Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Yesterday Connie and I successfully navigated the city streets of Arusha to 7+ electronics shops after only one previous trip out. Anyone who has traveled inner city streets in a developing country knows what an accomplishment this is.

I had ndizi ya nyama (bananas with meat, it's basically a delicious stew) for lunch as a special treat to myself. Lo and behold, my family decides to make it for dinner as well. I had no fewer than 10 bananas yesterday. Not an exaggeration. Today was rough...

More to come.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

July 18

Today can only be described as a whirlwind. We left our homestays near Usa River this morning and went our separate ways to the hospitals where we will be spending the second month of our visit. Leaving was bitter sweet. We are all excited to begin working but know we will miss seeing each other every day at our beautiful school.

Things to be missed: Mama Glory and my incredible Tanzanian family, great friends, hearing Danish every day, the awesome facilities at TCDC, cold beer and volleyball every day, late night dance parties in the classroom, constantly laughing until my “abs” hurt, running into Ericki every morning on our walk to school, Mt. Meru “backdropping” our walk home, swapping homestay stories, Mama Glory’s delicious food, group sing-alongs.

Yes, we are now realizing that we have definitely been spoiled for the past month.

Connie, Juwan, and I are living with Dr. Kway, the mganga mkuu (head doctor) of St. Elizabeth hospital, and his family in Arusha Town. We are only a five minute walk from St. Elizabeth. It’s really strange moving to the city after living in the country side for so long. Busy streets, shops, people and cars. It’s all a bit over-stimulating. I’m going to miss the rice fields and banana farms. It’s like we’re still reading the same book, just a completely different chapter. It can be pretty thrilling at times, the three of us walking around the city on our own time. We will definitely have gained a new sense of independence by the time we return home.

St. Elizabeth is a medium-sized hospital sponsored by a German church. We met Jonas, the hospital’s lead (and only) technician, this morning. His office is a repurposed freight container on the back of the property near storage and laundry. We are under the impression that we will be working with him almost every day. Occasionally we will do a bit of work at Ithnaasheri, a smaller hospital. More on that later. Jonas seemed quite impressed with our ability to understand and speak Swahili, no matter how meager. He took us to all of the wards and introduced us to almost the entire staff-- pharmacists, nurses, doctors, record keepers. Everyone got a kick out of our very rehearsed introductions and I’m positive a few harmless jokes were made (in Swahili) at our expense. St. Elizabeth has a lot of wards – medical, surgery (upasuaji), opthalmics (macho), dental (meno), obstetrics, HIV (CTC). Every hospital has an HIV ward. We [think we are required to] go to church every morning at 8 am. Our daily schedule may look something like:

7-8: wake up, get ready, head to work

8-10: work – take inventory, interview staff about equipment needed, repair broken equipment

10-10.30: tea (chai)

10.30-13: work – today we didn’t have much time to work after introductions. We repaired two chairs and were stumped by an oxygen concentrator, incubator, and an automated blood pressure cuff.

13-13.30: lunch – the hospital has a cantina and there are some nice local restaurants. We ate at Losika House today. Ordered meat and rice. The food was great expect for the fact that I think we ate cow intestine. Juwan has a knowledge of mystery meat, stemming from Korean barbeques. I may become a near vegetarian for the next month. The vegetables here are amazing.

13.30-16.30: work then head home

Our homestay is composed of various rooms surrounding a gated courtyard. A large swarm of little children lives on our street. On our way home from the hospital they came running at us from a block away, screaming. They grabbed our hands and legs and walked/skipped home with us. “How are you? Pipi?” They always want candy. One even spotted Juwan’s Mento’s through his grocery bag. We live with a completely insane 2 year old, Glory, and a 6 year old, Angel, who speaks incredible English. She wants to be a doctor, just like her Grandfather.

We have taken to entertaining ourselves with Connie’s electrified, mosquito-killing “tennis racket”.
Things to look forward to: meeting another family and seeing Tanzania through their eyes, actually fixing equipment, learning from Jonas, assessing hospital needs and using it to guide my Master’s project.

Tata for now. Hopefully some technical updates to come.  

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

July 8

This weekend was probably one of the best weekends of the best summer of my life. On Friday, Sonny and I managed to fix two oxygen concentrators at Mt. Meru Hospital.  It only required cleaning and replacing a few filters, but the nurses were so grateful for our work! Best of all-- we showed the staff how to clean and replace the filters once every two weeks. When they have trouble in the future, now they have somewhere to start looking. Hopefully the O2 concentrators in the children’s ward will operate smoothly from here on out.

Early Saturday morning the gang met at TCDC to make our way to Tanga, a city on the Tanzanian coast. The large van/small bus we rented only set the group back 1.45 million Tanzanian shillings. For a moment, no matter how brief, Simona and I were millionaires.

The TCDC transportation director estimated the drive to Tanga would take about 4 to 5 hours. By an unfortunate turn of events (which could only be explained by a temporary alteration of space-time), this turned into a 9 hour drive. Please don’t ask me how or why. “It’s just Tanzania” is the only explanation we could come up with. We managed to stuff 24 people into a 25 person bus. This figure includes three incredibly uncomfortable and lop-sided fold-down aisle seats. Mountain views were a nice distraction from my scoliotic (not a real word) spine.

Regardless, the trip was surprisingly pleasant because of the company. Luckily we manage to entertain ourselves quite easily. Example: Simona groomed the ladies’ eyebrows and Jakob did sit ups in the aisle while we all sang the tune of the Rocky theme song.

Actually arriving at Peponi Beach Resort made the drive completely worth it. We felt like we were literally in paradise. If you ever find yourself on the Northern Tanzanian coast, you have to look this place up. It is completely picturesque.


The complex, owned by the British couple Denys and Gilly, has everything you need to stay for an entire week without stepping foot off the grounds. The bandas we stayed in were quaint, comfortable, and like something you see advertised on a tropical honeymoon getaway. There was a bar, toilets (yes this is becoming a motif) and showers that actually delivered the warm water that their little red knobs promised! We definitely appreciated these amenities so much more because we have been without them for the past three weeks.

We immediately ran out to the beach with all of the childish enthusiasm we could contain (and then some). I was just excited to spend some time in the Indian Ocean. Typical beach activity ensued.

Dinner was fantastic. I had fish with avocado butter, coconut rice, and two giant prawns. We talked, played darts, and were merry. After dinner we walked down to the beach and took advantage of the low tide. We walked out 100+ yards – all the way to an unmanned boat we had seen anchored earlier that day. This boat took two of our crew on a snorkel excursion the next morning.

Saw a lot of sea life on our night walk and the next morning. Mostly crabs and shrimp, a lonely shark fin, and once especially ornery octopus that grabbing hold of our fingers with its little suckers and spraying water at anyone who touched it.


We stayed up late and listened to the ocean. The palm tree silhouettes against the purple night sky were second only to the incredible amount of stars we could see, as we were at least an hour from the nearest small city.

We spent all of the following afternoon at the beach. Luckily, Niels dislikes being still as much as I do and we managed to dig a fairly good sized hole on the beach. We are really cool kids. This brought back childhood memories of trips to Playa Del Carmen (which is almost a little pathetic, looking back. Haha. I must have been a lonely child). Overall, super successful day.


I had my first Tanzanian hamburger for lunch! I’ve been missing my Texas-sized portions of protein.

We had less than 24 hours in paradise, but all of our spirits we lifted by the time we left. The bus ride home was a different story. (Mom, stop reading now). We journeyed mostly on bumpy dirt roads in aforementioned small bus/large van. It’s never encouraging to drive by Greyhound-sized buses that are flipped on their sides on the shoulder. The unanimous “Whooooa what the…”, followed by an uncomfortable silence and everyone goes back to distracting themselves with Candy Crush.

Finally, to further my motif… it is funny how much a group can bond over a simple community pee in the African bush. Toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and senses of liberation and camaraderie accompanied the ladies during all of our pit stops. If it’s been a while since you used nature for what is only natural, I highly recommend you give it a try.  Plus, this is just another situation that makes great use of my head lamp (an item that is slowly becoming my favorite travel accessory).


Monday, July 8, 2013

July 4

Happy Birthday Marekani! (Isn’t it cute how close the Kiswahili word for America is to “  ‘merica!”  ?)

So I don’t have much to update you guys on since my last post. Just a few tidbits. Sorry, no pictures this time. The next post with be more visually appealing.

1.       There is some serious linguistic trading going on here. I’ve learned a fairly admirable amount of Kiswahili since I arrived. Maybe I can do a post in Kiswahili and English soon. Be on the lookout. I am also trying to pick up a few Danish phrases. I haven’t had very much success thus far. They’re hard enough to pronounce, let alone remember. Patience and persistence will prevail! I’ve decided to give back to this cultural potluck by teaching the Danes some Southern words. They think it is hilarious every time one of us lets a “y’all” slip. Immediately, they chime in with a storm of very awkward sounding “y’alls” and “yeehaw cowboys”. It’s pretty funny. It also doesn’t help that I met a gentleman from Arkansas that is staying at our training center. A conversation with him after any amount of beverage, and here comes Kristen O’Hara. So far the Danes know: y’all, supper, dagummit, dagnabbit, fixin’ to, howdy, taters, and yeehaw. Please comment with any more suggestions!

2.       We planned a very elaborate 4th of July celebration – delivery pizza from a lodge across the street.  I think the aspect of sitting around a greasy and cheesy (cheese is surprising expensive and hard to find) pizza and enjoying each other’s company is very appealing at this point in the trip. No clean up required. Perfect. Unfortunately, the cheese here is kryptonite. Maybe it’s good that it is hard to find. When we all saw each other the next morning we vowed never to eat Tanzanian pizza again. Claus pretty much summed it up when he said “we will be able to lick our toilet seats when we get home and be just fine”. We capped the night by watching The Lion King on a projector on the TCDC grounds.

3.       Mama glory told us a pretty funny story about her friend, Happiness, the other day. So Happiness was visiting our home and left in the evening on a ‘boda boda’. AKA, a very fast, dangerous and cheap mode of motorcycle transportation. We are not allowed to ride on them during the program. Anyway, Happiness is cruising on the back of a boda boda when the driver sees a snake in the middle of the road. He slows down to maneuver around it, at which point the black mamba rears up and presumably starts attacking the boda boda. I don’t know the details, but the story ends with Happiness and the driver off of the vehicle (abandoned in the middle of the road) and a swarm of locals beating the snake with a stick.

4.       Power outages are pretty frequent at home. Last night I was putting my newly “favorited” squatting toilet to use when everything suddenly went dark. So I sat squatted there in lonely darkness until the power came back on. Luckily, one minute, tops.

5.       Besides the immense amount of volleyball we play (which is totally fine by me), we have started to find new ways to entertain ourselves between and after class. Simona has so graciously pointed out that I have an unusually high occurrence of gray hairs for my age. She enjoys sitting and searching. Claus is 31 and apparently has fewer gray hairs than me. Great. I prefer the word “silver”. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Safari na rafiki

 June 1

This past weekend was my first (and definitely not last) safari. 24 of us in 4 open-roofed Jeeps. 2 straight days of driving, confinement-induced hilarity, wild life, and incredible views. Saturday we met up early and drove to Lake Manyara National Park, passing through protected Maasai land on the way. Herders moved their flocks along the highway sporting traditional robes and walking sticks and, of course, neon second-hand Nikes. Culture clash.

A fairly typical sight along the side of the highway.
A picture is worth a thousand words so here are some pictures from our Saturday at Lake Manyara.

Lake Manyara from afar.

Twiga. All of the pictures in the park were taken from our jeep.

We spent Saturday night at a camp ground outside of the park, but we weren’t exactly roughing it. Simona and I had an entire tent to ourselves conveniently placed by the campfire. The grounds had multiple toilets and warm showers, neither of which I have at my home stay. We were basically at a Ritz Carlton. Who knew I would have to go camping to find luxury accommodations? Strangely enough, I know I have officially hit the adaptation phase of culture shock because I now prefer squatting toilets to regular ones…weird…TMI? Sorry.

Sunday, my favorite of the two safari days, was spent at Ngorongoro Crater. The crater is technically a caldera, or collapsed volcano, and one side of the crater is still active. Maasai live and herd goats and cattle inside. The crater, nearly 300 square kilometers, is indescribably awesome. There is literally no other place like it on the planet. It is a habitat completely isolated by a literal wall of mountains on all sides. If you’re in you’re in, if you’re out you’re out.

Outside of the crater. High altitude and cooooold.

Silly Danes (Looking down into Ngorongoro). Apparently the Danish have quite a difficult time trying to say “binoculars”. They are now to be referred to, forever more, as “bolagolas”.

Crater floor.


The wildebeest. Africa’s most LOTR worthy animal.

This is an elephant.

Oh hello.

Unfortunately the lions were lazy and not in the mood to entertain our hopes for a nice lion-wildebeest show down.

Flodhest. The only animal Simona cared about seeing.

Words of wisdom: Girls, if you go on a safari, wear a sports bra.

Shout out to Steve, our only Canadian, on Canada Day! Hoorah!

Monday, July 1, 2013

June 23

The past few days have been amazing! (I feel like I will end up saying that a lot) Friday was our first day to leave TCDC (aka The Danish). All 26 of us piled into a van and made our way to Tengeru Hospital for our first taste of “field experience”. It was less of a western hospital and more of a one road complex with multiple small buildings that housed various wards. There were very few covered windows and doors and paved floors were not necessarily guaranteed. It definitely made us stop and think about how lucky we all are to live in a world where sanitation, privacy, and treatment are required and expected, respectively. We managed to fix a few small pieces of equipment during our 3 hour visit – a few power strips with burned fuses, the control panel for a NICU incubator, and an ultrasound monitor. Not bad for a first day’s work. It’s surprising how true it is that most “problems” with equipment are really just a result of user error. The incubator panel simply had to be unlocked by holding down a button for 5 seconds; something totally intuitive to us as engineers from the developed world, but completely foreign to the hospital staff. User manuals in the local language would make all the difference here. Michael also managed to shock himself a few times on 250 V. Womp womp. We should all probably accept the fact that it’s going to happen. Darn invisible electricity.

Juwan, one of my hospital partners for the second month, soldering the battery holder of a hearing aid. 

On Saturday we left as a group to visit the Warusha tribe about 30 minutes up the road toward Arusha and near the base of Mt. Meru. The Warusha people are a sort of subset of the Masai – the most famous tribe local to this region. The only difference is in their lifestyles. The Masai are nomadic whereas the Warusha are small farmers that settle permanently. We were shown around by two Warusha gentlemen in street clothes (today, traditional duds are only used during ceremonies and celebrations), both of which are attending college. We toured a traditional clay, plaster, bamboo and tin-roofed hut that is still their main type of housing.  The indoor stove plus the fact that they keep their livestock inside at night made the air quality less than ideal. We were shown a slew of local plants by a medical healer who may or may not have cured Greg’s knee of pain by rubbing a charred leaf on it. Placebo effect?

 Flocks of little children (some less than 3 feet tall, yet nonchalantly wielding machetes) followed us around asking for candy, also known as “pipi”, and to take their picture. The cuteness factor disappeared when Danwei gave one child a mechanical pencil and an office-supply-wanting swarm emerged from the bushes (again, some with machetes) and chased her back to our lunch spot. Lunch was topped off with us shelling, roasting, grinding and brewing our own coffee beans. 

Jakob "deshelling" coffee beans.

Did anyone else know that coffee grows on trees?!?! I had no idea… I guess I’m a bad coffee lover. A quick hike up a hill with a great view of Arusha and the afternoon ended perfectly.

Today, Melina and I went to church with Mama Glory. Everyone here is extremely devout and basically either Christian or Muslim. Some of the kids on our program wake up at 4:30 every morning to the sound of prayers coming from the local mosque. Our neighborhood alarms are dog fights, blaring radios, and roaming roosters. We introduced ourselves to the whole congregation in Kiswahili this morning. Slightly nerve-wracking. Men sit on the right side of the church and women on the left. The music is upbeat, the choir dances, and I couldn’t understand a darn thing that was going on. Well, except for the donation portion – that’s universal. And bored children playing with their gum. Individuals who don’t have money to donate to the church bring goods which are then auctioned off after the service. Mama Glory bought 4 parichichi (avocadoes). Melina and I are thinking that the children’s Sunday school class that Mama teaches might be more our speed. At least they find my inability to communicate with them more funny than annoying. A good fish face will never do you wrong.

Stella, our sister, took us to the market in Usa River afterward. There is absolutely no way not to attract attention when you go into busy public places. “Mzungu! Mzungu!” Yes I am white. Yes I am a visitor. Thank you for the reminder, because for a minute I began to feel too comfortable... But in actuality, they say it in good humor and I even laugh most of the time. Canvas tarps covering the market floor displayed everything from produce to Spanx to piles of lonely shoes with no matching partner. Beautiful patterned fabrics hung down from overhead. Melina and I couldn’t resist purchasing a few yards, of course.

Tomorrow should be a typical school day. Kiswahili lessons, lunch, volleyball, and we are building an LED flashlight in lab. ‘Til then!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


Let’s avoid a lengthy post here. My brain is on cultural overload (in a wonderful sort of way) so let me just bullet point the mentionables. Hopefully this method will give you a more thorough understanding of Tanzania than any sort of lengthy, metaphor-filled prose I could attempt to write.

If you decide not to read all of this, at least read the last point. It will blow your mind.

This is home sweet home – the room that Melina and I share. 

Southerners, we have nothing on Tanzanians when it comes to being friendly. Yes, it’s hard to say, but it’s true. People here are ridiculously welcoming and upbeat. I mean ridiculously. It even has roots in their language. They have a common greeting “Habari za…”, which means “News of…” (and then you fill in the blank: day, work, school, family, etc.) . The only response that is ever used to answer this greeting is “nzuri”, or “good”. You hear “habari”, you say “nzuri”. Simple as that. If you are have a bad day, you say “nzuri”. If you just got fired, you say “nzuri”. Both probably accompanied by a slight wrinkle of the brow, but you are still “good”. See? Optimism.

I live in Makimura, a small area near Arusha in the Usa River region. The highways are nice but the side roads we take to get to our house look like dried creek beds, which make for a bumpy ride. Now that I think about it, they probably are dried creek beds since the rainy season just ended.

Those images you see in movies of 15 Africans sitting in and hanging off the side of a truck…are completely accurate. We had one driving around our street the first night we got in. Students were campaigning for the election of the local university present. Pretty cool if you ask me.

Our bedroom is never quiet, even in the middle of the night. People in the street are constantly laughing, conversing, and listening to music. It’s fairly comforting to fall asleep to these sounds. The roosters and the dogs however, are not as welcome. I’m sleeping with ear plugs tonight.

We have electricity but no running water and boil everything we drink. Our toilet is a “squatting toilet”. Basically a porcelain rimmed hole in the ground that is connected to a drain. This hole also doubles as the shower drain, as we bathe with pitchers of water just standing on the bathroom floor. You would be surprised at how little water you need to get clean. I have heard that some homestays have running water and wifi. I think I’m better off without them it for this trip. We spend a lot of time with our family playing games, doing homework, talking, and joking around.

Tanzanians value relationships above anything else. You slow down, having meaningful conversations, and get to business only once you have invested time in that person and shown them respect. “Tanzanians are never late, just delayed” said one of my instructors today. If you show up a tad “delayed” because you were speaking with your mother or a close friend, no biggie! Time is just slower here.

Tanzanians call white people “mzungu” which is derived from something along the lines of “one who is still spinning”. It’s very cute and clever actually. People, of all races, who don’t live here are still on the move (not settled) and are still spinning. A lot of their words have interesting origins like this.

Dhalla-dhallas, a type of taxi, are small vans with three rows of seats. I think there were about 15 people aboard on the way home from class today. My ride to school only costs about 25 cents one way.

If I zone out during class, it is probably because I am watching the monkeys goof around outside of our classroom.

Tanzanians love volleyball and soccer and that is how we spend most of our free time. Could this be any more perfect?

The food here is awesome! Rice, beans, veggies, coconut curries, fish, ugali (described to me as a stiff porridge), fresh fruit juices. We are culinarily spoiled. We had some sort of sautéed greens with dinner tonight and I have never enjoyed wilted leaves more in my entire life (or ever).

Telling time in Swahili is different. And I’m not just talking about military time. Imagine a clock. Not digital you cheaters. The minute hand pointing straight up and the hour hand pointing due east. This is 3pm, right? Not in Swahili time. This would be 9 pm. Instead of reading whatever the hour hand is pointing at, they read what is directly behind it. So they would look at an English 3pm and say “oh, it’s nine o’clock”. But…when you really think about it…the odd thing is that they still associate the Swahili 9pm with the afternoon. 9pm is the middle of the day, just after lunch and before dinner. IS YOUR MIND BEING BLOWN?? It took Melina and me a good ten minutes to figure this out. Poor 8 year old Ruth must think we are incompetent. The only thing I can kind of compare it to is how we associate December – February with winter and they associate it with summer. The time is still now and it still looks the same, we just call it completely opposite things.

Hope that gives you a little image of this world I’m experiencing J Signing off.

(And yes, I realize that ended up being a bit lengthy. Sorry!)