June 30, 2013
It’s quite remarkable how much a day can go from good to bad and vice versa, so quickly. Fortunately for me, it was the latter. I woke up at 6 AM after hardly getting a wink of sleep, as I was to leave with my homestay sister Lina for church at 7 AM. Groggy, I struggled to get out of bed, though amazingly, I was greeted by a two egg omelet filled with tomatoes, onions, and lettuce – my homestay mom is a gem. We went to church (Roman Catholic) down the street and saying it was painful was an understatement. I felt like a petulant child…I could even relate to the crying, whaling babies, except that I had no mother to carry me outside (I wish). Helen originally told me that church usually lasts around an hour and a half, which seemed reasonable. This mass clocked in at a whopping 3 hours. All in Swahili. You would think that because I grew up going to Catholic school that it wouldn’t matter what language mass is in, but alas – false. Apparently a baptism occurred during mass, which I couldn’t even tell. The priest gave a sermon that was more than an hour long and every time I thought the ceremony was coming to a close, something else happened. I learned over to Lina and whispered, “what are they doing now?” “Oh it’s just second offering.” …Excuse me? As the whole church lines again to give more money. This is post-Eucharist, mind you, so I swore I saw the end in sight. And don’t get me wrong. The whole event wasn’t intolerable; in fact, the music was incredible. We clapped and they sang joyously in Swahili, almost gospel choir-esque, and the women dressed in brightly colored skirts and matching head wraps were beautiful. But the duration and language barrier really got me down. You can only sit for so long and day dreams can only pass so much time. I later learned that this is a new priest at church and his first mass; typical. Let’s just say that I don’t think I will be going to church again any time soon!
Following mass, we stopped at the tailor’s and my konga skirt was ready with the matching bag. I thought it turned out exquisitely and the tailoring job was only 10,000 tsh ($6 USD). Shocking. And the day already began to look up.
However, who would have expected though that the highlight of my weekend would have been a four-year-old’s birthday party? Not me. Paddy, one of my contacts at an Arusha-based NGO, invited me to his son’s birthday party. To be honest, I originally thought he was a middle-aged Tanzanian woman via email; turns out Paddy is short for Patrick and he is a British ex-pat (whoops!). I think my opinion of ex-pat arties has changed since I last wrote, as this one was so utterly enjoyable. I ate beef kabobs with onions and peppers. This was high quality juicy steak, not the fatty and bone-filled cuts I’ve been used to over the last two weeks). They served pasta salad, fruit salad, chicken wings, and CAKE!!! Yes…CAKE! They don’t serve dessert in my homestay, so the cake (three pieces later, ha) made my life. I even had a Fanta and a beer…for free! Wahooo; it was blissful and the company was even better. Despite the throngs of energetic children running around, crying, hitting each other etc., (the bounce house was broken for the first hour of the party), I enjoyed mingling. I ignored that I was again sort of an awkward age – there were of course four and five year olds and then people in their 30s and 40s, but I gladly made the best of it. It was an intimate party with no more than 10 or so adults, about half ex-pats and half Tanzanians, so a much more balanced crowd. I met an Australian woman who is married to a Maasai man and through her NGO, they’ve been training Maasai women on permaculture practices – SO COOL! Although the Maasai are traditionally pastoralists who move with their cattle, the herds have suffered due to climate change and recent severe drought. In addition, there was a man from Ethiopia, another Australian, a few more Tanzanians, and a couple: a Taiwanese woman and a Belgian man. And I couldn’t believe it, but she used to live in Easthampton. I was shocked. Apparently she participated in a high school exchange program in New Mexico before making her way to the East Coast for undergrad at BU. After getting a job in sales and marketing, she slowly found herself moving west from Cambridge, to Newton, to Shrewsbury and eventually to Easthampton. I almost peed myself with excitement and disbelief. We bonded over knowing similar landmarks (Smith College, Tasty Top etc.) and to think that we met in Arusha, Tanzania…the world is a small place!