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

Sonnets From the Peace Corps Volunteers: Song of the Training Conference

All hail the holy flipchart paper,
Without which not of Peace Corps learning,
Enlightenment's Facilitator
For Clarity and Truth's discerning.

All hail the great small group discussion,
Count off by numbers for success.
New insight comes from consultation,
Minds will meet and think and mesh.

Praise ye well evaluations!
Praise the colored sticky notes!
Thank you all for gracious patience,
And for sharing anecdotes.

All topics now are done to death,
So go complete your VRF.

So it's not pentameter, sue me.  I should be in training sessions right now.  Also, the VRF is the volunteer reporting form (praise the TLAs! [three letter acronyms]). 

Friday Morning Lab

My camera came back from the dead.  I feel a need to take pictures of things.  

Sonnets from the Peace Corps Volunteers: Love Amongst the Filth


When I saw you, dirty, broke, and hungry,
My diarhhea paused, my eyes were stars
To hear your tales of exploits strange and sundry
Regaled from plastic chairs in sordid bars.

Your smile infects my soul and oozes, puslike,
Delight across my face to root like fungal
Infections that cause temperatures to spike
Across my throbbing microfloral jungle.

Come lie with me on beds of patterned blankets,
Thin shield against the cold bespidered ground,
We'll wake and walk to greasy fried food banquets
Then board our separate buses and abscond.

Enduring as amoebas is our passion,
With boundless patience, grit, and adaptation.

Kitties and Kangas

My students have informed me that god is a man because men are more powerful than women.  I don't  even want to deal with that one.  I will now post pictures of my kitties investigating the kangas I sent home to my mother and sister as presents.  

Echoes of Vacation

My camera has been miraculously healed as of yesterday after dying sometime in Uganda.  So I have pictures of the fabric I bought in Mwanza and Kampala.

Some of the lovely shiny fabric with belt of complementary colors
that is typical of the well-dressed Ugandan lady

My new dress from pretty fabric from Mwanza

Kanga from Mwanza.  Cha kukupa sina ila nakuombea salama
["I give to you without flaw asking for peace"?  maybe?]

My Very Political Questions about the Olympics

How do I have better Olympic coverage than some of the developed world right now?  At least. based on the whining of the folk on Facebook and the blog reading list, it appears the Olympic broadcast coverage in the US is terrible.  This is ridiculous.  As I understand it, the IOC puts out free live streams everywhere, but allows certain companies to buy the rights and agrees to geoblock the broadcast in that company's area of coverage.  Dear people of the US, you need to fix this.  It is unethical for a corporation like NBC to take something that is free and make you start paying for an inferior version of it. 

How do male divers' speedos stay on?  Seriously, that fabric must have some nontrivial adhesive power.  I want some diagrams about forces.  With little arrows indicating direction of flow and whatnot.  A casual online search reveals many people wondering the same thing, but no one seems to have a good answer.  Someone on Yahoo answers, always a source of fascinating misinformation, is confused that anyone would even ask this because obviously they do stay on.  Way to stifle a spirit of inquiry, yo.  Can some diving physicist draw or find me a diagram?  Please?

Why are not more people proud of the women from Egypt and Saudi Arabia and Qatar who are at the Olympic games?  Particularly the rhythmic gymnast from Egypt, her coaches might be in headscarves, but she performs in sequins, as she should*.  Good for her.

Why are some sports unnecessarily segregated by gender?  For example, does it really matter whether you're a man or a woman for shooting?  These events used to be mixed.  They didn't stop being mixed until, according to this nice thing on about.com, the 1996 games.  A woman won a gold medal in 1992.  After that, women started getting separate lady gold medals.  Asking this question of google leads on first hit to a forum which seems to be a hive of internet sexism.  Such sites make me emotional, because ladybits.

*I actually think all athletes should wear sequins where feasible.

In Which I am in a Perplexing Perplexity

The short version is that I could be switching sites.  Darling TJ, our totally fabulous bearded volunteer in Mbeya, is finishing his service soon.  He is the only volunteer in country at a tertiary institution, the Mbeya Institute of Technology.  There he teaches smart students whatever he feels like, so one day he decided to loan the students his camera and spent a long time after teaching photoshop.  Fun stuff like that.  He's finishing his service this year and is not being replaced.  He feels he should be replaced and his school really really wants a replacement, however, due to the recent demise of the ICT program in Tanzania, there are no incoming volunteers who have the background to teach ICT at a tertiary institution.  He has for some time been attempting to convince me to extend my service for a third year and serve the third year at his site, and my impression of that has been that, as far as successfully acquiring this as an extension, it could be mine for a wink and a smile.

Then I got a call from TJ, suggesting I actually switch sites, and serve my second year as his replacement in Mbeya.  He had already spoken with our Peace Corps overlords, and their decree was that if I could make a case that I was being underutilized at the teacher's college in Morogoro (very easy to do, I teach 6 periods a week, and I went from the middle of May until the beginning of August with nothing to do, the semester before that, my students were gone for 8 weeks for teaching practice, and the very first semester I was here, all classes were cancelled the entire term.) the Peace Corps would entertain a request for a site change and in all probability it would be granted.  Not quite a wink and smile, but still very easy to do, probably just a flash of my very scandalous knee as well as the wink and smile.

I sort of want to do this and I sort of don't.  Teaching at the college can be extremely frustrating.  Not only the fact that I don't even get to do it very often, see above, but that I am forced to follow a syllabus which is stupid, and I must teach about the differences between data and information, like there even is one.   Also, some of the future teachers of the nation aren't necessarily the brightest crayons in the pack.  There are some I really love, and some who still don't know how to even log in. Furthermore, I don't think the college really needs me.  They already have plenty of ICT teachers, maybe not the greatest teachers ever, but teachers.  They have no tech support other than me, but the easiest way to get them to fix that would be to leave and force them to stop relying on unsustainable volunteer labor.  Getting sustainable tech support is a huge problem, but it's one that they won't even attempt to solve during my tenure, and it is a problem that has to be solved and I honestly believe the college has the resources and the headmaster has the commitment to make it happen if I stop providing the easy stopgap solution.  Also, the Mbeya institute has the students and the options to teach basic programming, or video editing, or whatever else I feel like teaching and can't because the students can't log in but must first be taught to memorize network topologies.

There is, however, a however.  I like Morogoro town and I like my living situation.  I live underneath the most beautiful mountains in the country.   Anytime I want, I can look up and watch the clouds spilling over the peaks.

The Uluguru mountains

I would be leaving these mountains, and all the other small comfortable things that I have and I like.  The shops that opened right next to my house including a duka [shop] with most things I'd want, as well as a dressmaker who charges me less than most dressmakers and does really good work.  Also, the close by chipsi stand that we've talked into delivering to my house for no extra fee, the bar down the hill with the excellent roast pork where the owners know me and sometimes give me and my guests complementary rounds (it pays to greet in a culturally sensitive manner, seriously), the monkeys that I know are as ubiquitous, annoying, and inconsequential as squirrels and fulfill the same ecological niche but I like them anyway, the way all the piki piki drivers know my name, and the people at the market who don't even try to cheat me for coffee and avocados anymore.  Recently I was on a dala and the conductor was joking about the foreigner, an endlessly funny topic, but some of the other passengers told him not to because I understand Kiswahili and live here.  Furthermore, if I move to Mbeya, how will I do silks?  The college has this weird jungle gym thing that no one knows why it is there but it might have been made with me in mind.  It's also great for slacklining the few times people passing by have had slacklines and let me play.  Yes this is a major issue for me.  Yes, I have less than totally important priorities.   Also, Mbeya is cold.  This is another major issue for me.

On the other hand, I feel as if I am being offered the chance to have my cake and eat it as well.  Much as I like Morogoro, I trained here, and I remember at site announcements being disappointed that I wouldn't have the chance to travel to a new place and learn a new town like everyone else.  I have been to Mbeya, but only once and that briefly and now over a year ago.  I didn't really explore much either. My first impression was rather bad: the nice restaurant I stopped at across from the bus stand right off the bus had a pair of fancy women's underwear hanging on the inside of the door in the bathroom, and right off the bus some mentally disturbed guy ran up to me, grabbed my breast, and ran off.  And  after that I was only there for a night and didn't explore, juts pretty much did what all good volunteers do on holiday, which is chill at a bar with other volunteers.  (For the benefit of readers who might happen to be my parents, there really aren't any public places in Tanzania to just sit and chill with other people except bars.) But I've also heard a lot of volunteers really love Mbeya.  And this might be a chance to explore and really learn a new site.  I love my site, but I could love a different site as well.  At the very least, Mbeya would have many fewer tourists and missionaries showing up because Morogoro is just far enough from Dar that people like to convince themselves they are in the bush and take pictures of thin African children that might conceivably maybe be starving but don't have to actually go anywhere without nice restaurants and fancy hotels that have climate control and heated showers.  I would probably appreciate not running into these people.  

I do actually have some worthwhile work in Morogoro though. There is a teacher who coordinates workshops to teach low income women income-generating activities and wants me to teach wine-making. (It's a great income-generating activity.  It's easy, people like it, it's a way to store fruit in a hot climate without refrigeration, and it's safer to drink than unboiled water).  Also there's my work at the agricultural university with their gigantic USAID grant for developing computer lab facilities from the ground up and doing it right.  On a personal level, while I don't have close friends at site, I just don't integrate that well, there are quite a few people I like and I don't want to leave them hating me personally or give Peace Corps a bad reputation by leaving a year into service for a site I think I might like better.  And if I get to that site, well, TJ is fabulous and well-liked, so I may suffer from the comparison.  This has been known to happen with replacement sites.  

It is so difficult to know precisely what one ought to do.  

Bedtime Stories for Peace Corps Children


  • The Little Internet that Couldn't
  • If you Chase a Mouse with a Machete
  • Where the Paved Road Ends
  • The Secret Permagarden
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Workshops on Living Fences for Masai Women to Prevent the Necessity for Killing Lions and the Casual Conversations in Which We Mention How Mob Justice for Suspected Witches is a Bad Thing
  • Where the Wild Things Are

In Which I Talk About Porn, and it's Not as Fun as it Sounds


Some of my students wrote on their terminal exams from last term that the internet causes unwanted pregnancies and spreads HIV/AIDS.  So in one of their first classes on return, I asked them by what mechanism the internet could possibly cause unwanted pregnancy or HIV.  Some of them giggled, which I do not encourage, I attempt to get them to not openly mock one another.  One young man, however, did have the courage to raise his hand and say, "Madam, sometimes people search for x-videos and this stimulates them to engage in bad things."

I was expecting that to be the rationale, and was prepared with some facts, always a good weapon to cut through arguments in which complex phenomena are explained away by simplistic assertions. So I compared birth rates between Tanzania (where porn is illegal) and Europe (where porn is legal and birthrates are declining). Then I pointed out that in Uganda, right across the border, porn is either legal or no one cares because I encountered a man on a rooftop bar in Kampala attempting to sell me porn. Uganda, rather famously for being the probably birthplace of HIV, has one of the lower rates of HIV/AIDS in Africa. Much lower than Tanzania, in fact.

This is actually a slightly specious argument, since the legality of porn may or may not be directly correlated with its consumption, and in fact, based on available purchase and search term data from the US, may be indirectly correlated with its legality. Since those areas with strong rules against porn consumption, that is, the areas under the heavy influence of Mormonism and other sects of Christianity that obsess over prohibiting what people do in bed, how, and with whom, have the highest porn consumption per capita. Though the variation isn't terribly huge, and it's really only Utah and Mississippi that have surprisingly high porn usage for their stereotypical religiosity. /cite(http://people.hbs.edu/bedelman/papers/redlightstates.pdf)

By the way, I can't find porn consumption data for East Africa. It would be interesting since in Tanzania people watch porn on their phones a lot, and I mean blatantly, and all ICT teachers have this slight problem with kids having porn on their flash drives.

My classroom of 70 odd students is not, however, the time or place to get into in-depth discussions of porn. It's not a classroom in which everyone feels comfortable and safe from the scorn of their colleagues, and a lot of them don't really speak English that well (and I do not know the non-offensive terms for sexuality in Kiswahili because I got that part of my vocabulary from motorcycle drivers) so I left the subject after pointing out that education and availability of contraceptives are much more of a major factor in birth rates and HIV infections, with a good emphasis on education of women (something studies consistently tell us is a major factor in birth rates) and a generous side of “please use condoms” 

As usual, I doubt that I actually convinced anyone of anything, but at least they heard something different from what they normally hear and it's something that is fact-based.  I'm just their computer teacher, I'm not sure what else I can do.    

My Notes from a Very Important Meeting with USAID

Dapper folk with pens
Discuss committee structure.
Is this grownup life?

Grow up, my little girl.
Leave your dreaming, and attend!
Join the dapper folk with pens;
Leave your yawning with your toys.
Don't write haiku with your pens,
These dapper folk must be your friends. 

Today's Reminder on Why I'm a Feminist

I am cranky.  I have a cold, and I would really rather be spending my time curled up watching the Olympics, because men's water polo and the fascinating overabundance of gymnastic barrettes (so I'm shallow), but no, I have to go to work and meetings like the responsible volunteer I am.  Also, I need to integrate with the other teachers in the office and answer questions about myself in order to Educate the Peoples Served About American Values (which is some sort of Peace Corps goal, or possibly objective).

Which is how I ended up telling my fellow teachers, in response to inquiries on my future plans, that I do not want children, because I do not like them.  As I should have anticipated, this sparked a shocked outcry.  Women who do not wish to procreate, unthinkable!  When I failed to have an existential crisis considering the possibility of my hypothetical non-being if my parents had thought similarly, my coworkers switched to telling me that my boyfriend* might have other plans.  When I replied that children was something my hypothetical future husband and I might discuss, but ultimately I have bodily autonomy and the decision is mine because, well, I'm the one who has to be pregnant and risk all sorts of interesting health problems including death, I was told that my husband had the right to force me to have children.

This is one of those situations for which I have no words, just incoherent fury.  This, gentle readers, is why I always reply to the constant questions of "would I marry a Tanzanian?" with some slightly more polite version of "absolutely not."  Because cultural differences where I sort of like to have the same value as a human being as a man gets automatically and I am not convinced that I could get that in Tanzania.  So the US isn't exactly a beacon of egalitarianism, but it is slightly better.  

*For the purposes of Tanzania, I always have a boyfriend whether I do or not, and when traveling, I am married, particularly to any male volunteer who happens to be present.  Life gets a little easier and safer that way.