Friday, April 20, 2012

The Story of WOMEDA

The following is a blog that I wrote for the Amizade website. As part of our program, each student is responsible for writing 2 blogs during the semester. The theme we chose to stem off of is the importance and the significance of story telling. 

          This story begins with a woman sitting on a long, plain, wooden bench in an ordinary room in Kayanga town. The room was once painted a yellow-tan color but has since been decorated in scuffs, scratches, and dirt. The paint is rubbed off in places, and the ceiling is home to handfuls of wasps, migrating from their main colony to smaller ones near by. The woman sits with her feet firmly on the concrete floor, her back to a wooden door latched with a silver and gold padlock. She, like many women from across the Karagwe District of North-Western Tanzania, has travelled from her home and family to sit in this room. The room is plain, unremarkable. But it is in this room that women are heard. This room, at WOMEDA, is where she has come to share her story and to get help.
            WOMEDA, Women Emancipation and Development Agency, is a non-profit organization dedicated to assisting and supporting women with regards to legal rights and gender equality in the community. The woman of our story sits in the WOMEDA office, facing the social counselor who is tucked in behind her desk. The desk is by far the liveliest object in the room. It is a rich brown wooden desk overflowing with papers, folders, and notebooks, some of which spill onto the floor. The keyboard is pushed to the side, and the computer is covered by stacks and files. By its posture, it is clear that it is the least important of the desk’s occupants. The counselor shifts some of these piles to reveal a phone, keys, a stapler, 3 boxes of staples, and the WOMEDA official stamp with purple ink. Once she is prepared with pen and paper to document the session, the woman on the bench shifts forward, elbows on her knees, and begins her story with a name, age, marital status, number of kids. As she exhales and allows herself to open up to another woman, her story develops and brings to life struggles, hardships, and inequalities as well as beauty, strength, and passion. The burden of these truths overwhelm her and she glances away, towards the single window in the room, covered by pink and orange curtains patterned with flowers and bamboo. She takes another breath to steady herself, but her tears betray her. “Don’t cry. How can they take you seriously if you are crying?” the social counselor gently insists before they work their way towards determining the best action plan for this particular client. Maybe she is given a letter to summon her husband into the office, or a referral to the tribunal in her ward. Either way, a plan is set in action to change the woman’s circumstance. It might be a long road, but at WOMEDA she has finally been given a voice. With that voice, and through sharing her story, she has been given hope for progress.

At WOMEDA, telling one’s own story is essential to addressing the problem at hand, whether that is a marital, family, land rights, or legal case. The exchange of stories as a means of learning about and understanding our new community is also a recurring theme in my personal growth and in our group of Amizade students. As a temporary member of the WOMEDA community, I am privileged with the opportunity to sit and listen to counseling sessions, meet women from around the district, and hear their stories. I chose to share the story of WOMEDA—an organization that gives thousands of women a voice—with you in hopes of encouraging a ripple effect of awareness that simply begins with a compelling story but has the power to initiate and support progress and change.  

To view the other students' entries:

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sikia Uhuru - Safari ya Bukoba

Two weekends ago, we went to Bukoba, a town right on the coast of Lake Victoria. Spring break! Kind of. It’s about a 2 hour drive from Kayanga, mostly on a bumpy, jostling dirt road. When I first saw Lake Victoria, it looked like the ocean, that’s how big it is. The only thing is, you can’t swim. There’s a disease called bilharzia (or shistosomiasis) that freshwater snails carry where the parasite burrows into your skin and matures into a worm inside the tissue of your organs. Fun stuff like that. But it was still gorgeous and our guest house was right on the water. We hung out on the beach and had delicious vegetable curry for lunch before heading down the road to meet our tour company. It really felt like vacation, the fact that we were tourists hiring a company to show us around. There isn’t too much tourism home in Kayanga…

Sunrise over Lake Victoria

With our guides, we headed up into the hills that encircled the lake. We stopped at a few viewpoints and walked down to some cliffs that overlooked the lake. It didn’t feel like Tanzania. There were rolling green hills full of grazing cattle and big grey boulders freckling the landscape. From there, we continued further inland to a pine forest. It almost looked like West Virginia, or Maryland because of the trees and the ferns. We made our way to a cave hidden in the woods where leaders used to sleep during the war. Which war and when, I don’t remember. (Great story, I know.) It wasn’t too big a cave, but it was FULL of bats. You couldn’t stand up straight anywhere, 1. because the roof of the cave was low but 2. because you didn’t want to get bats in your hair. As we passed through, they started flying around us. I’ve never seen bats THAT close. After we left the cave, we took a short walk to a beautiful waterfall nearby. It was fed by a creek and surrounded by dense greenery. And we could swim! The water was cold but so refreshing, and we spent a couple hours exploring the waterfall and swimming in the pool below. It was a perfect afternoon. Before heading back to our guest house, we drove to a remote beach where fishermen were pulling in their nets for the day. By the time we settled in for the night, we were all exhausted and couldn’t believed we’d been in Kayanga that very same morning.

View from the cliffs

 Joyce and I in the Waterfall

The whole group! (Mrs. Entratter -- Danny says hi!)

Heading into the cave

 So many bats...

 The Perfect Storm

My umbrella

Saturday, we each headed into town by ourselves. Caitlin set up a photo challenge/reflection for which we had to take a picture that represented each of 10 different statements, questions, or quotes. I took the next 2.5 hours exploring Bukoba town and avoiding taking pictures. I tried to take most of my pictures away from all the people, because it made me a little uncomfortable to be snapping shots of everyone. That night, we took the 2 hours before our food arrived at dinner (almost enough time for a real-time play by play of our time in town) to share our pictures with everyone else. Joyce won the competition and received the glamorous prize of 2 chocolate bars and a kitenge of her choice.

Saturday afternoon, we drove inland again, saw some rock paintings, and had a traditional kihaya lunch. The trip to the kihaya farm was a little cheesy, but it was worth it when a more-than-tipsy woman showed up to dance with us and demanded that John take her as his wife. When Kara stepped in and informed her that “sorry, he is already married to me,” it didn’t both her. She would gladly be his second wife.

That night after dinner, we got drinks and sat out on the beach playing cards. We walked down to a bonfire on the beach to talk for a while, practicing our Swahili, before going out to Lina’s night club. It was a fun night—lots of bongo flava music and dancing. My going out outfit: a long flowy skirt, baggy shirt, and a flannel tied around my waste. Gotta keep it classy.

The next morning, Sunday, we met on the beach to take a boat to the island off the shore. The plan was to ride to the island, see the burial grounds of ancient kings in the side of the island, and hike to the tope of the island for the view. This is not what happened. Here is the actual story:

As the boat approached to pick us up, so did the storm clouds. We all climbed into the wooden fishing boat, with a motor though luckily, and the wind picked up. There was a wall of churning black clouds sitting right over the island and heading our way, but of course that didn’t stop us. We headed out, nonetheless, with dry clothes, dry phones, and dry bags. About 10 minutes into our ride it started raining, and the wind created splashing waves that turned into giant crashing waves. The water poured over the sides of the boat, into our laps and faces. By now it was pouring, and I was laughing so so hard. The situation was ridiculous. The lake water was EVERYWHERE. We wouldn’t have been wetter had we swam to the island. And we’d been scared to put our toes in the water the day before, for fear of snails. Soon, everyone, led mainly by Kara, began belting out songs. The performance featured, “The sun will come out tomorrow,” “What do you do with a drunken sailor,” “Sit down you’re rocking the boat,” “It’s raining men,” “Hakuna Matata,” and other such songs, except many words were changed to apply each song to our current situation.

Things that I learned on the boat ride:
1.     Kara is almost as bad a singer as I am.
2.     Not many things rhyme with Shistosomiasis OR Bilharzia

When we arrived at the island, 20 minutes later, we headed straight up the path to seek shelter in a little wooden house with a tin roof. The girls sang and danced around, in attempts to get warm while the boys worked out. Seriously. Someone showed up with a makeshift barbell made out of a stick and two buckets of hardened concrete on either side. I thought we were supposed to be breaking down gender stereotypes here...but we were cold, so I guess whatever works.

Once the rain let up a little, we made a fire outside behind the house. By the time we got warm and dry(er), it was time to head back. We missed the ancient burial sights and the view from the top of the island, but I think we definitely came back with a better story.

We headed home to Kayanga that afternoon. We saw a bunch of monkeys on the side of the road during the trip which was pretty neat. Our trip to Bukoba marked the halfway point of our time in Kayanga. From today (March 27), we only have 29 days left before we begin our trip across TZ, eventually ending in Dar es Salaam. The time is flying.

Dresses and Braids

Here are some pictures:  

On the 12th, I went into town with Lida, Evelyne, Kara, and Joyce and I got my hair braided. It hurt. But it was worth it because I looked GOOD. I was definitely the mzungu with the corn rows. That girl. But it’s all good. It was a fun day at the salon, and I was thoroughly entertained for the entirety of the 2 hours it took—one of the men working there was having fun trying to deal with Kara and Joyce’s short hair, then Lida and Evelyne got their hair done, and then the two of them came up with interesting, unique new designs for Kara including French braiding her side burns and the half-comb-over half mohawk look.

In other girly news, I took Caroline’s dress and my material from the market to Joanita, the best seamstress in Kayanga. Two days later, I returned with Joyce and Kara to pick it up. They loved it so much that they ordered the same dress, different material, on the spot. It was great. Since then, Caroline and Katie have also gotten a dress made. We all match. 

The following Monday, Lida told us to wear our new dresses to WOMEDA so she could see them. When we arrived at work, we were semi forced into a giggly photo shoot. All the women went outside and took pictures in front of the WOMEDA sign. Lida and Evelyne were cracking up, making Kara and I do different poses—definitely a thing here. A good pose goes a long way. Here are Kara and I in our dresses, posing in front of the WOMEDA sign:

These are the women of WOMEDA, minus Jesca who was taking the picture.

Above are 2 pictures of the water tank that we’ve been helping work on in Chonyonyo village, about 40 minutes from Kayanga. The water tank is one of many being built at a new boarding school for girls. The school is estimated to open 2015. We mostly helped doing manual labor—moving rocks. Though while we were there, we met 2 German engineers working through Engineers Without Borders. They’re building a toilet at the school that separates feces and urine, to use as fertilizer and compost. I’ve since been back a few times to help with their project, which has been great. Last time I was there, we made a mosaic on the base of the toilet, where you’re supposed to stand. Here is our creation:

The view on the way to Chonyonyo.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Ninamshukuru Mungu kwa Wahandisi!

            Wikiendi iliopita, mimi na wanafunzi wengine tulienda sarafi mlimani! Last weekend, the other students and I went on a trip to the mountains! It was the second time we did the hike, but we decided we wanted to come back and camp out for the night. So, Saturday afternoon we bought mats and a tarp at the market, packed up our bags, and set out. There were 11 of us who went: 7 students, Paul and Nathan (two of our teachers), Fahim, and Egbert. Fahim and Egbert are two of the greatest and funniest people I’ve gotten to know here.

Heading down into the valley on our first walk.

The crew settling down for the night.

            It was about an hour and a half walk into the valley to the river. When we got to the river, it wasn’t a river at all. At least we didn’t think so the first time we saw it. Fahim had told us there was water underneath, but all we saw was brown saturated earth covered in head-high green grasses. But, as soon as we stepped out onto what we thought was land, it moved. The land actually ripples beneath your feet, and with every step the land rises and sinks. It feels like you’re walking on a waterbed. I have never seen anything like it in my life. The second time we crossed it, for the overnight trip, we decided it would be a good idea to all cross barefoot so we wouldn’t have to walk the rest of the way with wet socks and shoes. We slowly made our way across, squishing mud between our toes. From there, it's about another hour to the top of the hill where we ended up sleeping. When we got there, we set up our tarp in case of rain—the rains have started here, so it rains for a few hours almost every day now. We unpacked our food that Egbert put together for us and had the perfect picnic dinner: chapatti, avocado, chicken, bananas, pineapple, and mangos.
            So, believe it or not, it actually gets cold in Africa. Especially up in the mountains, at night, during the rainy season. We ended up sleeping basically on top of each other, wearing every piece of clothing we brought, under all of the kangas and mats possible, to stay warm. In the middle of the night it started raining so we moved under the tarp, which proved much warmer because it blocked most of the wind. In the morning we woke up to find a herd of cows on the hilltop with us. The cows here are not only huge, but they have 3-foot long horns on their heads. Good thing Egbert used to herd cows—really though—and just shooed them away. In the morning we had chai, packed up, and headed out. Crossing the river on the way home was just as exciting if not more, because Nathan punctured the layer of earth on the river and fell in up to his waist. He was covered in black mud and smelled just great. Paul has a video of the river crossing, and in the background you can just make out Joyce’s voice saying “So guys. How many parasites do you think we all have?” Despite half-hearted worries about getting worms, I’m sure we’ll go again. The trip was great.

Our camping point - on the other side of the river

            Since writing last, I’ve now been at my volunteer placement almost two weeks. I’m working at WOMEDA – Women Emancipation and Development Agency. It’s an NGO in Kayanga that provides support, counseling, legal aid, education, and clinics for women and children. I go to WOMEDA with Kara, another Amizade student. Our first week there, we mainly observed, listened and learned about the organization and how things work. Since our first day, we’ve been sitting in on social and legal counseling with Lida and Evelyne (two of the amazing young women who work there) which is almost overwhelming. We’ve heard the stories of women from all over Karagwe who come to WOMEDA for help. They speak mostly in Swahili or Kinyambo, the local tribal language, so Kara, Lida, and Evelyne have been helping me understand what they’re saying. It brings to life the gender equality issues that I’ve mostly just heard about.

All the girls outside of WOMEDA

            Working at WOMEDA is also improving my Swahili so much. It forces me to speak, and everyone is so helpful in teaching me. For the semester, Kara and I will be working on a team with Lida and Evelyne to develop and write new WOMEDA policies on child protection and HIV/AIDS. I will be focusing most on the HIV/AIDS policy, and this past week I’ve been researching and reading a lot about the national policy and laws. Starting next week, the four of us will be going out into the community, to villages, hospitals, schools, and to the streets to talk to all different people about these issues and what they value, need, and want. The policy we are creating will cater to the people that it will eventually protect and support. It’s a very interesting project, in light of what we’ve been learning about sustainable development and project implementation. Plus, Lida and Evelyne are the greatest.
            Funny story about WOMEDA. Yesterday, Kara and I were sitting reading through some research and taking notes when one of the men who works at WOMEDA, Ishengoma, comes in and tells me he needs my help. Just me. I get up and follow him down the hall to another room. I have no idea what he’s going to ask, or whether or not I’m going to understand him in Swahili. We walk into Evelyn’s office, and Ishengoma turns to me and says that he wanted me because he needed the help of an engineer, so he figured that, naturally, I could do it. The big task: Change the toner on the printer. I stepped up to the challenge, meticulously followed the instructions in the manual in English, and after 5 whole minutes of hard work I finally finished. What would WOMEDA do without an engineer around? I felt so important. My years at Carnegie Mellon are finally paying off.

Other exciting things—
1.     I got my first skirt made from a seamstress at KVDPA where Joyce works.   
2.     This Saturday, we are starting construction on a huge water tank for a girls' boarding school in Chonyonyo village. We’ll be working every Saturday until it's completed. I think it will be really interesting to see how a design and construction project is carried out here, and I am excited to help build it!
3.     We finally got electricity back last night! I wrote this entry last Thursday, but I wasn’t able to send it until now. I also ended up with a migraine this weekend and couldn’t go to Chonyonyo but I’m going Thursday instead.
4.   As part of the Amizade program, we are writing a blog that is being posted on the Amizade website. Two students write each week. Here is the link if you want to take a look:
5.   More pictures:

Kara, Edna, and I. Just dancing. 

They got us cakes from the one place in town with an oven :)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Kayanga, Karagwe, Kagera, Tanzania

            Right now I’m sitting outside of Misha Guest House in Kayanga town, our new home for the next 3 months. We arrived here last Thursday from Kampala, Uganda, where I met the other 7 students. This semester I am taking part in a Global-Service Learning semester through an organization called Amizade. Amizade partners with local organizations around the world to promote sustainable development initiatives and to encourage students to become global citizens through intercultural immersion and exchange. My program site is in Kayanga town, in the Karagwe district, of the Kagera region of Tanzania. It is one of the most remote regions in Tanzania, and we are living in a rural community in the mountains of the Northwest. We are situated between Rwanda to the West, Lake Victoria to the East, and Uganda to the North. Last Thursday we made the trek from Kampala to Kayanga, kicking up dirt in our dueling land rovers as we made our way down the dusty bumpy roads. Our car broke down (in a little town luckily!) but after a couple hours and many heads under the hood, we were back on the road and arrived here at Misha without any other complications.
            Kayanga is beautiful. It is higher in elevation than Moshi, so it is greener and a little bit cooler. From our guest house, you can see the hillside leading down into a green valley and in the distance a green river. There are rolling mountains all around us, red dirt paths, flowering trees, and welcoming people. There are not many wazungu here—foreigners, or white people—because Kayanga is pretty remote, but everyone is incredibly friendly and welcoming. Many of the students have already employed the help of the neighborhood kids as part time Kiswahili teachers.  Life here is different in the little ways. We sleep under mosquito nets every night, we have to boil our water before we drink it, we have squat toilets, the electricity goes out sporadically, the water isn’t always turned on, we hand wash all of our clothes and dishes, and few people speak English. After the first couple days, these things no longer matter and just become normal. Although they've already made for some funny stories.

Sunrise from Misha guest house, our new home. 

Where we live. Not too bad... 

            Since arriving, we’ve already settled into a semi-routine. We had our first classes on Monday. We have Kiswahili with Bwana Osward everyday except Sundays, a field-placement reflection class, Sustainable Development in Rural Tanzania, and Global Service Learning. We start our volunteer placements next week, and every day this week we are visiting a different NGO, listening to presentations on their goals, missions, and our possible involvement.
            Jumapili iliopita, nilichota maji na wasichana ambao wanaishi kilimani. Last Sunday, I fetched water with the girls who live on the hillside. Three of our Amizade students had met the girls on a walk the day before, and we came back the next day to help them carry water. The girls were all 6-10 years old. They walk over an hour, twice a day, to bring water back to their families. One of the girls, Mariam, helped me fold my kanga into a crown, which cushions your head from the heavy plastic jerry can of water. The spring was across the hillside and down into a steep valley. It was a 3 foot long, 3 foot deep pool of water being fed by a tiny stream of water coming from under a rock. We filled our jerry cans and shoved a banana end in each of the openings as a cap. The girls are amazing. Its inspiring and extremely humbling. They fixed leaking containers, folded our kangas, helped us lift the water up onto our heads, and they asked if we were okay. They were worried about us. Its hard to explain how you feel when a ten year old girl is carrying more water than you are, which she does twice a day everyday, and she asks you if you’re okay. Everyone knows about the water crisis here. But, the more I see and the more I experience, the more I realize that I will never fully understand what its like to live without a reliable water source and the direct and indirect effects it has on the community.
            As far as my Kiswahili goes, ninajifunza kidogo zaidi kila siku--I’m learning a little more every day. Today I sat outside in the shade with Justina, Winstrauss, and Dianna, 3 of the Misha staff, and they taught me a bunch of new words and phrases. They don’t speak English, so it’s always a fun time trying to understand each other until finally everyone is laughing because I finally finally get it. Yesterday, I made a best friend. Her name is Edna and she is two years old. She’s the daughter of one of the young women working at Misha. It’s the perfect friendship because she doesn’t care that I can’t speak Swahili yet. And she might be the cutest child I’ve ever seen, with the biggest personality. Tunajifunza Kiswahili pamoja. We will learn Swahili together.
            Things are just getting started here, as we arrived only a week ago, but I’m excited to see how everything plays out. Today is my 21st birthday and it’s a wonderful gift to be able to celebrate it here.

Sunday, February 5, 2012


I made it to Tanzania, and I’ve been staying here in Moshi town. It’s beautiful.  The trees have bright pink and orange flowers, its hot, and everything is dusty. Town is a mixing bowl of people, crazy cars flying down the streets (on left side of the road!), street vendors, bikes, workers – everything in motion.  I took the first day to explore town and get settled in. I stayed at Karibu Hostel just outside of town, however the owner of the hostel told me upon arriving that she was leaving the next day to go back to Austrailia for health reasons. She’d been in a dala dala (little bus) accident, and needed some time to recover. So, I decided I needed to find another hostel to stay in while in Moshi.

The next day I hiked up to the Shimbwe waterfall with a fellow traveller I’d met at the Coffee Shop the day before. We took a dala dala to Shimbwe town, which was quite the experience! Dala dalas are 11 passenger vans that are stuffed full of people. When I say stuffed, I mean that at the max there were 24 people and a baby on the bus with us at one time. 5 bushels of bananas, a chicken, and 3 cases of Kilimanjaro beer were also riding with us at different points. It was wild. Once we got to Shimbwe, we didn’t really know where we were going so we just kept asking people where the maporomoko was, which is the word for waterfall. It was about a 2 hour walk through the little village and the surrounding area until we could see the waterfall. An hours walk from there, through the jungle on the slopes of Kilimanjaro, and we made it! It was definitely worth the long walk. On the way back we got semi lost, but everyone was really helpful and one man walked us a good portion of the way. Everyone here is so friendly and welcoming. When they see a mzungu, a white person, they always say karibu sana! Welcome! 

The waterfall in the distance.

 We made it!

I spent the next couple days preparing for my Kili trek. I met a girl at a local hostel who decided to come with me, so we got organized and went to Weru Weru River Lodge the day before we left for the mountain, where all of the Ahsante Tours climbers stay the night before. Weru Weru is a little oasis about 20 minutes outside of town, and it must be the nicest place in Moshi. When we walked in, someone took our bags and offered us a hot towel and a glass of juice. Its that nice. Two nights at Weru Weru are included in our overall price, because Ahsante owns the lodge. Also, because we joined a group of 34 from the UK our price was really reasonable.  I left for the mountain on January 29th. I just got back yesterday and…I climbed Kilimanjaro!

Uhuru Peak - 19,341 ft!

For the past 6 days, I’ve been on the mountain. It was a challenging, amazing trip, and it was physically the hardest thing I’ve ever done. The first two days were nice, just long walking days, around 6 hours each day. The first night, all of the porters and cooks and guides got everyone singing and dancing together.
Paul and Peter taught us one of the songs as well, and let me tell you—it’s been stuck in my head every since.

Day 2 we walked up through the moorelands. Again the scenery was breath taking, as it was everyday. I couldn’t sleep though! I guess it was a combination of the altitude and the cold. The third day, we climbed to lava tower, which is close in altitude to base camp, the camp you stay at before the summit. Then, we hiked downhill for two hours to Barranco camp. The 4th day was long and hard. It started with traversing the Barranco wall, which is hands and feet climbing up the side of this giant rock wall. We also crossed Karanga valley, which, on the way back up, is so steep you would laugh if you saw it. We were walking so slow. All the guides and porters keep telling us, “pole pole!” Go slow! Our guide was a guy named Paul. He was fantastic. He's 27 and lives here in Moshi. He spoke English really well and new the mountain so well. He was a porter first, then a cook, then an assistant guide, and now he's been a guide for 3 years. Peter was our assistant guide, and the four of us, he said, were familia Kilimanjaro.

On the fourth day, we arrived at base camp at around 2:30 pm, had tea (which we have everyday!) and then had dinner at around 5. Just a side note, we were woken up every morning with tea and coffee in our tents. So nice. And we ate three hot meals a day on the mountain. And we had our own little tent with a table and chairs for every meal. It was glamping - glamour camping - to the max. They thought of every little detail to make it a more comfortable, enjoyable experience for everyone. It’s quite the system them run here. So, every day on the mountain you went to sleep (or tried at least) as soon as it got dark. Every morning we woke up at about 6 so we could be walking by 7. On the summit night we woke up at 11:30 pm. We left at 12:30, in complete darkness. We walked and walked and walked and walked. It was freezing cold and so windy. My nose and face still have wind burn 2 days later! But, through all the light headed hours of walking, I finally made it to Uhuru Peak! It sits at 5895 meters, which is 19,341 ft. Africa’s Highest point! It was worth every step. 

Here are some pictures from the trip!

So far away! - Day 2

 Sunset at Shira Camp - Day 2

 The Shira "Cave" with Naama and some amazing porters and guides - Michael, Angela, and Peter

 Kili keeps on growing! - Day 3

 Lava Tower - Highest point of Day 3

 Taking a break after the Barranco Wall - Day 4

 Amazing sunrise on the summit morning - Day 5

One of the breathtaking glaciers on top of the mountain - Day 5

 A view of Base Camp, heading back down from the summit - Day 5

Familia Kilimanjaro! Lane, Naama, Paul & Peter - Day 6