving.  But, now, it’s the growing season for potatoes.  Everywhere we look around us, there are not barren potato fields, but fields bursting with the growing life of a potato.  The plants are two to three feet tall with flowers peaking out of the top quietly informing us that their potatoes are flourishing underneath the dirt.  So, it’s not potato season, but it is peach season!  For the last three weeks, we can’t keep up with the amount of peaches given to us.  The first time we were graciously given some peaches, Jon was riding to the village and greeted an older lady.  She was so happy that he spoke Swahili, the next thing he knows, she has invited him to pick peaches off her tree.  He did and came home with about 7-8 peaches.  When we were running low on the peaches, he went to the market and bought two for 100 shillings which is equivalent to less than a penny.  But, the man said, even though you paid for two, take six; I can’t get rid of them fast enough. Thursday was a beautiful, sunny day, a rarity in our village. Jon and I rode into our village to enjoy the sunshine. On our way home, we greeted three ladies sitting outside a house.  Again, they were so happy that we greeted them, they invited us to pick peaches from their tree.  We took about 6 more and they were insistent that we have more.  Just yesterday, our neighbor brought us three more peaches from a tree in another teacher’s yard. We have grand hopes to bake something delicious with all of these peaches, but it takes so long to bake stuff here, I am unsure we will ever do anything but just continue eating them when they get ripe.  I am excited for potatoes to be ready to harvest and am also excited to see what other foods become so abundant that we keep receiving them for free.


Just a small sampling of how many peaches we have received for free!