Disclaimer

The content of this blog does not reflect the positions of the Peace Corps and is solely the responsibility of the author.

Stories of Magic: Enchickening the Spirits

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A long-haired Icelandic gentleman in tight plaid pants was telling me about his travels, and what he's seen of various local practices for curing illness by sacrificing chickens, and how he believes that witch doctors and shamans are right in buying off evil disease-causing spirits with chicken deaths.  While chickens are a reasonable enough currency being, as they are, ubiquitous, affordable, and easy to kill, it does beg the question of what the spirits do with dead chickens.  I'm assuming a nice spiritual cordon bleu is out of the question here.

You Must Be the Fabulosity you Wish to See

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I like my new dressmaker, possibly even better than my Morogoro dressmaker (which is good, since I was a little worried about being able to find a good one at my new site.  Unimportant priorities, I haz them.)  And that I am good friends with the mamas in the corner of the market around her shop.  I don't have to plan my dresses anymore, my dressmaker, mama Asha, in consultation with the other mamas, decides what I should be wearing. She asks me how I want things to fit, and if I tell her she does a good job she modestly tells me it is because I buy good fabrics.  Which I do, but she is really really good at putting the fabric together.  Cutting up patterned fabrics to make a lovely dress is an art and not necessarily easy, even for people in the states who have giant cutting boards and clean floors on which to spread out the fabric and think.   Once she finishes my dresses I try things on in her shop to make sure they fit in case she needs to make adjustments and then the market mamas have to see how it fits as well and tell me how pretty I look.  Which is nice if I've been feeling particularly dirty recently.  Also, I am fulfilling my Peace Corps goal of being a combination status symbol and entertainment option for the local peoples.




The bottom part of the skirt has these clever folds in it. 


More Things in the Stairwell

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In Which I Make Even More Money off Expats

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In addition to the expat who wants me to live in his house, eat and drink anything in his house except the scotch and take care of his clingy puppy (not feed it or anything, his staff does that, I just have to play with the pup and take him for walks and let him cuddle beside me and follow me around), there are some other expats who want me to go to their house every day for a week and feed their cats.  Not change litter boxes or anything unpleasant, their staff does that, but show up and if I feel like it hang around playing with the cats, use their washing machine, and eat and drink anything in their house.  Peace Corps Feat #17, sponging off expats.   Also, these are really fun cats, prim Penzi and Enthusiastic Claudius.

Enthusiastic Claudius

Prim Penzi



The Good News News Channel

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For Christmas lunch, I was invited to the home of another teacher at the college.  Peace Corps Feat #6, get someone to take you home and feed you.  Anyway, she is a lady that I do want to be better friends with, being the other woman teacher in the department (the department head is also a women but because of the way rank works here, the teachers are not just friends with the department heads, particularly if there is a difference in education levels).  She is a very determined lady who took over and fixed her parents' home after they passed away, and she is in the process of divorcing an abusive husband.  She has a small daughter who is going to grow up with a mother who has the guts to be a woman in a very male-dominated field (that's hard enough in the US where there at least is a sexual harassment policy even if it may or may not be enforced depending on the authorities' views of the clothing the wronged party was wearing at the time), and has the courage to defy the traditional role that a woman must have a husband any husband regardless of mistreatment.   My friend on the Masai Steppe told me that the talk of her village is still the lady who divorced her husband and left after he hit her.   Patriarchy: getting weaker all the time!

In other news, cheese!  We've apparently been eating it since before lactose tolerance.  Go, Atlantic Holocene ancestors, go!

An African nation is noteworthy for a lack of corruption!  Go Botswana!  Send some capacity builders to Tanzania!

There is a push for Alan Turing to be officially pardoned, not just apologized to.  Respect for the father of computer science!

Apocalypse Bado

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The world didn't end Friday, all my preparations notwithstanding.  I went up (in elevation) to Njombe town for a doomsday party armed with wine, cookies, and glitter (just in case we have time for a final fabulous musical number before the lights go out).   We the volunteers of the southern highlands had a lot of free time that day, since by our assumption, the Mayans would have assumed the world would be ending at sunset in their own time.  After an internet-less fact check (we guessed), we decided that the Yucatan peninsula is probably in the same time zone as Texas, and in December in Texas the sun probably sets around 6:30pm, which would be our 3:30am.  So we went to the waterfall at the end of the world to pass the time.











Above the boulders
Slick from roaring waterfall,
A patient spider.

Sure sign of the impending apocalypse: man in a skirt playing a ukelele.
Waiting for the end of the world was very omen-y--the power kept going in and out--but we went to bed rather than wait for the end of days in the very early morning.  We're wimps that way.  We awoke to find that the apocalypse was still bado, a useful Kiswahili word meaning later, where later is in the range from an hour from the current time to never.  Such the disappointment!

In Which I am Confused by Attitudes Toward Animals

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People in the US tend to ask what it's like in Tanzania, and people in Tanzania, well, actually they ask me about Europe, but the idea is that they want to know where it is like in other places.  Typically I respond, "well, uh, different."  Because it's hard to come up with a decent answer that doesn't take up a lot of time.  A friend answers this question by pointing toward the different treatment of animals.  Tanzanians do not have pets.  At most, the more upper class may have dogs and cats around (maybe) as security and pest control, but these animals are not pets, and they do not live in people's houses and sleep in people's beds.  Particularly not dogs, who are, to Muslims, unclean animals and some Canadian volunteers in the Tanga region reported that their Muslim neighbors disapproved of them having a dog named Julius, after the first president of Tanzania.  Additionally, animals are not treated, well, humanely.  Strays are kicked, abused, killed, fairly casually.  It's a bit upsetting.  Recently my apartment building was being painted, and despite the fact that I asked them not to and left a sign to the same effect, the painters knocked down the bird's nest that was in the corner of the balcony.  I don't know why, it wasn't hurting anything.  And I LIKED having birds there.

I don't understand casual cruelty towards animals.  Other people, yes, (not that it's in any way good, but I can understand it) but animals that aren't hurting anything or getting in one's way?  It's incidents like that that really make me want to go home to the states and cuddle with my sweet kitties, droll Scaramouche and world-conquering Tamerlane.  They will snuggle and purr and generally be spoilt, pampered housepets, safe from the cruelty of strangers.
Droll Scaramouche


World-conquering Tamerlane


In the meantime, at least, I have agreed to spend several weeks living in the house of an expat in town to take care of and walk his giant puppy.   Alas that I have neither the equipment nor skills to build a chariot for the puppy to learn to pull!  Because that would be great.  Also, people are scared of this dog, who is, indeed much bigger than the normal dogs around here, being some purebred giant thing and also getting as much food every day as he cares to eat.  Despite being a nice and well-behaved dog on a leash, people will not come near me when I am walking him.  This is great.  Truly.  Normally I do not just walk around, because I have to deal with people yelling "mzungu,", asking for money, asking to be my boyfriend, asking if I need help, or just asking me to explain everything about something related to European culture that I don't know.  Even when people are nice and know me, I have to stop and greet everyone.  So a dog is proving a nice accessory for a peaceful, undisturbed walk.



In Which I Think More about Astrology and I'm Still Confused

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It leaves many unanswered questions, the most pressing (after how anyone could take this seriously) being, what happens when humans leave Earth to colonize other planets?  Or at least build habitable far-flung space stations and develop a huge squabbling conglomerate of Terran inhabited space?  Do the astrologically-inclined still use Terran constellations?  Do they declare (constellations aren't really discovered so much as declared) their own constellations?  Named after whom or what?  I really hope the answer is not movie actors or pop singers.  And how many zodiac signs does each planet need?  What about multiple suns and moons?  What about planets in which there is daylight always and stars are never seen?  Once there is an astrological system developed, how is this reconciled with the astrological systems of other planets?

A simple example:  A young Martian lad is going to Terra for schooling.   Being of an astrological persuasion he knows that he can be described as sun in Asimov, Phobos in le Guin, and Deimos in idbehold.  This means he is bright, adventurous, genetically disposed to a full beard, ideologically inclined to feminism, and primed to expect an infinite supply of power ups from ambient fate with a minimum amount of effort on his part.  As the stereotypical (if discriminated against due to Martian accent) college student he is at a party making amorous advances toward young women of his own social class.  He meets a smashing young lady who reveals that she is a Taurus with moon in Libra.  How does our Martian lad determine if she is a proper romantic pairing using only astrology rather than respectful overtures of conversation to determine what she is like as a person? 

On Receipt of a Volume of Catullus in the Mail

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From a far-off land,
A small book of poetry
Marked by autumn leaf.  

In Which I am Confused about my Identity

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Normally, a white person in Tanzania is accompanied by shouts of "mzungu!" which means foreigner but has come to mean white person.  Actually it literally means person who walks around, because I guess that's what the first foreigner tourist types did, but it has come to be synonymous with white person.  Anyway, it's just nice to hear it, because it's less important for me to be greeted with politeness than to be reminded that my entire identity is summed up in one word describing my physical characteristics.  /sarcasm.  Recently, however, several people have begun yelling "mchina" (Chinese person) at me, which puzzles me greatly.  I have become so used to relying on people to describe my race in order to affirm my identity that now that people are switching racial terms I have now idea who or what I am anymore.

Bangles from Cat5 Cable!

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I get much done when I attempt to avoid grading.


In Which I am Confused by Astrologers

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I'm used to inappropriate and ungraceful attentions from men.  It happens.  Not just in Tanzania, I used to live in Houston, where street harassment is an unfortunate and upsetting fact of life.  Also, I am a woman in a field where women are seriously underrepresented which comes with a lot of less than pleasant social things. Nevertheless, there are still situation that are just so weird and puzzling I am fascinated.   Among the new group of volunteers in country (and they are still trainees living with homestay families, they haven't sworn in and gone to site yet), is someone who has been collecting birth dates for all volunteers in country.  Reasonable enough, there are people in country who like to make birthday cards for people and it's nice to get text messages from people on one's birthday.   This man, however, apparently wanted birthdates so that he could make lists of volunteers organized by astrological sign and calculate his perfect romantic/copulatory partner from among the volunteers.  He is making this blatantly obvious by contacting a lot of women who fit the bill (does he not realize we are going to talk to each other about this?), among them me.  His desire is, and I quote directly, to "feel the sting of the female scorpio" and I am supposed to be his emotional support.  Or something.

I would like to point out that I have never even met this person.  This conversation was conducted entirely via text message.

My response was that this would require me to have human feelings and I don't do that.  I refuse to even respond to the sting of the scorpio thing.  He told me promptly that I shouldn't repress my feelings and substitute hard work for human connection.  It's so nice that I have people to tell me what kind of feelings I really have, because otherwise how would I know?  I didn't think I was doing any hard work by sitting on my couch watching anime and drinking a mug* of wine before going to bed, but I'm sure students of deriving generic personality phenomena based on extraterrestrial pareidolia know better than I.  The conversation ended when I finally told him not to hit on me.  I'd be willing to meet up with him because he's Peace Corps, but anything else he needs to approach in a less abrupt and non-personal medium.  He did apologize and back off immediately, which was actually a pleasant surprise.  Though his next move was to text another volunteer who did a training session for this group of trainees and ask about me.  I think he hasn't quite realized how PC communications work, since the first thing this resulted in was the other volunteer contacting me and asking what should be said about me.  I said that the party line is that I don't have feelings, and if I were capable of love, it would only be for a computer.

I haven't heard anything from the man since.  There was probably a more mature way to handle the situation.


*Only the classiest drinking vessels for the Peace Corps.

In which my Computer becomes More Fabulous

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It is embarrassing to go to the wrong class as a teacher.  It is even more embarrassing, when one finally gets to the right class, to realize that there is scheduled maintenance in that lab that no one bothered to tell one about until five minutes after the class period began.  Not that I can really complain about this, since I actually prefer to be the clueless foreigner (I get out of much paperwork and many pointless meetings by pretending that I have no idea how to read signs in Kiswahili or follow a Kiswahili conversation) but there are times when I wished I was a better and more proactive volunteer who insisted on knowing the schedule.  But I'm not, so I went home and started coating things with glitter.

This computer is named the Nutmeg of Consolation, because it replaced my stolen computer. 

Much more festive than it's original design.  

"Do they Know it's Christmas?": Adventures in Self-righteous Ethnocentric Holiday Tripe

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I realize this song has been around for a while.  I don't care, I only recently found out about it, and I would like to beat the lyricist(s) to death with my righteous fists of educated fury and also a geography book.  Following are lyrics.

It's Christmas time,
there's no need to be afraid.

At Christmas time
we let in light and banish shade

And in our world of plenty
we can spread a smile of Joy
Throw your arms around the world
at Christmas time.



But say a prayer,
Pray for the other ones.


At Christmas time it's hard

but when you're having fun...
There's a world outside your window
and it's a world of dread and fear
Where the only water flowing is
the bitter sting of tears
Where the Christmas bells that are ringing
are the clanging chimes of Doom
Well, tonight thank God it's them instead of you.



And there won't be snow in Africa this Christmas time

The greatest gift they'll get this year is life.

Ohh....

Where nothing ever grows
No rain or rivers flow
Do they know it's Christmas time at all?



Here's to you...

Raise a glass for everyone

Here's to them

Underneath that burning sun
Do they know it's Christmas time at all?


Feed the world...

Feed the world...

Feed the world,

Let them know it's Christmas time again.

Feed the world,

Let them know it's Christmas time again.
(Repeat several times and fade)

First of all, I need some clanging chimes of Doom, posthaste.  That sounds awesome.   Now that's off my chest, let's discuss geography.  Africa, being a large place, has, amazingly enough, a multitude of geographic conditions.  Some of which not only get snow, but have snow all year round.  Altitude is an amazing thing.  I'm at ~5,000 feet, and I wear sweats and slippers in the mornings.  As far as the assertion there are no rains or rivers, Africa is home to some of the world's largest rivers.  The Nile, for example.  Victoria is the world's third largest lake, and interestingly enough, for the part of the continent in the tropics, Christmas can fall during the short rains, meaning that not only can rain flow, it makes transportation difficult because not all roads are paved.  Furthermore, if truly nothing ever grew in Africa, we can assume that foreign colonial powers wouldn't have had such an interest (a continuing interest) in holding controlling monopolies on crops such as sugarcane, coffee, and tea.  Here in Mbeya there is a lot of coffee grown, and absolutely none of it shows up for sale in the local market because it's all being shipped off for processing and then being sold to foreigners.  A bit southeast of here in Njombe, Lipton has a lot of gigantic tea plantations.   Some of Africa is desert, true, but some of it isn't.  Africa: it's not a homogeneous landmass!   

With geography out of the way, what about this "our world is wonderfully fun and perfect, but everything that isn't us (by which we mean Africa) is terrible" theme?  The gasping ignorance and arrogance of such an assertion is flooring.  The difference between the underprivileged of America and the underprivileged of Africa tends to be that privileged Americans assume that underprivileged Americans deserve it for being lazy or defying "traditional values" and should help themselves while Africans can't possibly help themselves and thus deserve help (I guess that's what is going on?).    Note also the unwillingness to acknowledge that anything in Africa could be good or fun.   Or at all educated about holidays like Christmas, nevermind that Africa has been missionaried to death already and Christmas is generally a national holiday in a lot of nations.  Also, it's not like one has to celebrate Christmas, with or without snow, to have a good time with light and no shade (though didn't they say that the sun was burning and bad and snow was good?  How do we have light if it is snowing? I'm confused.) If we really want to feed the world, let's have a sustainable development plan that demonstrates actual knowledge of and respect for the targeted area, ideally without the schadenfreude of explicitly thanking God it's them instead of us.  

In which I am a University Organization's Keynote Speaker!

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So it's just the computer club here at the Mbeya Institute/University* where I teach, and I'm the faculty advisor for the computer club, so I'm not sure it really counts.  Nonetheless, I was asked to present something I was interested in to educate club members, and the club president advertised that I was going to be speaking and some people from outside the club and the computer department entirely showed up on the basis of this!  The presentation also seemed to be well received--I just did a 50 minute or so talk on emulators and virtual machines and mostly just showed people the stuff on my computer, WINE, dosbox, a Windows XP virtual machine, and cygwin installed on the VM.  I talked briefly about the hypervisor and the scheduling problems it has to solve and demonstrated how to install and uninstall a VM using virtualbox.  I also mentioned that I was considering switching to vmplayer because Oracle acquired virtualbox and I don't like Oracle as a corporation, but my laziness tends to get in the way of my software related political gestures.   I got a lot of fairly good questions, someone actually asked me to expound on scheduling algorithms!  I love scheduling algorithms!  My favorite is shortest deadline first, unfortunately, multicore systems tend to break it so we have to switch to the much less intellectually satisfying credit system.    Anyway, I enjoyed it, other people seemed to enjoy it, and several people asked me for the virtualbox program (I came prepared with the windows setup package) and some of my .iso files. Preaching the good news of virtualization here in Tanzania!

*I think they changed recently to a university, which leads to an acronym change from MIST to MUST, which I actually disapprove of.  Mist is poetic, must is either smelly or something demanded.

UN Human Rights Commission Takes on Female Genital Mutilation

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*Warning: political.*

The UN Human Rights Commission is calling for a ban on female genital mutilation.  Good on them!  Now, practically speaking, such a ban from the UN does nothing.  But it's some high minded rhetoric from a respected international body on rights, meaning that it gives aid and social workers a talking point.  If national governments do more than just agree with this that would be helpful.  The UN is calling for education efforts, which would be great.

I can't imagine this will change anything in remote villages, at least not fast.  Because even if a national government is totally in favor of this and outlaws it, well, what then?   To be useful, a government should have the resources to actually protect girls from the practice, which includes education campaigns to change a culture in which the girls want to be circumcised for reasons of status, and the ability to usefully respond to a situation in which a circumcision still happens.

I don't see prosecution, even assuming a meaningful justice system, doing anything to end the practice.  Parents do it to their children because they believe it's the thing to do to their children adn will resent interference.  For another thing, the people who perform FGM are usually respected members of the community, so the victim might be blamed for a respected elder being put in jail.  Unless the government has the resources to care for and relocate a victim (assuming the poor girl speaks something other than the tribal language and will still have access to education such that she will be able to support herself away from her family) prosecution is actually going to make the situation much worse for the victim.

Tanzania has outlawed the practice of FGM for some time now, and according to a schoolgirl I talked to in Morogoro, therefore no one does it.  She may be a tad optimistic.   It is well known that FGM occurs among the Maasai tribe, and there are lots of NGOs (non-government organizations) spending a lot of money to try to change this.  On a grass roots level, a friend of mine who volunteers on the Maasai steppe with the African Wildlife Foundation is good friends with a lot of Maasai men and she has gotten a very positive response from casual conversations in which she explains to men in graphic detail what they need to do to make their wives want to have sex with them more often.  Note that in Tanzania, fast and dry is the ideal sexual encounter.  So my friend talks about foreplay and fingering and the role of the clitoris and lots of other fun stuff, and the men are fascinated and want to learn more.  Opposing misogynistic practices like FGM in terms of better sex for men is, of course, not ideal, but behavior change happens slowly and for reasons that people already agree with.   Next step, trying to change a culture in which a woman's moral compass is supposed to be between her legs, and remove the major justification for FGM, i.e., women are huge sluts who must be prevented with extreme measures from having sex except under controlled circumstances.

The Maasai, however, are a bit of a special tribe in that foreigners are willing to pay good money to study and photograph them.  The less cool tribes don't get that amount of foreign aid.  Besides which, Maasai are not ethnically Bantu, unlike most of the rest of Tanzania, and are generally the butt of jokes told about groups of people.  (E.g. restaurants that advertise their form will often include at the end the phrase "na kingine" meaning "and others."  It's the etc. phrase of Kiswahili.  The joke is that it is the Maasai who walks into the restaurant and tries to order the na kingine.)  So it may also be the case that the Tanzanian government is more than willing to other Maasai, because people are always more in favor of cultural change when it happens to definitely other cultures that can be conveniently looked down on.   How much of a problem FGM is among other tribes here I'm not in a good position to know, in that I have always been in towns, which tend to be cosmopolitan enough to not have strong tribal identities.  A lady I met in Babati did tell me about a tribe in the Manyara area that spends all their time singing and dancing, but is very misogynistic and practices FGM, but I forget the name of this tribe.  Also, I don't just ask about FGM, or actually about anything that might seem obviously a sensitive subject. If people ask me about something sensitive, I take that to mean they feel comfortable about it and respond as best I can, but I am not the one to bring these things up.  A paper from Mzumbe university citing sources from about 10 years ago suggests that about 18% of women in Tanzania suffer from FGM and about 20 out of the 150 tribes practice it, and there's a newspaper article from fairly recently talking about the practice up in the Mara region, so I'm going to say it's quite the issue.  

By the way, this does happen in developed nations, usually among diaspora populations, as the UN points out.  Most well-known (to me at least) are the cases of girls in Britain taken to other countries to visit their relatives and cut while there.  Infuriatingly enough, I cannot imagine the US doing anything to about this because the justification behind FGM is that it prevents women from having extramarital sex, and it is STILL a serious talking point for the US whether easy access to contraceptives and life-saving vaccines like HPV will encourage women to have sex.  Sluttiness: still more of a concern than health.  Grr.

Anyway, I'm still happy that the UN is trying to make a gesture.  If money can get thrown into good education campaigns, that will be even better.

Things I Find on the Inside of my Clothing

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Once I realized it wasn't just a dead leaf, I jumped with perhaps a frightened squeak, named the thing Fred, and then threw it out the door onto the balcony, because Fred has beady, villainous eyes.

Algorithmic Thinking

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Some of my students care.  Well, enough that they stay after class.  On Mondays, I have class from 10:00am to 12:10, and then another class at 1:25.  So I often just stay in the lab between and answer questions for whatever students was to come talk to me about programming, or computers in general.  Or just about the somewhat complicated way I use my computer.  I demonstrated making a virtual machine, and the students' eyes got big and they thought it was wonderful.  VMs really are cool.  It reminds me of why I did my graduate research on them in the first place.  Anyway, this Monday, I was going over the modulus operator with a student (mod being one of those things that few people who aren't computer scientists use, and on first introduction, it's somewhat incomprehensible why one would ever use it), and had an example with the turtle in which we have a loop that repeats m time but we only want the turtle to draw a circle every 10th time through the loop.  This is a good way to show how useful mod is.  One of the students commented that he didn't understand how computer science people could take a problem and just come up with the steps to solve it.  Good on him for noticing that this is the essence of computer science!  I took the opportunity to wax lyrical about algorithmic thinking.  Frances Allen, who is one of my heroes, being as she is the first woman to win the Turing Award, actually said in a lecture I was privileged to attend "algorithmic thinking is what computer science brings that revolutionizes thinking and is why computer science can become queen of the sciences."  (I might be paraphrasing because I don't remember it exactly).  And talked about how I give them assignments in class and first I talk about how to break the problem into steps and then I try to force people to follow the steps exactly.  (It is amazing how people, given exact pseudocode to follow, don't bother to try following it.)  Anyway, it is students like that that make me think I might not be wasting my time playing around in Africa on government money after all.

The Care and Feeding of Expats

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Americans abroad who are not Peace Corps are strange.  They have money, standards, and apprehension.  This is both good and bad.  Thanksgiving with the expats in town was thrown by a former PCV who likes to have many people in her house with lots of food and drink.  Her only requirement is that everyone brings something.  This seems fair.  Also, the expats are magical and can produce things like blackberry cheesecake.  How blackberries were acquired in this country I need to know.  Right now.  (Actually she may have planted them herself since they looked like wild blackberries, so maybe I can cut a deal for some of those blackberries.  I need them. )  For all my grumpiness, Thanksgiving was a fun day of expats and Peace Corps mutually entertaining one another with our incomprehensible weirdnesses.

Expats are entertaining because they are shocked by the conditions in which volunteers live and the general lack of concern we develop about it. One lady was very shocked that I live alone and kept asking me if I felt safe.  I can understand why.  If, in the developing world, you live in a really nice house with a fence around it, some guards, and are always transported in a private car, you are a visible symbol of wealth which is a tempting target to people desperately poor.  The desperately poor may further assume that you are so wealthy that robbing you is really a victimless crime, in that you can easily replace whatever is taken.  The psychological upset of having strangers enter your home with impunity is, I suppose, not considered.   Anyway, large amounts of white folk with rich lifestyles (by the standard of TZ) have led to a stereotype that all white people are wealthy.  In a way we are, since even the Peace Corps volunteers, who have a reputation among expats for being dirt poor and willing to to anything for money (nor are they wrong), have stealable electronics worth a great deal of money.  I was once arguing over the price of something or other and the person in confusion asked me why I was concerned about a low price since I was white.  Anyway, there is a way in which it is actually safer to live in typical housing--you aren't an obvious rich person.  It also really helps to be able to introduce yourself and be known to a community as having a place there.  It is quite a different thing to rob someone who is part of a community that might seek retribution than to rob the out of place person with no obvious community help or connections.  On the other hand, rich expats have hot showers and decent transportation and don't have to clean their own houses.   I have agreed to house sit for a pack of expats all of whom are leaving the country and need their dog walked and their house lived in.  I will take 4 showers a day in their house.  Because I can.

What was more fun was that the lady who was worried about my safety was very proud that she had taken a daladala once to experience it, but asked me in shocked tones if I was comfortable taking dalas on a regular basis. Daladalas are 15 passenger vans which function as public transport.  As a general rule, it is possible to fit around 30 people, their children, luggage (which MUST include large buckets or sacks full of heavy things) and livestock.  In a truly full dala, it is impossible for the people standing up to fall over, because there simply isn't enough space.  The operators save a great deal of money on maintenance by never doing it.  This is how I have learned through observation that breakdowns can be solved by poking at the engine with a stick for a while.  The successful passenger of the daladala is the person who has no pretensions to personal space, no ability to smell compacted humanity (and chickens) in a hot, enclosed vehicle, and no sense of alarm when the operator does things like pour in more gas while the engine is running.

These ladies, however, cannot imagine taking anything other than taxis, and that not at night, so they have never encountered the fun world of taxis running out of gas, drunk taxi drivers, or taxi drivers who just can't drive.  For example, on a particular night returning late to my house with friends, the driver got the wheel stuck in a large hole on the side of the road.  As the smallest and least useful for pushing member of the party I was detailed to take the wheel and hold it in neutral while everyone else and the driver shoved for a while.  These things happen.

Fortunately, the Peace Corps entertains expats considerably as well.  There was a large group of Germans there with whom I had a delightful conversation about schadenfreude (they were just happy an American knew the word). Also, as mentioned above, we are dirt poor with no standards, so some people have found out that we will do silly things for money.  Which is how I made 25,000TSH for agreeing to have a bucket of ice water poured over my head.  After a quick mental check to make sure my clothing wouldn't become erotic when wet.  The thing is, half the time I take cold bucket baths or showers anyway because I'm simply too lazy to heat water up to bathe in all the time, my shirt had chalk on it and needed rinsing anyway, and if expats want to fund me some cheese and jewelry, I'm okay with that.  I'm really far more embarrassed about finding a dropped piece of pocky on my floor that had to have been there at least 2 days and eating it anyway.  The expats then moved on to trying to talk another volunteer into rolling down a hill in a steel barrel, which he had the sense to refuse since his head would stick out and that's actually somewhat dangerous.  Some expat children were around who seemed willing, but I think their parents intervened.  Oh well.  

In which I am a Grinch about Thanksgiving

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Can I do that?  Even without an animated Dr. Seuss character?  Or a Charles Dickens novel?  It's not that there's anything wrong with Thanksgiving per se, (well, actually there is, ask the Native Americans) it's just that it always seems to fall at an academically inconvenient time.  I am invited to a Thanksgiving gathering in town with a bunch of PCVs, former PCVs, and ex-pats today, and I have been asked, and agreed, to supply pumpkin pies.  Which I had planned to actually be sweet potato pies because pumpkins aren't in season and sweet potatoes are the same thing but sweeter and don't have to be hacked apart with a machete, which is definitely a plus.  Americans with access to genetically engineered pumpkins that can be sawed through with an ordinary kitchen knife are lucky.  The entire reason I originally bought a machete, in fact, is because nothing less would open the last pumpkins I dealt with, when I made pumpkin wine (don't bother, such a wine is not good enough to be worth the effort).  Which is why I prefer baking with sweet potato, the availability of which turned out to be an unwarranted assumption.   After verifying the nonexistence of sweet potatoes at four different markets, feeling irritated and cranky and wishing I could just drive to a grocery store and be done with it, the sweet lady organizing Thanksgiving and I decided that my contribution could be the much less exciting cornbread.  Corn flour I can just buy anywhere, though there is always a danger when I have to buy corn flour and wheat flour at the same time, because when they both come in plastic bags, I can't tell them apart.  So this is much less work and time, which is good, since I already feel guilty about choosing a nice long meal over doing work, of which I have a lot.  The downside to students who care enough to do homework is that I am morally obligated to grade it.  I am also feeling guilty for skipping student presentations on their upcoming final projects.  I was going to attend, but then an hour after the scheduled time it still hadn't started, and I had other things to do, and besides I support my students by being available to answer questions and having lectures ready to be lectured on time.   Also holding extra classes on request.   Besides which, I show up at their computer club meetings, which last two hours, and I smile and look supportive.  So yeah, I really should be grading rather than worrying about Thanksgiving.  And going to presentations rather than shopping for Thanksgiving ingredients that didn't exist.  Overall, just grump.

Wine not from these Grapes

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My new bucket of hibiscus wine is fermented and drinkable.  Of all the wines I have made or tasted here (watermelon, papaya, mango, pineapple, ginger, stafali/soursop/topetope--they're like marshmallows in fruit form that I haven't seen in the states and everyone has different names for) hibiscus is definitely my favorite.  I've heard rumors that some people make wine out of grapes, but that would just be predictable.

You can buy little bags of dried hibiscus blossoms, they are called
choya.  They look sort of like crumpled dessicated bugs, but smell good.

Sugar.  Lots of sugar.  2 kilos.  

Boiling water, because the stuff is dried.   They need to steep for
a few hours in their sugary water.

After the water is cool, yeast.  Still the most helpful organism
on the planet.


****Three weeks later****
It's a red wine, sweet (possibly due mostly to the 2 kilos of sugar per
10 liter wine bucket), with a floral aftertaste.   Drunk out of a mug
because Peace Corps is classy like that.  



Book of verses, mug of wine, loaf of bread.  Not pictured: thou.  



In which I Make Ice Cream

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I like ice cream.  It's yummy.  I have never attempted to make it before.  My mama makes it a lot in the states, but she has this fancy machine to do it.  I, however, have a book, with pictures, and some instructions from my chemistry minded aunt.

Book courtesy of Albert, an RPCV who preceded me at Morogoro and
supports and encourages me.
It is possible to get fresh milk rather than preservative filled stuff, but even boiling the milk myself, I'd still be a little hesitant after I heard about a volunteer in the Dodoma region getting tuberculosis.  My entire cultural background tells me I should be dying of tuberculosis right sexily (The well-bred ladies of opera and Val Kilmer in Tombstone can't all be wrong, but they could all be painfully dead.), but I'd rather not.   If only because I can't sing "Addio del Passato" like Anna Netrebkho, who makes for a consummate consumptive.
The milk and cream are mixed and heated, but not boiled.

Sugar and egg yolks, with the whites set aside.  

The instructions say whisk together, because some people have whisks. 

Add the hot mixed cream and milk, then put it back to heating with the egg and sugar. 


I also made bread while stirring the ice cream mixture, because I'm efficient that way.  Also, I needed more bread and I needed something to throw the leftover egg whites into.  I don't follow a recipe for bread, bread loves us all and wants us to be happy and will at least sort of work no matter what is done to it.  Which is odd given that the one important technique is to keep the yeast warm, happy, and well-fed right up until the moment the yeast get cooked to death.

In the meantime, I'm still stirring the ice cream mixture on low heat.  It's weird, it looks like it should turn into a custard, but you are supposed to stop when it's not quite custarded and chill.  I'm not entirely certain I understand the chemistry of the situation.
The sugary milk etc now gets to cool in a big sufuria filled with ice water plus
salt, at the helpful reminder of my chemistry-minded aunt.

After freezing overnight, I have this.  I put too much vanilla flavoring in, but
it is legitimately ice cream.  

It's just like adding milk to my morning coffee, only with a lot more fat,
which is what makes things yummy.    

International Aid to Uganda in Light of Human Rights Violations

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*Warning: highly political.*

Uganda wants to formalize it's Death to Homosexuals policies.  The UK is making threats to end foreign aid if they do.  I am all for human rights and equality under the law, but I don't think the UK is taking the right approach here.

I realize nations that provide a large amount of money free of charge to other nations can expect to wield a certain amount of influence over the client nations.  However, the UK continuing to dictate policies in Uganda is not an approach without a nasty echo of colonial government with lots of fun atrocities.  Also, Alan Turing and Oscar Wilde might have some nasty comments about the UK pretending to uncompromising moral superiority about equal rights for all sexual orientations.   On a pragmatic note for the situation here and now, if Uganda is anything like Tanzania, a withdrawal of foreign aid is going to spell trouble for a lot of government services, as for example education.  Now remember when I say this I don't actually have the data, I'm extrapolating from the education system in TZ, largely dependent on foreign aid. But based on that, my guess would be that the UK withdrawing foreign aid would hurt the people who need foreign aid most in the way that they would have a hope of opposing legislative policy, that is education.  If we want to influence another nation to have non-human rights violating policies, hurting the investment in the cognoscenti of the future is not only statistically counter intuitive,  sending foreign aid and foreign teachers is a sneaky way to bring progressive talks into the curriculum.  Me, I tend to casually mention whenever the opportunity arises that since computers are good, discriminating against homosexuality is bad, because Alan Turing.  Behavior change happens through education, as the immortal words of Captain Hammer, Corporate Tool, "It's not enough to bash in heads, we've got to bash in minds."

Furthermore, while capital punishment for homosexuality is a horrifying immediate problem of human rights  (whenever folk are dying for no reason that's an immediate problem), I seriously doubt this is in anyway a new problem.  And legislation is not likely to make it more of a problem.  Again, I don't have the actual data for this, I'm extrapolating from the way that the justice system, official and mob, works in Tanzania.  In Tanzania the police are useless.  They hang out at traffic stops looking for minor infractions they can threaten major penalties for unless they are bribed (well, it's not like the government can afford to pay their salaries), and if actually summoned for something possibly important (e.g. a dead body) they don't show up unless someone pays for their gas.  Criminals suspected and otherwise, if caught in public, are beaten to death by mobs.  Homosexuals are also subject to being beaten to death by mobs.  Official government sanction or disapproval by itself, while an important gesture, is unlikely to change this, and laws by themselves aren't going to make the police do their jobs even assuming the police have the money to do police work.   And again, this assumes that the people and police of Uganda even know what the laws are.  Which from Tanzania's example is not a good assumption to make.

NB. Uganda seemed a somewhat more prosperous nation than Tanzania with at least enough efficiency that people can usually make change for moderately big amounts of money, so it's entirely possible that Uganda has a police force and a justice system that actually kind of works.

I'm part of the legion of hand-wringing liberal hippie that believes something should indeed be done, but I'm one of the people actually doing things, and I do not recommend sweeping gestures with immediate demands for sustainable behavior change.  It doesn't work and it can be questionably ethical and often hypocritical.  Given the US' human rights record and continuing practices with regard to homosexuality I would be embarrassed to make strong statement about it.  In fact, I think sodomy might still be illegal in my home state.

Anyway: there are two major general problems I see that could be useful to address.  First, the generalized xenophobia that exists in areas that are remote and traditionally organized into homogeneously religious and ethnic tribal groups.  People just aren't used to people that are different from them.  There's a reason why cosmopolitan areas tend to be more progressively liberal and tolerant, people get more used to interacting with people who aren't like them.  More foreign aid (and foreign teachers) for education and transportation is a good place to start.  A more educated, prosperous, and mobile people will not spend so much time with the same people who get into incestuous habits of thought.  This is not a criticism of a small group of African peoples, any small enough group without much outside contact will start thinking the same way.  This is actually something that gets illustrated beautifully by Peace Corps trainings:  they rely on splitting their groups of 40 odd trainees into smaller groups, having them discuss whatever the current topic at hand, and present their thoughts on flipchart paper to the large group.  Disregarding the unwarranted assumption this method makes that the knowledge necessary is already present in the group and doesn't need to be presented in any way by someone with experience, the result of this small group discussion approach is that after about week 3, all groups start presenting the exact same things, because the group is too small and not having enough time to get outside experience, so incestuous thought patterns set in.  These are all, I might point out, people with at least bachelor's degrees from reasonable educational institutions, and incestuous thought from such small groups is still inevitable.  Granted, I don't think Americans are as given to independent thought as we think we are (I'm with Tocqueville on this one), but it's still a good example.

Back to the point, I don't think we should end foreign aid but use it, not just to invest in a more educated and mobile future, but to introduce differences between people right now.  Peace Corps is already supposed to talk about HIV/AIDs at any given opportunity, there has to be a nice and (necessarily because we can't do anything that might be seen as insurrectionist, and also our lives are in danger if we are suspected of homosexuality) generally yay for equal rights speech we can give.  Foreigners are, in a way, safer to have awkward conversations about sex with, because they have no clear or lasting place in the community.

The other major factor that seems to be driving this whole murderous attitude that needs to be addressed, and addressed by us (because it is our fault), is missionaries.  Westerners tend to have fluffy feelings about missionaries for no good reason.  Oh, in addition to spreading the word of god (no matter how thickly it's already spread) they build schools and teach!  Well, maybe.  A few.  I think I've met two that I respect, because they teach at a severely understaffed primary school out in a remote village and ignore their sect's party line on abstinence-only sex education, but having a handful doing good things does not justify the majority who hang out in only the nice towns (my favorite line from a missionary ever, "we're 45 minutes away from town, way out in the jungle!  A jungle was heretofore not known to exist within 45 minutes of Morogoro, which is one of the nicest towns in Tanzania.) and spend time mostly with other foreigners.  A group of missionaries from Minnesota went through Senegal recently and, according to the volunteers there, decided that black people (which I guess they had never seen in Minnesota?) were worrisome so they spent all their time praying for the black people in the company only of other white people.  Recently in Morogoro, a group of people were stopping at 11 different countries to spread God's love by staying with host families and, according to them, "serving the families."  How we can't imagine, since we who have also stayed with host families here have noticed we never do chores well enough, and if we clean things, they get cleaned again after we do it, we don't cook native food well enough and Tanzanians by and large don't like American food.  So I certainly hope these people served at least by compensating monetarily these families for the extra food expenditures.  So: those are just the useless missionaries.  There are also the evil missionaries, who demand conversion (or at least lip service) as a price for educational or health services, both of which are basic human rights that should not be contingent on any religious tests.  The missionaries to Uganda, however, outdo themselves by advocating for murder.  So my point is, we have all these people hanging around African nations who have neither necessary credentials to speak with authority that people believe, nor any realistic accountability for what they say, and they are getting people killed.   On our end, there isn't, unfortunately, a lot we can do except prosecute for hate speech (which can be tricky) and end the perks (the only useful missionaries I have met told me they get free luggage from some airlines for being missionaries, which made me a little angry.  I am here by the express invitation of the TZ government with the support of and training in local culture and language from my own government, and I don't get perks as good as people who have just decided they are needed and should go somewhere and may or may not know anything about where they are going.) we give missionaries.  We can also try to persuade foreign governments to require visa restrictions on missionary work.  My work permit and visa (I think) is contingent on never proselytizing for any religion, so I'm not sure what kind of visa missionaries get, but apparently they don't have a problem or any supervision.   This is an urgent situation that we need to address, because, as Charles Simic puts it, "it is with the murderer's in one's own family that one has the moral obligation to deal with first."  And again, I don't have the data or the experience to do more about Uganda than make some generalized extrapolations based on a neighboring country and 10 days there, but I do know without guessing that my home should not be sending people abroad who provide support and moral affirmation for those who want to commit human rights violations.

Sonnets from the Peace Corps Volunteers: Hymn to Food

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For all the people who look like they need to go back to the states and eat a sandwich or 50.  

Bacon, bacon, bacon, bacon, bacon
With cheese, and biscuits flaky-cooked with grease.
In grease with milk we'll scramble eggs till done,
Then French-pressed Kona coffee ends our feast.

Our noon repast: too many sandwiches
Adorned with meats and sauces, fruits and cheeses.
Ham, gouda, pepperjack...from fridges(!)
Loaded well with condiments egregious.

Who needs a dinner when there is dessert?
Peanut butter mashed with chocolate ice cream,
An apple pie that's flaky, sweet, and tart,
Strawberry margaritas poured in streams.

Our challenge, 2 for 1, it starts today:
Gain twice the pounds we lost along the way.

In Which I am Forced to Spend Time on a Tropical Beach

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The problem with going to Tanga is that the only logical thing to do is spend a lot of time swimming in the Indian Ocean.  If I were closer to this town, I would never get work done.  Ever.  

Pretty bay featuring knee I am too lazy to crop out. 





At some point during the beach-related sloth, a kid in a unicycle showed up.  My old sitemate George attempted it.  I have spent the past year sitting on the sidelines giggling while George tries silly things.  I am conveniently leaving out the pictures of my own unicycle attempt, which ended in me being too chicken to commit and actually get on the thing.







I love Tanga. Last time I was here I also ended up on a beach, and someone let me play with his kayak, this time I am invited to play with a unicycle, albeit much less successfully.

Also, there is hookah and live bands which George just kind of joins.  Because he can.

Can you spot the white person playing drums?  

I love Tanga.