Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tales from Tanzania

As promised, my posting has been drastically reduced while I've been in Africa. It's been a nice break, but I look forward to posting lots of book reviews when I get back. I have read an enormous amount during the past two weeks, much of it very unlike my normal reading choices. I've read several nonfiction titles, including Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point, and both Freakonomics and Superfreakonomics. I've also finished lots of novels.

Currently I'm reading poet Molly Peacock's memoir, titled Paradise, Piece by Piece. It is beautiful and devastating and selfish and exhilarating, all at once. I'm struggling through it a bit at the moment, only because I can't see where it is going that is hopeful. But I'm wanting hope for her, and hoping it will come before the book ends.

I assume you'd like an update on the experiences we've been having here in Africa. What I can say is this: Africa is both the most surprising and the most predictable place I've ever been. In Tanzania, Africa looks exactly as you would expect Africa to look -- wild, heavily populated, thatched-roof huts, dilapidated roadside dukas (stores), bicyclists everywhere, Western clothing from Goodwill. But then there are surprising things, as well.

Everyone uses cell phones. My sister-in-law says most people skipped the step of house telephones on lines, and went straight to cell service. Even in the village we visited, far away from town life and with no electricity, the people have cell phones. A man comes every few days and charges them on a car battery. The women wear kangas (think pashminas but cottton, wrapped around as a skirt) to cover their legs to below the knee, but often shirts are low-cut or gaping open between buttons to reveal a lot of skin.

In Tanzania, it is both a beautiful life, full of calls to prayer in the evening and rich-voiced singing and a difficult life, with many hours spent on survival. Water, a basic necessity, is scarce during their dry season. The place where my brother goes to get water every other day has recently been running out of water mid-morning. There is more mid-afternoon, but the lack of water means some go without.

We have been enjoying visiting our family here, in addition to learning about a new culture. My sister-in-law has written several blog posts during our visit. She posted several pictures of family time (especially with my cutest-kid-in-the-world nephew). She also posted about our visit to the village of Kasilo last weekend.

A difficult thing for me while being here has been the lack of exercise I'm able to get. After losing more than 45 lbs in the last year and a half, I am used to going to the gym at 4-6 days a week and getting in some heart-pumping cardio workouts, as well as strength training and yoga. Tanzanians simply don't understand running, which would be my only real exercise option here. My sister-in-law and I did go to the workout room at the Geita Gold Mine and run on the treadmills on Saturday, but this isn't an everyday option.

We have been going on long walks, which is an acceptable thing to do. After all, most people walk to and from the market, water sources, their friends' homes, etc. However, they often ask my sister-in-law where she is going (assuming the answer will be the market, water, a friend's home) and are extremely confused when she says it's for exercise, or for fun. Holly wrote a post about one of our walks a week or so ago, along with pictures.

I will be writing many, many posts with pictures and video after we return home (in less than a week). Until then, visit McNeals in Geita for updates and pictures.

We have a week full of activities planned for our last few days in Tanzania. Tonight we will go visit Christie and Brett Harrison for a cookout at their home. Tomorrow, we will be the honored guests of Elizabeth's Tanzanian family and get to eat a traditional meal in her home. On Saturday and Sunday, we are going on safari in the Serengeti and staying at the Kijereshi tented camp at the edge of the Western Corridor.

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