Saturday, October 11, 2014

I was just sitting there in a public school classroom...

waiting for Lulu to start.

We often use classrooms in schools for our Lulu groups, each one worse than the other. This classroom actually isn't as bad as some of the other ones. It's not unusual to come into a room that has the floor completely destroyed by holes and pits (crappy cement diluted down by sand breaks down very fast), no desks, and a chalkboard that's unreadable. Would you want to send your kids to school here?

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

I was just just sitting there today with the birthday girl...

and two Lulu facilitators enjoying my favorite lunch in Mwanza, samosas and fries.

Later today I was just sitting there playing with these perfect feet.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Am I a Jerk for Wanting to Be Me?

One of the things that I've noticed about myself living in a cross-cultural situation is that I often feel, well, for lack of a better term, like an asshole. When two very drastically different cultural norms for behavior intersect it can cause some conflict and it leaves me feeling sort of jerky for not doing it "their way." But at the same time I've learned that there are just some things I can't change about myself, or don't want to, even if I know that if I do it "my way" I'll look like a jerk. Let's take this past Sunday's church experience as an example.

A few months ago Chris and I switched from attending Mass in our neighborhood, Swahili-speaking church to going to an English-speaking Mass in town. We don't want to totally lose the connection to our local parish, so we popped in yesterday for church for the first time in probably two months. Unbeknownst to us, toward the end of Mass the parish leader got up and called by name members of various church committees to stand together at the alter and say a vow to working on the committee for the coming year. Well wouldn't you know, when they called up one of the first committees, the Peace and Justice Committee, they called me as one of the members. Say what!?? No one told me ahead of time that this was going to happen, nor did anyone ask if I would be interested in joining said committee. If anything could be an indicator, I had attended a meeting early in the year about possibly educating the parish on upcoming Tanzanian national constitutional reforms, but that was like probably more than 9 or more months ago and I'd not heard anything more about it. So it was quite a shock to hear my name called. Not to mention that this was all in Swahili so I still wasn't 100% sure of what was happening and what was going to be expected of me.

Now, most Tanzanians in this situation would just go up to the front of the church and wing it. They'd do whatever was expected of them without much protest or questions. But me in my American ways was not going to get up in front of the church and promise to do anything without first knowing what I was promising to do and what was expected of me. So I just stayed in my seat, probably looking pretty pissy, since I was a little annoyed that no one had even mentioned this to me. Toward the end of calling all the names of the committee members, someone from the group came toward me, tapped me on the back, and said that I needed to come up to the alter. I shook my head and said I wasn't going to get up there because no one had asked me if I wanted to join a committee. He looked a little put off, but said finally said fine, we can talk after Mass.

So the thing with this is that I didn't feel really bad about what happened; I wasn't mad or anything. Nor do I feel like I did anything particularly wrong or right. I just didn't do something I wasn't comfortable with. But I also don't think they did anything wrong. It would never be seen as a big deal to not tell someone ahead of time that they had been volunteered for a commitment. Despite this, I sat in church for the rest of the Mass feeling keenly aware of the fact that I did something very un-Tanzanian and I'm sure that I attracted much more attention by sitting there than I would have if I'd just gone up and said the pledge. In Tanzania saving face (for yourself or others) is very important. So there were probably a lot of people looking at me and wondering why I didn't just get up there. I probably embarrassed church leaders by not playing my role and people probably thought I was really mad, which I wasn't.

All of this may not seem like that big of a deal, but it kind of is, especially when we face situations like this all the time. The way we act, the way we communicate (even if it is in fluent Swahili, which it usually ISN'T), the way we hold our posture. Everything we do can be misconstrued as confrontational or offensive. In the beginning I really cared about coming across as a nice person and trying not to offend anyone. But after a while I realized that it's impossible not to offend people when you are from such drastically different cultures, even if you are super careful (as I hope I still am). And no one likes feeling like they're a jerk. So then I'm left with figuring out what to do with these feelings.

I don't really have an answer about how to deal with this. I've just kind of learned how to live with it. Actually, I am still learning how to live with it. Hopefully it's made me more tolerant of people and their own cultural differences, though I know that I can still get upset at people even when I know it's a cultural thing. In the end, it just comes with the territory of living here and the things we unknowingly agree to when we sign up for this. I agree to look like a jerk, even when I'm not a jerk and I don't want to be a jerk. All in all I'm just hoping that it evens out!

I was just sitting there... with my animals

I was just sitting there...

with Smokey after he was visited by his least favorite person in the world, the vet. Sorry for the shots, buddy, but hopefully you'll get better soon.

I was just sitting there...

watching Bubu cuddle with Chris. When did this cat become a lap-kitty?

Monday, September 29, 2014

In the past week I was just sitting there... Ibungilo waiting for the Lulu girls, while sewing some handcrafts. It's blazing hot in the sun but these goats don't care.

...wondering if I'm the only one freaked out by this t-shirt.

...waiting for a Lulu facilitator to meet me on the road so I can visit her house. These sugar canes are a familiar site in TZ.

Friday, September 19, 2014

I was just sitting there... frustrated

...trying to figure out this crochet thing! ?? I was the comic relief for the girls yesterday.

UPDATE: I realized the picture never posted. Here it is!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Livable Wage

Speaking of "rethinking things," I had another humbling experience the other day, this time relating to money. You'd think after living in Tanzania almost 3 years that I'd be fully aware of the (sub)standard of living in which most people here live. But no, I can still be struck dumb by small conversations that just hit me over the head by surprise.

Last week, while we were waiting for more girls to show up to group, I was talking with Violet, one of our Lulu facilitators-in-training. Violet, a young mother of 2, was keeping herself busy by crocheting while we were waiting for other girls to show up, so I asked her what she was sewing. "A baby hat," she replied. One of the skills the Lulu girls are taught is how to crochet hats, blankets, baby sweaters, purses, and other items, all of which can be highly sought after in their communities. "Are you selling them to people in your neighborhood?" I asked her. She replied affirmatively, so then I asked her how much she can sell a hat for. She said it depending on if the buyer supplied their own yarn. She said it's hard to make a lot of money because people want to reduce the price. They purchase their own yarn and just pay Violet for the work.

"So," I responded. "If someone supplies their own yarn, how much can you sell it for?" She said about 2,000 Tanzanian Shillings (about $1.25 US). "And how long does it take you to make one hat?" "About 2 days," she said. At this point I was going to affirm her earlier comment about not making a lot of money and talk more with her about how to make ends meet. "So, 2000 Shillings for 2 days of work," I said. "Yeah, that's..." She interrupted me and said, "Yeah, so that's not too bad. Two days' work for 2000 Shillings."!

What do we do with $1.25? I will spend more than that on a beer when I go out to dinner. I can't imagine trying to live on that for 2 days. Granted, this girl will take that money and contribute it to the larger household income earned from other members so it'll be stretched further. But still, it ain't much.

Now, I don't expect any of us, myself included, to reduce our expenses and only live in $.75/day. It's not an ideal way to live and I wouldn't want it for myself, just as I don't want it for Violet and her family. Instead, I wish there were an easier way to increase her salary. To give her what she deserves and to have it be enough to raise her children within a solid home and with a good education. I hope that'll come with time. At least this is a start. Because the money she's getting now and the skills she's gained is more than she had before. But still, I don't think I'll look at 2000 Shillings the same way again.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Rethinking things

Lately I've been having some Lulu girls stop by my house because they're making handcrafts for an order that I received. So, as they finish their products they stop by the house so I can give them last minute touch-up suggestions and then to finally sell them to me.

One girl, Eliza, stopped by the other evening while I was preparing dinner. You might recall from pictures that when you enter our house we have a long hallway that leads to the living room. When we walked through the hallway Eliza immediately stopped, took off her shoes, and then proceeded to sit in the hallway on the rug. I didn't think much of it but just said to her, "Here, come in here and sit on a chair," and welcomed her further into the living room to the couches.

It didn't surprise me in any way that she'd stopped to sit on the rug because a lot of Tanzanians sit on rugs on the floor. And I had completely forgotten about it until later that night when I walked through again and I got to thinking about it and I just kind of thought it's an interesting anecdotal story. It just got me thinking about needs and wants and taking things for granted. I know that to a lot of people it looks like we have a simple life. And in a lot of ways we do live a simple life. Our house is pretty bare bones and no-frills. But the flip side of that is the side that Eliza saw when she came into the house the other day. In the eyes of a lot of other people, what we have and the way we live is quite extravagant. When the rug in our hallway is a perfectly adequate place to sit, fancier still than what most others have in their house, and we are just using it as a pass-through, then I think it's really clear that we're doing okay.

So, it's just a nice reminder to me about all that I have and that there's always another way to look at things. And I really appreciate Eliza for helping me change my perspective about such a simple thing as my hallway. Whenever I walk through I think I'll be reminded of her visit and I will remember to be thankful for what I have.

I was just sitting there... at the traffic light.

Wait. What? When did we get that a second traffic light in Mwanza!?