Hi Everyone! How are you? Hopefully staying sane in this insane world! I am continuing to listen to VOA and BBC every day, and glad to hear the war is (maybe?) nearing an end. It has been interesting hearing the differences in American and British perspectives, although we are "united in the war effort". The British angle is definitely more analytical and objective, expressing more views from other nations as well as their own. Most Tanzanians don't think the war is justified, and they don't like Bush. They think he is using excessive force to accomplish a task that should have been left to the United Nations. We are not seen as a liberator, we are seen as a big bully and it's quite embarrassing to be an American right now.
At the village level, the war has had an impact on my ability to initiate projects, because the grant review process was stalled until the war ends. All first-year Environment/Agriculture volunteers were scheduled to go to Dar Es Salaam March 23-29 for meetings on how to fine tune our grants and implement projects. However, just prior to this, the war began and our meeting has been postponed until a date that is still unknown. Also, we were put on modified standfast, meaning we were not allowed to leave our regions. A week later we were put on full standfast, and not allowed to leave our villages except to buy supplies. This lasted for two weeks, and now we are back on modified standfast. When the war began, there were several Muslim protests held around the country, but nothing potentially violent or dangerous resulted from them, so the Ambassador and Peace Corps staff have relaxed a bit.
I have still been keeping busy - gardening, building a rainwater harvester, talking to people to prepare for projects, teaching English, reading a lot, and traveling. After we found out we weren't going to Dar and before we were on full standfast, a couple other volunteers and I traveled down to the town of Njombe to visit our volunteer friends there. We took a bus out to a village 3 hours east of Njombe, and I would have to say it was the scariest bus ride of my entire life! The road was muddy and the terrain was very mountainous. At one point, the bus was spinning tires trying to make it up a hill, and a guy jumped out to run along side the bus with a block of wood! I assume he was our emergency break system !?! Once we arrived at our destination however, the ride was well worth it. The landscape there was absolutely breath taking - steep lush and green mountains covered with tea, other crops, and forest, and surrounded by thick mist. On high points you could see out over several layers of mountains, probably for hundreds of miles out onto the plains. It was incredible!
Last week, I traveled to another beautiful area in my district, near the village of Ifwagi. Each of the 17 volunteers around Mafinga brought 3 students (one boy, two girls) to a Girls' Empowerment Conference. The students learned about women and children's rights, HIV/AIDS, rape, good nutrition, and also fun things like new songs, how to crochet, sew underwear, make corn-husk dolls, and play hacky sack and frisbee! I think the students had a great time, being away from home and their chores (especially the girls, who haul all the water, wash clothes, and help their mothers cook.) The volunteers also had a great time. We set up a tent city and made sure the local dukas (shops) made a profit this month by buying up all their beer!
This weekend, I had the options of climbing Mt. Kili or going on safari in Ruaha National Park, and was leaning towards the safari because it was not as expensive. But now I've decided to hold off on that as well (until ya'll come visit!), and save my money to go to South Africa in July to see my friend Lori, go to an International Film Festival on Zanzibar, also in July, and maybe go to Lake Victoria in June. I am having no problem enjoying life here!