Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Soccer Ball Soap Opera

Never would I predicted or would have seen it coming that my goodwill of offering 16 sport balls to my village as a friendship gift turned out to be a fiasco where greed and shortsightedness in all its glory ensued. This is a true recount of what happened to me in my village.

***Names of people have been changed to protect their identity***

I- Peace Corps Volunteer, the benefactor

Abe- the scapegoat, innocent and trustworthy friend, teacher and would-be-counterpart who unfortunately got the bad rap and the victim of threats and accusation

Maria- Abe’s colleague, a friend and who was mentioned in the accusation along with Abe

Machiavelli- the antagonist, the soccer coach whose greed and shortsightedness started the soccer ball fiasco

Minions- Machiavelli’s 4 teams of young soccer players in their 20’s, vijana (Swahili for youth)

The Muppet Show- village government leaders

The Motley Crue- The Muppet Show, Machiavelli, and Minions

Hermes- an important good friend who is temporarily living and working in the village, a soccer player and my messenger

Joe- a friend, counterpart, also a soccer player/referee who replaced Abe as my counterpart as a result of pressure from The Motley Crue

Mack- a teacher

Doll Face- the sweetest and considerate friend, sister of Machiavelli

House girl- my house girl

Matt and Ben- my two young good looking educated friends who come visits me  from a nearby village, soccer players from a different village

 This story can easily be told as a feature movie, but to keep readers’ attention (‘cause we all have ADD these days) I’ll do my utmost best to make it a 30 minutes sitcom, okay maybe realistically an hour TV drama, how’s that?

 Having spent the first 3 months researching my community, I discovered there exists no other recreation or entertainment other than drinking alcohol (commercial or homemade) and watching  a soccer match at a school field. As a gesture of support and generosity, I gave 16 soccer balls to my community as a friendship and goodwill gift to those who love playing and watching soccer. The cost was almost two month’s of my living allowance, which I gladly forked out if it meant happiness to people in which they could all partake. The beneficiaries are the soccer players, primary school students, and I suppose anyone who would like to play soccer. What’s the problem? The story goes like this:

I was told by Machiavelli and Hermes, that there are 6 soccer teams made up from one of the 6 streets or sub villages. I decided to give 2 balls to each of the 6 teams and 2 schools making a total of 16 balls total.

After I have purchased the soccer balls, Machiavelli wasn’t exactly truthful and may have tried to nab more balls than necessary from me. Disappointedly, Hermes didn’t accurately inform me either of the exact number of teams. It was only at the soccer ball distribution to the soccer team captains at a village meeting that right there and then, I found out there are only 4 teams and not 6 as originally told to me. The coach wanted the extra 4 balls to be given as prizes to the winning teams at the end of their match on March 6. When I knew of this plan, I was not pleased but agreed given I was already giving balls out in front of everyone and I just went with the flow, trusting those around me. I’m basically kind of stuck now…

Shortly, someone apprised me that Machiavelli wanted to give out the 4 last balls as prizes for winning teams because his team, named “Poison” was the best and naturally, that meant his team would receive more balls. Upon learning this, I told Machiavelli via Hermes that I would prefer if the balls were again evenly distributed and not given to winning teams. He agreed so it was decided that on March 6, I would be handing out the remaining 4 balls on the last important match.

After I gave out the 8 balls to the 4 soccer teams, I also gave out the 4 balls to the village’s 2 primary schools. There was a formal lining up of students where the head teachers made a speech in front of them and then….drum roll….I give the 2 soccer balls to one boy and one girl….then claps and cheers…photo op and then more blah blah, blah in Swahili…and Wendy is all that plus a bag of chip. My speech in Swahili consisted of a sentence or two basically expressing, “I’m happy to give you guys balls, have fun kiddies!” However, my presentation at a big soccer match where the Motley Crue were in attendance was more elaborate. The purpose of my presence was so that all soccer teams could acknowledge my gifts to them. I expressed that being engaged in a fun and wholesome recreation is not only healthy and keeping busy but stave off unhealthy activities such as drinking, substance abuse and unprotected sex (HIV rate is one of the highest in my region).

Afterwards, someone asked me what about the ladies? I’ve given balls to men and children, but how about the women? I realized that was a great point. I decided immediately that the right thing to do is to exchange the last remaining 4 soccer balls to different sport balls where ladies can partake. I went to Abe, my trusted friend and chosen counterpart, to ask his opinion about exchanging balls and the new idea. He agreed that was a great idea and I asked him about exchange and refund policy in Tanzania. We both go next door to Maria’s house and discussed further since she is the person in charge of the netball, a sports ladies played, which is now a pathetic ratty torn up ball. It’s agreed that Abe and I will go into town to exchange the 4 soccer balls to 2 netballs, 1 volleyball and I’ll supplement more money to buy a volleyball net. I believed this was an excellent idea and use of the last 4 remaining balls in my possession as this not only supports gender equality, but a variety of different sports now available to the entire community where even men can enjoy.

One morning, Abe and I traveled into town to exchange the soccer balls. The new items would be available for pick up at a future date, so we left the 4 soccer balls at the store and Abe would return by himself later since I would be out of town for further Peace Corps training.

I tell my good friend, Hermes, about my change of plan and he concurred with my reasoning. I asked him to inform Machiavelli since he knows where he lives and can communicate fluently in Swahili. I knew he wouldn’t be thrilled but believed wholeheartedly that he would understand and agree that this was fair, reasonable, and a benefit to all since soccer players now have extra sports to play if they wished. This was gender equality, different recreational activity available, and total fairness. I was hoping that they would be grateful and satisfied for the already 8 balls they’ve received. I asked Hermes to promise me to give a speech to the minions on my behalf since the day of the last soccer match where I was to speak and give out the balls was the same day I was to leave my village for Peace Corps In Service Training in the town of Bagamoyo, a long journey from my district. Unbeknownst to me, it’s only later that this change of idea with the soccer balls created an uproar and total drama rama within my village, hence the soccer ball soap opera.

During In Service Training, Abe, my counterpart whom I have invited to training, canceled at the last minute claiming there was an emergency and that he was not able to attend so Joe was sent to replace him. When Joe arrived in Bagamoyo, I asked what happened to Abe? He claimed ignorant. Hmmm….in a rural village where everybody knows everybody’s business, especially if he is a replacement…he doesn’t know? Poppycock! I figured I’d get the lowdown upon my return.

After trainings, I return to my village. Abe tells me “something terrible, very terrible had happened! I’ll tell you later.” I am wondering who died or was someone hurt? Finally, this was Abe’s story:

One day at the soccer field, minions were shouting, accusing and threatening Abe who was inside his house located next to the field, that they won’t let him out of his home and will throw rocks at his house if he doesn’t give the soccer teams their last 4 soccer balls. They accused him and Maria for changing my mind. They believed it was Abe who persuaded me in the new idea in where they now lost 4 soccer balls. The soccer players were extremely angry with him. Out of fear, he remained inside his house with his wife and two young sons. The leader of The Muppet Show, trying to placate the possibly violent minions, appeased the riot by telling them they would receive their 4 soccer balls. The Muppet Show, Machiavelli and the minions all claimed that Abe had no right to do go training in Bagamoyo with me. They forbade him to go. Their reasoning was that as a teacher, he is not a suitable fit. He can not leave and must stay in the village to teach. They chose Joe instead, who had been the counterpart for past Peace Corps Volunteers. (The reason I did not chose Joe is because after previous PCVs returned home to USA, Joe did nothing in terms of continuing to teach or train others in the village) One ridiculous Muppet called Abe telling him that if I’m not agreeable, I can not work or teach in the village anymore. I almost choked on the ugali I was eating for lunch with Abe upon hearing him uttering these incredulous words. (Are you serious Mr. vice chairman of a primary school? You are kidding me, right? Aside from health topics, I am volunteering to teach extra subjects that are not part of my duty as a Peace Corps Volunteer and assisting in community development and you’re threatening me that I can’t work?) Abe told this Muppet that The Motley Crue are fools for being short sighted and having “no vision.”

When Machiavelli found out from Hermes my change of plan, this angered him and he manipulated his minions in believing it was Abe’s idea. When Hermes saw how Machiavelli reacted, he shrunk into his snail shell and decided not to give my speech at the end of the soccer match on March 6. Basically, he was scared and reneged on his promise to inform my change of plan and the good reasons behind it. I don’t blame him at the end of the day because this was ultimately was my responsibility and not his.

Feeling pressured and forced from The Motley Crue, Abe reluctantly returned to town and picked up the original 4 soccer balls and gave it all to Machiavelli and his minions. Not all the apples are rotten; some vijana did apologize to Abe about the position he was in and disclosed that it was Machiavelli pressuring them to make a big stink. The majority of minions were greedy and wanted to punish Abe. Honest Abe felt that it’s possible that many people may feel envious of him being asked to go to training with me since there may be goodies to be had and why he has contact with the foreigner. He already has a salary as a teacher so he doesn’t need the extra fringe benefit. Joe has no work and is a youth like them so he may receive more sympathy since they may be from the same position.

After returning from training, I would indirectly ask people I am close to what was new during my absence and what happened to Abe that Joe was his replacement. I already had the lowdown of the incident but I wanted to see who had the balls (Ha ha…get it, get it? Pun totally intended!) to tell me the truth. To my dismay, everyone kept quiet. I asked Doll Face and House girl and they gave me the duh…I don’t know anything look. I think to myself that they are D actresses (D for dumb) and I’m playing with amateurs here. I was most disappointed in Hermes. Joe was uncool too. They both kept quiet. The Muppet Show told everyone to be silent and keep the incident and the whereabouts of the soccer balls from me. Ssshh….it’s a secret! We can’t let her know. I wonder about the IQ of the villagers. Would I not ask about the new balls and volleyball net? Am I not to wonder why Abe didn’t come? Am I to believe that Joe really had no idea why he was the replacement? I know I’m a middle-aged woman with a lot of white hair, but for the love of God and ugali, I don’t have dementia or Alzheimer yet!!! Am I Jim Carrey from the movie “The Truman Show”? Everyone around me is an actor and I’m the main character clueless at being played at.


I approach the Muppet leader requesting a village meeting with the village committee and asked Machiavelli to attend. Muppet leader tells me that I should prepare a speech. I said, okay. It’s set, Saturday at 9AM. I tell Joe about the village meeting I have just set up and I need him to come translate, as we will be sharing with the village what we plan to do now after training.

I texted Matt asking if he can come visit me on Saturday instead of Sunday as I may need his help in translation for a speech I may prepare. I never received a reply. In passing, I told Hermes I will be speaking at a village meeting. I sense nervousness as he asked me what I would be talking about. Casually, I answered that I’ll be sharing about community projects I’ll be assisting and that my training with Joe was successful.

On Saturday, I received an email from Ben saying he will come see me. (He and I play cat and mouse as he is always trying to come visit me) I thought if he comes and Matt comes too, not a bad idea as I can shoot two birds with one stone. This will be Ben’s first visit. I met both of these young dudes in their 20’s at my village’s soccer match. Maybe they know each other. At 9 AM, the village committee hasn’t arrived and I’m still waiting. To my surprise and total delight, I see Matt and Ben arriving together at my house on their bicycles! My thoughts: 1) Okay, great! You two know each other…fantastic! 2) You guys dressed real cute today 3) Aw…how guys trekked an hour on your bikes to come see me 4) You will be my translator if things don’t work out as I planned. I welcomed Matt and Ben into my home and told them the scoop of the soccer ball fiasco. I invited them to attend the meeting if they’re ever so interested.

Two and a half hours later, at 11:30AM, (Typical of village life and meeting, everything is always late) finally Joe comes to my house and tells me that everyone has finally arrived and the meeting will now take place… it’s on.


I walked out of my house and surprised to see many people sitting outside. The meeting was not inside the village office as usual but in front of it where people sat on the ground and a table and some benches were set for village officials and myself.
I sat next to the Muppet leader. The village meeting commenced. Muppet leader spoke and finally introduced me to speak. I began my surprise attack:

I made 3 key points:

1.     Trainings with Joe in Bagamoyo and Dodoma were successful. We are excited and looking forward to teach health topics to students and community members.
2.     The following are community projects we feel are priority for the village. Blah, blah, blah…
3.     In order to successfully and effectively mutually work together, there must be elements of respect, trust and cooperation. Unfortunately, some village members have not shown me these; therefore, I can not work in community development but will continue to teach health as that is my primary role as a Peace Corps Volunteer.


Joe was so shocked that he began to stutter in translation as I caught him completely off guard…along with everyone else at the meeting. I say to him firmly several times “Just translate what I’m saying!” He was obedient and translated. At the end of the day, he always supported my idea and I never gave away that it was him who gave me the idea of changing the balls. I protected him. The minions would plunder him if they knew it was one of their own.

I tell the entire village that I need to clear Abe’s good name. It was unfair and totally not true that Abe and Maria persuaded me in exchanging the balls. I only approached them for counsel. (By punishing Abe to not go to training is a disservice to the village since he is a teacher who has the perfect platform to reach his audience of students. In addition, he can train fellow teachers.)

I am extremely disappointed that the village government (The Muppet Show) and the soccer coach (Machiavelli) had so poorly handled the situation and what a terrible example to the soccer players, the youth (minions). They failed to see what the outcome is for all involved.

My reasoning for changing the balls is to give women an opportunity to play a recreational sport and also give the community other activity aside from just soccer. This is gender equality and perhaps you may be sabotaging your sister, mama, girlfriend, wife, and friend…of having something fun and healthy to do. In life, you have to be flexible and be accepting of change if it is for the better. This is a positive change.

The soccer players already have a total of 8 soccer balls, let’s not be greedy and want 4 more. Give others something else to play with. Sharing is a good thing. Be grateful for whatever you have already.

The million dollars question was why didn’t someone propose to wait for my return to settle the balls? Sadly, there is no role model to show the proper way to handle this very simple situation. The behind the back activity, keeping silence, threats, accusations, and manipulations were all terrible examples to the youths. This was ineffective and impotent government leadership at its finest.

As I presented my case, everyone attentively listened. I imagine that The Muppet Show and Machiavelli sitting next and in front of me must be utterly dumbfounded, as they were not expecting this. I feel that they totally deserved this in-your-face style of confrontation since they went behind my back and never extended the courtesy of waiting for my return to discuss how to handle the soccer balls. Instead, they bullied and tried to keep the entire incident a secret from me. This is further demonstration of how feeble leadership exists in our village. The Muppet Show and Machiavelli deserved this public showdown. They never said a word during the meeting. After I was done with my “speech”, the village continued with their meeting. I left them to go attend to Matt and Ben whom I discovered were eavesdropping outside my house so that nobody can see them. They thought what I said was excellent, Joe translated well, and a woman sitting at the meeting didn’t know there were suppose to be balls for ladies and wanted them. .

After Matt and Ben left my house, I went to Doll Face’s shack store where one ridiculous Muppet was sitting inside. Just to proof that I am not resentful or angry with anyone, I entered the store and bought peanuts where I shared with all. This Muppet was not at the meeting but obviously he knew what happened and we tried to talk as my Swahili sucks and his English non-existent. He tells me that Abe is not a good person to go to training with me because as a teacher, the government may transfer him elsewhere in the future. Yet again, this Muppet strikes again with his completely ludicrous reasoning. Anybody besides teachers can always move or die. He is punishing Abe and was from the beginning extremely keen on the idea of me giving soccer balls to the village. The Muppet leader enters the store with a bottle of beer in his hand. I smiled and greeted him. He asked if I drink beer. I said yes but only if he plans to drink the beer now that I would join him for camaraderie but I will decline if he bought me a beer and we didn’t drink together. He said that he was tired and will go home to drink the beer so I said okay, we’ll drink a beer tomorrow, Sunday and he agreed. That never happened.

Monday morning, I received a phone call from Peace Corps asking me when I had a village meeting and what I talked about. Seriously?!? The Muppet leader called Peace Corps! I explained everything to my boss. After I finished the phone call, Joe comes to meet me as were to teach primary school students about malaria. I told Joe what happened and he couldn’t believe the stupidity of this Muppet. The Muppet leader essentially may have shot himself in the foot. Mack joined in our conversation and decided we should go to the head teacher of the other primary school and they all should ask the Muppet leader what he told Peace Corps. We are now sitting in the office of the head teacher with Abe, Joe, Mack and me. I explained the possible consequence of contacting Peace Corps. Depending on what Muppet leader says, I may be removed from this village if Peace Corps felt this situation may become a safety and security issue. Nobody can believe that The Muppet Show is making a big deal out of nothing. He wanted my boss to come to our village and talk to me. I returned home while they sort out a meeting amongst themselves. Later on my Peace Corps boss finally speaks to Joe to get the lowdown from him. After that, I spoke to my boss to confirm that we shall settle it amongst ourselves and that this is nothing serious to warrant any concern or his having travel 12 hours by car to come talk to us. True to the situation, Peace Corps also questions the ability to work with a village if their Muppet leader is calling Peace Corps over soccer balls! My boss was very surprised and found it incredulous that he had been contacted about some petty soccer balls. Muppet leader asked my boss to come to my village to calm me down. Huh? Calm me down?…I proposed we drink beer on Sunday, I’m good, dude!

Since then, there have been two village meetings where The Muppet Show discussed the soccer ball soap opera. I was never invited; hence, I was never aware of what truly was going on. I suspect it’s just conversation with no real action of resolution or attempting to make a satisfactory closure.

Abe texted me asking to meet him to discuss the soccer ball soap opera. He asked me for a favor. I didn’t dig the tone of what’s to come, so I said, “it depends.” He tells me that I should verbally tell the The Muppet Show that I agree in getting a microscope (Muppet Show felt microscope took precedent over a school library) for the village as a priority instead of building a library, which is something Abe and I feel extremely strong about being it is obviously the first priority. He tells me my agreement is to placate them but I don’t have to do anything. I tell him this plan makes no sense. I am here to work and assist in development. I can’t come and pretend to work but really not working.

Long story short, without me, there had been more meetings and a reasonable conclusion was elusive. Abe tried to keep a low profile and outwardly, Motley Crue and I are all smiley faces. Peace Corps contacted me again and I told them I would work it out with the Muppet Show and that all will be fine. The Muppet leader had communicated with both Peace Corps and our district supervisor requesting they come out to site to talk to me, again! (This may possibly be the Muppet’s attempt to make me look bad. He must be a complete fool because what do I have to lose? His village has more to gain from my presence than me staying there) Peace Corps and our district supervisor of our region told the Muppet leader essentially he needed to get his act together or otherwise they’ll be removing their Peace Corps Volunteer via a helicopter out of the village which means the village just lost their “precious” (their word) volunteer, yours truly…moi! To lose a Peace Corps Volunteer in a village would mean potential loss for many things. This would be unfortunate for the community and fault would be directed towards the stupidity and shortsightedness of The Muppet Show. Peace Corps and our district supervisor basically scolded and slapped Muppet leader’s hand for being a child. Nobody was going to travel all the way to my village to solve a rudimentary problem. Soccer balls????

Couple months later, Muppet leaders, dollface (clueless as to why she was asked to attend) Mack, Joe and I finally had a meeting in the Muppets’ office. Hopefully, the objective was to successfully resolve all issues and decide how to proceed in future collaborations. On my end, I clarified that Abe is not to be accused for anything and then I first acknowledged I should have told Machiavelli the new idea myself instead of asking Hermes to inform them on my behalf. My second admission was respect should have given to the Muppet leaders by coming forth with my newfound revelation and expressed my disapproval instead of publicly calling them out. (I believe my action was justified from their lack of regard for me, Abe, and the concept of equitableness) As the meeting continued, I was terribly disappointed that the Muppet leaders never once apologized, acknowledged, or intended to be accountable for anything. Protecting their ego and faces took precedent than having an honest exchange of what went wrong and how to make it right. They offered no resolution or admission of any kind. I was so sad not for myself that I was dealing with cowards, but how awfully unfortunate for the community as a whole to have such a namby-pamby for a leader. This was straight up case of “hit and run”. In disillusion, I realized this is their tactic: Do not admit guilt or wrong doing, avoid recounting the past and lessons learned, offer no solution or future cooperation, and shift the attention completely elsewhere. Basically, they owned up to nothing; they pleaded the Fifth Amendment. In conclusion, I expressed that I no longer am attached to the outcome of the balls and I have no issue with anyone in the village and will happily continue to teach. I mentioned nothing regarding my assisting in community development, as I need the collaboration from the Muppets. How can I possibly work with people on community projects when something this inconsequential and petty is holding us back? The Muppets’ suggested I apologize to them in front of the minions at a future village meeting. I offered a far more superior idea: Have the minions apologize to me first and THEN I’ll apologize to the Muppet Show! Needless to say, this never happened.

To this day, there is no conclusive ending or a satisfactory closure. I continue to teach and finally initiated community projects as I feel the community shouldn’t be punished for The Muppet’s lack of good judgment and wisdom in governing. The Motley Crue and I continue our demeanor as if the soccer ball fiasco never happened. Lastly, I’ve ascertained people’s innate character and on the spectrum where their integrity and intelligence lie. In retrospect, did I act rashly and did the confrontation serve a purpose? One may surmise that it’s probably best to be unassertive and not stir conflict: Let the innocent be blamed, not to disclose knowledge, allow dishonesty and bad behavior and worst of all is not to hold people accountable for their responsibility or irresponsibility. I completely disagree. I have no intention of changing the ways of people. However, aside from establishing a boundary of acceptable and unacceptable behavior with me, Joe had been completely impressed and in total admiration for my courage to speak up, uphold the truth, and insist on what is right and wrong. He told me he was in awe of my strength. Wow, and from a woman too! Perhaps, the whole village didn’t get it, but at the end of the day, if it clearly impacted one single person in an inspiring light…I think I have been successful, very successful. Not to be sanctimonious, but I won’t be surprise if many in their heart of hearts agree and respect with what and who I was defending and protecting. It’s always safer to be in the majority and keep quiet. Nonetheless in life, we do need that one fearless person who is willing to take a stand and create a voice for all. I’ll gladly volunteer. I am a volunteer after all, am I not?

Peace between mother and daughter in Peace Corps

I’ve never been afraid of death; esoterically, I believe death is a prolonged journey and it’s peaceful continuum of the soul progressing and hopefully evolving to an advance space and time. As a Buddhist, death is not to be feared. If my life would end this moment…I would be eternally grateful for the blessed life I’ve lead thanks to my karma. I’ve never truly struggled for anything in life and had things or situations given or presented to me without much obstacle. Of course, I had to “work” at getting what I desired but I consistently prevail without much trouble. I do things that are potentially challenging but within my capabilities and interest.

The most complex and difficult episode in my life is being a divorced single mother raising a very young daughter without a partner for support and counsel in our fast paced world. To be able to share the trials of raising a child with a partner lessens the physical, mental and especially, emotional challenges. For nearly a decade and a half, I’ve carried the guilt of not being a “better mother” for my daughter. I could have done better. Indirectly and directly, I was lead to believe this. How do you define a better mother? Like which is a better cuisine? French or Japanese? Who is the better designer? Valentino or Vivienne Westwood? Who is the better singer? Streisand or Blondie? Ginger or Mary Ann? Each has its own value and style. To me, a parent is a figure who offers protection, security, and unconditional love to the child while teaching important life skills and empowering them. I’ve never been considered “conventional” only because next to my own family, there is a stark contrast. Conceivably, I may have taught my daughter an inadvertent lesson that is valuable and priceless…but only when she’s more mature would she be able to see and understand what I’ve been trying to show her all these years. Likewise, she also learns from my shortcoming and deficiencies.

I believe the most helpful way I can be both parent is to demonstrate by action and to reveal in thoughts and words my pragmatic yet motivating views on life and the value and sine qua non of joie de vivre as her inexperienced young life have not blossomed yet to fully tasted life’s ambrosia to its fullest aroma. I’ve always encouraged not to fear “living”. I want my daughter to design her life and bust out of her self imposed bubble to actualize her own happiness and not live someone else’s dream or expectation. As a mother, to liberate and empower my daughter is my modus operandi to the max. I have no right to judge, condemn, and shove my dogma down her throat. My mother rammed her persuasions down mine and I turned out to be incompatible with her expectations. Perchance, I may be a disappointment to her, but hell…as long as I’m content with myself, so should she! I only want my daughter to live a healthy, worthwhile, and enjoyable life…that is all I can hope for. A mother’s love for her child is purely unconditional. In a heartbeat, I would stand in front of her to take a bullet. I believe once I spewed that human from my loin, automatically it’s understood that I would renounce my life if it meant saving hers. The bold print on the contract of becoming a parent is parental sacrifice and hoping ultimate happiness for the child.  

I suppose I can understand that as a kid, you see your single mother as a mommy and nothing else. She’s not a friend, a lover, an unique woman and an individual. She is only a mother who should only do “motherly things” because any deviation from that may appear foreign and will upset the status quo. Even my appearance and dress may have irked her as I was not and hopefully still not, if God can help, matronly and dowdy. Was I too hip to be a mama? The passage of finding oneself is a solo journey. The fact my only child was not always in my journey to find self and to establish a new life has created regret in me. Another child may be accepting and may not even blink an eye as it could be a non issue, but for my daughter, this was something she struggled to cope with. She struggled with me. And I struggled with her struggling with me. I found myself a single mother at the age of 33. What was I suppose to do? Abdicate self-growth and become a small person’s personal maid? I don’t think so, dude! No doubt in the long run, I’d not only be of disserve to myself but also to my daughter whom I want desperately to evolve and develop into an authentically powerful and creative individual. How could my daughter learn if she sees her mother as an aimless and unimaginative weakling?

When I applied for Peace Corps, I did not tell my daughter. I knew well she would be highly upset as she had already showed complete distress over my last announcement of hiking Everest Base Camp in the Himalaya in Nepal: another one of Wendy Liu’s crazy stunts. It was only after receiving a nomination 5 months later from Peace Corps that I had to eventually apprise her. I will never forget carefully composing that e-mail on a hot and humid late evening on the balcony of my shabby guesthouse in Yangon, Myanmar while puffing a hand rolled Burmese cigarillo. I waited anxiously for days. In Kolkata, India, I finally received her reply. I trembled with anticipation as my fingers fumbled with my Iphone trying to open her message. I recall the uncomfortable and tingling sensation in my limbs and the sinking feeling in my heavy heart when I intently read her e-mail. Upon learning the news of possibly serving in the Peace Corps, my daughter abruptly left her class to go cry in the bathroom. She immediately wrote to her uncle, my brother, who plays a role of her surrogate father. She is a university student, a legal adult, and she feels she still needs her mother close by and not far away. She and I shared a mutual dilemma. A quandary presented itself and we quickly needed a solution. She didn’t want me to leave the country for 27 months and I wanted to leave the country for 27 months. We were at an impasse.

Who will concede and satisfy the other? I don’t go to make her feel secure that I’m not leaving the country for 27 months with the knowledge that I may not have this opportunity again or the interest and desire to apply once more in the future? Or I go do something important for myself but disappoint her again? Aside from being in contribution, I have a deep desire in wanting my young adult daughter to see that regardless of age and where you are in life, you can still dream and do crazy shit!
“ Hey daughter, look at me, your ol’ mum is joining the Peace Corps!  Am I a nutbag or what…and no, I’m not going through a mid life crisis? “ You’re probably not going to see many middle-aged Chinese women entering the Peace Corps; Prada and Chanel boutiques, yes, but not Peace Corps. They’ll shop in expensive designer boutiques buying 5 limited edition of Hermes handbags in every color or play mah jong…but to live in hardship for 27 months volunteering to work in a third world country? I’ve traded my Blahniks and Loubutin for Tevas and Keen. The latter are definitely more sensible shoes!

Ultimately, I made the executive decision to enter service and my daughter, perhaps feeling defeated, conceded and I was able to board the plane with as much peace of mind as possible given there was some pangs of conscience. I knew all along I was doing the right thing for myself and for her as well. She should accept that her single mother has a life and doing something worthy and if it’s not too conceited to say…possibly an example of how she, herself, should also do what she dreams and wants in life. Hell, she is smarter than me, therefore; she will go far only if she believes she can. I wholeheartedly know she can.

I had no internet but 5 seconds of weak connection enabled me to see my daughter’s posting on Facebook wishing me a Happy Mother’s Day in May 2013. If you saw me reading the message and the reaction that followed, me howling like a lone wolf, surely you’d think I just learned the death of someone I loved dearly. The impact of my daughter’s words has on me is powerful:

Shout out to my unconventional mother, Wendy Liu, on Mother’s Day, who is humbly serving the Peace Corps in Tanzania doing amazing things for our world. Your showers are cold, your stories are frightening, and your mobile uploads are straight out of National Geographic. You are an inspiration to many and I encourage you to keep on keepin’ on. Love, your one and only

Two months later when I finally traveled to the post office to pick up a care package from my mother, included was my daughter’s Mother Day/Birthday card to me. One passage she wrote:

I don’t frequently read your blog, but I do see the photos you post online and they are very eye opening and intriguing. You are an inspiration to a lot of people and you should feel proud of all the hard work you’re doing for the greater good. Maybe you are a mother figure for someone over where you are; that would be nice.

Wow, a mother figure to someone! That’s huge for me! Does this mean my kid doesn’t think I’m a total schmuck as a mother and could actually potentially be one?
I will now assume she is accepting and understanding what I am doing. I made the right choice to listen to my heart and to serve in the Peace Corps, regardless of my daughter’s initial protest.

I oftentimes imagine what my last breath on earth would be like. I would meditate myself into a peaceful calm so that I would let go of earthly issues and enter the next realm in absolute peace and love so I can be at a better place. If I wasn’t able to let go and peacefully pass on, it’s because I’m worrying about my only child. Is she okay with me? Is she angry with me? Has she not understood me? Does she have unresolved issues with me? Will all this affect her life and happiness? Will I be the source of her unhappiness? Although her message was a simple Mother Day’s wish and encouraging me to continue my work… for me, it holds deeper layered meanings.

Only if you are a parent would you be able to genuinely understand the profound longing of feeling the need of having your child’s validation and approval that you’re all right as a parent, that you are not entirely a complete douche bag of a mother or a scuzzbag of a father. When we become parents, we weren’t given a manual on how to be a good parent. It’s all trial and error. I may not have been Martha Stewart, Carol Brady or Ozzy Harriet…but maybe Wendy Liu is an okay mother that can show her a worthwhile thing or two. For this, I can die in peace knowing my child may finally get my drift...even if it’s a little drift.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Do Scots wear undies under their kilts?

I’ve recently discovered an amusing and rather unbelievable tid bit fact of Tanzanian culture. To preface my discovery, Tanzania is a very conservative culture where there exists basically no public display of affection, opposite sex don’t hold hands in public, but two men may hold hands out in the open san probleme, a women’s skin is not exposed except for her arms and lower calves, (the younger women may show a bit of cleavage through their v neck t-shirts), female villagers do not wear pants, only big city gals and sex is completely a secret affair. Even buying or acquiring condoms for free is not commonly done because God forbid the dispensary personnel or shop owner know you are sexually active or at least plan to be engaged in sexy time. This is one challenge of educating the community and population the importance of using condoms as sex safe practice to prevent transmission of HIV.

In Tanzania, women wear kanga. It is a piece of rectangle cloth with bright colorful patterns and has a motto written on the bottom. The kanga needs to be cut in half and edges sewn. A kanga comes in two identical pieces. One is wrapped around the waist like a sarong and the other is to cover your torso worn like a shawl or can be wrapped around the head as a head scarf. I was curious to know what women wear under these kanga as I see there is no skirt peeking underneath, unless its shorter or the same length as the kanga.  A friend explained to me the following:

Order of clothing for a woman

1.     underwear
2.     skin tight (second layer of longer underwear that is like a girdle and form fitting)
3.     slip
4.     skirt or dress
5.     kanga

My reaction was, “Say what?” Four layers underneath a kanga? Sometimes a women may not wear a skin tight but will wear a slip underneath her dress or skirt: basically 4 layers of clothes, minimum. Jesus!

It gets better…as a joke, I asked what the men wear? Little did I know I’d be in for a lil’ eye opener.

Order of clothing for men

1.     underwear
2.     Skin tight (that’s what they’re called…tight long boxers) or pair of shorts (like gym shorts)
3.     Pants

Bewildered, I exclaimed something that corresponded with “WTF?” Why the shorts between underwear and trousers?

There were two reasons, which I’d be inclined to guess, that immediately swam in my mind.

a.     You men are afraid of being raped; therefore this is chastity belt a la Tanzania style?
b.     You don’t use toilet paper after doing numero dos, so this is a layer that delays stank? Or in case you get poop stained skid marks on the underwear, is this second layer another protection?

I asked three different males, here were the answers:

1.     Habit and tradition. I was in disbelief. Habit of wearing 3 freakin’ layer of bottom? Who cares...break the habit…be a rebel and end the tradition! Aren’t you hot and uncomfortable? Supposedly, men in coastal area where it’s hot ditch the skin tights. Thank God! I don’t even understand how comfy it is for a man to wear cotton boxers underneath their gets all bunched up. I think it’s too much fabric.

2.     The skin tight or shorts over the underwear is to cover “panty line”. Serious, I’m not joking you. I was told that it’s to avoid seeing the shape of the underwear. I have never in my life heard of men concerned with panty line. What kind of men’s trousers is panty line an issue? I’ve never seen men wearing tight jeans or slim fit trousers with their underwear line showing. Unless I’m totally out of it and completely ignorant of the male wardrobe system, men don’t wear spanks or g-strings do they? We’re in the 21st century, maybe they do and I’m just cluleless.

3.     The shorts over the underwear and underneath the pants is to protect the man’s “you know what”. This friend was trying to avoid saying PENIS so he first explained that men and women have different body shape, and that men have a reproductive system…he hems and haws. Look, Just say dick, cock, weenie, penis, willy, johnson…whatever dude…come out with it. I spared his elaborate description so I helped him out with “private part”. He was grateful that I saved him. He tells me that men do many different things and his gist was that the family jewel needed to be protected from harm and injury. I’m thinking…wear a jock strap, dude. It’s easier and at the end of the day, when you’re on the farm, that 1/16” of skin tight or 1/8” of short fabric ain’t really cuttin’ it when that hoe accidently gets shoved up your willy.

I saved the best for last: (drum roll, please….)

4.     This friend at least had the “balls” to say the word penis to me. He explains without embarrassment that if the man has a big penis, the shorts is to cover it. Basically, you don’t want your ding dong to be ding donging around in lose trousers. A penis is not to be seen, God forbid you see the outline, the package, its movement and the size of the contour. Total no no! Come to think of it, it’s true that I haven’t “noticed” a Tanzanian man’s package suggested beneath his pants. (Trust me, not that I’m looking!) In the west, when a man sits, I can see his balls settled either on the left or right side of his thigh. Even if he stands, you can see the whole shebang, his crotch filled with balls and all. I think I’m starting to understand this “cover up” system of wearing another pair of heavy shorts or tight girdle over their undies. I remember a sight quite unforgettable, in absolute horror, as a teenager back in California, I saw a cyclist on his bike next to our car. We all stopped on the road waiting for the green light. His testicles and penis completed busted out from his short bike shorts. This was, I believe, an accident and unintentional. This or he was a tricky exhibitionist. To flash his package pretending to be a cyclist wearing those God-awful short bike shorts.

As you can imagine, I am laughing in disbelief, the madness of it all, the ultra conservatism and the somewhat hypocrisy of their sexual practices. This was hilarious shit! To “get a rise” out of my male friends, I tell them that some men in the west, especially Europeans, don’t wear underwear at all. Commando! I was curious to see their reaction. Would they think, “you vulgar, uncouth pale ones!” Tanzanians are too polite and will not confront, “You immoral pornographic making devil worshipping white people!”

Two male friends pulled down a bit of their pants waist to show me the gym shorts underneath their pants or jeans. Incredible. If Tanzanians want to get it on…there’s lots of removal of clothes. I now know why they are perpetually late for every thing; they’re putting on and removing clothing…lots of it.

Books and Shrooms and more books and shrooms

Back home in California, I met a Return Peace Corps Volunteer who told me that she read over 200 books during her service. I thought at that time, “Did you even work?”
Now that I, myself, am a Peace Corps Volunteer in service, I completely understand the avid reading. Reading is the only stable entertainment and an activity to keep one sane from dying of boredom in a rural village and to preserve mental upkeep.

Currently, I am the lucky heiress of over 40 hard copy books sitting on a makeshift bookshelf in my house. It’s a plank of wood secured by 2 nails and 2 strings hanging gingerly on a wall. Aside from inheriting these books which belonged to the first Peace Corps Volunteer years ago who served in my village, I brought with me to country a Kindle loaded with free reject books which comprised of lame cook books written in the early 20th century, some books on Buddhism by unknown authors, some unfashionable classic tales, and crazy titles like “How to make furniture from cardboard boxes” and “ How to make wallets from duct tape”, which I would read If I was ever desperate enough for reading material. It’s free junk. To this mini home library, I’ve also added to the collection some books people have given me and unwanted French books I’ve swiped at a hotel. Pardon…

There is no such thing as a library or bookstore in my village or even in my town. Book is a rare commodity where I live. Internet is not strong enough to surf the web where I can search things to read and I can not Google or download anything.

I remember growing up watching “The Twilight Zone”, the iconic show in black and white with that ever so recognizable hypnotic theme music. There is one episode, title unknown, where an anti social man, a total recluse, a book worm, found himself alone in the most desirable situation for himself, after a world destruction of some kind. He could now finally enjoy reading endlessly without any distraction in the world since he was the only surviving person left on earth with tons of books for his reading pleasure. Being that “The Twilight Zone” was all about irony, the paradoxical story line has it that as he happily climbed onto his mountain of books to pick a book to read, he accidently shattered his glasses. The sad ending is that he would never be able to enjoy his true love: books. Without his glasses, he can not read and thousands of books uninterrupted awaited him. He was distraught, in disbelief…crying and wailing in tears. Life is a cruel joke. The End. It’s like me, Wendy Liu, being able to eat without gaining weight, getting sick, or developing cavities from the most splendid of food in quality, quantity and variety for my feasting but…oops, I have no teeth to enjoy any of that. That is sadism at its finest.
For those who love to read, having good books, the suitable condition, and time are essential.

I have time to read, but sometimes there is no light. If I had strong and reliable internet, the world would be my oyster as I can read to my heart’s content. My Kindle has a light, but I only have junk downloaded. Regrettable, and that’s what I get for being a cheapo. I have a solar light, which I use at night if I have no electricity and of course, that needs to be charged. The best time for me to read is on a weekend daytime where I can lounge all day in bed and read until I’ve developed serious bed sores. I’ve been ditching going to church on Sundays just so I can fondle my books in bed. Let’s face it, going to church for a non-Christian is equivalent to attending a real estate seminar in Yiddish. ZZzzzzzz…… snoozer….big time! I was attending church to integrate within my community. But surely, there’s many other ways to assimilate aside from suffering 2 hours of dullsville. The only moment where it’s less lackluster is when the church choir begins to sing, but it’s not exactly groovy hip hop or rap, either. My real agenda for going to church is hoping that after the service, maybe some mamas outside the church would be selling some food items. Last Sunday morning, as I snuggled cozily in my bed finishing up “The Da Vinci Code”, my house girl came to work for me and announced that someone was selling mushrooms* at the church and asked if she should buy some for me. “Run like your life depended on it to bring me back some!” was my reply to her. I got up from my bed to give her money and then hastily climbed back in my mosquito net protected fortress of a bed to continue an exciting read.

*I need to detour from my book story and talk about fungi now. I love mushrooms and have never met a shroom I didn’t like. They are fabulous odd little spores, so delectably delicious and lovely in their texture. When I finally decided to be vertical and no longer horizontal, I went to the kitchen and looked at what she bought. From the feel of the bag as I never opened it to look inside, I can tell they were dried mushrooms, real hard ones. Okay, whatever, I thought. I’ve eaten dried mushrooms in Tanzania at a friend’s house and they were not great, but whatever. Beggars can’t be choosy.

I asked my house girl to cook them. Make mushroom soup, I tell her, because she once made mushroom soup from fresh mushrooms and they were quite good, albeit too salty as she always adds too much oil and salt. She uses these ingredients as if she won a lifetime supply from a contest. When her soup was ready, I looked into the pot. Are those pieces of tarmac? What the hell are they? I said nothing, took a plate and started to dish the mystery soup. With my spoon, I caught a piece of what looked like a segment of a burnt roof. I put it in my mouth and it tasted as bad as it looked. What the f*** is this?  I am speaking Swahili to my house girl, “Did you soak this? I am eating shoes!” She laughs and I think to myself…I appreciate your appreciation for my humor, but please answer me. I continue, “not only am I eating shoe because it’s hard and tough, but it tastes like crap!” (okay, I don’t know how to say crap in Swahili, so I said ‘bad’ which rhymes with crap so that’s close enough) She asked if she should light the charcoal again and cook some more. I tell her that yeah…dude, you should have soaked this overnight and then cook it. Like beans, they need to be soaked for a while before cooking. This is eating tree bark! I then changed my mind because aside from its toughness, the taste was God awful that eating the softer variety wouldn’t change its unpleasant taste. It tasted bitter, dusty, muddy and was gritty with sand. My house girl’s virtue is that she is honest and trustworthy. I can leave my house with money and valuables lying around and it will be untouched when I return. As for her culinary skill…let’s just say that she better find a man whose heart is not through his stomach! Her cooking can be hit or miss. It’s more important for me to find an honest person than a good cook. I can cook myself, which I do the majority of time, anyway. Today is the second day I am eating this dreaded so-called mushroom soup. I tell house girl to heat it up. A friend came over just in time and I asked if she would like some. She happily agreed with smiling eyes. Should I warn her that she might be eating dehydrated rat sold as mushrooms? Shortly, the head teacher from a school came over to borrow a paint brush from me. Being the ultimate gracious hostess and to pimp away rat meat soup, I offered Mister if he would care for some mushroom soup. With enthusiasm and the same happy smiling eyes, he accepted. Dudes, you guys have no idea what you’re in for! I already know it tastes and look like decomposed bat, so no surprise for me. I debated whether to warn them. What tastes unsavory and highly unpleasant to me may be a heavenly delicacy to others, so who is to say it’s bad? We three each now have a bowl of black dried tar. Although I have impeccable and discriminating taste for food as I am a self-proclaimed foodie, a veritable aficionado for the culinary arts…I do know what is good and bad; nevertheless, my talent in tolerance and flexibility has allowed me to have the ability to eat mass quantity and eat low grade inferior food not only without gagging but being able to finish everything. If only this was a talent I could use on my resume. I know definitely I will never be reborn as a starving kid in Africa because I never waste food. I quietly ate my zombie soup while sneaking peaks at my two friends’ bowl to see if they’ve done any damage. The room was quiet. Nobody was talking. I don’t blame them, it’s shocking eating what was offered. Do they graciously lie and claim no longer being hungry or suck it up and try to swallow? I see them eating but many black pieces of bat wings remained. They’re eating the potatoes and not touching the pieces of tarmac. I think these black mushrooms are the kind you put in a witch’s cauldron to make magic potions to poison people, not the kind you feed normal human beings who are hungry for regular food. I finish my soup and I look up to see Mister whispering while chuckling to my friend as he pushed his soup aside. I don’t blame you, dude. It tastes nasty! I’m finishing mine only because I don’t want to be reborn as a hungry Ethiopian boy with flies over my eyes…As house girl was clearing our plates, I tell her that she can take home the leftover bat wings (they’re huge pieces) to her dog as there is no need to waste “good food”…(cough, cough)

I read on average about 2 books a month. I can easily finish a book in a day, but usually it takes several sessions to finish. I’ve enjoyed every book I’ve read so far only because it’s a constant entertainment available to me. But my experience of these stories is like a good tasting menu with a lousy last course. Each course or chapters are enjoyable and interesting until the end when a bow tied, white apron cladded, snooty garcon serves me jello for dessert. Sometimes, I wonder if the author suddenly gave up because he wanted to quickly finish the book so he just slapped on some careless ending without much thought?

Here is a brief book review and a rating system:

***** Big times!
****   It’s a quality read, story line and style depends on your taste
***    Not shabs, but nothing to write home about
**      The publisher probably was desperate for new writers
*        Crud, like the dried black mushroom soup

1. ***The Discovery, Dan Walsh
It’s a sappy, sentimental novel for those who enjoy love stories with feel good endings, nothing sophisticated and actually quite predicable. Housewives in Middle America probably will love this kind of story, as it’s simple and romantic with a bit of mystery…it’s something you take to the beach on a Memorial Day weekend while eating a whole bag of Lay’s potato chips.

2. ****All About Love, Bell Hook
Written by a Yale professor, she examines the different kinds of love. Insightful, scholarly and deep. It’s not a book for people trying to get tips on how to find love in all the wrong places. It’s an academic study of the various dynamic of love.

3. ****Water for Elephant, Sara Gruen
 This New York Times best seller novel is worth the read. I wouldn’t necessarily sprint out to rush and buy the book; but if it was available, it definitely deserves the time to be perused. The author took time to research the 1930’s and circus life. I was given crème brulee for dessert on this one. Good ending: I approve!

4. ***Some Girls, Jilian Lauren
A biography of an aspiring actress-cum-call girl unknowingly was sold into a harem working for a Prince in Brunei. The technical writing and actual stories told were not bad but the abrupt ending of not telling the reader what happened to her at the end was a total let down. In her own admission, she even claims not divulging much. A theme like this lends itself to total depravity and juicy dirt; instead, it was too tame. If I chose to read about prostitution for big bucks with the richest man in the world, I would expect only real sordid meat in all its immoral details! The ending was a jello. Total tease.

5. **** Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Stout
Winner of Pulitzer Prize with lots of rave reviews from its book jacket. This fiction is different in that it’s many little vignettes about the main character, Olive, and the people in her world. It’s an examination of her life and personality, which either the reader will like or dislike her. Technically, it’s well written. It’s a matter of whether you care about the protagonist and her life or not. If she was a real life person, people would either think she’s a biatch or gets her drift and like her. I’m neutral. I could hang with Olive. I like people who are not like everyone else.

6. ****The Village of Waiting, George Packer
This is a true account of a former Peace Corps Volunteer who served in Togo, West Africa. Not to be biased, but obviously I can relate well to his stories, as his description of his circumstance more than 20 years ago is my current reality. What I did not like about the book was the author not explaining why he Early Terminated his service only after 18 months. He took a vacation to Barcelona and instead of returning to Togo to complete his service, he decided to head back home to New York. Again, in the book, he states his abrupt ending of the story without disclosing the reason or continuing with the story. I was given jello for dessert on this one too. I hate it when that happens.

7. ****Holidays on Ice, David Sedaris
This is a collection of essays and short stories by a writer who is truly hilarious! Stories revolve around Christmas time. Reading this is like eating a big fat chocolate cake, it’s enjoyable and filling with empty calories. I’d read it again just for the brainless amusement, total entertainment.

8. ***Hotel du Lac, Anita Brookner
Winner of the Bookner Prize, I found this book at times hard to read. It was written in the 80’s but from the language and tone, you’d think you’re reading English literature from the 19th century written by Miss Prissy Prim Proper. Fancy words and contrived expression makes this reading labored. The writing takes itself too seriously and I didn’t care about any of the characters. I liked no one in the story! On a positive note, there is a certain ambience created, which makes this story about a woman staying in a hotel in Switzerland alone in search of herself, her relations with others and her idea of love more appealing.

9. ****The Lamp, Jim Stovall
A friend sent me this little pocket book written by a motivational speaker/coach. It is a tale of a couple living a mediocre, typical boring American life going nowhere, who discovers a magic lamp purchased at a garage sale. The “genie” grants them 3 wishes. At the end, the “revelation” is that you are able to achieve what you want without a genie. Excellent message but insubstantial in content, as it doesn’t explain how. Of course, the struggling couple wants a million bucks for their first wish, how typical!

10. ***Uncensored Girls, Usman Conteh
Macmillan Writer’s Prize for Africa, this short story is about a young teenage girl in Sierra Leone, Africa fighting for her right not to be subjugated to female circumcision by her mother who believes that to undergo this procedure would make her daughter moral and a better wife. This is a great story about female empowerment, especially for young African women.

11. ** Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang, Chelsea Handler
Although the author is a cable network celebrity and the book jacket claims her as a New York Times best selling author, I gave this a low rating because it’s dumb. Truly, if it weren’t for her fame, these collections of random personal stories wouldn’t be published unless you’re “somebody”. I don’t watch TV so I don’t know who the hell she is but after reading this time waster of a book, I’m glad I still don’t know who she is. Supposedly, she is a comedian. Well, I guess I didn’t take my funny pills when I read this book because I didn’t crack a smile…trust me, I have a sense of humor. In life, if you are a celebrity, you can write all kinds of garbage that probably takes all of 2 weeks to write, edit, publish and the American population will buy your crap and lap it up from your hands making these overpaid people even more rich. This book is stupid. Please don’t support stupidity.

12. ***** The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown
40 million copies sold and #1 worldwide best seller.
Hmmmm….yep, I get it…they even made it into a movie!
It’s a thriller/mystery fiction based on true facts regarding secret societies, documents and places. This story is super smart, clever as hell, interesting, entertaining while educational and simply brilliant. Each corner and chapter was a new surprise. Never boring! Highly recommended if you’re into fiction and want something outstanding. A possible disappointment is the ending though….it’s a big chase for the treasure and at the end, you ask yourself, “Well, where is it and what is it?” The ending is subtle and not obvious. For those seeking the answer as you turn each page, you may realize you’ll never get the answer. A great read, nevertheless. The story takes place in Paris, France and having lived there for 5 years and returning often, in my mind the story is more vivid because I can see where the events are happening. Ooh la la…Paris, tu me manques!

Back to the story of shrooms again.

Yesterday, my house girl exceedingly redeemed herself. She brought me new fungi.  What a complete detour from eating tried chunks of rubber tires to later known as eating a piece of heaven. I am a fungi fan who haven’t met a fungi I didn’t liked. (tarmac doesnn’t count) I asked where she got them and she answered that she picked them herself in the forest. Slightly freaked, I asked if they were poisonous only to see if she understood that not all mushrooms are edible and many are potentially fatal when eaten. I would think villagers know what the hell they’re doing when picking mushrooms to eat. Thought I just check….you know.

Dear Liu Family,

We regret to inform you that your daughter has passed away from the most unusual kind. In our 51 years of Peace Corps history, we have never had anyone croak from eating shrooms…if it’s any consolation knowing your daughter, surely she would have wanted to enjoy the activity she loved most before departing: Eating!

Peace Corps Tanzania

My house girl assured me they are not poisonous because she ate some herself. Great! Stoke the firewood and start cookin’ the shrooms! I take them out of the bag and examined them. They looked like badly made cookies without any specific shape but their texture and touch were extremely soft and filled with tons of water. I was holding moisture. If moisture could be in a solid form, other than ice, this specific kind of mushroom is it. The top looked like microscopic sponge with holes. The color was that of butter color and they smelled sweet, apples. They are so delicate and soft, like baby cheeks.

I returned home from teaching my afternoon classes and went straight to the kitchen to see what concoction she had made. A pot of mushroom soup! It’s gonna be a great dinner! That night, I took my cold bucket bath, dressed in jammies, had electricity so I watched something on my laptop and dished myself a big bowl of this shroom soup eagerly planning an enjoyable Tuesday evening. Life can be good in po dunk rural Africa!

Verdict: Unbelievable!!!!
The texture was so soft that chewing was optional. It melted in my mouth; the moisture content was out of this world. What kind of food is so soft? It’s like the angora rabbit of the food world. This mushroom was slick, slippery, soft, and velvety and silky all in one! If heaven had a taste, I just ate it. I would highly recommend this for people with no teeth. Your gums could just chomp on them.

Two days later, my house girl brought me more of the same mushrooms. She asked someone to go find them in the forest or where ever these suckers reside and I’m asked to pay 400 TZs. Are you serious? That’s all? US$ . 25! A quarter? You sure it’s not 4,000 TZs which is US$2.50? I gave her two coins to give to that person who hunted the shrooms and couldn’t believe how dirt cheap I’m asked to pay for the “finder’s fee”.

Today in my classes, I described to my students and showed them photos of these lovelies, who are free manual labor workers, about this gem I discovered. I bribed them:

“ Go to the forest, the field, the bush, go where you gotta go to find these mushrooms and I will pay you. Yes, I will pay you. “

True to form, this weekend, three students came to my house and offered me bags of this beautiful mushroom. One student brought perfect ones: round, unblemished and whole pieces. I asked these students where they found the fungi? They answered that they picked them at the school ground. I happily accepted although I told them today, Monday, at school that I’m getting sick and tired of eating these shrooms now. I need break from fungi! “Wait for a bit and I’ll tell you when I want more mushrooms”, I instructed them. As payment to these students, I didn’t have small bills or change so I offered them a choice of either Tanzanian money in which they’d have to wait a bit or take the option of choosing pencils or health chocolate granola bars from America. I told them the bar in USA would cost a buck, which is TZs 1,600, a small fortune for a kid living in a rural village. I put a stash of assorted color pencils and different flavored bars for the two girls to choose. They were shy and hesitated, but after some encouragement asking them to pick their prize, they ran and grabbed everything in sight. No dudes, I said pick one! A girl chose a pencil, the other a bar, and I gave the boy a pencil and a bar since his mushrooms were perfect in every sense! (The 2 girls do not know this) I felt somewhat guilty not giving the girls both a pencil and a bar, but honestly, things are valuable here in a poor rural village. I need all the “things” I can get as sometimes I offer stuff as gifts or repayment of some kind. Last weekend, a student took 6 big avocadoes from her home to give to me when she knew I love them and was asking around where avocado trees exist? As an expression of my gratitude, I gave her a big bar of Hershey chocolate. I hope she didn’t get in trouble for swiping the family’s avocado stash. Needless to say, any dumb kid would have given me some avocadoes that our village grow randomly and can get for free or purchased dirt cheap in exchange for a wonderful Willy Wonka Candy Bar from the land of milk and honey: America!

Monday, May 27, 2013

A village with no prior malaria education

I've been teaching, training, and promoting effortlessly the importance and gravity of malaria prevention and educating the basic of malaria science to my community, a farming village in the Southern Highlands, where this potentially fatal tropical disease is not prevalent.

To my disbelief, given that Tanzania is the 3rd largest population for malaria endemic, my community is not well versed in malaria awareness, let alone do people sleep under a mosquito net...insecticide treated or not.
Possibly due to the history of low malaria cases, people may not feel it vitally essential to be imparted. Clearly, malaria prevention education should be part of a brief mandatory curriculum in school. Lives can be saved by an hour of malaria indoctrination.

I've taught students at primary schools, secondary school and to community members where several hundred were in attendance and trained school teachers and dispensary workers. I will continue to "preach" the gospel of malaria truth to those I've not yet reached.

Several notable details and its compelling ramifications:

1. Unexpectedly, I was thanked by two students in a primary school who expressed their gratitude with such happiness, that I was temporarily stunned and speechless. To have these students step out of their comfort zone of being painfully shy and unresponsive to suddenly articulate with such animated expression was truly somewhat shocking. They owe me nothing as it is my job to teach, but knowing these usually passively quiet students all of the sudden voicing their feeling was worth a million dollars in experience. They thanked me for teaching them about malaria because they were not aware that malaria could kill. Needless to say, the simple "thank you" was enough to keep me motivated in my malaria outreach effort. My first positive Peace Corps experience where I'm witnessing an impact.

2. I enjoy teaching high school students, my favorite audience. Their maturity and interest level are sufficient to keep them continually engaged. After 2 hours of in-depth malaria lesson, instead of dozing into slumberland, I'm bombarded by questions at the end. To me, this is a fantastic sign that the teens are truly curious and interested. Importantly, they're paying attention!

3. One elementary student enjoys malaria lessons so much that he would request more malaria instead of English lesson. Each class received from me 5 hours of malaria education where I incorporate straight up lecture, games and an audio teaching tool.

4. After finished teaching several hundred villagers, a woman came up on stage to ask a question regarding one of three methods for malaria testing. She claimed in our village dispensary, there exists no Rapid Diagnostic Testing. Certain that she is mistaken or her attempt to challenge me, I asked her how she would know? She claimed she entered the dispensary and there was none. My reply was I'm fairly confident there definitely exists these kits, but i will verify with the dispensary. She was not pleased with my self-assurance and with her disparaging smile, she left the stage smirking that she's had enough of malaria education. Some people in the audience chuckled which I didn't see anything amusing. I did coincidently meet up with the medical officer shortly and inquired about the availability of these kits. He confirmed its existence. He proceeded to tell me that they always test negative even if by clinical diagnoses, the patients appear positive. I informed him that these kits needed to be kept out of heat and humidity, check for expiration date and importantly, they need to have a waiting time of 20 minutes for the test result to appear positive or negative. To my surprise, this medically trained personnel had no idea about any of these points. He tells me that he only waits for 2 minutes before reading the result. If it wasn't for the lady and her assertion of the unavailability of the kits, the village dispensary medical officer and I would not have had this important, fact revealing discussion about the proper usage of RDT kits.

5. The medical officer and the head teacher of a secondary school both tell me that people do not want nor use mosquito nets. Presently, 300 nets are in storage at our local dispensary. I ask why this is? It is free to villagers and not complicated to use. What is the problem? The explanations I was given were all faulty with no base of any logic. Villagers hold tightly to their beliefs. Myths need to be banished as they are a total disservice to the well being of people. It is difficult to change one's behavior; only with constant education would one be motivated to change for the positive.

Friday, May 17, 2013

A Life of Waiting

Aside from the usual life activities one performs such as sleeping, eating, eliminating, talking, walking and brushing your teeth…you get the picture…in Tanzania, another activity that ranks high along with breathing would be waiting.

I’ve not yet taken a scientific calculation using statics or whatever the theory or science one employs to measure such a thing, but I’ll loosely say that a quarter of my life is the act of waiting…here in Tanzania.

What am I waiting for? No, I’m not waiting for Jesus’ appearance, enlightment, a job promotion or death. Well, the latter will come inevitably soon enough… In Tanzania, it’s notorious that everything and everyone is late. If you’re of German descent and brought up with the creed of “what have I contributed today?” I would think living in Tanzania would make sie Deutchen sehr loco in the cabeza! Punctuality and productivity are to Germans as piñatas and tortillas are to Mexico. I looked up in the English-Swahili dictionary to see if the word punctuality exists. Surprisingly it’s in the dictionary. Why would this word exist in their language since “punctuality” in Tanzania is merely a notion…or more, like an abstract concept?

Today I was telling a teacher and my most trusted friend that a certain XYZ is late and that he’s always late. I’m slightly complaining to him that one’s time should be respected and people shouldn’t have to wait. I am training XYZ to teach health to his community when I leave the country and meanwhile, he and I are teaching together. His response to my encouragement of the meritorious practice of punctuality was “that’s mzungu ”. (mzungu means foreigner in the Swahili language) Two concurrent thoughts crossed my mind and I had to quickly choose which to reply. 1) The not so politically correct but emotionally satisfying response would be something akin to…”And that’s why for 51 years in your country there’s always been Peace Corps presence! READ: you need our assistance…time is money, my friend” If I wanted to delve deeper because I found myself somewhat miffed, I would continue, “What else do you guys have going? I know you’re not stuck on the 4 lane 405 Freeway during rush hour, that’s for sure!”
Version 2) The nice version would be this…”Why yes, I am a guest in your country and I assume acceptance of your ways because how pompous of me to think I can wheedle my sentiment of a more productive way of being into your culture.” To continue the saccharine overdose…”You know, friend, I think Tanzanians’ got the right idea. Who cares about keeping appointments on time! France has said, ‘Let Them Eat Cake!’ So Tanzania can say, ‘Let Them Wait!’…hakuna matata.” I opted for neither and mustered a smile on my face pretending how silly of me that I would hope people arrive on time. What a dumb idea.

Here are situations where I feel like I’m waiting a lifetime and it is super duper frustrating:

1.     Bank- many customers and understaffed employees. It takes an hour just to withdraw money and I’m one of the first people to enter the bank. I wish I could say I was joking, but I ain’t. If I go to an ATM, sometimes there’s no money or there’s a glitch in the machine. I wonder how long it would it take to rob a bank?
2.     House girl- it’s been established that her starting time is 1PM. Consistently, she arrives an hour and half later. I say nothing because I am sympathetic to her duties in her own home taking care of her baby daughter, siblings and parents. Ironically, before she leaves, I would ask her, perhaps for my own comic relief, “What time are you coming tomorrow?” Her answer is always 1PM. Like Groundhog Day, she arrives an hour and half later everyday. Her inconsistency is consistent.
3.     Village meeting- three words: Never On Time or Most Likely Cancelled. The last meeting was 2 1/2 hours late and the one after never existed. Why even bother having them at all? Let’s just all do a virtual village meeting and pretended it happened.
4.     Counterpart- he’s like a game that you’ll either win or lose. 50% chance he’ll be on time, 50% he’ll be late.
5.     Dala dala- this mini bus that leaves my banking town into my village is one big cruel joke. They tell you one time but in actuality, it is really another. I either wait forever or I have missed it. Then we stop at another area for another hour to wait for more people to pile in.
6.     Students- this is probably the most painful one for me. Students in my village are painfully shy, self-conscious, easily embarrassed and have no confidence. Waiting for an answer from them is like waiting for thumb tacks to speak. An endurance in patience, compassion…and trying to keep awake.
7.     Electricity- call me spoiled, but I’m one of the few Peace Corps Volunteers fortunate enough to have some electricity. The days I’m in the dark, I’m just patiently waiting for electricity to come on. When God finally grants light, I am ecstatic and doing the happy dance, the marathon man, the cabbage patch, the electric slide, and air whooping my fist belting out,  “Yeah, baby, electriciTAAAAY….uhhh huuuuh…partaaay time in the crib….(snap, snap) who’s your mama??!!!!!! (pelvic thrust, pelvic thrust)”
8.     Internet connection- this is the same as point #7. It’s weak, sketchy, and unreliable; but nevertheless, it exists. It’s frustrating when I receive an important e-mail from Peace Corps or family and I can’t read it because it hasn’t downloaded from the server. Sometimes it’ll be a week before eventually it gets downloaded to be read. This also includes waiting for network to be present before I can add credit onto my phone for internet service. For friends and family who has to send me an important e-mail. Please time your emergencies a week before it happens so I can reply on time. Thanks. Oh, and I hope y’all enjoying reading my blog ‘cause it takes forever to post and 90% are written on my IPhone with one finger typing. Yes, talent, I know….
9.     Phone-because my and those around me have cheap ass phones; we do not have an answering service to our mobile phones. If we do, either we don’t know it or we don’t know how to use it. When you call someone’s mobile, it either rings meaning their phone is turned on or there is a recorded voice saying, “sorry sucker, your buddy’s phone is turned off”. I’ve yet encountered a voice mail recording with, “ Mambo! You’ve reached Tyrone. I’m busy planting beans in my field and can’t get to you now but please leave me a message.” Beep…….One needs to continue to keep calling until the party turns on his mobile and actually picks up the phone.
10.  Garden- When I first arrived in my village, I created an awesome permagarden. It took a while for things to start growing. Just when things were starting to sprout, my garden became a jungle because I was a lazy mofo gardener and I left home for training in which during this time, it grew to be a rain forest minus the canopy part. I asked the chairman to call some young lads to clear my backyard so I can find my toilet again. When I returned home from teaching, what did I find? Well, yes, now I can see my toilet, but the youths destroyed and cut down every thing in sight plus everything that started to grow. I don’t blame on them as they were cutting down a complete jungle and they couldn’t know what I had going on below the earth. I saw my beloved kale and other veggies lie limp and dead on the soil…sob, sob. I gave my house girl what remaining seeds I have and I’ll have to wait again for another jungle to appear.

Random rants:

1.     I gave a seamstress/good friend a fabric to make a blouse and skirt outfit. It took her 3 months before after some nice reminder from me that I’d like my blouse to be finished. Pretty please? It’s not that she was super busy, it’s because it was just sitting on her shelf collecting dust and spider webs.
2.     I’m doing the favor for a secondary school in which I need to travel and the expense is out of my own pocket to teach health topics and French. The head teacher doesn’t get back to me if the schedule I’m proposing is suitable for his school. Eventually, I called and it’s resolved…but why couldn’t he get back to me? I could have taught 2 weeks earlier!
3.     Now that my village has a tap water system, I no longer have to hoard rain water, but I still do as old habits are hard to break. When I was out of water, I was waiting for the rain, which I looked forward happily to black gloomy clouds. Conversely, when I had laundry hanging to be dried, I was waiting for the sun to quickly dry my wet clothes.
4.     Cooking beans and corn take forever even if I soak them for an entire 24 hours! The Tanzanian varieties are really little pebbles disguised as beans and corn.
5.     Waiting for family and friends’ package from abroad takes a while and when it arrives, I feel like a castaway finally being rescued after 10 years.

 This is the culture and when in Rome, do as the Romans. When in Tanzania, do as the Tanzanians... just wait.