03 June 2009

It's Kili Time!

This is the first time I am blogging, so I am really excited to document the experience!

Currently, I am in the Kilimanjaro Region of Tanzania. To be specific, I am in Moshi, which means “smoke” in Swahili. I am taking a class on policy dilemmas in global health and agriculture with Tanzanian medical students at the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical College (KCMC) for four weeks and will intern for an NGO for five weeks.

This journey wouldn’t have been possible without the help of my friends, my mentor, family, teachers and my Residence Hall Director (RHD). At one point during this past semester, I didn’t think this trip was going to be possible because I wasn’t sure if I could pay for the entire trip. I talked to one of my good friends at school and she told me to talk to our RHD, Mr. Glover. With his help I was able to find many resources for funding. I also want to thank the former Vice Provost of Cornell for her generosity, encouragement, and kindness and my mentor, Ms. Lane, for being a role model for the last four years, helping me prepare for the trip and just being a great person in general.


Monday was our first day of class for a 4-week course in collaboration with students and staff at KCMC. The Tanzanian students already knew who we were because they got to look at our bio sketches. So, now it was our chance to get to know them. All of them are fourth year medical students and are taking the course as an elective. They are very kind and actively participate in group discussions. Through our interactions I have learned about many cultural, social and political issues affecting the people in Tanzania.

The class is not like any other course I have taken at Cornell. It’s exceptionally interactive and hands-on. On the first day, we were placed into groups (a mix of CU and KCMC students) and had to come up with policy recommendations for our assigned case studies. In four days, after traveling for 21 hours, all the groups worked proficiently to produce great presentations. The professor said that she was very proud of our work considering the fact that we had experienced some serious jet lag and were working with new people in a different environment. I didn’t really think about how tired I felt and the fact that I didn’t know the capabilities and work ethics of my partners. All I knew is that we had to complete our work and we did a pretty good job. I learned so much about my case study with the help of my partners. I also learned more about TZ because our policy recommendations had to be implemented in a developing country and TZ was used as our reference. I look forward to the next three weeks of class.

Some notable differences b/n American and Tanzanian culture:

At 10:30am and 1:00pm it’s tea time!..like snack time in kindergarten. This is great since I need something to wake me up (class starts at 8:30am) and it’s different from a normal day at school or work. I usually have chai maziwa (milk tea) to drink and for food, so far I have had pilau (spiced rice with meat), samosa (= delicious!) or bread (it has a hint of sugar and it’s shaped like a croissant but it’s thicker).

The day starts at 6am which means that at 6am, it’s 12am and at 6pm its noon. The system depends on which language is being used. So, if someone is speaking in Swahili to me, then he/she uses that system- the day starts at 6am=12am. If the language is English, then English time is used. I haven’t used the former system yet, but I am using military time and I’ve adjusted to it pretty quickly since I started using it at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam.

After secondary school (high school), the students go straight to university. I think some countries in Europe have the same system too. Why doesn’t the US do this?? I’d be in my 3rd year of med school right now…=/

In order for a man to ask a woman to be his wife, he has to get her family’s permission to be with her. Then her family will ask her if he is the one and if she says yes, then marriage is certain. After that, there is a big celebration with both families and people drink the local brew, mbege (banana beer). It tastes like light/medium beer. I arrived at my home stay just in time for the engagement party. At first, it was a bit overwhelming because it was too much at once for my first day there, but my host family is very kind and the welcome was very warm.

Home stay!:

My home stay family is great. Adey (my roommate) and I are staying with the Chuwas. Bwana (sir) Chuwa is the landlord of my professor’s house in TZ as well as several other houses and helped her find the other home stays for the program. He is also the owner of a tour company. Bwana Chuwa (I’ve gotten used to calling him that) is very involved in his community and is incredibly knowledgeable on the history of his town, country, and continent. Mama Chuwa is warm-hearted and is always working around the house. She speaks little English, but the Swahili that I’ve learned so far has helped me communicate with her. Bwana Chuwa and Mama Chuwa have seven children (2 in Norway, 1 in Czech Rep., 1 in Arusha, 1 in Dar, and 2 in Moshi- Monica and Richard). The engagement party was for Monica, she is a 4th year laboratory researcher at KCMC. She is like the older sister I never had. She’s very responsible and great to hang out with. Adey and I love her. Richard is a tour guide, he lives here intermittently- according to his dad he will disappear for about 3 weeks before he comes home. He’s cool though. There is also house help, Hadicha. She is here from the time Adey and I wake up until about 6pm. She helps with cooking, laundry and small errands around the house. She only speaks Swahili so when I talk to her I get to practice my Swahili skills.

For breakfast, Adey and I have tea and peanut butter sandwiches (Tanzanians mainly have tea for breakfast, sometimes with mandazi (fried dough), soup, or bread). For dinner, last week we had ugali (corn meal with the consistency of mashed potatoes) with meat and veggies on the side, fried ndizi (bananas), wali nyama (rice and meat), and fish from Lake Victoria. I have stepped up my vegetable intake: cabbage, carroti (carrots) and mchichi (spinach). Usually, at home and school, I don’t eat vegetables as much as I should, but here in Kili, I eat vegetables every day. ^_^

At dinner, we sit down with Bwana Chuwa, Mama Chuwa and sometimes Monica and Richard. Bwana Chuwa is given food first and after he says “Karibu (welcome)”, we start to eat. Dinner time is when we get to talk to Bwana Chuwa the most. We talk about what we did and learned at school, Tanzanian politics, President Obama- the Tanzanian President (Pres. Kikwete) met with Obama recently-, and the news that we watch while we eat. Adey and I also ask him many questions about issues in TZ and issues facing other African countries.

The days when I sat down with my family for dinner are long gone: my parents are divorced, my mother is always at work, and I’m gone for about 11 months during the year. So, I look forward to dinner.

After dinner, Adey and I either work on our school work, read, or watch the news. We usually fall asleep to the sounds of American music, the barking of the guard dogs, and the laughter and shouts of the locals at the nearby bars.

School’s out:

Adey and I go to school from 8:30am to 2pm. After class we might go to one of our friend’s houses to see what their home stay is like. A few or our classmates have bug infestations and funny stories to tell us in the morning as well as interesting bathroom “situations”. Some of our friends have squat toilets. I didn’t know what squat toilets were before I got here, so I think an explanation is needed. Squat toilet: literally a structured hole in the ground with a handle for flushing. Adey and I don’t have a squat toilet, we have a standard toilet. Also some of our friends have wet showers. Wet shower: a room containing the shower and toilet and the entire room gets wet when someone is taking a shower. So, there isn’t toilet paper in the room. Adey and I have a standing shower with a shower curtain. According to some of our classmates, we got lucky.

Adey and I do stay with one of the wealthier families in town, but there are some drawbacks. In our shower, cold water comes out of the faucet, but hot water comes out of the shower head. So, we came up with a system of collecting hot water from the shower head and mixing it with cold water from the faucet. It’s just time consuming, but we’re fine with it. Also, every Thursday the electricity goes out from 6 to 10pm. This really isn’t a drawback, instead it’s a method for the town to conserve energy. We didn’t know that on our first Thursday here, but I brought my flashlight with me (thanks Ms. Lane), we lit some candles that Monica gave us and we were fine. We went to sleep really early that night.

If we are not visiting home stays, we head to town in dala dalas (taxi cabs). The dala dalas are small reused vans with leather or cloth-covered seats and the only functioning parts are the wheels and of course the engine. The floor is almost nonexistent and the dala dala is never full. In the dalas, I am reminded that not everyone uses deodorant. But, at the speed at which the dalas cruise down the roads, the odor disperses. One time, our heads went through the roof of a dala dala because we had to stand. Speeding through Moshi, I snapped pictures of the townies, our ride in the dala, and Kilimanjaro in the distance- it was one of the best rides of my life.

Once we reach town, we shop! Our bargaining skills are improving quickly and we have made some great purchases: local hand-made bags, jewelry and artwork, dresses, and batiks (skirts). We are constantly hounded by men trying to sell us bracelets and banana-leaf artwork. Sometimes, they put us on a guilt trip: “you don’t support local artists!” There is no doubt that the work is beautiful, but we can’t please them all. If we’re not shopping, we are enjoying what Moshi has to offer us.


Moshi is a very small town located at the foot of Kilimanjaro. You can get from one end to the other in less than 30 min (walking or dala dala) and it only takes 10 min to get to and from town from where I live. The sidewalks in residential Moshi are next to nothing. Red soil demarcates street and “sidewalk”. Sometimes I am afraid that I might get hit by a car, whether I see the car coming or hear it from behind. But, I always make sure to stand on the right side of the road, so I can see the cars coming. The sidewalks in town are laced with venders cooking food, selling apparel and jewels, sewing skirts and dresses, and doing much more. There are also super markets that sell a variety of items, no different than those in the states. Near the Barclays (the bank where I am able to get $ from the ATM free of charge) there are friendly armed guards, who spend most of their time sitting and talking amongst themselves. People here are very welcoming and there seem to be no worries (Hakuna matata). However, my professor told me that there are serious consequences for acts such thievery….death (if someone yells out about something being stolen, then the thief might be killed by people in the streets).

Moshi’s soil is rich. The staple crop of Moshi, among many, is coffee (kahawa). I haven’t tried it yet, but it smells great. Another staple is bananas. They do everything with bananas here (fry them, make soup, beer-I’m sure there are other things)! The banana soup is gray and has meat in it. It’s very good.

Weekendi (weekend):

On Friday night, the CU and KCMC students went out for some Indian food at El Rancho restaurant. El Rancho makes it clear in their description that they do not serve Mexican food despite the name. We sat out on the veranda on a long table, the atmosphere was very relaxing, the food was delicioso (I had chicken buriani- chicken with red rice), the drinks were good and overall we had a great time.

On Saturday, we went on a Chaga tour. The Chaga tribe is one of 123 tribes in TZ and is most prevalent in Moshi. On our way there, the van got stuck in the mud, but with the help of the villagers, we reached our destination.

It’s located on one of the many slopes of Kilimanjaro in a town called Uru. It’s so beautiful, and entrenched with exotic flowers and wild life. Mike, Peter, and Dennis (Peter’s father) were our tour guides. On the tour Mike told us that his son was born on Election Day and that he named his son Obama (Needless to say, the Pres is huge in TZ). We visited the primary school that Peter attended when he was younger and talked to some students. The students thought that two of my friends and I were Tanzanian. One of the Tanzanian students at KCMC told me that the people here assume every Black person they see is Tanzanian. People also think that we are too proud to show that we know English. So, we told the students our ethnic backgrounds. I suppose it makes sense that they think that since they might have never left the country or heard of other countries with African Americans. After visiting the school, we stopped at a tree that was at least 100 years old that the Chaga used to heal goiters. To heal the ailment, the sick person had to sing a song and walk around the tree and tap the same spot four times. After a few days the person would be fine.

Then we went to see a 200 year old Chaga hut. It was built with twigs and branches, and the roof is made of banana leafs. Every year someone replaces the banana leaves. Inside the hut, the first thing you see is the father’s bed, across his bed cattle are kept behind a barricade. In the next compartment of the hut is the mother’s bed. The woman is also supposed to be near her kitchen, so next to her bed is the “kitchen (pots and pans, and logs for fire)”, floor space for the children who sleep on cow skin, and another barricade for condor (goats). On the second level of the hut, logs and bananas are stored (bananas, so they can get ripe). On our way to our final stop on the tour, the cave, we were shown how the Chaga use yucca leaves. They can be used as gifts after two friends argue, to mark territory, to signal when you are entering a farm with a different crop, and as writing material. Last but not least was the cave! The Chaga used the cave to hide from the Masai during civil war. We went into the cave and saw holes in the walls that were used as check points for intruders and barricades behind which the cattle were kept. The cave was 5km long. We didn’t go that far. It’s pretty amazing to know that people dug that far along the Earth for survival. Visiting the past of the Chagas was an incredibly enriching experience.

For the remainder of the evening, some friends and I had some drinks on the rooftop of the Kindoroko Hotel while we waited to see Kilimanjaro at sunset. All the clouds didn’t clear, but we were able to see the ice-capped peak, Kibo. I felt like I was on top of the world staring in awe at the “roof of Africa”. The size of the mountain is so surreal and captivating at the same time. People say, “Look, there’s the mountain”. I look at the base and think, “Wow, that’s beautiful”, but then they say, “No, it’s up there”. And when I look up above a row of clouds, I see the peak of the mountain and think “Oh, wow!!” It’s 5895m of greatness!

Sunday was a day to just CHILL! Bwana Chuwa told me that Sunday is the day for relaxation. All the shops in town are closed, no one goes to work, and people just relax. Adey and I slept in and relaxed for the day. Later, I went running with two of my classmates and hung out with some CU and KCMC students. We came back in time for our mini history lesson at dinner and then hit the sack.


There are various levels of socioeconomic status in Moshi. However, so far I get the sense that overall people seem to be generally happy.

So,…Until next time.

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