Eat Bicker Love – The Original Soundtrack

A couple weeks ago, a friend (who shall remain nameless) posted a somewhat embarrassed tweet regarding the purchase of the new Iron Maiden CD and the Eat Pray Love Soundtrack in one transaction. I was both amused by her tastes, and inspired. A soundtrack! My trip needed a soundtrack. Of course.

It is at times like these that I love software like iTunes. Yes, I often bitch about the authorization rules, and the odd way it sorts compilation CDs. But one thing I love about iTunes is that it keeps track of my listening habits for me, creating great playlists like “most recently played” or “25 Most Played.” This is where I started my planning.

My listening while in Tanzania was influenced by three major events or circumstances. First, the purchase of a new computer, only days before I left. I simply didn’t have time to load all my music onto it, so I grabbed the iTunes folder, quickly tried to sort my music from D’s (was mostly successful) and copied those files. I directly transferred a few CDs I had acquired in the weeks before I left. The rest was already on my iPod, so I didn’t worry about it.

The second influence was that my iPod broke before I ever made it to Africa. So half the music I was counting on was gone.

Third, I didn’t have a lot of time to sit and listen to music. Mostly, I turned it on while lying in bed, more as white noise than anything else. Something to listen to for about 20 minutes while I relaxed and fell asleep, and to have on quietly through the night to drown out the unfamiliar sounds, like the roosters, guinea fowl, and things that liked to climb on the roof. After being jolted awake on more than one occasion by “Ship to Shore” or “Warhol’s Portrait of Gretsky” I decided to make myself a playlist of “quiet music,” which became the most commonly played list on the computer.

So my soundtrack is far more mellow, and contains fewer of my standard favourites than you might expect – but the standard names are all there.  I have edited so that each artist appears only once, but made no other changes. Hope you enjoy it. You can download your own copy here, and support (mostly) Canadian music in the process.

Til I Gain Control Again Blue Rodeo
Goodnight Josephine The Tragically Hip
Devil’s Best Dress Corb Lund
No Fool for Trying Madison Violet
Ghost of the Eastern Seaboard The Stanfields
Solitary Life Melissa McClelland
At My Window Sad and Lonely Billy Bragg & Wilco
Asking for Flowers Kathleen Edwards
Why Me Kris Kristofferson
Sing Your Heart Out The Trews
The Bleeding Heart Show The New Pornographers
Face of the Earth Joel Plaskett Emergency
Africa Toto

Fashion show!

If it wouldn’t make me sound ridiculously shallow, I could refer to this as the “Eat. Shop. Love.” trip. But I like to think I am deeper than that. Which does not change the fact that I have seriously enjoyed the shopping.

I have never been so excited to purchase textiles. I am taking home more kangas than I know what to do with. They are the perfect accessory: shirt, shawl, wrap, baby-carrier. Not to mention tablecloth, cushion cover, etc. I am throwing out clothes to take home kangas.

I'm not kidding. This is what my suitcase currently looks like.

And then of course, there is the fundi. Fundi might be my favourite Swahili word. When it was first taught to me, it was defined as “someone who does something,” which I thought was an awesome definition. I have since discovered it is more accurately translated as craftsman or skilled worker. In this case: the tailor.

Much of the clothes worn by staff here are hand made, not store bought. And beautiful. The fabrics and patterns here are unmatched anywhere I have yet traveled. With help from the mamas, most of the female volunteers here this summer have had an out fit or two (um… or five!) made by local tailors.

Off the shoulder blouse from Maristella's fundi. (Sorry, this is not flattering as a set, so you don't get to see the whole picture.)

First, Maristella, the headmistress, to me to her fundi, in Dar es Salaam. Here I had one a dress and two blouse/skirt sets made. The dress was a simple black flowered pattern, in a tank style that is entirely functional and western looking. Only I know where it came from. The sets are significantly more Tanzanian in flavour. The styles are similar to Maristella’s clothes: practical, comfortable, and very smart looking. I like them.

Next, Josephine wanted to take me to her fundi, to try something new. She has a very different sense of style, going for brighter colours and tighter fits. Generally more striking. Also very fun.

Bibi bought me this fabric, and asked me to make a pretty outfit for myself with it. Not sure about the trim on the blouse, but generally like it.

I should also mention the prices. Each piece of fabric costs between 4,000 and 7,000 shillings, or three to six dollars. It is an additional 10,000 to 15,000 shilling for the tailoring. The dresses I picked up today cost me approximately $15, tailored to fit.

So suddenly here I am, a white Canadian girl with not one but FIVE Tanzanian outfits – two of which are rather decidedly African looking. I tried to be practical with syles and patterns so I can wear them at home, and I am confident I can: just perhaps not as sets. I anticipate getting lots of wear from the skirts, and perhaps less from the blouses. Still, well worth the money, and the experience.

My favoutite outfit. Love the colours. Love the fit. And at $16, love the price.

* I did say five outfits, didn’t I? You’ll have to wait till I am home for the other two. (a) they have been worn and are too wrinkled for decent photos, and (b) I quickly became bored with the photo shoot. Modelling is not my cup of tea.

Can’t help them all

Just back from an evening study session and I am exhausted. The other three volunteers are in town tonight, having dinner with someone from the Ministry of Education. As I had already scheduled a drama club meeting, I could not go. Being the only one here for the study session, I was pulled in a million different directions. Or at least 125.

We are trying to set the girls up with email addresses. Aside from being important for scholarship and university applications, this also gives them a private way to communicate with their friends and family – all letters go through staff and are not necessarily private. This is not an easy task when the only way to do so is to carry my laptop around and give whispered instruction during study time, but we are making slow progress. Some have addresses already, thanks to earlier volunteers. And we have added about 10 in the last 3 days. However the list of those wanting one gets longer and longer.

On a similar and more serious note, there is the issue of medical expenses. The school cannot cover this, and so it is up to the student’s guardian. Many (most) of the guardians are too poor to cover any of this. So the girls are left with no money for a doctor. Previous volunteers had been covering this, but they have left (their program term has ended), and so has their budget.

In the interim, I have tried to cover what I could. One girl needed a cast removed, which cost 60,000 shillings (about $40). Two more needed glasses (less than $25, including the eye test). The cost is so low compared to home, it is easy to say yes. But as more requests some in, I realize I will have to draw a line here somewhere too. On the one hand, I have more money than they can even dream of, and yet even that is far from unlimited. Especially given I am on leave without pay right now.

My approach so far has been not to say yes to anything right away, and tell them I will consult with the other volunteers to see if there is enough money. Just so I have time to consider my options, though I can’t imagine saying no. A family member had offered to help as well, so between the two of us, we should be able to cover anything that comes up during my stay. At least I hope so.

(Interestingly, I have been approached by two older girls to tell me to be careful not to be fooled by someone not actually sick, just looking for an excuse to get out of class. They promised to help me with this, and told me to ask if I was ever wondering. Deep down, teenaged girls really are the same everywhere, social and family conditions notwithstanding.*

What happens after that is unclear. Hopefully someone else will be around to take up the cause.

*I taught a lesson on the use of ‘notwithstanding’ last week.It’s a good word. I am going to try to use it more.

A mzungu acclimatizes

A strange thing happened the other day. We made a trip into Dar es Salaam to drop off Laura and Mari, who were returning to Finland (via Scotland) after five weeks of volunteering.

Traffic and a poorly timed flat tire made the one hour trip into a two-hour one, and anytime someone from the school goes to Dar, there are eight to twenty errands to run, so we were not making anything close to good time. Maristella, the headmistress was with us, so we were a vanload of six wazungu (foreigners/white people – mzungu is the singular) and one local, which always attracts attention.

Our list of things to do included buying phone credit, topping up our mobile internet account, picking up milk and a few other bits at the supermarket, taking Laura and Mari to their friend’s place, and the primary reason Maristella, Rachel, Gemma and I were there: a visit to the tailor.* On top of this was the time needed to change the tire, and an unplanned visit to two former teachers.

On the walk back from church, this truck stopped specifically to ask if the mzungo wanted a ride, ignoring all the locals, including my companions.

Welcome to Africa, where a trip is never from point A to B, but more like A to G or K, with all stops in between.

But back to my original point – the funny thing I noticed, or perhaps did not notice – Tanzania no longer seems so foreign. I After 20 days in the country, I have stopped mentally comparing everything I see to its equivalent at home. I am no longer gaping out the window at the passing scenery, marvelling at the strange architecture or run down shops. I still have a long way to go with learning the language, and visually I will always stand out. But my brain has reset its sense of normal, and this is it. Strange, and I like it.

After a few visits, the pub which once seemed a little sketchy, now is simply the pub.

I can only imagine that when I get home, my first hot shower, or glass of water from the tap will blow my mind.
Copying an idea from Laura, Mari and Marie (yes confusing, but one is pronounced with a German accent, the other a Finnish one – see the difference?) we have bought material at a local shop and are having skirts and dresses made by Maristella’s tailor. We want that African flavour, but there style here is much more bold and colourful than at home, so we are also trying to be careful to choose fabrics and patterns that we will wear back in Canada/England. I pick up my dress on Wednesday.

Bethsaida, day four. Lesson planning.

I have been at the Bethsaida Secondary School for Girls for four days. I still feel a little lost, but am starting to find a niche for myself.

Friday morning, I met the headmistress. I was shown into her office, where she sat at her desk, preparing a lesson, receiving guests, issuing orders and a hundred other things, yet she graciously made time for me as well.

Headmistress Maristella is a thin woman, with close-cropped hair, large brown eyes and strong facial features. She was wearing a light brown printed blouse, with a wide open collar that kept slipping over her right shoulder.She was poised and confident and very smart. Beautiful, but not in a conventional way. Though she was sitting, I guessed she would be rather tall. (I guessed correctly, though due to problems with her right leg, she walks slowly and somewhat hunched, and thus looks smaller when standing.)

I proceeded to tell her who I was, how long I was staying and what I could offer – essentially that while I have some very specific skills they may find helpful, I am also willing to do anything that might need me to do. She immediately suggested I join the Form I Biology class, to see what they were studying, and meet the girls and their teacher. So I did. (And discovered I do not miss high school lectures. At all.)

Each night from 8:00 to 10:15, the girls are in their classrooms, studying and completing assignments. And so I am there, too, to answer questions and assist in any way I can. So far I have helped with calculating densities, explaining elements, compounds and mixtures, describing the theory of human evolution, and solving quadratic equations. I have also typed tests and made photocopies.

Tomorrow, I will be taking over two of the headmistress’ English classes, while she is in town on business. The first class (7:30 to 8:50) is Form IV (highest grade at Bethsaida – approx. equivalent to grade 10). I don’t have much to do – just pass out a test for them, supervise as they write it, and correct when they are done.

Then in the afternoon, I have the Form II class, and will be teaching them about direct and indirect speech, which as a native English speaker I admit I could not define before I read the lesson. (If you are wondering) it involves reporting on what someone else has said. Direct speech is simply quoting exactly what was said. Straightforward. Indirect is far more complicated. Reporting what was said without quoting, and all the changes in verb tense, and changes in adjectives and adverbs. There is a huge list of rules that I had never even considered. I just know how it is done. It seems easy – though the two German volunteers here say they found it very challenging when learning English, and the girls here struggle with it.

Fun. The first test of my teaching skills. Wish me luck.

*Bethsaida follows the standard Tanzanian curriculum structure, preparing its students in Forms I, II, III and IV to take the national “O Level” exams at the completion of their Form IV year. Two additional years following Form IV – namely Forms V and VI – are required to take the advanced “A Level exams”, prerequisites for attending university in Tanzania.