Monday, August 20, 2007

Part IV (b): Welcome to Moshi, Tanzania

About an hour and a half cramped bus ride (5 people to a 4 person seat) on bumpy roads for 2000-2500 tsh leads you to Moshi, Tanzania…it is a bit less scenic than Arusha, not as luscious green… it reminds me more of a typical American suburb, but the mountains that loom overhead, including Kiliminjaro which I hadn't seen yet due to clouds… wow. Majestic. Moshi is significantly smaller than Arusha in size and population, and Shirley and I were able to explore all of Moshi by foot in the matter of only a couple hours. Moshi is quite a bit hotter than Arusha due to its lower altitude, which is nice in the evening but a bit uncomfortable during the day. Though it is very nice compared to the heat of India.

Arriving in Moshi, I met host mommy, a nice Indian woman with 2 sons studying abroad in America and a 18-year-old daughter that was away in Dar at the time. Her English was not very good, but her smile and warm welcome made me feel right at home. We headed to the Kiliminjaro Christian Medical Center (KCMC), where the wheelchair clinic is located. From there I met Abdullah, the “boss,” a delightful gentleman that has been confined to a wheelchair due to a motor vehicle accident several years back, but has explored with his mind and charming personality what he cannot do on foot. We went to go visit Peter, a local that had been testing the new wheelchair designs, designed for the rugged roads that throw automobile passengers against the roof (and I say this from experience – though the bump on my head serving as proof has since then subsided) never mind allow a person in a wheelchair designed for smooth roads and tile floors to get anywhere.

My trip in Moshi was fairly short as Shirley had planned a Safari for the two of us over the weekend, and then by her beckoning, lack of photographic opportunities (due to most of her work being on the computer), and a “you absolutely have to go to Zanzibar while you’re here,” I headed off to an island off the coast of Tanzania. But before I talk about leapords and paradise, let me tell you a bit about my experiences in Moshi. There is a Moshi Institute of Technology (MIT) which Shirley and I just had to take a picture of...

Where Would You Be Without an Education?

Have you ever wondered how your life would be different had you never received a formal education? Would you know the things you know now? Would you know that the human body is made up of cells? How about that different species can't mate? How about that you shouldn't drink dirty water? How about how to build a hand tricycle for the physically disabled...

One man that we met in Arusha (sadly I forget his name at the moment, but I will find out) taught himself to design hand tricycles. He has no formal education, he received a little bit of training recently at the association for the handicapped in Arusha, but he created his own design... something that current MIT students are doing! How is it possible? In addition to being in a low economic class, he is physically disabled. There is a great stigma against the physically disabled that they are trying to counteract, but it limits your opportunities even more to be disabled. To the left is an actual photograph of him working on the bike chain of the trike. What would a man like this be able to do WITH an MIT education when he already does this WITHOUT a MIT education! And what will we all do with an MIT education. Is it our duty to make the most out of our education? Or is it up to us since we had to work to get to this position? Or is an MIT education even better than another education? In addition, how can there be such a big difference between people in their knowledge without a formal education? Some don't know basic logic or common sense because they have never learned to think in that way, but here are some that are engineering relatively complex modes of transportation for the disabled...

Pictures from Sibusiso

Overdue pictures... photoshop had stopped working, but now it's all good! These are from Sibusiso, the ngo that is becoming self-sustaining and provides education/therapy to mentally handicapped children and their parents/guardians. They have a program for families that come from far away where the mother and child can stay in one of the guest houses/dorms for free for a month to get training. The first picture is of a mother learning how to give massage therapy to her child and the second is of a child playing in a very large sandbox. They have difficulty walking/sitting up by themselves, so they buried them in the sand to be able to sit up by themselves to play.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

What Do You Want More Than Anything :: "Education"

Lucus (one of the men at Mobility Care in Arusha) told me about a 12-year old boy named Emmanual who had to crawl around on his hands for 10 years of his life because his legs are stiff and bowed (they aren't sure why because he has never been able to get checked out). Needless to say, he can't afford crutches or a wheelchair, nevermind an education. Mobility Care found a sponsor for Emmanual when he was 10 to get a wheelchair, telling his mother that she had to send him to school in return for the wheelchair. He went for a while, but the other students would throw things at him and he would be left behind when they went to have fun or do things… and then they ran out of money and he couldn't go to school anymore.

Lucus was asking Tish and me if we could find a sponsor for Emmanual, and we explained that we would try, but that a system needed to be in place because there were surely more kids like Emmanual and we couldn’t find sponsors for them all if there was no stable program set up. So we discussed ideas for setting that up (if anyone is interested in pursuing this program/club/ngo please let me know), but I wanted to see Emmanual and talk to him in person so that I could come back with a more detailed story, and be able to really understand his situation.

Mobility Care builds wheelchairs whenever there is a sponsor, but sponsors had been scarce so there was not much work to do so we decided to go right then. We stopped by Mr. Daniel (the boss)’s house and Lucus' house. At Lucus’ house, we met his wife and the kids she babysits (to the right is a picture of a few of them and Tish... with a MIT shirt :) ).. his house was quite nice… spacious, clean, and the scenery around it is just gorgeous, and all natural. Mr. Daniel’s house was 2 small rooms… I wondered why his house was so much smaller and cramped than Lucus’ when he was the boss, and I found out later that he supports all his siblings on top of his family… including paying for his younger brother to go to teacher’s college…. His younger brother really wanted to be a doctor, he loves science, and apparently when he met with Tish one time, all he wanted to talk about was physics and biology because he had finally found someone else that knew as much (and more) than he did. Sadly he couldn’t afford to go to medical school, but teacher’s college is cheaper, so Mr. Daniel is paying for him to go there, and he’s going to work as a science teacher and save up to be a doctor. Apparently loans in Tanzania are very bad to get because they’ll come and take away your house and the interest is at ridiculous rates.

So after about an hour walk on a very bumpy, dusty road (of course not paved), we got to Emmanual’s house. If you can call it a house. The weather is nice and the natural scenery is so beautiful that even the small houses looked gorgeous and like they were part of some paradise landscape… but this one… there was one main house and then a small building next to it. The small building had 3 small rooms. One of those rooms was emmanual’s home. To the right there is a picture of two of his siblings standing at the door of their home.

Emmanual, his mother, his very drunk and abusive grandmother (she even hit me!), his aunt, and his 3 siblings all lived in this cramped space. I don't even know if they could all lie down. Their father is dead and their mother works breaking stones into little pieces to be used for construction which pays little to nothing. They barely have enough to eat, so school is a rare luxury. I asked Emmanual what he wanted more than anything, and he said and education. Not to be able to walk normally, not to be rich, not to have a home where he could actually have room to lie down comfortably… but to have an education. Thinking of all the kids in the states that complaing about having to go to school and drop out of school…. How unfair that the millions of children that want an education more than anything aren’t able to get it. How unfair that people can’t appreciate their education when they are offered it freely. He was very shy but very handsome, and he’s become pretty adept with the crutches (well not crutched, mobility devices that are basically two sticks with arm holes that he uses to support himself… the name of them is skipping my mind) that he got along with the wheelchair which he saves for special occasions (the terrain is so rough that the wheelchair, though much stronger than the ones in the US, would still wear out pretty quickly) and for when gets to go to school… but the crutches don’t even have padding on the bottom… (to the right is a picture of Emmanual with his supports in front of the building where his home is)

Friday, August 17, 2007

Motive versus End Result: What If Helping Is Hurting?

I've always wanted to believe that noone is bad at heart. Noone actually wants to cause pain to anyone else, they merely make a mistake in judgment where their own desires consume them and make them forget or misjudge the degree of pain they may cause someone else. Or they feel they are faced with two bad decisions, and make what they feel is the better of the two. Another big problem is when they hurt without knowing they are hurting. What if you do something to help someone and it ends up hurting them? What really matters, the motive or the result?

One major thing that I’ve been questioning is whether by “helping” whether we’re actually helping. What if we aren’t? What if I’m contributing to increasing pain and suffering in the long run? Because in the end, is it the length of someone’s life that is important or the quality of it. And is it the actual quality in comparison to others’ lives, or is it the quality that you make of it. In other words… by changing the lives of certain societies that may be poor and dying of illnesses that are curable, we are changing other aspects, including, inevitably, their perception of what is possible. As they see more lives being saved and more opportunities.. more material possessions… won’t they just keep wanting more? Isn’t that a major problem with our society? So many people have so much, and yet they just want more. What if we’re turning them into us? I thought that perhaps by respecting their culture, being open and with my desire to absorb everything about their culture, I would not be imposing my own, but one particular conversation really made me think….

In Arusha, I was documenting a Mobility Clinic that makes wheelchairs and special chairs for children with cerebral palsy. There are 4 men and 1 woman, but the 1 woman was out sick for the first 2 days I was there. Unfortunately, they didn’t have many orders due to a lack of sponsors and a lack of a program to find sponsors, so they had a lot of down time during which we discussed problems, projects ideas, their lives, and the Tanzanian society. We were talking about women’s roles, which in Tanzania are mostly to stay at home and cook, clean, and take care of the children. While I plan to cook, clean, and take care of my children, I also plan to have my own career and really make a difference in more people’s lives than just those of my family. Talking to them about this, they were surprisingly receptive. Perhaps because they work with the 1 woman who I later met and is very curious, and full of desire to learn. They started out by saying that women should stay at home because otherwise, who will, and on top of that, if a woman makes money, she will have an affair. I argued that while that may be a big problem among successful, working Tanzanian women, I felt that was more a product of societies’ view on working women rather than a product of them working. I proposed to them a situation where wives worked and perhaps made more money than they did. I asked how they would feel, and they were quick to say they would feel less manly and would not be at all pleased. They would feel she had all the power. On top of that, the rest of society would look down on them as being less of a man, and not capable of supporting his family. And then I asked how the way they treated her would change. They realized that they would probably treat her poorly and pick fights, taking out their frustration and feelings of inadequacy on her. Then they agreed with me that perhaps society was the problem not the working woman (though I was sure to mention that the woman was wrong for having an affair). In a typical situation, I would have been pleased that the discussion (one among many like these, the rest of which I can also share with you when I get back if you wish) had ended with me making a good argument that had “won” the “debate,” but I realized that though I thought I was doing it for the better, and in fact really I was just having what I thought was an interesting discussion, I had basically imposed my views upon them. What if they’re right? What if by women working (or rather, more like by having both parents working) the quality of the society will decrease? Just because I don’t think it will doesn’t mean it won’t… after all what do I know?

There are other immediate problems that arise from our "helping." Noone would say that saving lives is bad. However, if we go into Uganda lets say, and save every life that we can, the natural selection process will be interrupted. The already overpopulated nation will be even more populated. Families that can barely afford to raise their living children and send them to school will have even more living children to take care of. Noone wants to say lets let these children die, but we have to develop all aspects in parallel which is no easy task. We must educate, empower, and (forgive the cliche) teach them how to fish instead of just blindly saving lives and treating diseases. Perhaps this is something everyone else already realized... but its something I recently discovered.. and it is no easy feat. There are very few organizations or individuals that work on all aspects at once and there are very few ngos that work together. Progress isn't being done in parallel, but rather at their own paces. I cannot emphasize enough how important parallel development is. Otherwise our helping may end up hurting.

btw, i know the pictures are kind of random, the first is of one of the men (luke) from mobility care spoking a wheel... and the second is of a coffee bean tree. yes, they grow on trees. and they're green. weird...

Iron Chef Tanzania

or just Christina trying to cook in Tanzania... I’ve always loved cooking, but besides the easier things that you can’t really mess up like spaghetti, nachos, omellettes…. I usually use a recipe. Or at least look at a recipe at one point to see what kind of things go in and in what order and etc. However, measuring cups and spoons, recipes, leisure of ingredients… all a thing of developed countries and not used in Tanzania.

At Mobility Care in Arusha, there is one female employee that has been made the unofficial cook due to her gender. She is one of the few wheelchair technicians out there, and though the men accept her, they still just took for granted that Agnes would be the cook since she was the woman in the group.

Agnes was out on holiday and then out sick, so I offered to cook as a thank you for their warm hospitality! The first day I made French toast, scrambled eggs with tomato, and toast. Simple, but things they had never tried before. The next day I was a little more adventurous and when they asked me for a grocery list (for the market… forget cheese, spices, etc…. it was meat and veggies), I decided to try my hand at stew (I was using a Bunsen burner and a pocket knife…. Wasn’t up for making a main course with side dishes). I asked for tomatoes, green peppers, onions, carrots, beef, and maybe a couple other veggies.. I cut them up into little pieces, Mr. Daniel helped me out, having his first attempt at cooking… a result of our discussion the day before on women’s roles and how they like to get help from time to time to show they’re appreciated. I stewed the veggies and meat for several hours and seasoned to taste with salt and pepper. Then I cooked the pasta in the stew and they loved it!

A few days later I cooked dinner (fried rice which taste not like fried rice because I had to cook the rice on the stove and it wasn’t day-old rice like it should have been… but it worked!) for Tish and her bf but the blades are dull and the cooking ware is very basic so my hands got a bit torn up, many bandaids – they loved the food though!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Home At Last

I'm Home!!! Sad, but also happy to be back and excited for senior year. My apologies for such a long silence. Bad internet access, being very busy with projects/sightseeing/cultural experiences led to no blogging. HOWEVER. DO I HAVE THE STORIES FOR YOU!!!!

To come in the next few days: stories of the hospitable Chinese and cute children that love Korean Dramas, insights into our education system, questions of morals and whether doing good is actually doing good.. The wonders of red bean, the large korean population in Beijing, their obsession with the Olympics.. the ethics of illegal dvds, getting caught trying to bring fruit into the US, making friends on the plane... getting sick again.. trying shots of a Chinese liquor which combined with bbq and hotpot made me very sick.. but going to see the biggest buddha in the world anyway.. getting there and being so sick that i didn't care to walk the last few meters to see it.. though my awesome traveling companions convinced me to let them help me get there, and I did see it and even got some pictures. albeit i look dead in them.... :) losing my shoes, my bag ripping from the weight, finding Subway, meeting a United Airlines pilot on the streets of Beijing, swimming in natural hot springs and soaking in rose petals... dancing on a square with locals, climbing the great wall and flying down... and so much more.

promises to update soon. plus i'm back so if anyone's interested, call me up and i'll tell you stories in person and show you photographs! :)