Africa is dark and the internet is polepole sana (VERY slow)

Well, I'm here. I arrived last night around 10pm after an incredibly long 24 hours in airports and on planes. I've seen more movies in the last 24 hours than I have in weeks. Word to the wise: Don't watch The Namesake when you're leaving on a journey without your significant other.

My first impression as we were landing was how unbelievably dark it was outside the windows. There are very few lights seen from above, and that remains true for the highway as well. I was greeted by one of the GSC workers and met up with two other of the 23 or so volunteers here together. We rode back in a van, and along the highway were a lot of little shops and bars. They were all painted with lots of colors, and there were plenty of Celtel and Coca-Cola advertisements. It reminded me of all of the obnoxious ads for that cell phone company with Joan Cusack as the spokesperson. Where there is light, it's flourescent light outside the bars and gas stations. It pretty much looks exactly like you would expect from movies. It was cool but very damp, and it's still in the rainy season, so it's pretty muddy and drizzles throughout the day and night. That will stop in mid-June.

We arrived at the hostel, which is sort of like a compound, and run by the Catholic archdiocese. The accomodations are pretty minimal. A bed, a mosquito net, and a table. We had hot water for the shower, but I didn't realize it takes about 10 minutes for the heater to warm the water, and had a cold shower, with about 30 seconds of heat at the end. Now I know. I pretty much went to bed immediately, but woke up at 2:30am, and lay there, awake, until about 4:30, at which point I bit the bullet and took a sleeping pill. That knocked me out until 7:30, when my roommate woke up and I could hear everyone preparing in the kitchen. The two hours I was awake sucked. There are guard dogs that patrol the compound, and I tensed up each time they started barking. It was damp, the mosquito net had a habit of creeping onto my face, and I still have poison ivy. But I'm not complaining. :) Trust me, there are millions of people here worse off than that.

Breakfast was eggs and bread (which I can't eat), so I had eggs and coffee. Then we (myself, my roommate Merrywho is a veterinarian from Portland, and a few other volunteers) ventured into town, which is maybe a 1/4 mile from the hostel. You are immediately regaled with pleas for money, offers for safaris, and paintings that are lovely,but everyone has the same ones even though they all painted them themselves, of course. We were looking for a particular safari place, and learned from a painting-peddler and a safari-offerer that it had moved. So, they offered to walk us to the new place, and we felt okay about it. Thomas and Stefano were very nice and got us exactly where we needed to go, teaching us more Swahili along the way. The other nice thing about walking with Tanzanians is that other peddlers leave you alone, and our gentlemen guides shooed them away. We gave them a few dollars for helping us, and I told Thomas I'd buy a painting baadaya (later).

Our first venture into town I didn't bring anything but some money tucked in my shoe (I know it's gross, but whaddya gonna do) and a copy of my passport. Then I went back to the hostel and got my bag with a camera and some money and headed out again. Here I am, in an internet cafe, battling the totally pathetic connection.

I'm sorry that this is really boring, but nothing exciting has happened yet! Everyone at the hostel is really friendly, and they think seeing their picture on a digital camera screen is the absolute coolest thing ever. Clearly, with this connection I can't upload any photos. I hope to go to the fancy hotel sometime this week and use their broadband.

Tomorrow we start one week of orientation, from 9-6 daily. It should be pretty intense. Then we head out to our homestays in the nearby villages and go to the schools for the day camps. I'm excited. I asked Thomas if he thought so many volunteers here are good (nzuri) and he said yes, nzuri sana, because htey spend so much money. I asked him if he thought they did good as well, and he agreed that they are very good for hte community, because they bring ideas and things can change for the better. I was glad to hear this, because I continue to struggle with whether all of us white folk are really doing any good, or just making ourselves feel good. Thomas laughed at this and said that we do very much good. Ok, then. I feel a bit better.

I don't know if I will be able to access a computer during the day this week, and I'm not sure whether these cafes are open at night, so I may not get to post again until next weekend. We'll see. I promise it will be more interesting, and hope to have photos.

Also, the dalla-dallas here (buses) are amazing. I am so not ready to get on one. People drive completely insane here, and the dalla-dallas are overflowing with people. But for some places, it may be the only way to get there, or else pay high dollar for a taxi. This morning on the road in front of the hostel, an open-top Toyota Land Rover or something similar drove by, with about 8 football players in uniform hanging out the top yelling. I guess they won! It was such a funny sight.

It's also really muddy right now, although not the knee-deep mud I was warned about. Actually, all in all, everything is quite a bit nicer than I expected. So far, I'm pua (cool). I guess that's how you spell it. Thomas and Stefano taught us how to say "I'm cool as a banana." I already forgot it.

For those of you not blog-savvy (i.e., my family), you can subscribe to this blog and it will send you an email when I post. THat way you don't have to check it on your own.

Oh! I almost forgot. The case study that was accepted for publication by a journal called Cases in Public Health Communication and Marketing is up and running on the web. The site is You'll see on the first page that the case I wrote with my mentor/boss/professor, Matt Kreuter, won the $1000 prize for best case study that benefits the health of older adults, a prize sponsored by the AARP. Pretty cool. The editor who called and told me said that she wrote her editorial based on our case study, and that the journal would not have been the same without it. I couldn't see it from here, because it was too big to download, so tell me how it looks!

Good things just keep happening to me. I am so grateful to be here, and I owe much of it to all of you who donated to help cover the expenses. I know I'll leave a changed woman. I always just try to keep my mind and heart open, and don't have any expectations. That way, I'm never disappointed and often pleasantly surprised. I sure do love my life. I wish you all could be here with me. I miss Sam and the dogs the most. Apparently Chewy has had diarrhea since I left. Poor baby. I had better post this before I run out of time. I have 10 minutes left, but I bet it'll take 10 minutes to post. Guaheri, baadaya!

7 Responses on "Africa is dark and the internet is polepole sana (VERY slow)"

  1. TERESA says:

    Your are wonderful writer. I can visulize what you are describing and it's already different than I pictured. I know you will be very busy, but I must suggest dancing with the locals as much as you can. African Dance is good for the soul!

    mao says:

    Dear Kate; your published article looks good - congrats! As an older Missourian I appreciate your efforts on our behalf.

    Thank you for letting me share vicariously in your journey. I really enjoy your musings.

    larissa says:


    i posted some pics of you and the dogs on my blog last week when we were at bryan's.

    sounds like you are having quite an adventure.

    keep on keeping on,

    Sounds like you are doing exactly what you wanted to do in Africa. I read (skimmed) the paper, and it looks good, the new forms are SO much better than the old. it almost makes me want to go get a colonoscopy.


    Lisa says:

    i love that i'm reading about you in tanzania while i'm in mongolia. it's just too righteous. i forget things i learn in mongolian all the time. but you're talking to tanzanians. that's so great!

    congrats on the prize! i'm downloading the case but it's taking a while. hopefully it'll come through and i can be further convinced of your genius.

    Nancy says:

    Hey, Kate,
    How nice to have an internet connection with a view. Thanks for sharing your stories. I'm looking forward to many more when you return.

    Nancy says:

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. I'm looking forward to lots more stories when you get home.