Things are winding down for me here in Moshi! Sheila left for the U.S. on Saturday, so last Friday was my last day with her at the center. We hugged and took a few photos, and I took some more pictures at the center that day. Sheila told me she talked with Meghan, the local liaison between BCC and Mosaic, and Meghan said they could provide some rainboots for Violette to do home visits during the remainder of the rainy season. Sheila was very happy about this, and Violette has already gone once to visit Isidory.
On the way to BCC that same day I walked past a dog in the road who must have just been hit. A local guy a bit ahead of me had stopped and looked down at him for a few moments, and then I stopped as well. The dog was convulsing a bit and clearly suffering, it was so sad. He looked up at me as I stood there. I wish I could’ve done something. Afterward the guy and I exchanged a look of sympathy. The dog was gone when I walked back a few hours later. I hope he didn’t suffer for too long.
The first few days without Sheila at the center have been fine; I’ve carried on with my usual routine. Violette has taken on more of Sheila’s roles as “Center in Charge” and Jacqueline now does the cooking. On Tuesday I was feeding Tuma his uji (porridge), and he didn’t want to eat it. He made this clear through his expressions and vocally, and this has happened several times before, so I wasn’t too surprised by it. I’ve asked Sheila about it before and she explained that sometimes his mother feeds him something before he gets to the center, so he’s not hungry for uji. She usually tells me to just let him be and not feed him. So I tried feeding him and when he refused I put the cup back on the table. Violette has been aware of the issue before, so I figured her and Jacqueline understood the situation. I went to the kitchen to wash the dishes, and when I returned Jacqueline was attempting to feed Tuma. I observed and Tuma just kept spitting out the uji. Eventually he started swallowing it because Jacqueline kept forcing it into his mouth. This really frustrated me but I didn’t know how to communicate with them about the issue. It also made me feel as if Jacqueline thought I had failed or fed him improperly, but I don’t want to assume this because she did not act negatively toward me in any way. When lunch time came a few hours later, I attempted to feed Tuma his lunch, but he wouldn’t eat lunch either. Usually when he refuses uji he eats his lunch because he’s hungry again by then. But I think since he was forced to eat the uji he was still quite full at lunch time. I said in Swahili “Hatakula,” meaning “he will not eat,” and Violette said okay. The earlier incident had rubbed me the wrong way a bit and for the first time at my project I felt slightly inadequate. Contributing to this emotion was the fact that I usually sit in silence during chai and lunch time when the mamas speak to each other in Swahili. I was fairly used to this already because even when Sheila was there that was usually the case and they didn’t often initiate conversation with me. And I actually didn’t mind it because it was kind of nice to just listen to the language and then drift off into thought when I began to tune it out. But when Sheila was still there I at least had the comfort of knowing there was not a complete barrier and I could communicate in English if necessary. Now this comfort zone was gone and I couldn’t help but think they might be talking about me when hearing the occasional “mzungo” in their conversation. But the mamas really are very nice and always welcoming toward me, and I think if they do ever talk about me like this they are only poking fun, or maybe they’re even just curious about my behaviors, etc. The fact is that we are different, and I guess I can’t blame them for noticing the peculiarities. This is all part of the cultural exchange. I’ve still been taking Swahili lessons and learning more grammar and essentials, and Violette and Jacqueline both seemed impressed and happily said “Sawa” (correct) when I would say something in a questionable tone.
I suppose now is a good time to mention some other frustrations, annoyances, regrets, etc. that I’ve had throughout the trip. Looking back on my posts, everything has been very positive, which makes me happy because I truly have felt very positive, present, and open-minded since I’ve arrived here. And simply content. But this goes without saying that nothing can ever be absolutely perfect. In regards to BCC, the language barrier is clearly something that’s been a struggle, including rarely being addressed by any of the mamas at the center aside from greetings and meal times. I do wish I’d started the Swahili lessons earlier on, but they’re certainly still helpful now. Another frustration that I haven’t yet mentioned is the laziness of the mamas at the center. It just bewilders me that they are getting paid (mind you, very little), but they spend much time laying around on the beds and are constantly on their cell phones. Don’t get me wrong, I know how much they care about the children and I respect what they do. Sheila is very knowledgeable and does a lot of the administrative work for the center, so I know she can’t be with the kids every minute. She also goes on home visits when some of the kids aren’t there, which I mentioned previously, and I know she is genuinely concerned about them. I know Violette also cares and since Sheila’s left I’ve seen her doing stretches with Richard and reading books to Quine, as well as feeding. But I can’t help but wonder how little interaction and stimulation the children would get if I were not there to interact with them throughout the day.
On another note, I’m definitely getting tired of constantly being approached on the streets or yelled “mzungo” at. I mentioned previously that I love how friendly everyone is on the streets, always greeting each other with “Mambo” or “Habari yako.” I still do love this; it’s so refreshing and opposite from the way we walk down the street like zombies in the U.S., avoiding eye contact and focusing solely on reaching our destination, often in a hurry. The “pole pole” attitude here is nice—take things slow, say hello to a stranger as you pass, hakuna matata. But as a white person, there’s no denying that I stand out, and many of the people here find it absolutely necessary to follow me down the road or try to sell me things, or even just yell “mzungo.” It really does get old. But I’ve accepted this from the beginning, because I know this too is part of the experience. Part of me keeps questioning why we all can’t just see each other as people all the same and not as if we come from different planets. But coming from of diverse country where I am used to seeing foreigners and learning to accept human differences, I know that is (ironically) an ignorant viewpoint. And truth is, we are different. I’m here to see and appreciate this country, but I also paid thousands of dollars to come here and volunteer, which would never be a possibility for most of the people living here. Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in the world. I can’t deny how much of a privilege it is to be here.
A couple other things that have been worrisome: one of the girls here had some bug bites that were abnormally big and red and had black dots in them. She went to the hospital and they squeezed the bites, which apparently was quite painful, and eggs came out. The doctors weren’t able to communicate what type of bug had laid the eggs (or perhaps they had no idea). She found out from other resources that they were mango flies that had laid eggs in her skin. When she returned to the hostel, she discovered more bites and had to have people here squeeze them, and in one or two of them the eggs had hatched and live larva came out. (Yes, disgusting and one of my worst fears—I think I’d rather have diarrhea for a month). I felt so bad for her and of course everyone was worried after that, but the hostel staff made sure to disinfect all the sheets (apparently the flies are often found in laundry that is air-dried, or something along those lines). I also mentioned in one of my first posts that one girl had been robbed the week before I arrived, but that it’s quite rare and could happen anywhere. Well, I guess I spoke too soon, because six more people from the hostel have been robbed since I’ve been here. Now, a couple of these incidents were partially provoked by the victims’ decision to walk at night or to carry valuables with them in their hands/bags. It’s still a sucky situation, but they did take that risk. It turns out that two of the robberies were committed by the same guys, and luckily they were identified and caught. But a couple of them were in broad daylight like the first one. Amanda, the hostel owner, said it’s likely only happened so much because it’s low season for tourists (not sure if this makes sense to me), and that it’s never been this common. I’ve been very careful about not bringing a bag and instead using my pockets or money belt, especially when carrying valuables is necessary. Or if I do need a bag I wear my small backpack instead of a shoulder bag that’s easier to snatch or cut off. And of course I take taxis at night. I hope this doesn’t worry or discourage anyone from visiting Moshi. It really is a generally safe and peaceful place, especially being a smaller town. But all mzungos are perceived as wealthy and thus become targets for some of the dishonest locals who need the money. But even after all this, I still haven’t felt unsafe once here.
Thursday was a very good day at project. I actually saw Jacqueline and her daughter Rehema on the dala dala on the way to BCC. The dala dala “conductor” took my 400 TSH and didn’t immediately give me my 100 TSH change. Sometimes they wait until you get off but not usually. When we got off, I held my hand out and said “chenji” and he shook his head. I said “Ndiyo, mia moja, nilikulipa mia nne” (Yes, one hundred, I paid you four hundred) and Jacqueline said something to him about me knowing Swahili. He kind of laughed as if he’d been caught and hesitantly gave me the proper change. Not that 100 TSH is worth anything at all, but it was the principle of it that mattered, and my new tiny bit of Swahili knowledge paid off! It was also the first time I’d not been given correct change on the dala dala. It somewhat surprised me because I thought he noticed that I was with Jacqueline, but perhaps not. Anyway, Jacqueline and I exchanged a few words on the short walk from the dala dala station to the center, and then she said something I didn’t understand. Once we were at the center, I was still curious so I looked it up in my little dictionary and exclaimed that I understood now. She, Violette, and I all got excited, and throughout the day I used some more Swahili here and there. They both complimented me on my progress, and I felt accomplished. It was a much better day than Tuesday! But back to the children, the more important part. Tuma has been great and I’m so proud of him. Lately I’ve been trying to get him to say “Hi” (much easier for him than hello in Swahili), and I can tell he’s been trying hard to articulate it. He can’t yet say it totally clearly, but I can definitely make it out. I’ve also been doing some grasping exercises with him. He can’t really use the muscles in his hands/fingers to pick things up himself, but I’ve been assisting him and he can at least feel the sensation of holding objects between his fingers. Furthermore, he’s able to lift his right forearm to give me a high-five! He can’t fully extend his fingers, but the strength in his arm is clearly increasing. Very exciting! Quine’s walking and fine motor skills have also continued to improve, and I felt like I really bonded with her one day earlier this week. She wouldn’t let me put her down when I held her and she kept hugging me and resting her head on my shoulder, it was so sweet. Ema has unfortunately been in the hospital the last few days; on Tuesday his coughing and respiratory problems were really bad, so his mother took him on Wednesday. I hope he’ll be okay and return before the end of next week when I leave. Isidory, Primus, and Brian still haven’t come to the center in weeks. Leila is there off and on. Richard has been there often and I’ve still been doing more stretches and sensory exercises with him. One thing I do is have him reach for/point to various body parts on himself so he can feel/locate them while I say them in Swahili. For example, his head (kichwa), eyes (macho), nose (pua), ears (sikio), shoulders (bega), stomach (tumbo), mouth (mdomo), knees (goti). This also allows for a good arm stretch.
Yesterday I had my final Swahili lesson with Zacharia. Our homework was to attempt to write a story in Swahili, so I decided to write a thank you letter to Violette, Sheila, and Jacqueline. In our lesson he helped me translate the parts I didn’t know, but he was impressed by how much I’d learned and written on my own. I hope the mamas at the center will appreciate my effort, as well. Today I went to the BCC center in Msaranga, another part of Moshi, with two newer girls at the hostel who volunteer there. With Jacqueline at my center now and so few children there lately, it was okay for me to go see one more of the centers for a day. I was very impressed by this center. The mamas were very involved with the children and talkative to us. There were lots of toys and supplies, including walkers, wheelchairs, leg splints, and an assistive standing device. Six children were present. Two were teenagers with autism, and the other three had CP. The center once had a physical therapist from somewhere outside of Tanzania working with the children, and she apparently returns once a year for a few weeks. She left a booklet with a list of exercises to do with each child, and charts for each child to track progress and maintain a daily schedule. The structure at this center seemed very beneficial. The two girls volunteering there from my hostel are physical therapy students in Denmark, so they are familiar with a lot of the exercises and activities. It was nice to get a taste of another one of BCC’s centers. I’m sure the 8 others I haven’t seen are great, as well.
A few days ago Mount Kilimanjaro was very clear so I was able to take some pictures of the view from our backyard at the hostel. The pictures don’t do it justice, though!
Just over one week left in Moshi. Time to go make the most of it!