31 January 2009

i would stand in line for this.

I'm completely in love with Zanzibar. Impressively, it lives up to all its hype - beautiful beaches, charming town, delicious food, and warm, friendly people (including the children!). I actually enjoyed the smell of the fish market on the first day until I remembered that raw fish is, in fact, NOT an appealing odor. Whoops. None of the shouting and pointing at white people, which may be related to the fact that Zanzibar sees a lot of tourists. Although, by that logic, Lalibela and Addis should also ignore white people, which is decidedly not the case. Even when I wondered into a residential neighborhood, people just looked at me briefly to decide if I looked lost and wanted/needed help, and a couple of people asked if I was. Children walked by me without so much as a second glance. Even the local beach boys who latch onto tourists are more entertaining than their Ethiopian counterparts - their English is much better, so you can crack jokes and talk about more than the weather (I debated the existence of god with one) and they tend to take the hint if you turn down their offers of tours or trips. Only downside - when people asked what I was doing in Africa, I got more than a few lectures about how condoms don't stop the transmission of HIV. Crazy children aside, I'm glad I'm doing HIV work in Ethiopia - I don't think I'd be able to cope with constantly battling myths like that.

Stonetown, the capital, is a quaint little colonial town with classic whitewashed buildings, enormous terraces, and narrow alleys winding throughout the old city (much like Harar or other Arab-esque cities). Say what you want about the British colonial legacy, it at least left behind some charming architecture. Unfortunately, it also left behind a system of driving on the wrong side of the road, which confuses me to no end. However, the country DOES labels its busses so you know where they're going, which was both shocking and gloriously convenient. Sure, I tried to board them through the driver's side panel a few times, but at least I knew I was at the right bus. And they open windows on busses, a vitally necessary social practice in a country with both heat and humidity (I'd forgotten what that felt like!).

And the food - seafood everywhere! Every night in Stonetown, vendors sell skewers of fresh seafood for a couple bucks - shrimp, giant crab claws, lobsters, fish, squid, the works. And it only gets better in the restaurants (although sadly, not cheaper!). The only thing I couldn't find was coconut fried shrimp, which was an unexpected disappointment since the island is covered with coconuts. The fruit was a welcome respite from gorging myself on seafood. Enormous pineapples, passion fruits, and fat, juicy mangos. Plus more fruits that I'd never seen before than are available in the whole of Ethiopia. I've long suspected, but am now certain, that we got the short end of the culinary stick when the Peace Corps sent us to Ethiopia.

Traveling alone is a bit strange (especially around those romantic beach resorts!), but I met some fascinating people from all over, including, of course, a member of the Gator Nation. I ran into an older couple from Vermont on my last night, and in the course of our conversation about the election and safaris, we ventured on to the topic of butterflies and how they're un-appreciated in Africa. I told them about how I'd gained an (admittedly amateurish) appreciation thanks to UF's McGuire center, and it turns out the husband donated a lot of his specimens to the museum there and has willed the rest of his collection to UF. They'd also spent some time in Oklahoma, and ordered me not to tell them about the BCS game since they'd taped it and wanted to watch it when they got home. This discussion was not prefaced with questions about my interest in or knowledge about college football, because all loyal Gators know that such pesky things as an ocean, a sizable continent, and a painfully inadequate communications infrastructure wouldn't squelch our ability to follow our team. The Gator Nation is everywhere.

As for those beaches, a picture is worth a thousand words: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2711847&l=b2ad0&id=2001205.
In Ethiopia news, the short rains came early (being greeted by cold rain as I left the plane was NOT the best transition from Zanzibar), which is further wreaking havoc on the agriculture here. The new trainees have two weeks left until swearing in, then we officially get new neighbors. We're already planning a massive feast for the new arrivals to our little corner of Ethiopia - it's more of an excuse for us to binge, but we're marketing it as a welcome party.

Candace, Jason & Julie, Gil, Nick, and Kimberly, I got your mail - thanks!

23 January 2009

like somebody's shadow.

"Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to
believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too? - Douglas
Adams

There are aspects of life here to which I'll never adapt (that
independent streak just isn't going anywhere), but (not to stereotype
or anything) life in Africa does give you an appreciation of the
little things. Maybe something about seeing kids kick a ball of rags
around the street for hours on end (and never mind their ability to
run for hours on end at this altitude), but I've reached a point where
a particular email or letter can put me in the sort of good mood that
makes people steer clear of the mildly deranged-looking grin on my
face. And given the children here, that's precisely the mood I'm
aiming for - happy enough to not be affected by the staring. Knowing
that people back home remember that I'm here and actually enjoy
reading my rambling letters makes it so much easier to stick it out.
Moral of the story - I love and miss you all. And I'm probably going
to be uncharacteristically affectionate and painfully socially awkward
when I get home. I hope you'll still love me. I'll bake you cookies
to ease the transition.

I was meeting with Belihu, a biology teacher at Chilalo HS, about
improving the school's library, and while we were waiting for the
librarian to come back from lunch, he launched into a discussion of
how much he just loves praising Jesus and how much he admires the
faith of such brilliant American "men of God" like George Bush and
Billy Graham. Shockingly, I managed to just smile and nod.
Fortunately, he wasn't interested in what I thought, he just wanted to
extol their virtues.

We finished the water reservoir and have started planting at the
prison. Apparently, certain vegetables have to be sprouted in the
shade and then transplanted to their growing field. Learn something
new everyday. I was just excited to see tangible results of my
efforts.

My tortoise friend came back - I was afraid he'd died. I saw a kid
carrying a chicken in his arms the way you'd carry a pet (as opposed
to the "upside down by the feet" technique that's the norm here) and
it warmed my heart. Later, I saw a man beating a crying boy with a
stick and felt nothing. I guess I have adapted to some things.

Zanzibar was breathtaking - photos and update coming next weekend!

Caitlin, Mom, Will, Gordon, Cassie, Pedro, Leah, and Grandma, I got
your mail. Thanks!