New Blog!

If you've enjoyed reading about my experiences in Tanzania here, check out the new blog I've started on Wordpress as of November, 2017. It's called "Back to Tanzania" and you can read it here. All new adventures in Tanzania from an older, wiser, more experienced expat.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Read This! (If You're Interested in the Peace Corps)

I just finished a very interesting book. If you ever thought about joining the Peace Corps, or met a Peace Corps volunteer in your home country, you might be interested, too.

Here's my review from the Goodreads website:

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fascinating history of the Peace Corps, which is now 50 years old. The author lays out clearly all the Washington DC fighting and deals and politics that come with any gov't agency. But having served as a volunteer, I didn't see that side of things. I think he gives the Peace Corps more importance in affecting host country politics than is warranted--but I could be wrong--he describes incidents from the 1960's when it was new and glamorous. Looking through the lists in the back of the book, I see that I served during the Peace Corps' smallest years and during the Reagan administration, when the PC was not considered glamorous or important. I always thought the administration was crazy to think they could use volunteers to promote their agenda, because we volunteers were 90% young, inexperienced liberals who were always against the agenda. Reading this book, it looks like that dynamic is at the heart of the PC's history. The author jumps too far to that liberal heart of the agency to defend it, and its cherished traditions, against all criticisms. But he does present the criticisms and discuss both sides. Really liked this book and learned a lot from it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Musings on Being (Still) in America

I apologize for the long delay between posts. I've been asking myself how long I can continue a blog purporting to be about Tanzania when I keep extending my stay in America. As you may have noticed, my last several posts have been from Arizona and Montana and Utah, none of which are anywhere near Tanzania. I considered ending Tanzania 5.0 and starting a new blog with a more general theme, maybe something about how I spent my summer vacation or retirement for the adventurous. But that seemed like admitting to myself that I might be finished with Tanzania, and I'm not ready to do that. Also, I've built a modest readership for Tanzania 5.0 and I hope some of you are still here with me in Arizona and Montana and Utah. So I've added a bit of explanation in the header, changed out the photo of the Maasa'i woman for a photo of Bryce Canyon (here in Utah), and updated the "About Me" paragraph in the sidebar. I'll be in America at least through spring. I have two more trips to national parks with fabulous photos, one from September and one from October, one from California and one from Utah, that I still want to post about. And it will all continue under the title of "Tanzania 5.0."

In 1982, I first visited the little Filipino town where I would spend the next two years as a Peace Corps volunteer. The jeepney driver heaved our giant suitcase onto the jeepney's roof, where it lay unsecured and surrounded by bags of rice and coconuts. My (now) ex-husband asked, "Won't it fall off before we get there?" The more experienced volunteer who was escorting us said, "The first rule of physics in the Philippines: Nothing placed on the roof of a moving jeepney ever falls off." That turned out to be true. As did many other seeming breaches of what I'd previously believed to be immutable laws of physics. I think that when the people living in a place (e.g. Americans) believe in an orderly universe governed by rigid rules, that's how things will go in that place (e.g. America). But I also think that the Filipinos' common disregard for the rules of physics actually negated the rules of physics in that place.

You always hear people (e.g. international aid workers) say things like, "A.W.A. Africa Wins Again." This is the version of a disordered universe with fluid rules that is found in Tanzania. You can keep trying to plan ahead, working out what you hope for step-by-step. But things don't stick where you put them in Tanzania. Plans don't come to fruition. But you might end up with something more interesting than you'd planned.

I arrived in Arusha, my fifth trip to Tanzania, in March, 2010. I planned to stay for three months, then bring K2 with me back to America. Instead, I stayed in Tanzania until June, 2011. I'd come full circle in my thinking and considered myself an expat American living in Tanzania. I was busy putting this plan in place, step by step. I rented a house. I bought a car. I learned to drive on the left in the crazy Arusha traffic. I found a few friends. I lined up a job and applied for a work permit. The immigration officer told me to leave Tanzania for a few weeks unless I wanted to pay $400 U.S. for an interim residence permit. That seemed like a good time to visit America and take care of some financial tasks rhat had been waiting for me.

I arrived in Utah, planning to stay for five weeks. The financial matters turned out to be more complex than anticipated, and I realized I couldn't finish in five weeks. My mainstay friend in Arusha, Anna, emailed that she was returning home to the U.K. At five weeks, K2 asked me not to return yet, because he wanted to work nearly continuous treks on Kilimanjaro for a few more months. I agreed and planned to return at the end of October. Then the house I'd rented shortly before returning to America started crumbling, even though it was brand new, and K2 moved out, and into a much more modest, local-style bachelor apartment. Then my beloved Suzuki Escudo began demanding repairs, starting with a water pump and ending with complete engine replacement. At the end of October, K2 asked me again not to return because he wanted to continue working on the mountain.

So, it's AWA, and my best attempts to put a plan in place unraveled thread by thread as soon as I left Tanzania. So now I'm feeling less the expat and more the tourist, hoping to visit Tanzania again, but not sure when.

But I have been enjoying my time back home in America. I've loved reconnecting with my friends. I've luxuriated in my wonderful house and reliable running water and electricity. I've had a ball wandering the western U.S. through the summer and fall.

And so, coming up in my next post...

...a visit to Giant Sequoia National Park in California. That's the world's biggest tree (by volume) on the left. You can see some teeny tiny little people standing under it.

And after the Sequoias, a Southern Utah road trip through...

...Bryce Canyon National Park, and...

...Cedar Breaks National Monument (with snow for added scenic effect), and...

...Zion National Park, and...

...Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park (with sunset for added scenic effect), and...

...Arches National Park, and...

 ...Canyonlands National Park, and...

...Dead Horse Point State Park. This is a cosmically appropriate place to end a great girls' road trip, because it's where they filmed Thelma and Louise driving their convertible off that cliff.

And just as winter is getting started in Utah, and I'm wondering why I can't miss it like I did last year in Tanzania,  I received a piece of good news to cheer me up. I've been accepted into Stanford University's Online Creative Writing Certificate Program. I'll be part of a group of 30 students working together through a series of creative non-fiction writing classes and forming an online writers' workshop for the next two years, starting in January. It's part of their continuing education department, so I'm not a regular Stanford student and I'm not working toward an academic degree. It's all online, so I won't be moving to California any time soon. But if I find myself back in Tanzania during the two-year series of courses, I'll be able to continue working on it (if the electricity stays on long enough to charge my laptop battery).