**Susan takes on......Africa!**

Welcome all to my haven. Grab a cup of tea, and sit down to enjoy the adventures!

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Twenty-three and lovin' it!

Happy Birthday! I had such a wonderful time at the party and I hope you all did as well. The food was delicious, the drinks were flowing and the company was great. Thank you all for coming to celebrate with me and have a fabulous fourth of July weekend!!

Monday, September 20, 2004

Susan at home in Arusha, Tanzania Posted by Hello

Sunday, September 19, 2004

The Princess and the Peanut (and the Cockroach)

The Princess and the Peanut (and the Cockroach) In this story the Princess shall be played by Yours Truly, the Peanut by a peanut from Kim’s care package, and the Cockroach by the giant hissing cockroach of Kijenge Kati. Act one: Susan climbs into bed ready for a good night’s sleep after a wonderful goodbye dinner with friends. “Goodnight Matt and Kim, sleep tight and rest well so you can begin hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro at full strength tomorrow.” Skip to an hour later. Enter Cockroach stealthily through window, six little legs scurrying silently. Susan is restless in her sleep, she stirs, brushing a hand across her forehead. Upon discovering that her hand is not the only thing on its way across her forehead, she springs off the pillow and in a blur sees a black object fleeing the scene. In a moment of terror she stares wildly, opening her eyes as wide as possible (though to no avail as her glasses lie awaiting action on the desk a foot away). She realizes that she is not the only one in her bed and debates whether to move or to stay still in case the enemy is stalking her, waiting for her to let her guard down. She finally concludes that she wants to be in her bed alone or not at all. Remembering that Kim and Matt (who just flew the 20 hour flight to get here) are peacefully slumbering in the bunk above her, she slips out of her covers and under the mosquito net “protecting” her from the bugs. Act two: In the chaos of the night, she decides to run to the bathroom and regroup, develop a plan and execute it with the efficiency of a well-oiled machine (that’s not a Mitsubishi Eclipse cause we all know that wouldn’t help anything – p.o.s.). After several mental drafts, she settles on going back into battle and finding the intrepid foe. The plan details a search and rescue mission of some light source that is both bright enough to assist in the mission and dim enough to keep the unaware sleepers in their blissful state. The problem: her flashlight broke the first week here and the lantern she had been using was conveniently given to and packed by Matt and Kim to use for their Kili hike earlier that night – no known light source. Plan: search for a candle. Act three: With the development of the plan complete, she opens the bathroom door and who but her adversary is confidently marching toward her, hissing. She, sensing his daring nature and noting his enormous 3-inch black body, grabs the nearest object (the green bucket she uses to shower) and throws it, capturing him in the emerald prison. She wonders if the war is over and if she can go back to her warm bed. Cockroaches, she recalls from the various Discover Channel shows, never travel alone. “He’s the scout, more troops must be making their advance on my bed,” she thinks. She continues with the plan previously formulated in the bathroom, pre-giant hissing cockroach capture. 45 minutes later: Susan is still rustling through plastic bags scattered about the cramped room (cluttered with three people’s belongings). Susan hears Matt’s sleep-breathing soften until she’s sure that she woke him up – shit. But, the thought of a giant cockroach trying to usurp her bed keeps her searching. After another ten minutes she feels the desperation setting in like the cold seeping up her bare feet from the concrete floor. In a moment of brilliance, she remembers that she still has some candles, but they are packed in her suitcase that she prepared two days ago in anticipation of going home. “Screw it,” she says, “I’ll just take the suitcase out of the room and rummage through it until I find the friggin’ candles.” Leaden down with the gifts she bought for everyone (!!), she hauls the massively heavy luggage out in a not-so-silent maneuver. Candle in hand, she heads back feeling her pending victory. The candle is lit and she scans the disputed territory, nothing in sight. She heads toward the bed and peers in through the mosquito net, still no sign. The decision is made for the offensive and she climbs back in, ever ready to fight (or flee again). Upon climbing back in, she notices a peanut tucked into a wrinkle in the sheet – that explains the attraction of the cockroach, her restless sleep and is confirmation that she was indeed meant to be royalty and her theory about the cruel hand of fate cheating her (and her mother) out of their true destiny is quite true. After ten minutes of surveillance, she lays her head back down on her pillow, unsure of her victory but exhausted. She leaves the candle resting (alight) on the book that had initially ushered her into sleep and she stares intently around. Fatigue defeats Will Power and her eyelids sway up and down like ocean waves on the shore, eventually coming to rest against each other. She resigns herself to sleep, cockroach trapped safely away and peanut discarded into the makeshift receptacle (plastic bag hanging on the doorknob). Thus ends the story of the Princess and the Peanut (and the Cockroach). I hope you enjoyed my tale. I am coming up on my last 24 hours in Arusha, Tanzania. It has been an amazing adventure here and I am happy to let you all know that I will be continuing to work with SIC when I get back States-side. I will be participating in a six-woman team (go figure it’s all women) of On-Campus Coordinators at UCLA. We will be recruiting, selecting and preparing the future volunteers of SIC as well as working to improve the fundamentals of the program. Bringing it back to a personal level, I am so excited to come home. Friday night, Kim and I threw a little party for our home-stay family, Denis (Kim’s Tanzanian teaching counterpart and translator who’s farm we visited), and a few friends. We made guacamole – which is a huge success here after Kim introduced it to the Tanzanian menu – chapatti (Tz version of tortillas), beans, and provided an assortment of fresh fruits. After everyone arrived, we took drink orders and got a few beers. My favorite is Castle (the t is pronounced), but some other good ones here include Kilimanjaro and Tusker. Interestingly, they all claim to the most popular and best-tasting beer in Africa – we’ve argued about this. Dinner was followed by gift giving from Kim and me to our home-stay family. They seemed to really enjoy the gifts and Mama Siana actually went to try on the clothes that she had received. They all wore the smiles of little children on Christmas morning. Following the party was the story of our beloved princess (me). The next morning Kim and Matt left for Kili and I spent the day playing on the internet. Alison (incredible girl from Stanford that’s going to be the most successful pediatrician in history) invited me to get a gmail account!! So now you can all email me at trynity53@gmail.com. I will be phasing my yahoo account out slowly but either one works for now – but try to change my address to the gmail one asap. If you haven’t heard of gmail yet, it is the new email service provided by Google and the emails are displayed in conversation format and instead of filing, they provide a search engine for old emails. You all can check it out if look up gmail on Google. Right now gmail is in its test phase, so you have to be invited to get an account. So if you didn’t understand from the previous sentence, I am now part of the elite and you are not (unless you have a gmail account – in which case never mind). The next couple of days will be spent buying any last minute gifts for whomever (me) and saying goodbye to all my friends here. I am really going to miss the awesome fauna and the spectacular views of Mt. Meru, but I guess it’s consoling to think of the beautiful smog sunsets of LA that I used to so enjoy. A couple of the first things that I want to do when I get back are: take a SHOWER!!! (no more bucket showering for me unless we go camping), get a manicure and pedicure (cause damn), eat all the Mexican food there is in LA, and, of course, see all of you. If you are in LA, I fly back on the 21st and will be there until the 24th when, if you’re in NorCal, I’ll be flying up to see you. I absolutely cannot wait to see all of you in person, and though I have kept you up to speed rather religiously, I am sure I’ll have lots to tell. Plus, some of you have three entire months to update me on (yeah because somehow your email stopped working when I left the country – you know who you are).

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Susan's Office Hours for Testing Questions

This last Saturday, the entire SIC group held a community day at Mzimuni Primary (the school that I teach at about an hour away from Arusha town). The day provided the local community with classes teaching them about HIV from the biology through transmission and condom demonstrations to living and caring for a person with HIV. There was also music and other forms of entertainment, free food and free testing. I was not scheduled to teach any particular part of the curriculum, but was hoping to see some of my students and to observe the testing procedure (as I had done at the in-town testing). As with many things in Arusha area, things got started a couple of hours late. We filled the time by playing frisbee with the kids and practicing our broken Swahili (at which I could definitely use more practice). When more of the adults showed up , classes began, and as I wasn't doing anything, I wandered over to the Question Room where SIC staff was fielding random questions that the people had. Alison, a friend from Stanford, was heading the operation. As I arrived, a lady asked a question about how an HIV+ mother could have a HIV- child. Through a translator, Alison answered the question as thoroughly as possible. Her answer was greeted with the clever response, "I don't believe you." Then the people in the room proceeded to talk amongst themselves and propagate some of the misconceptions that are so common here. Alison was powerless against the torrential force of the Masai women and their thoughts about HIV. After another discouraging ten minutes, the women left to join a class being held that was teaching all the general information about HIV. The Question Room was closed for the rest of the day. It was decided that it would just be better for the people to ask their questions after they took the class to ensure 1) that they were going to the class and 2) that any clarifications that needed to be made could be in order to prevent miscommunication. After the flop of the Question Room, I wandered about until I nearly ran into a tarantula on his way somewhere. I wandered away from that spot very very rapidly. Once testing began, I asked if it would be possible (pretty please) to observe how the procedure went and offered to take down the statistics as well. Deus, who you'll remember I went on safari with, was heading the actual testing of people while "Dr." Linus provided those interested in testing with pre- and post-test counseling. I walked into the room and Deus told me to sit down, so I walked over to the stats book and he said, "No, come sit here. You know how to do this right?" I sat down and told him the procedure that I had seen Chava do at the in-town testing, and about 1 minute later we started testing the first of many people!!! The first person I tested was an older gentlemen (about 50 or 60) and he had no idea that I had never done it before. I was so nervous, but I figured the only thing worse than testing a person while you're nervous is testing someone who is nervous because his tester is nervous. I watched Deus out of the corner of my eye and let him begin about five seconds ahead of me, just to make sure that I was doing all of the steps correctly. First, I wrote the man's number down on the test strip (the numbers are used to identify the person since all tests are anonymous). Then peeled back the protective covering from the test. I put on my gloves (which were two sizes too big) and dunked a cotton ball into a pink liquid (that I assume was some sort of alcohol). I then reached for the man's giant hand, observing a slight shake in the his hand as well as in my own. I randomly chose the middle finger (so everyone that I tested essentially flipped me off) and cleaned it with the cotton ball. I then unwrapped a disposable needle that was flat like a paper clip and came to a point on one end. Without looking into his eyes, I placed the needle point near his finger tip and pushed...skip here if you don't like to hear about blood......The needle being safely discarded into a hazardous waste bucket, I fumbled in my giant latex gloves for a capillary tube that I had set out in front of me. Once obtained, I collected the blood and blotted it onto the test strip in the place indicated. While we say that you only need three drops of blood for the Rapid Test that SIC Mobile testing unit performs, it actually requires like five or six. I had to squeeze his finger about ten times to get enough blood to completely saturate the strip. Poor guy, but damn he clotted fast. So I made sure with all of the other people that I tested that I poked them hard enough and kept pressure on the wound so that the blood would continue to come out. After that first one, I was a pro. Bring on the HIV testing - which is exactly what happened. We only let in two people at a time because there were only two testers and every time we opened the door, a mob of test-seeking Tanzanians rushed in. After herding them back out, we continued. There was only one guy that I had to prick twice; his fingers were frozen and he wouldn't extended the digit fully (I didn't mind pricking him twice). The people that we tested ranged all over the spectrum: old, young (11 or so), men, women, pregnant, brave, fraidy-cats, etc. It was a really fun experience for me (sorry if that sounds heartless) and super interesting (great adjective, I know). About half-way through the day (around 3pm), Chava came in to takeover and I left on the first truck back to town. By the time I left, Deus and I had tested around 60 people. If I may share the results, since they are anonymous and none of you are in Tanzania, not one person showed up positive. You may recall that at our in-town testing, 36 people all tested negative. So on the way back, we discussed possible reasons as to how this could be. One theory: the test batch or test itself is flawed or damaged. One person, however, mentioned that the same batch was used at a different location and did yield some positive results. My was of rationalizing follows like this: if there is an HIV infection in a small community, then you would see a large number of HIV+ people when doing random testing, but if there is not a prominent HIV infection in that small community then not many people would be positive. Make sense? If not, ask me to clarify in individual emails ( I feel like I am holding class - come to my office hours). The entire thing was a great experience (though hot as hell) and I think we reached a lot of people that otherwise would not have had access to education and testing. Hopefully we are making a small difference here, it is nice to think so. Until next time (or office hours).

Monday, September 06, 2004

The lion sleeps tonight...after scaring the crap out of us

I have returned from another great adventure filled with wild animals, dangerous roads and even more dangerous food. The adventure almost never began because the night before we were scheduled to leave, I was clever enough to get some sort of traveler's diarrhea. I have always been one with impeccable timing. After some consultation, I decided to take one of my rounds of Cipro to alleviate the problem, but when I went to bed, things weren't looking good. Cipro is my new favorite friend. We traveled together on the safari the next morning and were literally one until Sunday morning when he went away. Friday morning, day one, I woke up chipper and ready to go, extremely excited that I could do the safari because you all know how much I love animals. The land cruiser picked us up at 8:30, and having been sick the entire night before, I woke up at a nice 7:30 to afford myself plenty of packing, showering, eating, organizing time. So at 8:45, I flew out the door, wet hair waving and my unzipped backpack (with various clothing items sticking out) in hand. What I didn't realize until about an hour later was that in my leisurely ambling of the morning, I had forgotten my sleeping bag. The safari included three days at the parks and two nights camping. The first day we did Tarangire National Park, followed by Ngorogoro Crater, and finally Lake Manyara. For the entire trip, we had to pay 140,000 shilling which is about $130.00. That included food, gas, cook and guide. The camp site (that turned out to have beds for the same price in an adjoined hostel) cost 6,000 shillings a night and the park fees (after the student discount) were $5 each. If you add it up, you'll find that it was an amazingly sweet deal. The thanks goes to Deus, one of the Tanzanians that is on staff with SIC. The group that I went with included Deus, Ibrahim (an American coordinator from Stanford), Kim (roomie), Michelle (another American volunteer from Stanford) and myself (oh, plus the guide, Saidi, and the cook, Kirenga). If you want to go on a great safari in Tanzania, but don't want the extravegant price, contact Saidi. Let me begin by saying that the safari experience rivals that of rafting the Nile in terms of the most fun I have ever had in my life. In Tarangire, the first things we saw were the massive Baobab trees that have trunks the size of houses and branches that reach out like arms protecting the land. They are so impressive and actually quite important for the elephants that like to munch on them. You'll see a picture of me in front of one that has a hole through the middle of the trunk, after having been eaten by elephants. The Thompson's gazelle claims the victorious spot of first animal of the trip closely followed by the Bushnell zebra. I won't go through all of the animals but the noteworthy ones include elephants, leopards, baboons, giraffes, and one very special lion. Tarangire was probably my favorite park because of the lion experience that we had. We had been riding for about 4 hours in the park, when another guide told Saidi where there was a lion close to the road. We drove over there and after 20 minutes didn't see anything. I sort of gave up seeing the lion and started to make noise right at the exact same moment that we passed a big tree on the left-hand side. Underneath that tree, reclining out of view, was a massive male lion with piercingly gold eyes and a large fluffy mane. He was about 3 to 5 feet from the car. Michelle, IB, and I were hanging out left side. When we saw the lion, Michelle ducked down into the car and started to roll up her window, I just ducked down and IB (who filmed everything on his camcorder) zoomed in - so there should be some pretty awesome footage of that. My heart, instead of skipping a beat, sped up like it was trying to run away inside my body. We were so close that I could have leaned out and touched him. If any of you have been on safari, you know that getting that close to any of the big cats is near impossible, so it was really a spectacular experience. That was definitely the highlight of Tarangire, but there was so much more to come in Ngorogoro and Lake Manyara. We spent the night at Jambo campsite, and since I had forgotten my sleeping bag, I was not a happy camper - literally. But, as I said, there were hostel rooms for the same price so we all ended up sleeping in nice beds. The food that night was great and after dinner there was an African drumming extravaganza complete with traditional dancing. IB got it on video so I'll bring home a copy to show you all my adventures - I can be the guide bringing the flora and fauna of Africa to you (it will cost you though). The next morning, we headed out to Ngorogoro - the paradise of Tanzania. We entered early in the morning and were greeted by the welcome committee composed entirely of baboons. We drove up the windy burnt dirt road that lined the entrance like a Hollywood red carpet premiere. The greenest plants I have ever seen flashed by like an emerald smear of paint as we climbed higher up the crater wall. The mist was so thick at the top that it looked like we had reached heaven. But, it was friggin freezing (Mr. Bigglesworth!) and I had to layer on three shirts to keep the chill out. When we arrived at the top, we began out descent down the other side. Instead of the lush flora of the outer crater wall, the inside was lined with dead straw-colored grass waving their greetings as we met the wind and intense heat. Before reaching the animal section of the crater, we stopped at a Masai village that had been established hundreds, maybe thousands of years ago. We payed six thousand shillings each to get in and the men performed their traditional jumping ceremony complete with the sound effects while the women, wearing their traditional necklaces, joined in the song. Again, IB got all of this on tape. After entering one of the homes and speaking with the head man (who spoke perfect English), we walked around the village and saw all of the huts and where they keep the live stock. The head man told us of how he has four wives, one in this village and three more in another village. The most prosperous Masai of the area, the Shaman, has 49 wives and an uncountable number of children. They live the way their ancestors lived a hundred years ago, relying on the land to provide grazing for the cattle. They are supported by the government and the tourists, so I didn't mind paying a ridiculous 20,000 shillings for a necklace - you'll see it in the pictures. Ngorogoro has the most diverse population of animals and environments in one place. We went from misty jungle to dry plains to a swamp-like setting to a tall forest to a salty lake to anything else you can think of. It was in Ngorogoro that we saw all of the big five: rhinoceros, lion, buffalo, elephant, leopard. In addition, we saw more birds than I could count (Kathy, you were so right!), a ball python that had been stepped on by an elephant, more baboons, vervet monkeys, blue monkeys, cheetahs, lionesses with cubs, hyenas, zebras, wildebeests, warthogs, all sorts of four-legged dear-like animals, hippos and more zebras. You get the idea. It actually started to rain while we were there but it turned out to be really nice because the smell of the wet land was unforgettable - it did have the unpleasant tinge of wet dog, but more than that, the overwhelming fresh natural smell that reminded me of a rainy day in fall in California. We got a little wet but Kim had forced me to take my rain coat, so I was prepared. At the end of the day, IB and Michelle got really sick - IB actually threw up....a few times. Turns out that IB had dysentery and Michelle had an amoebic cyst. I think I am sick now too, but the Cipro I was taking helped me fend anything off during the actual safari. We made it back to Jambo campsite and spent the rest of the evening trying unsuccessfully to get them to a hospital. In Tanzania, the roads close at sunset so unless you are authorized. In order to get the people to the main hospital in Arusha, we would have had to get a note from the doctor and taken that to the police station and gotten consent from them and even then we would have had to show the proper documentation every 5 feet along the road. So they stayed the night. The third day, Deus, Kim, Michelle and I left IB alone at the hostel as we headed out to Lake Manyara. Lake Manyara will be legendary in my memory due to a very exciting / incredibly scary elephant encounter. We caught it on the camcorder that IB had lent us (a bit hesitantly, but lent nonetheless so we could bring the safari to him). First, there were two male elephants having it out ten feet off the right side of the road. We could hear their ivory tusks crashing together as they butted heads. About 20 feet up the road, there was a mama elephant and baby...and two more giant elephants in the brush. The mama and baby were on the road. To the left, in the same spot, there was a one-tusked male elephant having his Sunday brunch. All of the sudden, the mama elephant started to charge our car, I think that we had gotten too close to her baby, so the driver threw it in reverse, but ho ho ho, the male elephant from behind had gone into the road too. We were surrounded. Thankfully, we made it out alive (said in my best Crocodile Hunter voice), but they came within ten feet of the car. Other than that, Lake Manyara houses some spectacular bird life including a pack of flamingos that absolutely blanketed the lake. We had a other encounters: one with a giraffe that I named Jack, because he just looked like a Jack and another with some baboons. Baboons are kind of mean and their butts are ugly - seriously, there is no hair and a lot of them had big red growths. In fact, it was disgusting. Butt-ugly baboons. On that note, I shall end the tale of my adventure. Three days was not enough. I would love to come back (maybe next year because Kim is going to be living here doing a research project - huhumm Pete). I highly highly recommend that if you have not been on safari that you get out here and do it. Especially if you want to see rhinos (I saw three black ones in Ngorogoro) because they are disappearing fast.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Kickin' it in a 73' VW bug while hitchiking with a priest in Tz

Surprised to hear from me again so soon? Well, some pretty interesting/funny stuff happened in the last couple of days. Yesterday, SIC held an in-town seminar free to all those who wanted to come. We taught the entirety of our curriculum and provided free HIV testing as well as free condoms. It was a hit and tons of people showed up (I think the free condoms had something to do with it). I got the opportunity to participate in the testing! It was an incredible experience that I hope to do again several times before I go. SIC has a mobile testing unit that goes out to the far villages and tests for free using the Rapid test (a few drops od blood and 20 minutes later you get your status). One of the girls in the program, Chava, was an EMT for many years so she performed the finger pricking. (Does everyone know that I am getting my EMT licence when I get back to UCLA?) I, as an unqualified nobody, got to take all the stats and prepare the tests, but I got to be in there while the people were being tested. Everything was (and always is) anonymous, but there's no harm in saying that of the 36 people we tested, there were NO positives! It was really incredible because the infection rate in Arusha town is guesstimated to be about 20%. Although, I must confess that five of the people tested were SIC volunteers so that Chava could get some practice before the real people came in - ouch! my finger still hurts. Today, my friend (Kim) as well as a Tanzanian translator (Denis) and I went out to a little village called Mlangurini. Denis was taking us to meet his father and grandparents on their farms. I cannot tell you what an incredible experience this was, I am seriously grateful that I took advantage of the opportunity because it was really authentic. We left about 10 in the morning on a dala-dala (public transportation) and arrived about an hour or so later. The driver would not take us where we needed to go, so we ended up walking about five miles to get to the farm of Denis' father. When we got there, Denis showed us the one room shack that he grew up in and the 20 acres that his father owned. We must have walked the entire area: corn fields, coffee fields, tobacco fields, casava, etc. The father (a Masai man) did not look any older than 30 and was so humble and kept apologizing for the sorry state of his existence saying, "You are such special people (meaning us white people), you should not be here, but should be in a special place filled with nice things." I did not even know how to react. Kim and I kept insisting on thanking him for letting us see his home and for showing us around his property. It was really awkward for a while, but then he let it go and we went to see the graves of his parents and only daughter who died shortly after birth. They were buried in a mound under a tree in one of the corn fields, with no form of marcation. The farm had been his inheritance, as it was meant to be the inheritance of Denis as well (Denis has won a scholarship to study at University and wants to study economics and international realtions - we are trying to find him scholarships to come to the US to study because he is brilliant, wants to travel and speaks perfect English). The father then excused himself as he had to go water his cattle in a river about three miles away. Kim took tons of pictures so you all get to see them when I get back. I could tell you so much more, but my time is almost up and I want to get to the grandparents farm. The grandparents' farm dealt solely in bananas. It was an amazing oasis next to a river, a stark contrast to the dry and desolate fields of his father's farm. Denis was so proud to be showing us around his home that he made us take pictures of everything(!!). When we got there, he introduced us to his grandparents (mother's side) who looked no older than 60, as you'll see. There were little children running around because his uncle and family still live on the plantation so the grandmother takes care of the children during the day. So when we got there, the grandparents were seated on a little bench outside one of the houses. Kim and I greeted them with the customary "shikamoo" given as form of respect. Literally it means "I am at your feet." They ushered us under a lace curtain and into the main greeting area of one of the huts. They provided us with bananas that had been freshly picked that morning and tried to give us water (but thankfully Denis told them that our immune systems were not adapted to the environment). After we rested and talked a while with the grandparents, Denis showed us around the plantation. Let me just add in that I am glad Kim made me wear my hiking books because at the other farm there were hopping spiders about the size of beans - did not want to be wearing sandles. Back to the bananas. We started at the livestock section. There were a few cows, some goats and a lot of chickens. I tried to pet a cow, but it got scared and nearly rammed me. You'll see a picture (when I get back) of Denis strangling a cow in attempt to settle it so I could pet it. Too bad the cow thought that we were going to slaughter it. After the livestock, we walked down an embankment into the grove of banana trees. Denis tried to point out the different bananas grown on each tree, I just saw a trunk with green leaves at the top. Kim and I agreed that we did not possess the gift of the cultivated "banana eye". Walking along, under the shade of the huge banana tree leaves, we arrived at a little creek. It was babbling and filled with tiny tadpoles. We asked if they eat frogs here...they don't. We walked along the water's edge until we heard a loud rustling across the bank. "Nothing to worry about," Denis says, "just a crocodile." Right, we high-tailed it out of there asap. A few more banana grooves and some tobacco plants (!) and that concluded our tour. One thing that surprised me about both farms was the bouganvilla that grows wild everywhere. The colors range from red to pink to orange and even a shade of lavender. It really pops out against the thirsty brown landscape. So at the end of the tour, the grandparents and various children posed for some pictures. Kim took them with a digital camera that shows the picture right after you take it and they absolutely flipped. Apparently they had never seen a photo before and refused to believe that the image shown on the camera was them the instant before. It was a little strange. We eventually convinced them that it indeed was their images captured, but as walked away I wasn't sure if they ever really believed. Before leaving, however, the grandmother gave us two huge clusters of fat sweet yellow bananas and four large eggs. Denis made sure that we knew that the eggs and bananas were grown from nature and they were better than other eggs and bananas - it was really sweet. We had arranged for the dala-dala to pick us up around 2 o'clock, but no such luck so after waiting for about half an hour, Denis walked over to one of the local people and inquired about a car. If anyone has seen the movie Laws of Attraction when they were in Ireland, it was similar to that. He reported back that there was a priest that was finishing his lunch and was shortly to depart. So we sat on the side of a rocky dirt road under the shade of a tall tree called, in Swahili, Zambarao. It was pleasant enough and thankfully Kim and I had brought sandwiches and oranges to eat. We waited and waited and waited. About an hour later Denis went to ask the priest how much longer he would be, the response - five minutes. Yeah! While we were waiting, a woman walking by stopped to chat with us. Denis later told us that she had been caring for a woman with AIDS that had died in her arms the night before. She was on the way to let the entire town know. The woman who died left behind five children an no husband. When I asked Denis what would happen to the children said that they would most likely end up on the streets, sniffing glue (as all the street children do here). The children had no father and the woman was from a different region so there are not even family members to look after them. More waiting. Forty-five minutes later we ask again and the priest says he's on his way. After another half an hour, a tall man (6'6'') dressed in a plaid shirt, wearing a fire-red cap, strolls out from behind the bushes leading to the restaurant. He motions to us and we follow. As we turn the corner to see his car, a fire-red '73 VW bug comes into view, so with cap to match, the priest hops in. Denis, Kim and I wedge ourselves into the back seat and another passenger sits shotgun. It was quite a sight, two white women and three tanzanian men shoved into the most ostentatious car in Tanzania. To top off the experience, the car wouldn't start (ah, memories of our pea-green dinosaur VW van) so five local men filed up behind and gave us a running start. A few sputtering moments later, the engine kicked in and we were off. It is too bad that we were driving on a dirt road because I swear that there was a lawnmower under the car. The sound was so similar that a few times, I could have sworn that I smelled freshly cut grass. But my senses were quickly overwhelmed by the familiar odor of leaking petrol. We thanked (and paid them) at a railroad crossing and switched over to a dala-dala. The dala-dala ride was not all that interesting except for the fact that on the back window, the phrase read, "Don't tell my wife." (Note that the dala-dalas are public transportation vans that people have bought and run independently and each one can be differentiated by the phrases written on the back window.) I think that this one was actually borrowed from the Flintstones because during the ride, Iooked down and could see the ground passing beneath us through the floor.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Three Blind Mice Drive a Bus in Uganda

We have been through the journey down the river, but now we must recap the class 6 bus ride there and back (class 6 is called an unrunable and deadly rapid). Thursday of last week I was teaching a community group out in Mzumuni, about an hour outside of Arusha. The community group includes local tribes that gather together to hear the entirety of our curriculum. It is scheduled for 10 am to 3pm, but the people don't show up until 11:30 or so. They affectionately refer to it as "African time." I am going to buy a shirt that says, "No hurry in Africa" - which is the most appropriate summation of the lifestyle here that I have yet to see. The bus to Uganda was scheduled to leave at 4. If you are doing your math properly, you can see that I was cutting it extremely close. So after the session ended (in a rather hurried manner), I caught the dala dala (public transportation) and hauled it to the bus station. I got there about ten to four and met up with my fellow rafters - the bus didn't show up until a little after five - I should have figured. So we get on the bus, snacks ready and bladders emptied. I was under the impression that it would be bench seating with chickens and goats and crying children. I believe that Romancing the Stone had something to do with that. Pleasantly, there were individual seats with an arm rest in between. We board successfully and embark without problems. It wasn't until the end of the five hour journey that I realized that I was in East Africa. People had been snacking the entire trip through, and a few people had been eating cashews. So about ten minutes before we pull into the Akamba bus station in Nairobi, the guy behind me (in my group) says, you're really lucky that I'm here (okay conceded) because I just killed a cockroach that was crawling on your head rest toward your hair. Right. I kind of looked back at him with wide eyes wondering whether he was joking or what, when the girls across from begin to shout about the fifteen giant cockroaches and numerous other unidentifiable bugs that are attacking the cashews strewn across the floor. Reminder, we are in a bus that we have been in for five hours. We have crossed a boarder, been harassed by vendors and ripped off by currency exchange places. Plus, as some of you can relate, we have been breathing recycled air in an old musty bus filled with cockroaches. Thank god that we arrived shortly there after because I couldn't even imagine what we would have done. The trip back, however, afforded me that opportunity. Being ten or so at night, in Nairobi we decided the smart thing to do was get some food and wait for our next bus. The oh-so-luxurious bus company had provided meal vouchers at the bus station "restaurant", so we headed up and got the Voucher platter. After living here for 6 weeks, I am pretty flexible about food. But this was the most unpalatable and probably bacteria ridden food that has ever been set before me. What do I do? Naturally I try the food cause I'm frickin hungry. But, despite the pleas of my tummy, my tongue refuses to take any more. Midnight - we are off on the 18 bus ride from Nairobi (Kenya) to Kampala (Uganda). Might I interject a little note: the bus had just been hosed down to get all of the trash, infestations of cockroaches and whatever else that I don't want to think about. The downside, the seats were wet, the floor was wet, the windows were steamy and there was a sauna-like atmosphere to the whole thing. Good thing that it was the longest ride ever. So the driver had alcohol on his breath, but here, eh, doesn't really matter. That is, until we almost crashed into a heard of wild camels. Sometime between 3am and the time the sun came up, the driver spotted a heard of camels on the road and swerved to the left....the exact same direction that the camels decided to flee to. Smart. There were a few other near death crashes involving wild animals, but I was able to get in a few hours of sleep - which Kim very nicely took a picture of (so you will all be able to see me with my mouth open, head cocked and terribly attractive looking). Insert the last email here and then skip to the bus ride home. The trip was supposed to go from Thursday afternoon to Tuesday morning because we all had to teach on Tuesday. So we had reserved seats on the Akamba bus for Monday at three which would have gotten us in by Tuesday at 11am to teach at 12:30. But...for a some inexplicable reason, the lady that had taken our reservations in Arusha thought that it would be jolly good fun to call the bus station in Kampala and tell them that we didn't pay for our tickets and that the seats should be sold. Good times those turned out to be. We waited in the bus terminal for over an hour, missed our bus and spent the next hour trying to find seats on any other company that was driving to Nairobi. No luck - stuck in Kampala (the most beautiful city in the world) for another night, damn. I was so looking forward to another ride on the East African chariot. One girl had been to Kampala before so she knew this awesome place to stay for pretty cheap. It is called the Blue Mango and it actually turned out to be pretty cool. The next morning we packed our stuff and went for round two at the bus station. This time we got on the bus and refused to leave so they were forced to take us (actually we had tickets, but they were a bitch to get). As we are sitting there waiting to leave, Kim says to me, "Sorry to bother you, but could you please kill that cockroach?" We hadn't even left yet! I take off my dirty Target shower slipper and kill the thing, thinking I should have put on bug spray and worn steel-toed shoes. Let me just sum this up by saying that it got to a point where the cockroaches were dropping on us from the ceiling of the bus, and I just watched as they crawled down my leg and into the bag containing my snacks. Some of the more pleasant aspects of the ride home include the giant baboons on the side of the road, the amazing views of the Nile and jungle and people and huts. Kim has a digital camera and her computer here so she's taking lots of pictures and is going to give me a CD of all of them (since I only brought three disposable cameras). Also, there is an account set up where everyone in the program is going to download their pictures. Some people have already started so if you want to check out what it looks like here, you can go to http://www.ofoto.com/. the user name is (ask me) and the password is (ask me). If you need an email address use www.lizzy.bennett@gmail.com. I haven't put up any pictures and I don't know if there are any of me, but you could at least see where I am and some of the things that I've been doing. I will throw a party with a slide show when I get back. Okay, going to wrap this one up. We crossed the boarder, from Uganda to Kenya and it was absolute chaos. Luckily I was in charge so I at least was assured that I would get through (not that I don't really care about the others, but if it comes down to me or you, you bet your sweet ass that I am picking me). We got back late on Wednesday, missing another day of classes, but arrived safe and sound. Quite an ordeal. huh? But folks, that was the most fun I have ever had in my entire life and the people that I can still stand and I are planning another rafting trip for some time next year. We want to go somewhere in California and the to the Colorado. One of our guides is going to Norway to guide up there, so maybe I'll check that out when I go to Europe next summer.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Cleo-Susan, Queen of the Nile

I am safe and sound back In Arusha, in one very burned piece. The weather in Jinja was fabulous the entire way through and despite my hourly application of SPF 50, I am seriously burned (thank you equatorial sun). So, Saturday we began by scurrying around at 6 in the morning trying to get ready for our 7 am pick up. I ordered fruit and yogurt and toast and tea. I ended up getting coffee and toast. The Nile (in Jinja) is an hour and a half away from Kampala, the capital of Uganda. But I was so excited that the ride seemed like two minutes. Uganda is absolutely the most picturesque place I have seen in the entire world. It has the green jungles that you see in the movies with wild animals running everywhere. It makes me wish that the program was held there. When we got to the place of departure, some of the people in the group decided to bungee jump. They each had three jumps and there were five people so it took a while. To pass the time, I was sitting on some stone stairs and chatting with a few of the others when all of the sudden I felt a really sharp pain in my butt. I jumped with a little screech and flicked a giant ant off of my pants. It had bitten through a pair of pants and my bathing suit! I thought that I had been stung by a wasp or scorpian- there was a huge welt that burned and itched like crazy. One of the other girls, Alison, suggested that I get an Epi-pen in case I went into anaphylactic shock - that's how big the welt was. After the bungee jumpers had done their thing, we divided up into two boats (between the 17 of us) and piled on the sexy protective gear. We started by paddling around in circles, practicing for the first rapid that we couldn't exactly see, but could really hear. The first rapid was little (a class 3) but got us all pumped up for the rest of the trip. The second rapid, in contrast, was a noteworthy class 5 called the G-spot. It is notorious for flipping rafts and is the cover picture for the Adrift Company that was leading the adventure. The other boat went first, and we got to watch as they tumbled through the beginning - losing a couple people- and then flipping over in the trough of the biggest wave. Needless to say, our hearts were racing after watching what happened to them. Later on, one girl told us that she was caught under the water for 18 seconds. Yikes! We headed toward the head of the rapid, knowing that there was an 85% chance of flipping and as we approached...the crest of the wave broke and we "greened out", meaning that we went right over the top of the wave. We didn't know that at the time, so we thought that our boat had mystical powers and that the rest of the rapids were going to be a piece of cake. Someone suggested that for every rapid that we didn't flip, we would drink a beer. We didn't flip the entire day! But actually, on one of the last rapids of day one, called Big Brother, I flew out. It was a class 4 and I involuntarily choose to body surf it from the beginning. The water was pounding my head like a heavy metal drummer at his last concert and I was convinced that I was going to die, but after about 7 seconds, I popped up and took a huge gulp of air and Nile water. The Nile is a class five river (for the section that we rafted) that has five class 5's. The first day we rafted 12 rapids followed by five rapids the seconds day. About midway, we stopped on a small island for lunch. Oh good god, the food was incredible. We had sandwiches with thinly sliced meat, cucumber, tomato, cheese (!!), green bell peppers, potato salad and fresh pineapple. The other people rafting with us (from England) must have thought Americans to be the most gluttonous people on earth because we attacked the buffet like cockroaches on a cashew (will explain later). It was almost a spiritual experience as we all ate silently - some, I could swear, with tears welling in their eyes. At the very end of the day the other people went back and just our group of 17, three guides and seven of the safety kayakers camped out on an island in the middle of the river. Side note - did you know that you can lease an island in the Nile for about $200-$300 for fifty years? Anyone want me to buy them an island while I'm here? Wouldn't that be a nice souvenir? So in total there were 27 of us and, true to our promise, we drank a beer for every rapid that we didn't fall out on. And for the rapids that you fell out on, you had to take a shot. By the end of the night....well, I don't remember. One girl was kind of sick (with an illness exacerbated by drinking) so she went to bed early. The other girl staying in her tent thought that it would be a good idea to put her in a dry bag (used to carry things that you don't want to get wet - about the size of a duffel bag and ridden with buckles) so that she could sweat out her fever. So the friend carried 15 dry bags up the hill to the tents (and fell down it once) to line the tent and tie the sick girl up in a dry bag. Luckily, the sick girl had enough sense not to get into the bag, but ended up sleeping with buckles in her face for the entire night. When they told the story the next morning, we would have peed our pants laughing had we not all been so hung over. As you can imagine, hangovers and rapids aren't an ideal combo, but after a "refreshing" swim (being pushed out of the raft by our guide), we were ready to hit some more rapids. On one of the class 4's, our boats perfect record was tarnished. I feel the pride in saying, "I rafted a class 5 in East Africa and never flipped" slip through my fingers as the raft did the same. But it turned out to be good fun, after I realized that I probably wasn't going to die. At the end of the very last rapid, there was a huge wave (maybe 10ft) and our guides pulled the rafts over so that we could "surf". They had boogie boards and flippers and basically what you do is hold on to a piece of foam and throw yourself into the gigantic rushing wave and play a fun little game called "I don't want this wave to catch me and sink/pin me to the bottom of the river where I will die a terrifying and watery death". I played twice. So we finished the rapids and were cruising along the flat water toward the shore. The sun was shining, we had had a great time, birds were chirping, and giant tarantula was crawling on the girl across from me. (For those of you who didn't know that I am arachnophobic, now is a good time for me to mention that). Sputteringly, I mumbled gibberish and pointed with bulging eyes at her life jacket to the bird-sized spider making it's way toward her head. When she figured out what I was doing, she panicked and flicked the spider, guess where, right across the boat at me. I let out a scream to end all screams and rather elegantly hurled my body toward the end of the raft. The guide's body also happened to be occupying the same space that I had decided to claim so he needed to move. The spider scurried, no - lumbered (or some other word for how a giant thing moves), underneath one of the floaties in the middle of that boat. The guide made me go back to my seat, but my friend Kim, seeing the terror in my face switched with me and vanquished the 8-legged devil. It actually was really scary and I ended up crying, but I turned my head so hopefully no one saw. During our trip back, I am told that I was in bit of a terror stupor, so I didn't really talk to anyone or do anything but wave at the natives and think about that giant tarantula. Last night (present time), Kim gave me a rock that she had picked up from the bed of the Nile river. She said that she realized how distracted I was and said that she knew I would have wanted one, so she picked it up for me. How awesome is that? We got back to the hostel and had a good nights sleep. The next day our bus was scheduled to leave at 3 in the afternoon, so of course we went shopping in the morning. I got a couple more masks to add to my collection. So we get to the bus station about an hour early only to find out the someone had called from Arusha to say that we hadn't payed for our bus tickets, which were then promptly sold to others. No bus for us. It was a huge fiasco but it worked out that we found a place to stay for the night and caught the bus the next day. I was in no hurry to catch the 23 hour ride back, so it didn't rock the boat for me. There were some people, however, that absolutely threw a fit and even demanded their money back! Tangent: on the morning after our rafting was over, I woke up a little early and walked outside and much to my surprise, breakfast had begun outside my door. There was a medium sized monkey perched on the wall in front. He looked at me and then turned to the papaya tree to the right, plucked off a papaya and bit into it. I was awe-struck, it was one of the coolest things ever.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Chocolate Cake

I'm at one of the local internet cafes that is also a bakery and I swear to you that they have the best chocolate cake in the entire world. I had been indulging my homesickness by having a piece nearly everyday and today I was resolutely going to not get a piece. But as I was sitting here, innocently, checking my mail, they friging bring out a hot cake and put it right next to me with the seductive aroma wafting around me, and I swear, calling my name. So now, as I write to you all, I am eating a piece of chocolate cake. I wonder if they put an addictive ingredient in it that makes you crave it. I am going in a half an hour to to teach my favorite class - the high schoolers. Today we are covering a little bit more of the immune system (cellular and humoral response for those of who know) and going into the progression of HIV and how a person develops AIDS. I just finished teaching that to my primary school class yesterday. I was worried that they weren't getting it, but just nodding their heads, but when I asked what the name of the protein on the surface of HIV was called, a little kid in the front row stood up and said "gp 120!!!". I was so excited and strangely proud that I jumped up and down. I think that when the rest of the class saw how excited I was that they remembered, more of the kids started volunteering answers. Whatever works right? I'm not sure if I have mentioned this to all of you, but we have to drive out to the villages that we are teaching at and the drive takes about 45 minutes down the dustiest, dirtiest, bumpiest road in the world. We are jammed into the truck, which should hold about 20 people, but uncomfortably fits about 40. You guys can't even imagine. I have someone's hand on, or up, my butt daily. Oddly,. it usually is male Tanzanian translator -oops! One time, this guy had is hand placed between (imagination) to the point where I felt really uncomfortable and I ended up leaning against a spike in order to get away. By the end of the truck ride, I had a bruise the size of a baseball from being jammed into this metal spike for 45 minutes. Now the bruise is going down, but it got to the size of a volleyball - worst bruise of my life. The good part of the truck ride is that the road is lined with monkey-filled trees, so we get to watch them swinging. Also, we all sing songs. Some of the favorites are taken from Disney movies or the Beatles, and recently a little Queen. The Tanzanian people have also been trying to teach us songs, but we can't remember them the next day.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Mwalimu Susan

I have almost finished my first week of teaching at the schools here. The kids are so smart and inquisitive. I feel rather ashamed of what I was thinking their level of education would be because they already are familiar with HIV biology and the immune system. Preparing my lesson plan now takes about 4-5 hours. The high school class that I'm teaching speaks English quite fluently, so I am not even using my translators (except for some very technical biological terminology). Tomorrow's lesson with be on the biology of the HIV virus, how it infects the cells and why it is so hard to treat. I hope that I can prepare enough material to teach them something that they don't already know! Tuesday morning I participated in a side program called "Patients with AIDS visits". While the title seems self explanatory, it is misleading. The people that I visited were just recently diagnosed with HIV. They are two women (ages 23 and 25), with two children each, living together in one small room. In a group of about 12 people, we crowded into their room and sat down to talk with them. I thought we were going to be visiting people with AIDS, but these women were healthy and strong. The stories they told us were really depressing. The younger of the two women, Diana, said that she started to feel sick one day and went to get tested. When she found out she was positive, her husband beat her and then left her with her their two children. The older woman, Amen, said that she suspected her husband of using prostitutes so she decided to go get tested and somehow convinced her husband to go along with her. When they found out they were both positive, the husband wrote letter to Amen's entire family telling them that she gave him HIV, and then informed the community that she was a prostitute. He then left her. The scariest part of the visit was just looking at the women, both were young and (according to our Tanzanian translators) very attractive. You would never think that they were infected with such a deadly disease. A local doctor came with us and was trying to convince them that if they took care of themselves, they could live to 50. I wondered if their kids had been tested, but apparently that hasn't happened yet. Another group that was visiting HIV+ people said that one woman, who was infected, had 3 kids and 1 of them was infected at birth. Could you imagine? The reality of HIV here is overwhelming. In Arusha, 1 in every five people is infected with HIV. I bet that is a conservative estimate. On a brighter note, my home stay family is awesome. I love being at home. Last night, a girl who stayed with the same family that I am staying with 8 years ago when she was in the Peace Corps came to visit. It was really fun to hear her story - she was here for two years and actually ended up marrying a man from Tanzania! She is just back visiting and buying Tanzanite to bring back to some of her friends/family since you can get it so cheap. She said that you could buy a karat of the highest quality for about $250-300. Hmmmm!!! Also, the son of the family, Timmy, surprised me this morning by showing up while I was doing dishes in my pj's and glasses. Yeah, that was fun. He came from Moshi (a town an hour away where he's studying medicine) to visit his family. Lucky for me, I was the only one home since everyone had left for work. Good times. But we talked for an hour about his school and future plans. He seems extremely smart - speaks four languages, going to get his MD, then MPH, then masters. He, along with the Peace Corps girl, is coming to dinner tonight, so it should be interesting!

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Moving into the house on Kijenge road

Yesterday I spent an hour writing all of you, telling of my wonderful adventures and the amazing people I have met (among them the Liliputians). Then, when I hit 'send', wouldn't you guess, the computer froze and I lost it all. So here's, as the preist said in Spaceballs, "Te short short version." Friday afternoon, we moved into our homestays. Let me preface this with my feelings about moving out of the place I had grown comfortable in with all the people I had become friends with to a place that I had a 10 - 90 chance of getting running water in. Everyone was upset about having to go live with homestays (some people rightfully so). But, alas, we had no choice so Friday afternoon around 4pm, we were all to meet and greet our new "families". My mama was late, which was great since I had to make a pit stop on the way back from class to get her a present (a giant can of cookies that I am now enjoying). So i get there and she is still not there but I see all of the other somestays mamas picking up everyone else. Most of them had caught taxis to come meet us and take us back to their "homes". I was really nervous as I watched everyone load up their stuff into the taxis and take off. I was standing and talking to one of the mama's of my friend when she said oh I think that is your mama coming. She had her own car! Granted it was really small, but it really lifted my spirits. Go figure that when it comes down to it, I'm not a hole-in-the-ground-for-a-toliet / no need to shower for a couple months sort of girl! Who among you would have guessed that?? So I am greeted by the joliest (and fatest) Tanzanian person I have ever seen. After the bear hug, she insisted on helping me with my bags until she tried to pick one of them up, and then I smiled and took the rest from there. We take off and head down the main road for 10 minutes, eventually coming to the most typical shanty-lined dirt road I have ever seen. Take the images from those commercials asking for sponsorship for children and stick me, in a car with a jolly fat woman, in it. As we go up the road, on whatever side had the fewest people to hit, I ask the mama how long she had been driving. She responds, "A very long time, longer than most." This turns out to be six months. Right! Okay. The neighborhood is so poor that I can feel the cold showers running down my back for the next two months. We hang a left down this alley and stop in front of a red gate. She honks the horn (as she has been doing throughout the trip for no apparent reason other than extreme self-satisfaction) and two little boys open the gate and we drive in. Most of the houses have what are called house boys and girls, they are like the hired help who cook and do laundry, etc. I figure these little boys are the helpers, but it turns out that they are the neighbors. Inside of the compound there are three houses. I live in the nicest one that has a front porch and wonderfully carved wooden doors. I am greeted at the door by staring children and a girl who looks about my age. She actually does help me into the livingroom of the house that is decorated in doilies and dated furniture but with a touch of class. The living room has 5 sitting chairs, two two-seater sofas, a main coffee table, several end tables, a fire place and an entertainment center (with TV, VCR and dishes diplayed). From the livingroom, I walk past a connected dinning room that has just enough room for six chairs and a good size table (I notice that there is a sink in the corner -but that is very typical here). We turn left off of the living room and the first door on the left is my room. Mama Timmy (my main mama) flips the light switch and welcomes me to my new home for the next seven weeks. The room is small and dark with bunk beds, an armoir and two tables. I put my stuff down and Mama Timmy shows me the rest of the house: the kitchen on the right, her and her husband's room on the left, right across the way is the bathroom and at the end of the hall, Mama Sianna and Sianna's room. Mama Sianna is the girl who is about my age and the is the sister of Mama T. Her daughter, Sianna is 4 years old. I anxiously look in the bathroom, and to my overwhelming relief, I see a shower with hot water (!!!!!!) and a flushing toliet !!!!!!!!!! Haleighlujuah!! I have since used that shower - it is wonderful. Ahh. My first dinner there was spaghetti with meat sauce, papaya, cucmber, oranges and water. It was the best food I have had since I got here. Everyone of you would have really enjoyed it. Okay, so this email isn't that short, but I want to let all of you know that I am really doing well here and I haven't gotten sick again yet (knock on wood). I am still training and have not yet begun to teach, but we formed our teaching groups (mine sucks because the people are hard to get along with, and the translators barely speak English). We start not next week but the week after. I am actually really excited to start out HIV teaching - I have found that I love the sound of my own voice, go figure! And, I am the biology expert, so I will be handling all of the bio. Sweet.