Friday, 25 January 2013

Life Is Not About The Destination- It's About The Journey

Hamjambo familia na marafiki!

Though I am currently sitting in my apartment, safe, sound and unpacked, to say that my trip to Mwanza got off to a rocky start would be putting it lightly- very lightly. I know some of you have already been filled-in as to the chaos that was my journey to Tanzania, but for the rest of you, here goes... 

During my layover in Amsterdam airport my wallet, containing my drivers license, health card, two credit cards, debit card and just over $500 USD (all the money I had on me) was lost/stolen. Fortunately, I still had my passport and Schiphol has free wireless so I was able to contact my parents, who immediately cancelled and re-ordered all of my cards, and found a way to wire me money to the airport through Western Union. Bob Gough, my project director, sent copies of my Blue Cross medical insurance and recommended that I search through the garbages near to where I last had my wallet just incase someone took the money and threw out the rest. This strategy proved unsuccessful, and really only led to me, hyper-ventilating and in tears, picking through airport trash cans in public view. It was a low point for sure... I can only imagine I looked like that insane airport lady you hope to god doesn't later show up at your gate and sit next to you for 8 hours! 

I boarded the plane to Nairobi exhausted, frustrated and feeling rather sorry for myself. Yet, quite serendipitously, I was sat on the plane next to a man from Mali who works with UNESCO. When I told him about my wallet debacle he was extremely sympathetic towards me. Later on in the flight he told me that his country is currently at war and he has not been able to go back to see his family since early December. I felt embarrassed, even ashamed to have been going on about my wallet and poor me! Almost in shock, I tried my best to offer him the same sympathetic kindness he had shown me, but our situations were so drastically different that I didn't know exactly what to say. Sitting next to this man, Patrick, really helped to put things in perspective, and I left the plane much more grounded and self-aware than when I had boarded 8 hours earlier.

Once arriving in Mwanza I was told that my bags did not make it out of Amsterdam and that it would be at least two days until they could find them and deliver them to my apartment. The only problem was that I did not have an address that I could give them to deliver my bags to, nor did I have a phone they could call when they arrived. I ended up giving them what I thought was my roommate Emily's cell phone number, which I randomly had written down in my old field journal. Thankfully, it was the right number and they ended up calling me the next day to say they found my bags in Nairobi after all. When I asked my roommates for our address I found out that we don't actually have one. I know that sounds impossible, but it is just true. So the airport staff agreed to deliver my bags to a hotel in the general area of my apartment, which is called "Mlango Moja, so I could verbally direct them to my apartment.

My first night here I slept for 13 hours! My roommates Emily and Susan have been lovely helping me to get oriented and organized since I arrived. My second night here, Wednesday, they even planned a little welcome dinner for me at a restaurant nearby called the "Rich Man". Don't let the name fool you- they don't even have a menu, you just pick "chicken, fish, or goat". There was five of us all together: myself, Susan, two other UWO students from microbiology name Megan and Shannon, and another girl (well, I guess she is 30, but you know) named Sarah. Sarah is from a university in upper-state New York and is also conducting her PhD research in Mwanza on the impact of breastfeeding on maternal health. She has been living in Mwanza for a year already, and posesses a very realistic view of what it is like to live and conduct collaborative research in the city. Turns out Sarah's drink of choice in Tanzania is the same as mine: Konyage gin and mango juice. As is standard here, though it still cracks me up, the waiter brought us an entire mickey of gin and a half litre box of juice. We paid 6,000 Tsh (or about 4.00 CAD) for the whole lot and I took the remainder home in my purse. Typical.

Dinner was lovely. It was so nice to get out of the apartment and enjoy some drinks and good conversation. It felt.... normal, and to be honest, it really made me think "yeah, I can totally do this for four months", for the first time since I have arrived. 

Yesterday I went into the APYN office for the first time and said hello to the staff there: Ana, Esther, Tito and Celeste. We talked about some problems that have surfaced since I left pertaining to packaging, kitchen group dynamics, and, of course, funding. I then had the pleasure of letting them know that the conference is now fully funded thanks to the generosity of my incredible family and friends. I also enjoy letting them know that we received an additional donation of $1,000 from Kit Redmond and RTR Media, which could be put towards the conference workshops and current programming needs, as they saw fit. They were so excited! They had wanted to conduct a second series of workshops with the beneficiaries of the program (i.e. people living with HIV/AIDs who receive the yogurt for free) to discuss their needs and experiences relating to confidentiality of serostatus. What's happening is that the yogurt is sold to the local community and provided for free to the beneficiaries, who bring in their membership cards as identification. But when an individual shows their card and gets the yogurt for free, it can work to "out" them in their community as being HIV positive. So we are working, in consultation with the beneficiaries, to improve this system and RTR's donation with make this possible in the coming weeks. :)

I will start going into the office regularly from 9-4 beginning on Monday, and the plan is for us to go and see each of the ten kitchens over the next two or three weeks. I would have liked for the kitchen visits to happen faster, but the APYN staff are so busy that they can only physically make it out to visit 2-3 kitchens per week with all their other duties. And such is the pace of life in Tanzania! As we travel to each kitchen I will also be meeting the street/district leaders for the respective areas. This will be an important show of respect as visitors, and a great chance to feel out potential local leaders I can interview about the impact of the yogurt program for their communities.

Today I experienced my first power outage since moving to Mwanza, which lasted about six hours. Sans power, I took to cleaning the apartment top to bottom for three hours (true to form) while blasting Taylor Swift. 

I love and miss you each already. Thanks for reading! :)

Badaye ("later"),


1 comment:

  1. Sorry to hear about the BRUTAL trials & tribulations of your trip down there Sis. I'm glad to hear everything is starting to work itself out though and it sounds like your unexpected encounter on the plane really helped provide some amazing clarity. I love you and miss you too! And I look forward to more updates on your life and work over there. Take care Kate.



    PS I love this idea of a blog!