Wednesday, July 29, 2009


My homestay at Swifts ended this weekend. Bittersweet. I believe I've expressed how much I love the children at Swifts. Especially after all the "abuse" from children on the streets I've received lately, I'd arrive "home" to a yard full of boarders who'd unfailingly begin shouting "Hi Ma-REE-ssa! LTP! LTP!" I do believe some of the children have forgotten my name entirely, because sometimes they even shout "Hi LTP! Good e-ve-ning LTP!" It's precious, and it puts a huge smile on my face.
I've now visited around 8 schools and have taught at 3, and can safely say that the kids at Swifts are definitely unique. Collectively they have a quiet energy that can be felt the longer you stay with them. They possess an understanding of each other and compassion that I didn't see at other schools. They won't maul you if you're a visitor, and they always would share the camera during our LTP projects, which was semi-miraculous in comparison to experiences at other schools. The children range from age 3 to 14, but for the most part they are all together, making Swifts feel like an actual community.
Mama Safia is the one that started the school a while back. The school was built around their house, so they both kind of blend into one. The house itself is simple, and it's apparent where they put their money and efforts: the school and the children that attend. There are now 6 children that board at Swifts, of which Mama Safia entirely supports financially. She says she especially wants to take in children that are from poorer neighborhoods that can't afford private schooling, that live in abusive families or just plain bad living conditions. For these students that she supports financially, she provides everything from living space and education to three meals a day and bath towels. "When I see that one of them has holes in the shoes, I buy them a new pair." She is honestly one of those people that you call "mama" or "motherly" and mean it completely. She is so caring and pleasant and I'd even say wise.

In her own words exactly,
"What I can, I do. What I can't, I leave."

By the way, this is Lashma. :)

Monday, July 27, 2009

X - Xenophobia

Two Mondays ago was the first day of classes for the government schools, and suddenly there was a new wave of children on the streets. “Mzungu! Mzungu! Shikamoo, mzungu!” Mzungu is the Swahili word for “white person” or “foreigner.” I’m told it doesn’t carry much of a negative connotation, but it definitely stems from a visual difference: the way we look. I also get, “Mchina, mchina!! Hoi hoi hoi!”… Mchina meaning “person that comes from China” and the “hoi hoi hoi” an imitation of Asian language. I can’t say I’ve ever been discriminated much against racially, save the occasional Asian or “World War II” joke, so it’s a strange feeling to walk around every day and feel different because someone or another points it out. . . a group of children in forest green school sweaters and black & white striped socks, a man hanging out of a daladala (cheap local transportation), a toddler barely able to walk clutching his mother’s hand . . . and even when it’s not said outright, you can feel it from the stares, the body language. . . it’s just a weird feeling. It wears you out. It’d get to the point where I just couldn’t respond to the children I passed at the government school, or else I’d snap. Any word that left my lips would be imitated in high voices. I felt mocked, and although that may not have been the intention, it upset me.

The photograph above is from a teacher workshop we held at Themi Secondary. The theme of the alphabet was History, and my group had S, T, U, V, W, and X.

S – Slaves
T – Trade
U – Union
V – Violence
W – Weapons
X – Xenophobia

(History alphabets in Tanzania are dominantly about War or Trade, every time.)

We got stuck on X and resorted to the dictionary, where one of the teachers found Xhote (a language spoken in South Africa) and Xenophobia. They chose the latter, simply because it’d be easy to photograph because hey-we’ve-got-a-mzungu-right-here! “You be in the picture, that’s easy!” (sigh) As in all LTP shootings, we try to give as little direction as possible to the actual construction of the image, so I was told what to do. Nick happened to be nearby, and just as they were about to shoo him out of the frame, they issued him back.

The image is comical, but also unsettling. I know that some people actually do feel this way about visitors. “Go back to your own country, we don’t want you here,” I was told on the street one day. To be fair, this was said after I refused to buy something, but the comment still stuck in my brain. Often I feel welcome, but there is almost always this tension, a mistrust or wariness. Of course I don’t go around stretching out my hand toward people aggressively (as the picture may suggest) but I look at it and see it as symbolic of one view of this type of international social service. I guess the key is to recognize when somebody doesn’t need or want you to be there. In most cases, I would say I’ve felt welcomed and appreciated, so long as I am open and flexible to things such as a constantly changing schedule (or complete disregard for “schedule”), cultural differences, and misunderstandings. When the approach is positive as such, it is no longer “service,” but more of an interaction between people learning from each other.

Chai/More about my homestay

JULY 21, 2009
Sitting in my room, sipping from white mug of chai ya maziwa. I love the milk color of it, like some sort of melted sweet. Spiced with ginger and a tiny bit of pepper. Kept warm by a Simba thermos. Thermoses... memory of lunchboxes and soup ~ chicken noodle or vegetable kept warm inside a thermos, and eating it out of the dual-purpose lid/bowl... losing a tooth in my sandwich... my mind has been remembering so much these past 6 weeks. Things from long ago, things from immediately before departure... just about everything that I could possibly recollect. Things I haven't thought about in years. Years. The other day I actually forgot how old I was. A fifteen second dilemma... I had to actually go search my mind to remember. Do you see the transformations my mind is taking? Time is irrelevant, yet it stares me down in the face. My departure is imminent and people I've met are starting to ask me about it. . . "You'll keep in touch, won't you? You won't forget us? Many people come here and leave and forget but me, I never forget. A friend is a friend for life."

JULY 24, 2009
Mama Safia has arrived home! I finally got to meet her and she is wonderful. I like her very much. On the first night of her arrival, she had cooked up a delicious eggplant dish and I told her I loved it (I did!). The next night, I arrived home and saw that she had waited for me so that she could teach me how to make eggplant. Oil, onions, eggplant, tomatoes, salt ~ so simple, yet so delicious. Although I wish I hadn't seen her pour the oil... so much more than I'm used to. "Now you are eating what you have made! It is enjoyable, yes?" she said, beaming at my small cooking achievement.
After dinner, Abdi came in and I showed him that I had tied back my hair without him having to remind me. He smiled but then looked concerned. "Even the other day I have found a piece of your hair there!" (points to table where we eat). "Ahhh. Very bad for health." I joked that it must have been his hair (which is almost nonexistent and gray) to which he laughed and shook his head. Very amused ^_^

The space where we eat dinner/watch TV. You can see the table, couch, curtains (same as in my room), and a little Tanzanian flag on the corner table. It's cozy.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Swiftie Schooool

You know how some blogs have a place where you can write the title of the song you're listening to? Well, I am humming to myself:
** moo o oooon r i v e r . . . wider than a mile. . . **
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Film photograph taken by Lashma, Standard 6 student at Swifts

The students of Standard 6 at Swifts (where I worked and now live*) are the first ever to do film/take-a-camera-home in Arusha. Generally we use digital since film is outdated, but that means the kids don't get to take the cameras home. I got the film photos developed the other day and picked them up on the way to Swifts School. Sitting in the front seat of the taxi, I passed this one quickly as I looked through each roll. There doesn’t seem to be much that catches the eye. I remember noticing the word “Baby” and the baby’s face on that package, but that’s about it. When I arrived at Swifts, I handed back the developed photos and as always, excitement filled the room as seven pairs of eager eyes slid over each photograph.

One of the rolls had been taken with the theme of “Community at Swifts.” It was a spontaneous project that stemmed from having extra film on one of the film cameras that was thought to be broken. When we realized it was in fact working, we decided to finish the roll together. Each of the students (there were 7 present out of 8) took at least two and Teacher Kim and I took some as well. We came out with a dynamic roll and had a lot of fun with it. When I brought these photos back, the students were especially excited because they had all played a part in it. We made two posters and filled them with photos the students selected and what they chose to write about each one.
One of the Swifts School Posters upon Completion

I wish I could express how I felt inside: Happy? Excited? Beaming. Everything came together so nicely and after working with this particular class for so long, I can safely say that I feel a wonderful connection to the students and each personality. Lucky, holding back a smile. Warda, unable to keep from smiling and squirming in her seat when we enter the room. Agatha’s quiet and calm demeanor. And Lashma, this girl is outgoing and bolder than some of the others. After we had finished up the posters, she ran up to me with a huge smile and handed me a photograph. “This is me on my birthday and I was feeding cake to my dad. I like it very much.” I could hardly speak. “Isn’t this really special to you? Are you sure you want me to have it?” . . . “Yes. I have another one, don’t worry.” I stammered out a thank you, flipped it over, and saw that the negative was attached to the back. This was something I was going to keep, something I would treasure. She also gave me a necklace that she fastened around my neck herself. I was overwhelmed with a feeling of joy at the generosity of this young girl, but I don’t even know if generosity is the right word. The photograph that she gave me obviously was special to her, and she chose to give me a copy. It made me feel such a warmth and acceptance that I will remember.

HOWEVER, later I started to feel guilty. Why should I, an almost complete stranger, be given something that means so much to this girl? Who am I to deserve that? In 3 weeks, I will leave this beautiful place . . . I couldn't help but feel a little solemn contemplating this. I don't want to be that girl that volunteers somewhere, then just packs up, "oh hey everything was great," and disappears. . .

It wasn’t until later that I realized (through Wendy’s eyes) that the photograph Lashma gave me is in the picture I am writing about, which is why I wrote about it.
Photograph from Lashma
The photograph that Lashma gave me

mwalimu kim na mgeni marissa (teacher kim & guest marissa)
Photograph of me & Teacher Kim + Lashma's writing

. . .respect to everybody. . .

"we are looking when the sky were blue"

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Just arrived back at Swifts ~ my new homestay* location. Farida greeted me at the gate. She has the sweetest disposition, as does Zara, Mohamed's younger sister. She's 14 and is now away at school in Dar es Salaam, so for now Farida and I are the only girls around until Mama Sophia gets home. (I can't help but notice this as my company is usually just 2 Somali men.) I walked to my room to put my stuff down and upon entering the "baby" classroom (to which my room is connected) I was greeted by 8 or 9 pairs of wide children's eyes, all standing on a mat facing the same direction. I said hello, how are you, what are you doing... no sooner had they responded "praying," I felt silly for asking & apologized for interrupting. Once I closed the door behinid me, they resumed & have been praying ever seince. It's been about 15 minutes perhaps. Mohamed is out there with them now.
... Power's out. It's interesting...none of the children made a single sound, there was no break in the praying. No one reacted, just continued on. I was just thinking how when the power goes out in the states, children scream, people pause. . .

Picture 1
Children studying by lamplight while the power was out.

I am very much enjoying my stay so far. Mohamed has displaced himself from his room for these 2 weeks giving me a place to sleep...and a very comfortable place at that. The bed is large and although I can feel the boards beneath the mattress, it's quite comfortable. The walls are white and the curtains blue & white.
Picture 3
I don't actually spend that much time here because I wake up early to go to schools~ this week is primary gov't schools ~ and then I don't come back till after music class around 6 or 7. Dinner's late, and then it's pretty much conversation & straight to bed. It's not hard to fall asleep, and the first night I even fell asleep with the lights on (sound familiar papi?)
baby classroom at night
The "baby" classroom that's connected to my room. I used to work here, now I sleep here.

Mohamed's father is a very interesting guy. He tells me to call him Abdi (the family name). He is very tall and stout and has a large voice. He tells me I don't ever eat enough and makes me tie my hair back when I eat -- it's bad for my health." He is always wearing some type of Maasai plaid around his waist like a long skirt. Mohamed says his father grew up with Maasai, although they are Somalian and speak Somali with each other. We talked about Germany today since I explained that I am half. Regarding the fall of the Berlin Wall he says, "Even I was happy on that day. I was so heppy," and also believes that what America did to Germany after World War 2 was unfair. We ate dinner by lamplight, for the power was still out. The three of us went outside with our flashlights after that and continued talking. I exclaimed something happily about how beautiful the stars look as the night deepens and he chuckled. Mohamed elbows me & says "He knows all about the stars, he grew up Maasai, remember?" "YES," Abdi explains, "The Maasai people can tell many things from the stars. . . if it going to rain, if there will be hunger, a drought..." "And they are never wrong," Mohamed adds. I took several long-shutter exposures to try to capture the sheer beauty that I see at night, but my hands were shaky. Then I realized I could do a makeshift "tripod" by placing a textbook (I live at a school!) on the ground and the camera facing straight up. Whisssskk whirrrrr. .. . .

and that is how I captured the starlight.
Tiny fireflies**
in the jar that is my camera. :)

the stars ** little fireflies in the jar that is my camera
p.s. You can see Mars ^.^

Monday, July 13, 2009

Animal Money

Something I took note of at the very beginning of the trip that I just started thinking about again yesterday. . . Tanzanian currency. Every bill has an animal on it, excepting the 1000 bill which has a picture of J.K. Nyerere (the first president of Tanzania). Elephants, lions, rhinos... I find it quite awesome, not to mention indicative of the value animals hold in this country. :)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Jambo Tena

It's nice to be back in Arusha, which is now the "familiar." Walked around town for a good portion of the day. Nick, Andrew, and I ordered sweaters before we left for Mandaka and we picked them up today. They are striped like the Tanzanian flag: green at the top, yellow/black/yellow stripe in the middle, and blue at the bottom. They're only sold in child sizes, so we went to a shop in a nearby market called Kilombero. It's more of a local scene, not many foreigners shop here. For this reason, it is a favorite because if we use Swahili we can get a good price and people aren't trying to rip you off. And the produce is beyond amazing. During our last week of Swahili lessons, Godson & Beatrice took us to the "Masai Market" where they are more accustomed to tourists... I asked for 1 bunch of mchicha (spinach) and was told elfu moja (1000 Tsh). Although this is the equivalent of less than $1, the normal price is less than a third of that. Today Esther and I bought 3 bunches for 300, no bargaining necessary. It was a nice moment, but maybe the feeling of that moment doesn't quite come across through text. It's not about the actual money of course, it's about the feeling of acceptance in such a beautiful culture. When you first arrive, it's challenging because you just feel so out of place. To feel more comfortable and respected is an awesome feeling.

Homestays start tomorrow. I am staying with the family of a friend I met early on this trip. His name is Mohamed and he is my age. I wish I could express how funny this situation will be. I will be living right next to Swifts School, the one I worked at for one week that I grew to love. (His family runs it.) Since it was both a primary and preschool, working with the "baby class" (as they call it) was one of my favorite things to do. I'd take in tons of photographs and books with images and show them to the 3-5 year olds. Their responses were never boring and it always amazed me how they never lost interest in looking and identifying what they saw. My favorite thing to drink here is fresh passion juice. And I still love my henna :)

I'll leave you with some more photos, as I recently developed a whole bunch. These are from Mandaka and Zanzibar.


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Zanzibar ~

Picture 3
Just got back after spending the weekend on the island of Zanzibar. A simply beautiful experience. We spent the first day/night in Stonetown, walking around the winding streets and narrow alleyways, senses overwhelmed by the smells of various spices and oils. The water was a bright blue and the beaches a beautiful white. A wonderful vacation after a week of 6-hour workshops and no showers. We spend the next 2 nights at a beach called Kendwa Rocks where we just barely missed the Full Moon Party. Highlights: sinking my toes into the wet beach sand, finding tiny pink plumeria flowers scattered on the beds, getting my first henna tattoo outside of the House of Wonders, having a conversation (although one-sided) with a crab, and sitting underneath the big black sky and staring at the moon and stars for hours.

Big skies help me breathe.

Picture 7

Monday, July 6, 2009


FRIDAY, JULY 3, 2009

Spent the week at Mandaka Teachers College at the slopes of Kilimanjaro, teaching LTP to teachers who teach how to teach. In retrospect, it was quite beautiful...large grassy fields, animals all around (chickens, goats, cows (and *baby cows!*), pigs, etc.) and the big blue (or black) sky visible at all times. The living condition was interesting in that it was quite a novel experience. Each room about the size of a small closet with just a bed, a clothesline, and a small window that allowed a sliver of light to illuminate the quarters. Oh, and a curtain for a door. Regardless of the size of the space, I actually really enjoyed myself (aside from not showering once for an entire...that gets irritating for the skin, but it was my own choice). The workshops went well in the end and we were warmly thanked with a huge banquet of food ~ chicken, goat meat, wali (rice), mchicha (spinach**my favorite), and many slices of machungwa (oranges!) [p.s. I think it is very "izu" of me to post about food~ grandma, I love you!!]. The hospitality you'll find in Tanzania is very welcome, the word being "Karibu" which I've found really means much more than just "Welcome." When I think "Welcome," I think of a worn welcome mat or a formal address at a ceremony of sorts. "Karibu sana" carries more of a "You are very welcome here," a deep acceptance, a "please feel at home," no worries,
pole pole.

We also had this really old broken down bus that seated about 15 (but we found out could
hold about 30). The seats were a dark red almost burgundy and the frame rusty. We liked to go inside the bus at dusk and take pictures or just sit and talk. You could barely see anything through the back window because it was so dirty and literally speckled with dark spots. There was always pretty light inside the bus, but also a ton of mosquitos so I could only sit in there for so long. It is a nice memory, so I thought I'd share it.

I am happy to sleep in a bed that won't squeak at the slightest movement tonight. :)