So this week Jill and I have been working hard to get things rolling for our work here with EdPowerment. We travelled to Arusha to meet with a mentor of one of the autistic children we work with. We had a meeting with the Kilimahewa community about water and opened water to the entire village with a ribbon cutting ceremony. We visited a special needs school and worked with an occupational therapist trying to discover what works in Tanzania with kids with Autism. We started an afterschool leadership group with the 50 kids of Kilimahewa and I got an eye infection and spent a day trying to find an eye doctor to get some help, which we found. All in all a good week.
For the weekend our great friend Mussa invited us to go to Dar Es Salaam to attend his neice’s wedding. Jill and I had never been to Dar so we accepted his invite and at 4am Sat. morning we jumped in the car to make the 10 hour drive to Dar Es Salaam. Dar Es Salaam is the business capital of Tanzania and the largest city in the country. There are 5 million people that live there and it is full of craziness. Everywhere you look there are people, cars, buses, carts, shops, markets, generators pumping out power, and the full swing of African life. We arrived around 2pm and made our way to visit some of Mussa’s family prior to going to the place we were staying. One thing about this wedding and these family visits that made it a bit different for us was that Mussa is Muslim and although he is not very religious his family is. We were not sure what to expect with this visit or the wedding but when we arrived at his brothers house the first day we were happy to find very friendly people who welcomed us into their homes and showed us the Tanzanian hospitality that we have come to love. We visited with the family for a while and then made our way to the place we were staying. Mussa had arranged for us to stay with his cousin in an area of Dar called Kariakoo. It is an area full of shops selling all types of clothes and electronics and his cousin Shomi lived at the top of a 6 story apartment in the middle of the craziness of this area. We were greeted and given a nice room to sleep in again with all the Tanzanian hospitality. Shomi made us dinners and breakfasts and was so great about making sure we had anything we needed. He was a great person to stay with and now a good friend.
My great day happened the second day we were in Dar. I wasn’t sure how this weekend would be for me as it was the weekend of my wedding anniversary and the first year of my divorce. Attending another wedding at the same time was not my idea of a distraction from my feelings about things but I was open minded and I had never been to a Muslim wedding in Tanzania so I was willing to see what happened. The day started out with Shomi making us breakfast and then Mussas brother meeting us and taking us in a taxi to the ferry that would take us across the bay to his sister’s house. On the way out of the house it started raining. Jillian and I were already not sure what we should wear to a Muslim wedding and had on some cotton dresses. We made it to the crazy ferry stop were amazed by the 1000 of people moving like cattle quickly to jump on the ferry even as it started moving from the shore. Once across the bay we exited the ferry and had to walk in torrential downpour to a car that was waiting for us. In the walk the rain was so hard we got soaked and all we could do was laugh. When we arrived at Mussa’s sisters house we were still soaked and needed some new clothes. Since we were already not sure what we were supposed to be wearing we thought this would be a good time to ask for clothes that might be appropriate for a religious Muslim wedding. Mussa’s sisters are all so kind and sweet that they were so happy to lend us some of their clothes and help us dress up for the wedding. In the end Jillian and I were draped in Muslim gowns and head wraps and looked like Mzungu (foreign) Muslims. Everyone was so happy to see us in the Muslim gear that it was a relief that we got soaked in the first place and finally had appropriate clothese. After wearing the traditional clothing people were much more at ease with our presence and happy to have us there. When Mussa came to see how we were doing he was shocked and surprised at what we were wearing and started laughing at us. It was a hilarious moment.
After getting dressed Mussa’s friend ChuChu explained to us how Muslim weddings work in Tanzania. She informed us that the men and woman stay separate throughout the entire time and that the bride stays in a room. She often wears green and has henna painted on her hands and feet. Everyone contributes money to the wedding to ensure there is enough food and that the bride and groom look good. The husband and some witnesses come with the Mosque leader and the woman’s father to ask if the woman approves of the marriage. When she says yes the men go back to the mosque and draw up the marriage documents with the father and the husband. After the documents are signed the people eat. After everyone has eaten the men come back and collect the bride and the husband and wife leave for the honeymoon. It was a bit strange to not be with the men and be separate but it was also a lot of fun. While the woman waited to hear back from the men they danced and sang and invited us to participate. We danced with the woman and everyone thought it was so funny to have us participating but they welcomed us with open arms. It was fun to experience something so different but be accepted without any hesitation. We were also able to sit and talk to some of the woman with the help of Mussa’s sister and ChuChu who translated and were happy to have been invited to participate.
After things were over Jillian and I changed back into our normal clothes and headed with Mussa to the beach. We got to the beach around sunset and walked up and down in the beautiful water of the Indian Ocean watching the sun change colors around us. We then went to one of the resorts that had a DJ and hung out for a while next to the ocean dancing. As the night wound down I realized that although the weekend made me sad thinking about my past that I could not have asked for better friends. Coming to Africa is a decision that I am so happy I made and living with Jillian and Mussa has shown me that true friends are always there to cheer you up and make the hard times you experience much better. Whether it was laughing at our Muslim wear, or dancing under the stars I am so happy to have people in my life that love me unconditionally and are willing to do what ever is needed to support me.
Siku Nzuri Sana (a Great Day!)
When I travel people often ask "what it is like?" When describing Cambodia many things come to mind. Tuktuks, fish massages (you put your feet into a tank full of fish and the fish eat off your dead skin), pajamas (everyone wears them here as normal clothes)," hey Laydee" shouted by locals, motorbikes, genocide, ancient ruins, temples, floating villages, and a large population working really hard to overcome a crazy awful history. Prior to coming to Cambodia I read the Lonely Planet guide book and one sentence stood out more than any other, "Although Cambodians have lived through Hell they have a sense of strength and optimism about their country that makes it a special place to travel."
Cambodia's modern history is like hearing about a horror movie. Due to some bad decisions by the Cambodian king in the 60's the country was bombed by Americans and Viet Cong took up residence in some of the boarder villages. This lead to many deaths and a lot of landmines and destruction by the Vietnamese boarder. The action of their king lead to outrage within the Cambodian people. (one amazing thing about Buddhist countries is that when bad things happen blame is not placed on others but instead is examined in terms of how did our actions lead to this- I have to admit that it is quite a change from "the blame others for your misfortune" attitude that I often encounter in the US). The outrage lead to an military coup which led to the leader Pol Pot taking over. During this time the Khmer Rouge under the direction of Pol Pot evacuated all the cities of Cambodia determined to create an ignorant society that would never be able to rise up against them. Everyone in the country was forced to work In the fields. All those that were educated where executed and often tortured. If you had glasses, were light skinned or had smooth hands you were often killed because they viewed you as intelligent. Families were forced to separate to survive and children were forced to work with little to no food to survive. If you did not die by the Khmer Rouge people died from disease or exhaustion. Those forced to perform execution or killing were often young villagers who were recruited and joined as a way to survive. After they worked as soldiers they were often killed because they knew to much. Not only did the Khmer Rouge kill and torture people they were ordered not to use bullets because they were told that the bullets were worth more than the people. As a result when the killed they often beat people with heavy objects and then buried them in mass graves alive. The Vietnamese invaded Cambodia in 1979 and took over control for a few years. During that time civil war erupted and the country did not gain stability until recently. The government decided that the members of the Khmer Rouge should be included into the government to prevent them from trying to overthrow once again and as a result no one here trusts the government. As a result of the horror of this history 50% of the population is under 18 years old, majority of the adults have vivid memories of the awful period of the Khmer Rouge, and the country had to completely start over so the economy is only just developing.
As horrific as that story is the people of Cambodia are a strong and persistent people. They know that they have to work hard to get what they want, they don't expect the government to do anything for them, and they take advantage of every opportunity given to them. What does this mean in real life- well the biggest business right now is tourism so everywhere you go you hear ladies asking you if you want a massage, men asking if you want a tuktuk or motorbike ride, children trying to sell you postcards, and restaurants pushing menus at you as you walk down the street. Many markets have stall owners offering you special prices if you buy more than one thing and many hotels offer things like free wifi and beg you to come stay. If people are not involved in tourism they are often farmers or fisherman trying to sell their goods in local markets. Once you leave the tourist part of the cities you often find woman selling eels, fish, crayfish, meet, chicken legs and vegetables and fruits. The most common thing you see on the streets is the motorbikes full of people. Entire families fit on one motorbike and often huge amounts of goods are transported on the motorbikes. To navigate a basic street crossing among the thousands of motorbikes that drive any way the want is often like playing a giant game of frogger. It might seem a bit overwhelming at times but after knowing the awful history it is nice to feel the life in the country pumping through every encounter.
The people of Cambodia know their awful history well and every adult has their horror stories. From our guide PK who said , "it is so awful I cannot tell you- during that time people ate people" to one of the survivors of the s-21 prison who painted pictures of the Khmer leaders to survive while watching his friends get tortured in front of him it was all awful. But through these people you also see huge smiles, a pride in their ancient history and a sense of excitement on what Cambodia will look like in 10 years from now. It is an amazing place to see the way humans can overcome Hell and find ways to bounce back.
And what did I do here- well I spent one night on a remote village with an amazingly sweet family that shared their stories with us late into the night. I explored the capital city of Phnom Pehn seeing the genocide museum and killing fields as well as learning about many of the nonprofits working in the area. I went to see the amazing ruins of the Angkor empire and the amazing temples of Angkor Wat. I saw the floating villages that exist on SouthEast Asias largest freshwater lake and watched how people live In floating structures and participate everyday common life routines but above water. I watched my friend PK purchase food from the market bargaining with the woman and then spent an amazing night at his house BBQing in a small pot with his beautiful family. I navigated large Asian markets, watched monks trying to practice their English, had a lesson on how to cross the crazy streets of motorbikes and mastered that skill independently. I had a great time.
So as I write this I am waiting for a taxi to take me to the airport where I am going to fly from Cambodia to Thailand to Ethiopia to Tanzania. This is the end of my wandering and the start of my year of EdPowerment work in Tanzania. I am excited to see my friends and am so happy to have been able to go on this journey. Someone asked me, "well what have you learned from this journey?" my answer....
Throughout this last 11 weeks I have met people from all walks of life. People who suffered major trama in a devastating earthquake, some amazing families so full of love, really wise little children, people who suffer extreme poverty, people who love adventure and the thrill of riding the scary waves of the ocean and those that have suffered from landline explosions. I have met children selling postcards to survive and those who have been "trying to find themselves" by traveling the world. I made friends with a 90lb amazing female surfer, a man who completed an ironman with no training, a teacher who wanted a challenge and was trying to walk and bike his way around Laos, a veterinarian who photographed every animal we saw to study later and Cambodian who taught me that when you cry you cry alone but when you laugh the world laughs with you. All in all it has been great and I have learned that what makes us who we are is not the things we have or the goals we set. What makes us who we are is the challenges we have encountered and how we have fought and struggled to overcome those things that we thought were to difficult to deal with.
All in all a great time. Next post will be from Tanzania. I hope all is well at home. Please send me some emails, comments, or messages to keep me up to date on what is going on. Thinking of you all! :)
Pictures will be coming soon! (: