Thursday, August 22, 2013

July 22: Iringa Town. Buying Supplies.

(As written in my journal that day; grammar and minor edits only. Italicized portions are additions written after the trip.)

How long until there's a hot shower again? I don't know - so I took another one this morning!

After a nice long bitch session with Meggie last night (and a few tears on my part) about the frailties and foibles of our fellow volunteers, and the patterns and issues they "help" bring up in each of us, I find breakfast delightful.

It was because last night and all day the classic middle-aged-women antics were too much to bear. Casually (admittedly unintentional) racist comments, rhetorical questions, questions that get answered but only needed a short moment of thought in order to not be asked at all, and things like, "The trees are so strange!"

To that one I replied with a drawl and a wink, "Only to us," and she nodded slowly with a new awareness.

It's this no-filters pattern of chatter, chatter, chatter (that many older women are afflicted with) that set my teeth on edge after a full day in the car, not to mention more at dinner last night. And I went right into the good ol' patterns of caretaking, question answering, hand holding and shunting any needs I might have in service of others' without thinking. So I get mad at myself, and Meggie is a safe person (one of the safest!) to cry in front of. Then the closing round, last night, of needing to get alcohol for the two weeks - that put me over the edge. It's only now I remember that this was a vacation for a lot of people; in the moment, I felt it degraded the journey, the quest.

But my mantra begins now, July 22. (Thanks for it, Mom!) What's the reward for living a spiritual life?  Having led a spiritual life. It's not a life free of pain, boredom, accidents, disease, frustration, disappointment or self-centered jerks in your face.

So this morning, as if pushed hard enough for now, Meggie and I find ourselves really connecting with Leslie and Jane about their lives - one divorced, then widowed; the other divorced after her husband left her for an older women (by one year), which he let her know about by having the deed to the new home he bought with her delivered to their home. This deep and authentic conversation over fried eggs was what I dearly needed; it is going to fortify me for the day ahead.

We must get permission from the General Secretary of the Diocese before heading to Pommern and residing in their mission house there; he must be a big deal because everyone at the Lutheran Center seems a little nervous about it on our behalf.

We sit in the spare and battered chapel (I wouldn't know it was a chapel unless told) and wait, and Edward asks us to designate one person to express thanks from the group when he finishes addressing us. We don't choose, because he walks in. I'm struck with an intense desire to have a tape recorder; his voice is strange and high-pitched, his glasses yellowed and thick. He tells us the history of Global Volunteers and the Diocese, the AIDS work they've partnered on, and the recent Obama visit. (It was a 2 day party even here, a full day's drive away - no one worked, they all tuned to the nearest possible radio or TV and celebrated countrywide.) He is proud to highlight Tanzania's fight for human rights over the years, from Idi Amin to hosting refugees from Kenya - and prouder still that Obama wouldn't even go to Kenya, right next door.

He talked of how he used to see Dar Es Salaam as this enormous city, with very tall buildings - and then when he went to Minneapolis/St. Paul for the first time, he scoffed at his own memories of Dar as a metropolis! He laughed at, and envied, American timekeeping - or as he called it, time management. "My people are not good at time management; we have so many natural resources but why are we still so poor?" he asked us. He blames time management skills, and by the end of the trip, I'm inclined to believe him. 

His nervous high-pitched laugh mesmerizes me. It punctuates his good English so strangely, I don't think I know how to capture it in writing. We're given his blessing to do good work, but that's not what he highlights. He highlights cultural exchange. He highlights the importance of coming here and seeing how so much of the world lives, with our own eyes. He thanks us for taking the time from our busy American lives - and then tells us how shocked he was when someone in Minneapolis he was with called to profusely apologize for being ten minutes late, stuck in traffic, for a meeting. "We don't apologize for being two hours late in Africa!" This is followed by staccato high-pitched laughter. And then this is followed by, "But, there we are again, with time management skills."

The grounds of the Diocese are the nicest buildings and landscaping I've seen yet:

We walk into Iringa town; it feels like a tiny village, not a city of 200,000. But in a place with no tall buildings, how can you see beyond what is right in front of you? How can you see more than the small hillside you're on? That's a metaphor for Africa right there.

We shop first at Neema Craft, whose handicrafts we've seen in Dar. They claim to be made by disabled Tanzanians - and it appears to be wholly true! The buiding that holds the shop appears to also hold dorms, and we get to peek into a back room where deaf people are signing and sewing, where malformed hands are stringing beads and earrings. I want to buy these pillows but know I have nowhere to put them; I snap a pic instead:

This is a bike that I love outside Neema Craft. I will love a lot of bikes I see; in fact, I think I will love every single bike I see.

The school uniforms we see on the children ARE as cute as they appear in all the photos you've seen online, or in Nat Geo:

Nancy asks if Meggie and I will go to the farmer's market with her to take photos, and I go with the agreement we'll ask each person if we can take pictures first. At the first vendor, we ask, and he says it is OK to photograph the peas only. Nancy frames him into her shot and I think she's misunderstood so I say, "No, of the peas only," and she says, "I know, I am," lying to me, and him. Without a word to Meggie, I bail. If I can only be responsible for myself, the Next Right Thing I can do in this moment is walk away. 

Potatoes and onions at the market's edge: (We'll eat a lot of these.)

Market roof and sign:

Rice. The bigger the grain, the lower the price: 

Dried fish. It smells exactly like a tower of dried fish. Perhaps it was brought in from the Dar fish market? 

We have lunch at the Lutheran Center, a personal pan "pizza". It tastes and feels close to cheese; it's called a "beef" topping but I'm taking bets this is goat meat. Only Edward and our vegetarian volunteer have anything different. Her pizza is topped with bananas, pineapple and chunks of potato (plus "cheese" and tomato sauce). But Edward is eating a whole fried fish with some red sauce and ugali. I watch intensely. I realize I'm staring when he catches me. With apology in his voice he says, "You can only eat it with your hands." I say, "No, no. I'm watching because, I don't want to be rude, and maybe this is a terrible cultural insult, but could I try some?" "Ah, yes!" he says. I carve off a chunk of it, massage it into a ball, push my thumb in for the little dent/scoop, and fill it with Meggie's discarded "beef". There's almost no flavor in the ugali (it is just corn, after all) but - boy. THAT'LL fill your stomach. It's like cement. Oatmeal, only in your dreams!

OK, one obligatory finger-in-camera shot. Behind it is a shoe store in Iringa - note that used shoes are for sale. You get what happens to be in your size. I challenge you to find a personal clothing/goods shop in Iringa with anything new in it, other than bolts of cloth.

And to close... before I left, my pal Lemon, during a banter-filled conversation fueled by my nervousness close to the departure date, hatched the idea, and asked me to keep, a list of "First World Problems in the Third World". (If you're not familiar with the better lists online of first world problems, check a great one out here.) So far, we have (not all of these were thought or spoken by me; they are collected from the group):

  • It sure would be nice to have some ice cubes to cool down this safe, sanitized, bottled drinking water I'm enjoying. 
  • This watermelon is good, but why not offer a seedless one, eh, country that contains mostly subsistence farmers who need seeds to replant the next crop?

Now, to Pommern in that giant van up there - finally! We've got a ton of bottled water, dried rice, bananas, watermelon, loaves of bread, eggs, coffee, tea, peanut butter... we're ready...

(Like I said earlier, it's chilly up at this elevation! Winter in Tanzania = hoodies. And sunglasses. Oh the gratitude for sunglasses. The African sun can shine.)

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