March 30, 2007
I'm leaving tomorrow to travel in the north of Tanzania, first with the group for a bit, then a few friends, then to stay near Mt. Kilimanjaro and talk to coffee farmers in the villages for about a week, about organic farming and rural livelihoods. It's really exciting. But it's also making me realize how much the time in the next few months is going to fly--I'll be gone for 3 weeks, then I'll be back for three weeks, then I'm out of here, moving forward always. It's sad. Because there's so many people I'm just beginning to really treasure, so many things I'm going to miss. I've made this friend Jane at my work at Envirocare, and been to her house and her kids (4 and 5)are CRAZY and try to speak English with me. I will miss them. I've gotten pretty close to this guy Zach I'm teaching piano to, and we just play music a lot, he plays the drums and we have traditions, songs that we do everytime, and he's just really fun to hang out with and to talk to about all his opinions for Tanzania. And my family, most of all my family. I love Aika even if she's crazy sometimes. I love Mama even if I don't see her that often. And most of all I love Monika and Mwasiti, the maids. I am just starting to really talk to Monika, to hear her story. And it's tough, because you realize that what seemed like an OK life--at least certainly not the destitute poverty some people think of when they think of Africa--still has so many things lacking and so many challenges. It's harder, in a way, to face poverty and hopelessness when they're coming from someone who never seemed all that different from myself. Students who are educated and will probably find some job, but it just might take a while and they may never have confidence and security. Monika, who has a nice place to live and enough to eat, but has so many struggles in family and relationships and her past. When the sad things come out, it's bittersweet becuase I know I'm really getting to build relationships with these people (in another language, it's exciting) but I also know there's not all that much I can do for her without undermining Mama, and there's not all that much longer I have to just spend time with her and love her. But I do. Love these people a lot. And this time it's not just an idea, like "I must love the people of Tanzania." It's real people I care about and laugh with and will ache to leave. And the more I travel, the more I will always ache to be away from people, like I do for many of you. And yet maybe this is stretching me to love more and across distances, and maybe it is reinforcing in me something i believe about the brokenness of this world and how it is incomplete, how we'll always be lacking some pieces of our community and our love, and how i don't think that will be fulfilled ever on earth. And thus how I long for God, the way he means something in this culture and in mine and for all the people I love, how he could someday restore the separations and make me whole. Sorry, I know this got a little cliche...what can i say. Meanwhile I'm just waiting, laughing, coughing, the normal things I do. Loving the rainy season and the people I'm with right now and climbing trees. Sometimes that's enough.
Posted by Katie Murchison Ross at 12:52 AM
March 26, 2007
I have two friends here, John and Emily, and they are fantastic. We like to go on a lot of adventures. And we always have the greatest things happen to us. This weekend, for example, we went to Zanzibar again, for a relaxing time wandering around Stone Town, the historic port city, and a night at the beach on the east coast. There are some things that are really great about trips with John and Emily. For one, we're really spontaneous and laugh a lot even if things don't work out--so when we went to buy our boat tickets to Zanzibar Thursday and got mobbed by a million people trying to sell us tickets, some probably trying to scam us, we felt completely overwhelmed and hassled, and then there was a moment where we all three just looked at each other and started laughing hysterically. Another great thing we have going is this system we call "communism," which seems to work well in a nation that used to be socialist and in which we take political science from the best gentlest Marxist professor ever. What this means is that someone pays for the hotel, someone pays for lunch, and we don't really stress about the exact amount we spend. It's communism. Everybody's happy. And then, best of all is just that we always seem to get ourselves into crazy and amazing situations. Like a few weeks ago we went to this fishing village Gezauloloe and ended up having some kid lead us past cattle fields and huts to this tiny hole-in-the-wall local place to eat local food: chipsi mayai, or basically french fries fried with eggs. And then, this weekend in Zanzibar we were looking for another similarly cheap place to eat in the beach village we stayed at, and some kids ended up inviting us into their home to eat, and while their mom was cooking some of the best ugali and fish I've had yet, all the kids braided Emily and my hair. And then Sunday morning Emily and I watched the sunrise. And we had so much great conversation and feeling the breeze and seeing the stars, all three of us, and the best part about it is that this week we have finals! Best finals week ever. I wondered about a few things while in Zanzibar, though. One was just if my understanding of nature is a little skewed some way. I mean, I love it, I love the beauty of the ocean and the stars and the beach and trees and farms and fields. But I also am not directly dependent on it for my survival. I think for the fishermen in Zanzibar, or the farmers, there would be a different experience. Not that they'd appreciate or love nature less, but they'd be more connected to it somehow, and that connection would include both love and gratitude but also some sort of tension, struggle, fight with the land to provide food and with the sea to provide fish and with the sky to provide good weather. The other thing was just tourism. It's crazy there, so many tourists, and we get frustrated when people use tourist Swahili with us like we don't know anything, or when they hassle us to buy stuff all the time. But really we are tourists. And I don't know if that's good or bad, if they need the income or if they are hampered by the cultural pollution and the dependence on some seemingly artificial mode of income. So Zanzibar, you're beautiful but I can't idealize you, because I don't really experience life there.
Posted by Katie Murchison Ross at 3:39 AM
March 19, 2007
If that were possible! This weekend was just out of control, and though there's no real way to describe it, maybe I'll just mention that it included riding on a dhow with a random fisherman off the coast, exploring an ancient graveyard of a sharif (both of these 2 were on Msasani Village, which is really interesting because it's this old fishing village that's been there forever, where people are still fishing in little boats and selling their fish at the market like their grandfathers did, and where there's a graveyard that's 200 years old, and all this in the midst of a now modernized city, just adjacent to the rich white area, the yacht club and the expatriate community), celebrating St. Patrick's day at an irish pub, watching the stars on the roof of our kiswahili building, going to a CRAZY charismatic church sunday with a tanzanian friend, and going to a family celebration where a goat was sacrificed for a new baby. I can't describe the fullness of emotions I've felt, the richness of life and culture and nature here, the beauty. Meanwhile I don't know how to process everything--culture and religion and society and poverty. and my thoughts are just racing now, unable to figure anything out, but maybe that's really what this trip is about in the long run, complicating my (already complicated) thoughts so that I will understand only that there is complexity and that i cannot understand. I can only keep seeking to learn and love people.
Posted by Katie Murchison Ross at 3:09 AM
March 10, 2007
Sorry if I write too much; you can ignore me droning on...but when my email isn't working and I already payed for the full hour, I can only go on facebook for so long... One of the most difficult cultural issues that Mara (my roommate) and I have experienced has been having Aika with us. Aika is my mama's niece; she lives in England with her mother (mama's sister) and they came to visit for a few weeks. Aika is 3 and she is a bit spoiled. She only likes people who speak English and when she first went to a preschool here she said it wasn't a real school because they spoke Swahili and there were only Africans. That being said, mama and Aika's mama want her to learn to be African, so she is staying with us for a while while her mom goes back to England. It's tough because she is really attached to her mom. Her mom left yesterday and I still think she doesn't realize she's not coming back for a while. But even before she left, there was one really difficult night. Aika's mom was gone and she left without saying goodbye-Aika screamed and refused to eat. Mara was trying to comfort her while the maid, Mwasiti, who has a very different understanding of child rearing, was trying to discipline her. There was this one point where Aika was screaming in Mara's arms, Mwasiti was threatening her with a wooden spoon and calling her a bad child, and I was holding the food. Mara said, don't feed her, she'll choke on her tears, and Mwasiti said, give her food, and I felt I was just caught in between two opinions, two cultures somehow. Babies here don't get as much individual attention and soothing, they're just sort of passed around and expected to behave. Of course they are loved too. But it was just a tough situation, and I know Mara and I will continue to have to try to understand the way Mwasiti wants to treat Aika, and together we'll have to learn how to take care of this child who is also somewhere in the middle of two cultures.
Posted by Katie Murchison Ross at 12:31 AM
March 9, 2007
The time is coming where we're almost done with classes and ready to travel for a bit and then do our independent studies! It's crazy how fast time is going. I recently started volunteering at an NGO called Envirocare that works with environmental sustainability in Tanzania in a holistic way, incorporating poverty, human rights, gender and AIDS issues as well. It's a really neat place; they do a lot of research and awareness raising, and especially are doing a lot with organic farming. So I've been helping out with writing and editing for some stuff, and it's so neat to see that I can actually be really useful (their English writing definitely needs editing...) and simultaneously learn about agriculture and the environment in Tanzania. It looks like for my independent study I'll be working with Envirocare as well as other groups and local farmers in Moshi (near Mt. Kilimanjaro) to look at the organic farming on coffee plantations there, and the motivations, and how it relates to the social structure, and what is the future for organic farming and sustainable agriculture there. I guess it wasn't my first choice for a project, but I'm pretty excited that I'll get to be in a rural area, witnessing rural people and rural poverty and interacting with villagers! There's still a lot to get set up. Meanwhile, I love what I'm doing, I love especially the other people who work at Envirocare; they are so much fun and they're helping me with my Swahili while I help them with their English! This is really a wonderful opportunity. And sometimes, lately, I've been a bit reminiscent and missing home and school and lots of people, but not in a desperate way, just in a way that makes me appreciate you all and be excited to see you again, soon or later.
Posted by Katie Murchison Ross at 11:42 PM
March 5, 2007
I think I may have just experienced the most beautiful weekend of my life. There's not really much to say, because words and pictures could never explain it, but just know that mountains are beautiful, trees are majestic, and I've seen miles of driving through the mountains, blue and hazy against the sky, and then through the game park with giraffes and my favorite animals of all the elephants, and buffalo and zebras and unfortunately no lions this time, and I've hiked up a mountain through rainforest to swim under a waterfall. And I had trouble reminding myself that all this was actually happening. Of course, the thing about being in nature, especially while driving on a bus, was that it made me think way too much, trying to have profound thoughts about this country and myself and my personality and all the issues I'm grappling with. And we all know what happens when I think too much. So then, at last there finally came a point where the beauty of it all just overwhelmed my thoughts and I just had to be still and enjoy it. And it was beautiful.
Posted by Katie Murchison Ross at 1:56 AM