Sunday, November 25, 2012

new developments

It's been a busy couple of weeks, with a quick trip home and lots of catch-up once returning, and more to do in the next couple of weeks than time might allow (but I'm always up for a challenge).  To keep everyone up to date...

I've created a rapport with some of the guys here, and made some friends with a few of the ladies... it feels like I'm becoming the sweetheart of the mine site (hey, I'll take it, but I'd prefer internet). I also was informed of the LIBRARY. Shut up, there's a library. I haven't seen it yet, but it exists. And that's enough for now. Though, again, lest it be forgotten, I'd also like reliable internet. Coming back wasn't easy, but it was nice to reconnect with some of the folks here. Soon, I may even miss them when I'm away.

I was finally issued a Tanzanian cell phone. Of course, I received it two days before I got on a plane to come back to America, the most perfectly reasonable time to get me a phone that works in Africa. Anyway, I'm issued a Tanzanian cell phone with an icon menu much more challenging that my fancy iPhone (now reduced to a $400 alarm clock) and instructions in Swahili. It also has no balance on it, so I can't actually make phone calls or send text messages. Rebecca called after my triumphant I-have-a-phone email AND GUESS WHAT THE RINGTONE IS?! Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On." Let me repeat that. The default ringtone on my Tanzanian cell phone is half a step away from legitimate sexual harassment. Elisabeth has suggested that I switch it to "In the Jungle."

I arrived back to the mine site and found a giant sparrow's nest in the cornice on the front of our house and bats (lots of them) living in the roof of our office. So far, I'm doing my best to ignore them and they are ignoring me, but the encroaching wildlife is growing larger. No longer is it just bugs the size of birds, but actual birds and small mammals sharing my space. The monkeys also are becoming bolder, playing closer to the office. One was hopping up to hang onto the window sill and stare at me... which is either awesome or creepy. On my return home, my father informed me that he had been bitten by a monkey as a child (I can't wait to hear the WHOLE story of this and an explanation of why none of my family has heard it sooner, but we're saving it for Christmas). I'm not feeling so friendly towards the little monsters anymore.

The best surprise since I've been back was being invited to dinner by the couple next door, Kathy and Vick. I went over last Wednesday night and she'd made chicken dinner... but with stuffing and carrots and white wine and potatoes and people who are willing to treat me like family. It felt almost like Thanksgiving, which was sweet and inadvertent, as no one but Americans celebrate that holiday. Though, as a typical American, I think everyone should... I know that there were pilgrims and such... maybe not everyone has access to turkey... but it seems like an obviously good plan to globalize Thanksgiving.

Thank God for you all.  : )

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

this is a vegetable

My friend Lydia is teaching me Swahili.  She is also helping me do nearly everything else.  It is thanks to Lydia that I am able to make phone calls and send emails.  She's reactivated my security card twice and organized my flights home and back.  She has let me borrow her bicycle, though it was too big for me.  She will only print for me if I ask her to do so in Swahili, but I think it's a fair exchange as I must ask her to print something for me twice a day, on average.

Lydia has also outfitted me with a hard hat and safety glasses.  She has tried her best to also get me steel toed boots and a bright orange "Bulyanhulu" shirt.  The boots are a full-size too small, but I don't mention it.  She brought me a swath of fabric and suggested we make a shirt out of it.  When I asked her how, exactly, she told me she'd take me into the village and we'd have one made there.

She's gotten us drinks and lunch.  She has cooked us land nuts.  She comes by our little office to make sure we're getting along okay.

I love her, even if we don't always understand one another.  She's constantly explaining something to me, very patiently.  I'm sure I'm giving her a blank stare on a regular basis.  Sometimes it's because I don't understand the words she's using.  Sometimes it's because I don't understand why one would microwave peanuts.  Sometimes it's because I don't know why the warehouse doesn't have six 6 work boots or size M work shirt.

Today it was because she was holding a grasshopper.  These three or four inch bright green guys showed up as soon as (the real) rainy season started here.  They are beautiful.  Saturated lime green and translucent, with bony little legs and wings.  They get eaten almost immediately.  I've seen at least three carried off by birds and I'm not sure whether it's because they are so noticeable or because we have an abundance of birds on the mine site.

Anyway, greeting Lydia the other morning ("mambo"), she's holding one of these bright green bugs.  I'm ignoring her, as it's clear than giant African bugs and I are not getting along, no matter how pretty they are.  But she holds it out to me, as it's crawling over her hand.  I say, "Yes, I saw a bunch of them this morning on my way in."  Very excited, she'd like to know where.  So I point back in the direction of the little schoolhouse, a little confused, but not for the first time.  And she explains, "We eat these."  "Those?" I ask.  Yes, she's nodding.  "Do you cook them?" I'm certain my face is giving me away.  "Fried."  "Oh, so they crisp up?" I try for clarification.  "Yes, very crispy.  Very tasty." She's clearly thrilled and I'm not sure she won't just pop that live thing into her mouth.  I'm still making faces, I can tell.  I turn away, so not to truly offend her, because I love Lydia and if she loves eating grasshoppers, then who am I to say otherwise.  She didn't ask me to eat one (not yet).

I'm walking away, to begin a meeting, and she laughs a little.  Very sensibly, as if commenting on the weather... "This is a vegetable."  I'm sure I paused a moment, but then we laughed together.  Of course.  A flying vegetable.

Later that day we saw another giant African bug, with pinchers at least an inch long.  And I stopped and squealed at Lydia. "What is that?!"  And she shrugs, "I don't know.  A bug."  And, not being sure of anything anymore, I ask if she eats that too.  And she gives me sharp look, "No. We kill these."  And she stomps it.

Friday, November 2, 2012


I am really terrible at killing mosquitoes.  You'd think that I'd be better, considering I've been clapping at them for a solid month now, but I'm not.  I'm still miserable at getting them.  Now and again I'll get one, but I've heard that there is an illusion of improvement right after the area's been sprayed.  Just my luck.

Regardless, thankfully, I don't have malaria.  I'm taking pills and bathing in bug juice and there is fogging around the camp three times a week, but the people-who-know suggest you get a malaria test every two weeks.  I went a full month of being in Tanzania before they caught me (I don't much like doctors or clinics), but I have had my first malaria test and it is negative.

It is worth noting that once you detour through the security compound and travel along a barbed wire fence through the secret passage to the clinic, it is actually a good time.   No one comes to the clinic for a headache - there's a serious issue by the time you get to the clinic.  There was someone in physical therapy outside the front doors, re-learning how to walk.  A fair number of foot and toe injuries.  I also saw a guy with big black open blistery wounds on his swollen legs - yikes!  Now, I just require a finger prick and I made an appointment, so... apparently none of what is going on in the waiting room is an emergency and I am passed right on back.

The doctor is very happy that I have come in for my malaria test and the lab technician, an old man named Wilfred dressed in burgundy scrubs, is also quite happy to see me.  I'm not sure if this is because I am a pleasant person or I'm the least of their worries today (black wounds, man, that is a problem!) or because my attempts at Swahili are so funny.  Wilfred calls me "mami" the whole time, which means I love him.  Also, the finger prick is the lightest thing I've ever felt.  I actually asked Wilfred if he missed me, which only made him like me more.  Wilfred, in fact, is the person most amused by me since I got here.  As I was wondering if I was only being humored back in the States, I am pleased to find that I can truly be entertaining.  After the finger prick, I asked if I could sit and watch my malaria test "change color."  I thought that meant it was like a litmus test, but it's more like a pregnancy test (at least the way pregnancy tests work on commercials.  I don't have first hand knowledge of this.)  Wilfred talked me through the specifics of the superficial malaria test - which lines mean what, what happens if it's invalid, the whole nine.

Then there was the second round of testing, which involved a microscope and which I was not involved in.  All the same, no malaria.

Malaria, by the way, is apparently unmistakable.  The symptoms are discussed as "flu-like," but anyone who has had malaria said it is definitely not like anything normal... you feel like you are DYING.  Vitaliy believes he has malaria twice a week on average.  He's tried to diagnose me with malaria at least half a dozen times since we arrived.  Neither of us have malaria.  No one in camp has malaria.  We will not get malaria.

But we will get tested for it every two weeks.  I'll be going just to visit Wilfred.