Well, we’ve evaded it for as long as possible, but malaria has finally struck our camp. Eileen fell ill late Tuesday night and has been spending the past two days battling the less-than-pleasant head and intestinal symptoms that so frequently accompany the parasite. Thankfully (er, sort of?), she caught malaria on her last Tanzanian adventure, so she was quick to recognize the symptoms and went to the hospital right away Wednesday morning to get tested (which obviously came out positive) and get medication.
Fear not Midwesterners! Malaria is a common enough illness in these parts and as long as one can afford the medication (which Eileen can) there is typically little to fear from it. I have complete faith that Eileen will be back to her typical Prince-loving, Star Wars-referencing self within a few days (not that either of these passions have actually lessoned during her sickness, because I don’t think that would be possible; she just hasn’t been able to express herself quite so vivaciously the past two days).
I have been lucky to avoid malaria thus far, and as I am into my final days here, I certainly hope to leave with an unblemished record! It would be a drag to have gotten along for the entirety of my experience and then fall ill within the last few days. Actually, drag is quite the understatement; it would totally suck. The fact that I am now into single digits (in regards to the days I have left here) is resulting in sufficient freaking out on my part. There is so much I have planned to do in the next 9 days; I really don’t have time to get sick. The desire to accomplish all that I wish is only a small reason for my spastic mindset. The real reason I am turning into a Nervous Nelly is the thought of leaving. The more I consider leaving here, the harder it is for me to rationalize that I don’t have any idea when I will be able to return to Tanzania. With the relationships I’ve developed and the connection I feel to this place, I cannot imagine not returning. However, I’m crippled by the realization of how difficult this will prove to be. Once I return home I will actually need to start trying to plan out my postgraduate life, and this is a scary enough thought on its own. Trying to visualize where trips back to Tanzania will fit into that life…well that is just another huge stress added to the aforementioned one. So yeah, freaking out is definitely the tune of the week.
Outside of Eileen’s malaria and my mental cluster…(well, fill in the word you think belongs here) the past week has still been filled with activities for us. Probably the most notable task we have been working on is a survey for TEP. We have spent many hours this past week interviewing Fanaka students, as well as the local community, in the hope that we are able to use their responses to “determine the educational and economical disparities in the Bunju A, Tanzanian community.” Another WSU graduate and TEP volunteer created this survey for us to accomplish this goal. This has been an interesting and educational experience to say the least. The first several interviews I conducted were with some of my students at Fanaka, and interviewing them has helped me to learn a lot about both my school and my students. I have known since before I came here that many of my students come from one-parent families (and some have lost both parents) however, it is startling to make the connection about which students suffer from this hardship. Some students have lost mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, and you wouldn’t know it by their day-to –day behaviors. As immature and childish as the majority of the students are when they’re at school (because in reality, most of them act even more childish at school than nearly any US students of a comparable age) it is easy to forget that most of them deal with problems and situations in their personal lives that are more serious and adult than what many Americans will ever have to deal with. One of our students was talking about poverty the other day and explained how it affected her life when a close friend of hers had to drop out of school and become a prostitute because her family could no longer afford the fees and needed her to work. While this, as well as other difficulties, do affect far too many Americans, the proportion of the population of Tanzania who contend with these realities is far greater than those unfortunate communities of people back home. I for one have never felt I’ve had to consider such a solution when money has been tight, but many children (and I emphasis the term children) here do. It is difficult to believe that these experiences and realities belong to the same kids that I spend half of my hours at school chasing into classrooms and hollering at for hiding in the bathrooms. When I consider all of this it reminds me how unbelievably resilient they are.
I have also learned an extraordinary amount through my work on the survey interviewing the local community. We are completing the surveys to assist us in the grant writing process (essential to the awarding of grants). It is interesting; while some of the survey questions might seem very invasive to many people back home (ie. What is your monthly income, how much does your family spend on food each week, what type of illnesses have you had this year and how much has that cost you, etc.) I have yet to find a Tanzanian who was unwilling to answer or was insulted by my questions. A few people have seemed a bit reluctant, but luckily for me I have been fortunate to have the assistance of a Fanaka staff member (Iwe, who is the patron for the boy boarding students) to translate when necessary and (I think) put my interviewees at ease throughout the experience. I am a bit curious how I would be received without Iwe, but this is not something I would even be able to experiment with because his translations are invaluable to completing this task. Many Tanzanians have found some questions odd and more than one question has been followed by a hearty laugh before I’m awarded a response-for example, I ask them all how many hours of sleep they get each night (this is in our “Health” section) and quite literally everyone finds this question hilarious for some reason I’m still yet to understand. Nonetheless, very few people have seemed at all put off by my questions and have answered them to the best of their abilities.
There are some difficulties though. Many of the questions for the survey are difficult to ask people here. For example, there is an entire section devoted to the clothing and how much people spend on clothes and things related to this. While I realize my organization would like to have this information to assess the whether or not is would be beneficial to open a trade school (among other things) in the area, I find it almost impossible to ask people who make 1,000 Tanzanian shillings a day (and fyi when I exchanged my US money for TZ shillings the exchange rate was 1,501 shillings for each dollar, meaning they make about 75 cents a day) how much money they spend on clothes, because they just don’t. There are also cultural discrepancies that make other questions difficult. For example, there is a question that asks how many vegetables the interviewee gets each day. Well, Tanzanians don’t eat vegetables like we do in the US. The most common way to eat them is to chop up and boil a bunch of greens (usually sweet potato leaves or spinach) and then take a spoonful or two with your meal. This, I have no idea how to equate into a number of vegetables-or if a bunch of boiled leaves doused in salt really count in terms of what we consider “vegetables” at home, at least as far as nutrition goes. This isn’t to say the survey is bad, because it is very good and has helped me to learn a ton about the lives of my neighbors here, but there are definitely some cultural gaps that I realize after working on this project.
The other problem I have with the survey is that it seems as though many of the people are expecting me to help them right then and there. They are eager to tell me their problems and needs because I think they believe I will be able to help them on an individual level. While I try to dispel this idea right away, I can tell some of my interviews start to head that way, and really I can’t blame them. When a random white girl from the US is walking around asking you about your life and education and all sorts of problems to which the only solution they know of is to get money, what else are they to think? This always ends up making me feel sort of like crap, because while I hope to help the community I am well aware I’m not going to really be able to help these people individually. This has been difficult to contend with.
There have been other difficulties this past week. Two of our students lost their respective fathers this past weekend. I know both of these students fairly well and it is extremely hard to know they are going through such losses. One of the boys already lost his mother a few years back, so as hard as I can’t imagine it is to lose one parent, he now has lost both of them. So dear readers, while you will never meet these boys, please try to keep them in your thoughts this week. They are both good kids and have the potential to have bright futures, but with so much stacked against them to begin with and adding something so difficult as the death of a parent, well they will need all the help, thoughts, and prayers they can get.
Well, I think that is enough for this week. This may very well be the last time I write on this blog. I am departing from Tanzania next Saturday (May 14th) to return home to the US of A. If that is the case, I just want to thank all of you for following us these past three months. I have had an incredible experience here and it has been a privilege to update you on our adventures here. Eileen will forge on for another month after I take off, so please continue to read and enjoy her updates, as I know I will be doing. I can already anticipate waiting with baited breath to hear any and all news about my family and students here. Thank you again for your continuous support of our efforts here, I will be among you shortly. I’m going now; I bid you all a very fond farewell. And in solidarity with my stricken companion, may the force be with you.