Saturday, February 20, 2010

The soup of the day is bread

There are many days where I find myself unable to pull together a real meal for Tim and I before 8 pm, so getting one together by the time Eleanor needs dinner is usually out of the question. Occasionally I've been able to pull leftovers from the fridge (i.e. Kelley's rice and lentil soup), but more often than not her meal consists of something newly mashed (parsnips), or newly cooked (butternut squash), or newly peeled (bananas and apples).

Most recently, however, she's discovered bread. While it's no Weaver St. or Gugelupf, Chocolate Temptations makes a decent "whole meal" bread, to which Eleanor has taken quite a liking. I don't even mind the cleanup.


Friday, February 19, 2010


I should have every birthday in my dad's annual birthday flowers only cost $3.50.
- kjd

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Vulcan Mind Meld

We haven't decided if we should call the Dog Whisperer or some trekkies.



Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A feather in his cap

I thought it was about time to end the suspense: Tim is not lying sick in bed, moaning with pain, delirious from fever. He is alive and well. In fact, he has been up and at 'em for the past couple of days and, despite Eleanor's consistent 2 am wake up, fairly well rested.

Our thanks go out to all of you who commented, emailed, or called to express your concern for Tim (and me).  Tim has offered to get malaria every five weeks for the rest of the year if it means that Eleanor and I never have to experience it. How's that for selfless? Although, I do think there's a little sense of pride about this recent illness as well; Tim's adviser even assured him that this qualified him as a "proper field geographer." What started as a pain in his ass seems to have turned into a real feather in his cap.

Monday, February 8, 2010

A bag of doritos

Tim has malaria (well, by the time of this posting Tim had malaria). I wish this was a joke or our way of kidding about being stalled on his research, but it's not. It's the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth- so help me.

After a couple of bouts of watery diarrhea, an episode of watery vomit, and a steadily increasing temperature we took him to the local clinic where he was diagnosed, in just 15 minutes. The doctor started him on an IV drip of quinine and other fluids and told us that he would not be going home that night.

While Tim rested I took Eleanor home to feed and bathe and put to bed before returning to the clinic. When I walked into our apartment, I promptly burst into tears and called my mom- because that's what you do when you don't know what else to do. The really scary part for me was not the fact that I had left Tim lying in a clinic room with a single bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling, no screens on the windows, no bug net over the bed, and nurses and doctors that did not wear gloves, or the fact that his temperature was steadily increasing, or the fact that I couldn't be with him that night. The really scary part was that he had malaria. And if he could get it then so could Eleanor. I shudder.

I knew those plasmodium had little chance, however, when he called asking for some essentials to get him through the night: a book and headlamp, earplugs, plain rice and bananas, and a bag of doritos.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Savoring the moment

There are many things that demand our attention on a regular basis, many of these things we've written about before: chasing a rat around the kitchen, chasing away the smell of a dead rat in the wall, ants, traffic, pollution, language barriers, loneliness.

But there are so many beautiful parts to ours days here too, and when we are reminded to slow down and witness them, we find ourselves just savoring the moment.



Thursday, February 4, 2010

ashley - i am having fun, dammit!

i'll tell you - the time out at our camp is one of the single most authentic nature/culture experiences i have had on any of my trips. the setting is right out of out of africa... just bush, and animals, and huts, and the full moon, and us sitting around the fire plucking the strings of my travel guitar - slurping masala tea and talking about polygamy.
the markets are crazy - especially the slaughtering and meat roasting part of town.  the din of maasai language builds as you approach an area where 6 for 7 fires smolder and smoke staked carcasses that encircle them. in  one corner be-robed men scoop digested grass from stomachs and intestines... a dull green mulch which they sling back to the earth.  the wide eyes of severed goats' heads at my arm as I lean on the table seem to study me as we negotiate the price for a medium sized hind leg of goat ($5).  The smell is notable, but not as strong as you may imagine.  There isn't a tourist around for a hundred miles, but giraffe and zebra surround us just outside of  town.  I hop back in the driver's seat and we're off to the next thing... finding a cold glass bottle of coke (nearly as scarce as tourists, it turns out).


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Pole sana

This week I laced up my running shoes for the first time since arriving in Arusha. It had been weeks since my last run, which I did in Maine just after Christmas, in the near dark and 20 degree temps at (roughly) sea level.  I had no idea what I was in for.

By contrast, Arusha stands at roughly 4,593 feet above sea level. In late January the temperature reaches a high of 84 degrees, usually by early morning. From our house the run, for the most part, is up hill. And people here (around our house specifically, and I think on the whole generally) don't run- at least not for the fun of it.

I didn't even mind the stares and mumbled (in amazement?) responses that I received for my "habari za asubuhi?" morning greetings. A small group of school children, books in hand, each slapped me high-fives as I passed shouting "Mzungu" and "How are you?" in their staccato English pronunciation. Just as I was rounding the last corner, climbing the hill to our house, however, a woman (nearly as round as she was tall) stepped from her gated home. Our eyes met and she looked at me with pity. "Pole sana", she said as I jogged by. All I could do was laugh (pole sana is used to express regret or sorrow at another's burden).

My run lasted only a half an hour, but it felt great to feel so totally out of shape.
- kjd

Out in Africa

Last week Eleanor, Tim, his two research assistants, Isiah and Gabrielle and I headed out of Arusha to The Siminjero Plains- Tim's field site. Situated roughly three hours west of the city, accessible by dirt tracks leading from the tarmac out into Africa, is the boma (a circular enclosure of thorny tree branches) which we will call home when we're in the bush. This was my (and Eleanor's) first time to the Maasai villages which will be the subject of Tim's dissertation research and the experience can I put this?...spectacularly and indescribably complex and fascinating and awe-inspiring and challenging. 

So much so, in fact, that it has taken me a week and five or six failed attempts at starting this post to put the experience into words. I continue to puzzle over why this is so difficult, especially when I take stock of the experience. In between the short and long rains, as we are now, the plains are spectacularly full of life, both plant and animal. Covered in lush green grass and wildflowers, the plains were roamed by families of giraffe, gazelle, the occasional wildebeest and hartebeest, and hundreds of species of birds. Each morning, from the entrance of the boma, we watched herds of zebra graze and fell sleep to a chorus of superb starlings and the sounds of zebra keeping their nightly watch for lions (they sound a little bit like donkeys).

The people were equally as beautiful. Each day we were visited by no less than half a dozen villagers. Some would come to deliver our daily supply of milk, others would come just to talk, or see the white mtoto (child). Eleanor, and her things, were a real fascination to them, especially her light-colored fine hair and her children's books. I will never forget the image of two grown Maasai men reading her Baby Touch and Feel Animals book, marveling at the dog's furry chest, and the bumpy legs of the starfish.

In the moment, however, I was faced with the reality of having a child (and all that comes from being in a car all day, or in a place where she can't simply crawl around at will). My days were spent making sure that she was content if not happy, safe (in the car- where she quickly tired of the car seat-, outside- away from the sun- and at camp where the tall grass prevented crawling and hindered walking), fed, engaged...and not eating something she shouldn't be. I often felt too distracted to give the experiences we were having their full attention. To really appreciate what we were seeing, hearing, touching, and experiencing.  To be fully present in the moment.

But hindsight is 20/20, and when I look back on the experience I am honored to have been given the opportunity to become so intimately familiar with Tim's field sites, to know the challenges he faces when conducting his field work, to see him in action-- taking charge each day to make use of the time he had, the dry and passable roads, his assistants' expertise. I think this, more than anything, is why I have struggled to describe the experience. It feels, at times, like Tim's ability to successfully complete his research depends, at least in part, on my loving the experience of being at camp. After all, that is why we're all here.

In the end, though, I know that whatever feelings about camp that I have will ebb and flow. And I know that this is normal and expected-- and that is immensely comforting. I look forward to my next time out in Africa.

 Eleanor, first morning.

 Tim's research vehicle, and zebra.

 Just a fraction of the migrating white stork we saw.

 Eleanor with one of her many admirers.

Tim collecting firewood- signature sunglasses and all.

 A typical village house.

 The cool kid on the block, check out the 'do.

 Eleanor's Maasai necklace, a gift from a local mama.

Cooking dinner, a goat's leg.

They were pretending to ignore us.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

january honestly

What to say about Africa?  Besides that, what is there to say about my family and myself and our adjustment to this place?  And also, what can be said about the progress towards my own work here – my research?  These questions present themselves each day to me and serve to confuse, rather than clarify my sense of order about our time here. These uncertainties, among other things, have delayed this first dispatch from Tanzania.  I had wanted to write earlier – and more often, but in the absence of those, I will strive for honesty.

The sum of my experience thus far is that it has been trying.

At moments I am filled with pride and manliness and a sense that my own character is one of confidence and courage.  Drawing from previous experiences overseas, I am mostly at ease with many of the obvious differences that Africa and Tanzania present and I have moved quickly to new endeavors.   As an example, I am now reasonably capable of handling a large safari vehicle.  A Land Cruiser with wheels that stand above the knee and spares that are chained to the back.  I drive comfortably now in the city and the bush – each of which caused me considerable anxiety only weeks ago.   The diesel engine makes a thunderous noise in the low gears, and I relish the power in my hands – especially in the bush where dried-out, bouldered river beds and steep, gullied slopes would prove insurmountable to lesser vehicles. With dark glasses on and a machete under the back seat, I am satisfied by the image of myself behind the wheel.

At other moments I feel lost and helpless – in need of direction.  I have already met with several NGO people here and their knowledge of the local scene far outstrips my own.  For years now, I have slowly built up a store of knowledge about the human/environment issues that characterize northern Tanzania – and foolishly I have begun to think of myself as an expert.  Instead, now I feel like a cartoon of myself.  “Fear not, Tanzanians, for I am a PhD Student!  And I am here, just arrived in your land, to answer some important questions that I can see you need answering.  The darkness shall reign no longer!”  Each time I sit down with someone I feel like they’re spoon feeding me information – wiping the corners of my mouth.

This has weighed on me especially as I consider the relevance of this year – of this opportunity.  This is it!  I have a fist full of cash and one shot at this.  But I feel short on strategy, and as I read through a recent dissertation from my field site coming out of Oxford, my sense of inadequacy grows as does my pensive accounting of time and other resources.

I am an industry here.  I mean I’ve never had an employee and now I have like six - with two families that are entirely dependent on me for their incomes.   I also employ a cook, guard, and milk maids when we are in the field.  But this is fairly typical here.  In Arusha, our landlords provide a cleaning lady that details our apartment for several hours a day, 6 days a week.  She is paid about $75.00/month and our place is less than half of her duties in the building. Everywhere labor is cheaply available.  All expats have servants, often several:   guards, cooks, drivers, and housegirls - as they’re called.   And the quickness with which this cheap labor is taken for granted by those who can afford it is astounding and tremendously unnerving.  But we love it, and we tell ourselves that we’re providing jobs.  Tragically, this is only one of countless dynamics here that brings people together by separating them.  These thoughts challenge me daily.

And Kiyah and Eleanor are at once very close and somewhat distant to me.  My days have been appropriated by reading, and reimbursement memos, purchasing supplies, scanning and computer glitches, more reading and emails and lunches, and endless trips to the ATM as the cash pours out of my account.  Kiyah has had to make striking changes in her daily life to accommodate my schedule and she has done so admirably – and I am very grateful to her.  She looks after Eleanor all day long, nearly each day – as I have been busy even on the weekends.  This is an exhaustive job, especially with no vehicle of her own, or friends really to visit.  To address these and related issues, we’ve begun looking into renting or buying another car – and Eleanor will be gaining a nanny in only two weeks time… Mama Lucy – so that Kiyah can get back to her own research.  The trials of parenting under these new conditions have made the full scope of our lives here more obscure – more difficult to bring into focus.   Eleanor… my goodness, Eleanor.  What a beam of sunshine she is though.  When I take the time to really be with her, she is so comforting.  I could write pages about her.  I pray this will always be the case.

It is a peculiar and perhaps selfish thing that we should be so consumed with the wildness of the world around us even as our own daughter is changing so fast – late already, it would seem, for tomorrow.  To see her and know her could require all of our attention.

And yet for all the anxieties about fieldwork, and parenting, and the servant class, and rats in the kitchen (yes – 2 so far – and we are currently enjoying the smell of a dead one in the walls) – real concerns which the mind is not foolish to consider, there is so much that we have been inspired by as well.  Each day we enjoy the comfort and solitude of Mt. Meru – our volcano – which looks down on us in our living room and back yard encouraging us to stop and observe and be contented.  Our home is spacious with wide windows in each room for watching the passing weather and birds and is equipped with a comfortable bed that I am reluctant to leave each morning.  We have met people here, wonderful people with young children and compelling stories of their lives in Tanzania.  And the fruit has been extraordinary – especially the plums and the mangoes.

Most recently, we made a trip out to my field site in Simanjiro district – the area that my work examines.  This is about 3.5 hours from  home - 3 hours from tarmac.  There we stay in an abandoned cattle enclosure which we rent from a local leader who is battered with age but rich with wives and cattle.  There is no electricity or running water and only a meter wide barrier of thorny branches and vines separates us from the lions and zebra that call through the night.  In the evenings we build a fire and generally rake out coals to heat part of our dinner.  We sleep in tents and are awakened each morning to scores of birds and brilliant orange sunrises.  Maasai women or irls bring milk daily for our chai – an especially popular form of tea with masala spice and sugar which serves as the centerpiece of our morning and evening rituals.  It is peaceful out there – and the air is brilliant.

This time of the year, after the short rains, the plains are green and spotted with animals.  We saw heaps of zebra and giraffe each day, often right from our camp.  It was special to see Kiyah’s eyes shine in these moments.  Herds of impala, gazelle, and eland were also about – vervet monkeys, ostrich, hartebeest, mongoose and dozens and dozens of species of birds – hundreds I’m sure.  One day, on our way to a weekly market in a neighboring village we happened across hundreds, perhaps thousands, of migrating white storks.  They spiraled on the thermals in giant columns that rose high into the sky, the peaks of Kilimanjaro and Meru prominent in the distance.

And so I conclude with the greatest stereo-type of Africa (one that my own work will challenge) which is that that fullness and peace and communion in Africa are found in its wildlife – and this is why we come.  Truly, I have seen it in other places, human places, places where natural rhythms resound.

This trip was our first as a family and my first in over 3 years.  The expectations were high as we were trying to get a sense of how comfortable Kiyah and Eleanor would be in this setting. In each village we visited, Eleanor was a celebrity.  Men and women alike would simply take her out of our hands and shuttle her around.  She was cool with this… curious and relaxed – but not particularly disposed to grand smiling and hand waving.  But they loved her – as did my assistants who regularly entertained her when mom or I needed a break - or a moment to look around - to take it in.