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

The PCV's New Clothes

My dressmaker has taken to calling me if she doesn't see me promptly every week.  I think this means I have had too many clothes made.  Or possibly, not enough.

Pants from Zanzibar.  With shirt made by my dressmaker. 

That pants that go with the shirt.  Tanzanians wear
shirts and pants of the same fabric, but that would just not be as
interesting.  The red pants ended up being too tight and ripped at the crotch
when I sat cross-legged, so I don't actually have 1 extra pair of pants out of this.  

Dress with bandanna, in case I need to a ninja turtle.

Formal dress I wear to teach in. 

More butterflies. 

Caturday Post: Reunion

McNulty's kitty mama came back for her this week.  Nulty is smug, yet demonic.

I'm going to miss waking up with a little grey fuzzball purring at me.

Kitty mama has a blanket, a computer, and some paws.  

Friday Fabulosity: Jamie Barton

Warning: opera.

A lovely lady from a small town in Georgia, Armuchee (pronounced Armurchee, because why spell things in a helpful way?), near Rome, where I did my undergraduate, just won the Cardiff Singer of the World Competition!  Brava!

I'd heard of Jamie Barton before; she graduated from Shorter, the college across town from my own undergrad. After Shorter went terribly religious and decided to hate on teh gay and make its faculty and staff sign lifestyle statements which resulted in a bunch of people resigning (and I think Shorter is also in danger of losing its accreditation), Ms. Barton told Shorter to stop using her name in publicity materials because they were being dreadful and ignorant people.  Also, they removed L'elisir D'amore from the performance roster of the college because the plot involves wine.  Such horror--in an opera plot!--can scarcely be imagined, particularly after we have seen Carmen or Pique Dame.  Next thing you know, they'll be banning the Bible on account of that little story about Lot's daughters getting him drunk and raping him, and then where will they be?  Anyway, as La Barton is the school's most famous alumna (even before this competition she has been singing at the Met), this was not an idle gesture and she made it quite publicly.

She stands against oppressive religion and she is a world-class opera star!  Brava forever!

A little Delibes in the morning never hurt anyone.

More Bedtime Stories for Peace Corps Children


  • The Fellowship of the Ringworm
  • Rotten Eggs and Ham
  • The Magic School Bus Breaks Down
Original here.  

The Harvest


 As seen from my balcony.  The corn and beans have been drying on tarps for a few days now, and there is a machine that takes the corn kernels off the ears. Beans come in grasseous bundles that must be struck repeatedly with long sticks to shake the beans out and onto the ground.

Mamas beat bean plants with sticks.  

Caturday Post: Two Face Kitty


Two-Face Kitty has a divided soul. 

She also likes me to leave the door to the balcony open so she can go sit outside and terrorize the birds.

Sexism, Racism, and the Peace Corps

Warning: political and navel-gazing.

The status is not quo, the world is a mess, and I just need to rule it.  
~Dr. Horrible's Singalong Blog

I'm leaving Tanzania July 31st, and I've started thinking about returning to life in the U.S.  Beyond my desires to fill out an internet form and have pizza brought to me with no need to actually speak to a human being (unless I am supposed to greet the delivery person?) and sit on the floor of a grocery store crying because there are just so many kinds of peanut butter and it's a beautiful thing, I'm getting a little worried.  Sure, life will get a lot easier--I can go to an ATM and it will be working and have money in it!  The very first ATM I try!--but a lot of life won't change; I will still have people asking about my marital status above all else and strangers yelling 'hey baby' and less polite things at me and think they are entitled to my time and conversation.  The major change will be that I will get much less support when I complain about this.  U.S. citizens are totally ready to believe that African countries are very sexist, but getting an American to admit that sexism can be and is a problem in America is difficult.  I tend to blame racism for the difference (and speaking of, I am also sort of dreading questions about how I survived a country with large numbers of--gasp!--black people! Many of whom are Muslim!  The horror!).  I will, however, admit that it is nice that the men of the Peace Corps tend to be very sympathetic to the problems of their female colleagues and most are willing to help when they can.  Some Peace Corps men still seem to think that women should be flattered by such attention, but they are at least willing to ask why women are often angry or upset by catcalls in Tanzania and listen to the answers.  In the U.S., when women complain about street harassment, the usual response is for men to tell women what they should have done, or to flat out not believe it.  I recall being very startled one time when I was told--by a man--in very skeptical tones, "I've never experienced anything like that here."  Of course you haven't, darling, try walking down the street with breasts sometime.  Or just grow your hair out and in winter, wait for people to mistake you for a woman from a distance.  

This can be changed.  Small, doable actions, sustainability, and a few other buzzwords, but it's hard and I just want to stop seeing chickens everywhere.


In Which I have a Sad but Typical Conversation about Childbirth

I was talking to a student.  She told me her mother died recently while "at hospital to get a baby."  There was something about internal bleeding involved, my student doesn't speak English very well, so I missed a lot of the details on this.  Oh, her sister-in-law (or possibly aunt?) died some time ago, also as a result of pregnancy.

There are 10 countries in the world that make up about 60% of maternal deaths worldwide.  Tanzania is one of them, accounting for between 3 and 5 percent of worldwide maternal deaths all by itself.

Women and girls in this country are told explicitly that children are a blessing, and implicitly (also sometimes explicitly) that their only worth is in having children.  But having children will kill 12% of women attempting it, and that right painfully. It's a system that reaches beyond reductionist to achieve outright sadism.


From the Emotional Cookbook: Mulled Hibiscus Wine of Comfort

 It's cold.  I have a guest.  I have wine.  I can send my guest to find a small child to bribe into buying me oranges and spices, because I have reached a new level of laziness.
spices typically come in little plastic packets.  This is
cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves.  

A nice thing about Mbeya as opposed to Morogoro is
there are no termites in my twanga.  I can squish spices without
dumping the sawdust out first!

Orange peel artfully arranged as Pangaea. 

squished up spices, orange, and 1/13 cup sugar.  

The recipe said 1 bottle of wine, which I decided might be
around 2 500 ml water bottles dipped out of the hibiscus wine bucket.
These silly people whose wine comes in bottles.

It was yummy, once strained.  I was warm.  I was happy.  We had Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and I have bandannas for our heads.  We took the obligatory stupid photos.  Are adults allowed to have this much fun?

For the record, this is my broom and machete.

PSA: Dual Sim Phones

If you have two sim cards in one phone, and you try calling one sim from the other sim in the same phone, all that happens is a message telling you that the party you are trying to call is unreachable.  I'm really disappointed.  

From the Emotional Cookbook: The Boozy Baking of Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms for Sexist Cultural Norms

Get back in the kitchen  Take the booze with you.  But first, go shopping so you have everything you need for Lovecraftian pie and pineapple rum upside down cake.  Spring for real butter, because butter is wonderful.  Arrive back to find the power is out.  Make Bloody Marys, full of vodka, and blessed amongst cocktails.  Do some prep work and then watch cute Studio Ghibli films because laptop batteries are wonderful. 

Cut up pineapples and set to soak in rum.  With coffee mug
full of Bloody Mary.  

More prep work: mixing the pie crust.  McNulty looks on.
The paper on the floor is for the cat to tear up, not trash.  
If you drink 3 Bloody Mary's fast in front of a mirror in the bathroom, because some of you have mirrors in bathrooms, probably nothing will happen.

Eventually, the power will come back on. Create the bottom of the pie shell in the wonderful pie pan made for you by a volunteer with a leatherman, a cheap sufuria (the aluminum pans we are using in all the photos), and some spare time.  Realize you need more flour, and find some small children you can pay a pittance to go fetch you more.  Make them take out your trash while you are at it.

Make custard, rather the cheating way with custard powder.   Realize this doesn't actually work very well, and the "custard flavoring" of the powder overwhelms the passion fruit juice you added and results in boring custard.  Regret the custard-expertise of your sister in the states.  Whatever.  Fill the pie crust and let chill.  Listen to some HP Podcraft episodes to get in the mood.  Draw a picture as a guide to creating the Crawling Chaos in pie form and break out the food coloring.

Posing with the bowls of egg whites mixed with food coloring.

Ink pen sketch of the Crawling Chaos. 

Carefully cutting out dough and painting it.  

Suckers for tentacles must be individually painted. 

The partially assembled pie. 

Rerolling the dough (with an empty bottle.  Some people have rolling pins)
Ia!  Crawling Chaos!  Unspeakable Blasphemy!

While the pie is in the oven (or, if you aren't as special as me, the sufuria within a sufuria with another sufuria on top for a lid), mix up the pineapple rum upside down cake in a sufuria, followa recipe off the internet, but ignore all the prissy directions like sea salt or organic fruits.  Likewise there is no need to mix things up in separate bowls.  Keep dishwashing needs minimized. It was getting late, I was done taking pictures.  And while the cake was yummy, particularly hot with ice cream that I had made last week, it wasn't nearly as pretty as the finished crawling chaos pie.

Eat a lot.  Drink a lot.  Stagger off to bed.

Caturday Post: Computer Process Kitty

Computer process kitty refuses to run in the background.  
 People keep asking me why I named my pretty new laptop Super Feo, being as that is the name of a bus line.  Because Super Feo buses have penguins on them and they go to Songea, which is where the strawberries are.

Caturday Post: Malaria Awareness Kitty

Malaria Awareness Kitty always sleeps under a net.  

Malaria Awareness Kitty also adds +1 internet to the circular campaign of the Stomp Out Malaria initiative, in which volunteers are encouraged to blog and spread awareness about malaria in Africa to the US so that the US will contribute money which will be spent on training people to tell people to blog about malaria more.

In Which I Do Not have my Time Wasted

Today I was summoned to a meeting I did not know was happening.  Actually, I didn't even know it was a meeting, I was just told that the deputy principal was calling for me and I should get there haraka sana, or with great haste.  Being an American, I actually haraked sana.  It turned out to be a meeting with some NGO types who had stopped by to see if the university would be interested in getting a bunch of donated Raspberry Pis and some workshops on using them and using them to teach.  I was called in to give my professional opinion, which was essentially boundless enthusiasm mixed with undying love and regret that this will happen after I leave.  Seriously, the raspberry Pi is just an adorable little piece of electronics, and the NGO people had the foresight to bring HDMI to VGA adapters because they assumed correctly we wouldn't have any monitors with HDMI connections.

People who offer tiny affordable computers running Linux with flash memory only (No viruses!  No dirty power issues!) and have a clear idea of the technological situation in Tanzania?  Be still my black and twisted heart!  Oh, they also addressed a class of first year computer engineering students in order to gauge probable student involvement by how many questions they got and if any students were willing to approach them afterwards.  Because they want to do research to ensure that what they do for development is useful before they actually do it!  Their research does not involve just asking yes/no questions!*  I had no awareness of Tutaweza, this NGO, before today, but based on this couple I might be able to wholeheartedly recommend them.  Except for they told me I should be using vi instead of emacs. Infidels.  

Whatever, I forgive all vi-ness completely because of their speech about the goodness of teaching Python in a university.  (Also, because respect for people who got computer engineering degrees in the 70's).   I tried to teach Python to the official programming class, and got into a disagreement with the department head at high volume which ended with her ordering me to never even mention Python again.  She was sitting right next to me in this meeting hearing that instruction in Python is good for teaching and necessary to keep up with technological progress globally.  I may have indulged in a smirk.  If I were a better volunteer I would have been able to make her my ally in Python and all would have been well, but I'm not and I'm shallow enough to relish professional vindication.  Aside from my shallowness, I was also pleased to note that the Pis have pdfs for Python instruction.  They also have Scratch preinstalled.  I considered teaching Scratch to my multimedia students for their animation work, and while it is a much better program than Pencil, I rejected it on the grounds that there is no easy way to convert Scratch files into a format readable by non-Scratch programs.  If, however, the university had a community of Raspberry Pi users familiar with Scratch, I wouldn't have had that objection. 

I really hope I get a replacement when I leave who can help the university capitalize on their coming Raspberry Pis.  This is such a good thing.  

*A frustrating aspect of culture here is that the answer to yes or no questions will almost always be yes, because people will usually tell you what they think you want to hear.  This especially drives me crazy at restaurants, where it would be so much easier if the servers would tell you right when you ordered that they were out of that food or drink.  But they don't.  You find out when everyone else gets what they ordered and you have nothing. 

Student Animations!

For all my complaining about the schedule and the keys and the mandatory consultants and the periodic whining about grades, having students can be really fun.  Particularly when I have them do stuff like make simple animations.

One group made a video about Kalulu, a popular children's folktale, on the very excellent grounds that people in Tanzania watch Disney and forget their own tales.  I actually have a small book (in Kiswahili) of Kalulu stories.

Most of the class wasn't that ambitious and just made .swf files sans sound.  I include them as links because .swf is tricky to embd and can also take a long time to load.

In Which I Ponder the Enigma of Signs

Through Tanzania, some, though not all, probably not even most, stops for dala dalas and coasters are marked with a blue sign with a symbol of a bus on it.  Thusly:

Some, though not all, of the signs are further marked with an R.  This begs a deep question.  What in the name of Cranky Stallman's Beard can the R possibly stand for??  The only vehicle that I can think of, in either English or Kiswahili, that starts with an r is rickshaw.  I feel safe in stating that rickshaws are very unlikely to be found in Tanzania.  Rest seems unlikely as well, as the sign is marking a bus stop.  Gari, the generic Kiswahili word for vehicle, has an r in it, so maybe the sign makers are just being whimsically unhelpful by not using a G.  The R could maybe indicate rasmi, which means official, but that's a slight stretch.  Still, what else is there?  Rabelaisian?  Rhizome?  Rhinoceros?  Riddle?  Rheingold?

Thoughts, darlings?

In Which I Have my Time Wasted by a Consultant

Seriously, the only thing I know about this man is that he is a Consultant.  This is how he described himself in his powerpoint.  He also mentioned that he is from Canada and he represents some actually good-sounding organization called the Commonwealth of Knowledge.  I do know that his job description does not include cultural research since he did not greet his audience of Tanzanian computer engineering lecturers.  Greeting is so culturally important, and foreigners have a distinct advantage in that even if we get it completely wrong, it's cute that we're trying.  I recently got some complete strangers on a bus to buy me water and snacks because they were so excited that I could greet them in their tribal language.  That I know exactly those three words and nothing more of Kiluguru is not important.  The point is, a stammered habari would have been great.  A nice "hello, how are you" in English would have been better than nothing and forgivable on grounds of foreignness.  But no, he was off and running in fast, not-clearly enunciated, and idiomatic English.  This is not nice or effective.  When English is not a first language for the audience and the audience learned English with a British accent, native speakers from North America need to be extra careful in order to ensure comprehension.  Seriously, I know two Tanzanians who could have followed that and both of them studied in the states and can speak spitfire English like that.  Aside from the language, the guy used golf instruction as a metaphor.  There are, to my knowledge, three golf courses in Tanzania, though I am sure there are some I don't know about in the big cities like Dar, Arusha, and Mwanza, and I know of no one but ex-pats and the occasional volunteer who actually uses them, and this is not a sport you see on tv or in newspapers here. Just to make sure more of the presentation would be culturally inaccessible The Consultant told his audience that they shouldn't be confused about commonwealth like Americans who would think commonwealth of Virginia instead of the old British Empire.  First off, the 'old' British Empire is within living memory for some of his audience, and talking about the difference between members of the British commonwealth and Americans would be the equivalent of me making Kenyan vs Tanzanian jokes to an American.

As far as content goes, The Consultant didn't clearly define his terms, much less explain his acronyms.  Seriously, I think I failed to get about 25% of what he said and I speak English with almost the same accent he does.  I think he wants the university to offer online courses and night classes.   I don't actually disagree with this, but The Consultant is not the person to talk about this due to specific ignorance of technical issues.  He advocates making teaching videos and making them available.   Great, I agree.  Really, I do.  It's not going to be as easy as he thinks it is: I don't disbelieve him that he can throw a video together in five minutes on his computer, but he has a Mac and as the person currently teaching people how to make videos at this university, I think he might overestimate familiarity with such technology.  Not that it can't be done, and I think it should, but don't downplay the technical expertise required or make assumptions about the software available.  Nonetheless, assuming we can wave our imaginary Macs and have videos with little effort, how do we distribute them?  The Consultant advocates letting students bring their flash drives to a central computer.  NO!  Sweet Turing no, not unless the central computer is running Linux, which is not at the moment the case..  All student flashes have viruses.  All of them.  Maybe we have to wave our imaginary virus-immune (mostly) Macs again.  Then there is the issue of  uploading them to the internet.  The Consultant likes free streaming services (well, so do I) and has a rant about how much better Vimeo is than Youtube.  It's not that I actually disagree, but you know what's great about Youtube?  You can stream in extremely low (240p and sometimes 144p) definition.  Vimeo offers the option between HD and not HD, the latter of which looks to me to be at least 480p, and at this university, which has some of the best bandwidth in Tanzania, you cannot have a good streaming experience at anything above 240p.  I spend a lot of time trying to stream videos here; I know.  The Consultant dismisses such concerns because the government will be laying fiber to the university soon.   I have been hearing since I arrived in country that the government's project to lay fiber to all the major universities will happen very soon.  I'll believe it when I see it.  What I think needs to be done is upload the videos to a central server and offer download options in varying definitions.  Yes, this will probably cost money, and yes, people can already download videos from Youtube. The whole point of education, however, is not to restrict access to materials to those who already have technical abilities, yes?  It's not obvious how to download from Youtube and offering streaming capabilities only is unrealistic for the current internet situation.  The Consultant also responded to my wonderful and wonderfully smart counterpart's good question "what about videos in mobile format?  It's a lot cheaper for people to buy smartphones then computers." with "anything created for a computer is automatically created as a mobile app at the same time."

Oh.  My problems as an admin for pctanzania.org trying to get a mobile version of the site operational are all in my head.  None of the volunteers trying to do all their internetting off ebook readers and internet-enabled phones have the problems they think they do.  My grad student friends who research mobile platforms and apps are all wasting their time.  Who knew?

Somehow, The Consultant gets paid to come to Tanzania and tell people what they ought to be doing.   I'm still not clear on his qualifications for this.

I will admit, I'm biased.  I personally dislike this man because at the end of the presentation he asked me what I was doing here, and was I visiting?  I was sitting with the teachers, I was wearing a cute traditional outfit, why would I come to this if it wasn't mandatory??!  It's not like it was enjoyable or helpful. I spend a great deal of my time trying to convince people who live here that I do belong, and you know what?  I do a decent job of succeeding.  The custodial staff all know me and complain if they don't see me every day.  Complete strangers ask me how my silks exercises are going.  Other lecturers that I don't know tell me they have heard about me from the students.  My dressmaker calls me when she hasn't seen me in a week.  The mama I buy my onions from will yell at people who call me "mzungu."  I am not a Tanzanian, I will never be a Tanzanian, and I accept with a certain sense of zen-like futility that Tanzanians will all automatically assume that I don't belong, but dammit, I've worked hard to be culturally appropriate and have a semi-accepted place in the community.  The Consultant who doesn't greet doesn't get to act like I'm the outsider in this situation.

It is a pity that the person advocating more online teaching materials is this Consultant.  It is, I think, a very good thing to do.  Doing it, however, is going to involve some technical challenges that need to be discussed by someone who has a clue.

I'm glad I have a kitty to come home to for the next few weeks.  Kitties make it better.

I may also have promised the kitty mommy that
I would post lots of photos of her baby. 

Today in Lovecraftian Horror: That is Not Dead which Can Eternal Pie

This is the most amazing apple pie ever made.  It has tentacles.  With individually food-colored suckers on the tentacles.  Ia Cthulhu pie!  We were so besotted with our own amazingness we forgot to add flavoring to the apples until the shell was assembled and then our fabulous hostess melted together a conglomerate of hot sugar, butter, and spices to pour via funnel betwixt the tentacles.  I suffered a burning burn from the sugar as it slid betwixt the tentacles.  If you play with tentacles, you will be burned.

Caturday Post: McNulty

Currently I am babysitting a cat for another volunteer.  Her name is McNulty, and she's a small, terribly affectionate little cat.  In an odd circumstance, she used to belong to the volunteer I replaced, so I'm actually keeping her in her old home.  She still has an upturned bedframe to climb on, because I don't like having a mattress bigger than the bedframe so I just sleep on the floor rather than in a burrito and use the old kitty climbing station as a place to hang my kangas and scarves.   She's quite a cute little girl, though besotted kitty mommy as I am, I don't think any kitties are cuter than my own babies in the states.