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

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

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.


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