Tuesday, December 29, 2009


In such age of “inter-digitation,” I wonder how appropriate it is for this entry. But mostly because of the Tomzanian’s low-key status, it shall exist as it is.

Brian is a young cook who works in a small restaurant in front of our hostel building. He was, in fact, one of the first stranger to greet us, and we’ve exchanged a number of small talk. Easy going and talkative, he looks like he’s in the early 20s, but acts a lot like a teenager.

Yet, three moments of suspicion:

In the first two encounters, he repeated said “I like you.” Nice, indeed, but too nice too early?

Last Saturday we ate at the restaurant he works in. He gave our group Tsh 2000 less in change. Definitely easy math. Simple mistake, or rightful suspicion?

Yesterday, he said he was going home because he was diagnosed with malaria. He also said that he was going home to his family, and won’t be back until next week. Would our sympathy turn into material gains for him? Oh, he was around Msimbazi today.

It is indeed an interesting encounter. My suspicion remains. I’ve had my personal skepticism damage friendships before, so I know it could be problematic, and be entirely my fault. Guilt definitely tags along with suspicion. I do have an innate desire to believe in people, but another to be doubtful. This is a story to be continued.

December 24, 2009

Current Location: Msimbazi Center

Msimbazi Center is my home for the next eight weeks, minus the middle two that I will be spending in Mtwara. Lonely Planet Tanzania, under the “Sleeping – Budget,” says the following about Msimbazi:

Msimbazi Centre Hostel (022-28 3508, 022-286 3204; Kawawa Rd; s/d/tw Tsh 10,000/20,000/50,000)
Tiny, stuffy rooms with fan and mosquito net, breezier twins with two rooms sharing bathroom facilities, and an inexpensive canteen. It’s noisy, especially on weekends, but otherwise reasonable value. Take the Buguruni dalla-dalla from the Old Posta transport stand (Tsh 4000 by taxi) and ask to be dropped off here.

Lonely Planet is indeed correct in noting that it’s stuffy and noisy. The noise comes from both the late night parties and passionate church services that somehow coexist in the same compound. It’s extremely stuffy, making me wonder how much a dehumidifier would cost, rather than an A/C.

In Msimbazi, we undergo Kiswahili lesson as well as miscellaneous sessions on TZ culture, KOICA rules, etc. It’s mostly uneventful, much like this entry. Lets just call this a status update.

Monday, December 21, 2009


Anxiety is the word of the day.
It started (perhaps it started in my mind weeks ago) with the slight shortness of breadth in the ride out of Julius Nyerere Airport.  The fatigue from two flights and the dusty road made concerned over an appointment at the ENT I had a couple of days ago.  Was this going to be a problem for the next two years?  I had a sudden urge to grab my medicine that was inside my bag.  But the medicine isnt an instant cure, nor provides the temporary relief like a painkiller.  So I put some thought to this whole issue, and tried to relax myself from the anxiety.

Another moment of anxiety.  I was taking a crap, and the new roll of toilet paper is of course a problem.  I began to peel off the first layer of a new roll, which is a moderate challenge in the developed world.  But here, I ended up ripping four layers.  Crap, what kind of toilet paper is this?  Slight anxiety.  Then I flush the toilet.  It wont flush.  My brown crap is still at the bottom of the toilet.  What do I do?  I try to fix it.  It wont work.  I call for help from a friend.  Doesnt work.  I try a different method of flushing.  It wont work.  I was too tired to be persistent with the matter, so Im in my bed right now, 11.22 pm, with my crap still in my toilet.  Ill probably feel a bit embarrassed getting help from one of the staff tomorrow morning.  A first impression would be fixing the toilet, with the crap still in it.  A bit of anxiety, but like any other ones, manageable.

My Microsoft Word spell check using the right click on the red underlines wont work. What the crap have I done to my computer? Anxiety, again. Pressing F7 runs the spell check just fine, but the added inconvenience is a source of anxie. I'll stop here.

 written on Dec. 18, first day of arrival.

In front of Msimbazi Center, our home for the next 2 months.

My more exciting half of the room.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Interesting Facts about Using a Colonial Era Dictionary No. 1

I use a colonial era Swahili-English dictionary that was published in 1903. That's when none of my living relatives were alive. And perhaps more interestingly, my dictionary is older than all 72 things younger than John Mccain, which include FM radio, minimum wage, polyester, and the ZIP code.

It's age has given it so much value that it's actually available in seven different covers, but with the same 1903 print.

Cover version #4

Last month, a dear friend from the good ol' MN visited Korea, and I asked her to buy a Swahili-English dictionary for me, as such object does not exist in Korea. I trusted her sound judgment to buy me a decent dictionary that would work just fine. Buying a dictionary didn't seem to require too much professional expertise.

And now I have a 107 year old dictionary, probably made by an author who thought colored people were stupid and Queen Victoria was pretty damn hot for her work with the British Empire.

At first sight of the dictionary, I was quite shocked by its age, and briefly browsed the book until on page 2, I read the entry for the verb acha.

Whoa! "Let alone Europeans for strong government" appears in page 3! I wonder how many more politically incorrect examples would be used in the next 400+ pages!

It definately feels a bit odd to use a colonial era dictionary, potentially filled with examples as above, and I wish I had an English-Swahili dictionary too. But to be honest, this one already cost me $35, and it'll suit me well for the first couple of months (I have a Swahili-English dictionary software in my laptop to help as well). I promise I won't get brainwashed by the colonial writing.

For those of you eager to share my experience, the dictionary is available online.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Myths about Tanzania No. 1

Due to the public's lack of knowledge on Tanzania, there are several myths about the country and its culture. This is the first of the series: Myths about Tanzania.

I was talking to my volunteer friend who was recently sent to Vietnam, the following is my conversation with her:

Ji Young: Jung Yul~ There's still a lot of time left before you leave right? kk
Ji Young: Preparing to leave for Tanzania?

Tommy Kim: I have lots of time.
Tommy Kim: I'm not doing any preparations now.
Tommy Kim: Just about to... buy some pants

Ji Young: You don't need to buy pants. Kk. People in Tanzania go around bottomless.

Tommy Kim: ....

People in Tanzania wear pants!!!

Here's the dialogue in its original language:

 김지영: 정열~ 넌 아직도 출국하려면 많이 남았지?ㅋㅋ
 김지영: 출국 준비는 잘 하고 있는거야?

 Tommy Kim: 열라 많이 남았어
 Tommy Kim: 준비.. 안하고 있어
 Tommy Kim: 이제 막.... 바지좀 살라고

 김지영: 바지는 안사도 돼.ㅋㅋ 탄자니아는 벗고 다닐거야.
 Tommy Kim: ....

Friday, November 6, 2009

Where and When

Whenever someone asked me

"so, when are you going to Tanzania?"or "where in Tanzania will you be?"

I felt a bit odd saying "I don't know." The conversation then approached a slight moment of awkwardness.

The person who asked me the question would then have a puzzled look with "what the hell" all over his face,which I would reply with a sigh and the expression "tell me about it."

Finally, I was given the answers to both questions. On the second to last day of domestic training, I was chilling in the lobby sofa with some folks, when the front door burst open with a gusto of wind, sweeping the fall leaves indoor. Then a shining gleam of light from where else, the sky! And slowly, but gently, a scroll made of lamb sheep came down, and landed by my foot. And it read:


크게 보기

Go to Mtwara, a small coastal town in the Southeastern corner of Tazania. There, you will find Sabasaba Day Secondary School, with a KOICA dude already teaching math and biology. You will take his place.


You will leave this holy land Korea at December 17th 2009. It's a bloody long time away from now, so occupy yourself by doing a lot of nothing.

And then with Pachabel's Canon in D playing softly in the radio, the scroll began to disintegrate into gold dust, and vanished as the song's volume faded away. I have been blessed by the grace of the government! Now I can finally answer the questions of where and when without any awkwardness. THANK YOU!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Domestic Training

I was browsing through some shared photos of domestic training, and I realized how little it was mentioned in Tomzanian. There are only two days left of training, and I do feel a bit regretful for clumping such an eventul month in one post. Please forgive the Tomzanian.

A large portion of training consists of dull lectures.  Topics include Korea's Vision to be an Advanced First Rate Country, the Proper Understanding of Korean Wave, and the Appropriate Volunteer Attitude. Eighty percent of the lectures are junk, which make the trainees respond as above during breaks.

And the Tanzanian group again! As government volunteers, we travel with diplomatic passports, so we had to go to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to retrieve them. This is what we do when we are on standby.

Here are the dumbshit dudes who are going to Ethiopia. Okay just kiddin. They're notorious for being big clowns, but also real good people. The guy on the far right is my roommate, who wants to be the agricultural minister of Korea. Notice their short hair? They also went to boot camp back in August.

One of the key aspects of training is being vaccinated. KOICA provides four vaccines for all volunteers: Hep A, seasonal flu, tetanus, and typhoid fever. Those who go to Africa will get the yellow fever vaccine as well. All for free. Thanks for the free stuff government!

This is the library volunteer group at the National Fire Service Academy. We went there for a day long lesson on various safety measures, including CPR. The library volunteer group is famous for being a clique.

The most important lecture of the program was conducted by Doctor Yoon, who himself was a volunteer in Papa New Guinea and Peru. He gave us some very useful information on diseases as well as general health guidelines. This was one of his last words of the lecture:

"Marrying a local would be the completion of your assimilation to your host country. That's of course a good thing. But, keep in mind that they may love your citizenship more than you."

For most of the time the trainees are stuck at the training center, banned from leaving the premises. One of the exception was a day long hiking trip to Worak Mountain. It was a well timed relief from the boring ass lectures.

So how are them Korean girls? Well, you can find them in Cambodia, Vietnam, Philippines, and Egypt.

Or how about the boys?

Jinho and our Swahili teacher Samson in class.

The Tanzania group with Samson. Swahili 3 hours a day, 5 days a week.

One of the final events was the visit from former US Peace Corps volunteers who were in Korea in the 60s and 70s. (more about them to follow)

Friday, October 30, 2009

And presenting the Tanzanian group

These are six young men, full of hormones, who are training together in Korea, will study Swahili together in Tanzania, and end their mandatory military service together as volunteers in Tanzania. Here's their brief bio:

From bottom center, clockwise:

Sungsoo - will teach science to secondary school students. SS for the past year taught music in an elementary school, even though his students were better piano players. As an avid photographer, will be the unofficial photo provider to Tomzanian. SS also slept two spots next to me in army training.

Daehee - will teach computer. DH is well known for his endless fatigue, carrying two dark bags below his eyes. DH is also known for his unpredictability, he ranked first in the first Swahili quiz, then ranked last in the exam. DH is also the oldest of the group, and has been with his girlfriend for the past 7 years.

Jinho - will teach physical education. JH is the clown of the group, always pulling off ridiculous jokes. JH currently leads the penalty points tally in the whole training group (85 or so). Numerically, he is very close to being expelled from training, but no one doubts his work ethic. Plus, training's almost over anyways. JH is also the leader of the Tanzanian group.

Jaesuk - will teach computer. JS is the youngest of the group. Hasn't really done anything particular to make himself stand out, so this space is blank.

Sungkwang - will teach computer. SK is a quiet stoic guy. Once, Samson, the Swahili teacher, asked whether he has had sex with his girlfriend. In the midst of the awkward/funny moment, SK just had a small smirk. SK's a funny kid, but not so generous with his humour. I'll have to earn it.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Heroic Narrative

Past Monday morning I was brewing coffee at the office and came across the following cartoon. It was in the KOICA newsletter, and it reminded me of the Heroic Narrative.

The cartoon is about a KOICA doctor curing meningitis in Niger. Even without the translations, the main idea of the cartoon seems to be obvious. The cartoon depicts the doctor as the main character, who is smart, professional, handsome, and most importantly, a hero that saves lives. At the same time, the Nigerien child is vulnerable, weak, desperate, and in need of Korean help. I don't mean to downplay some of the noble works that KOICA doctors do. But the cartoon seems to go too far in creating a hero.

This cartoon caught my attention as we here in the training center discuss what attitude we should have before we start our volunteer works in our respective countries. Many of us are eager and passionate about our future jobs, but we also know that we should be humble. We know that the field of work that we do (nursing, teaching, computer support to name a few) are not that spectacular. Very few of us have anything more than a Bachelor's degree, and some of us are in fact a couple of semesters away from graduation. A common advice from our predecessors is that it takes 6 months to get used to the area, 1 year to be fluent in the local language, and the last 1 year would be spent packing our bags home. In most cases, the volunteers are sent abroad for cultural exchange, and very little technical support. These somewhat harsh realities counterdict the heroic narrative in the cartoon, and I worry that this reflects the possible existence of a perception gap between the bureaucratic planners and the volunteers on what the volunteer job exactly entails.

Monday, October 19, 2009

nne vs. ine

Samson, my Swahili instructor, teaches me and five other folks Swahili for three hours in the morning.  And of course, us students are curious of life in Tanzania, and Samson joyfully enlightens us. Today, he gave us a small picture of Life in the West.

Kigoma is a city in Western Tanzania by Lake Tanganyika.  It's proximity with DR Congo, Burundi, and Rwanda has attracted a number of refugees from these countries.

 During the Burundi-Rwanda war, several refugees came to Kigoma. After the war was over, the Tanzanian government wanted to send these people back to their countries. Of course, many of these people refused and remained in Kigoma. In Tanzania, many people do not have IDs, so it was difficult to distinguish the natives from the visitors. So this is what the government did to send back the refugees. The government first called the population to gather the at the city center, and one by one, asked them to count numbers from one to ten in Swahili, without telling them why.

"Moja, mbili, tatu, nne, tano, ..., kumi."

According to Samson, people from Burundi and Rwanda pronounce nne (number four) as ine. So all the people who said, "moja, mbili, tatu, ine, tano, ..." were deported.

The twist is that there are two major tribes in the Kigoma area, and one of those tribes pronounce nne as ine as well. So there were Tanzanians in Rwanda, as unintentional refugees.

Of course, this is just what Samson told the class so I cannot verify the validity. But interesting stuff nonetheless.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Army Training

The first month of my 30 month commitment was the army training.  Thinking about my 4 weeks in boot camp, I have mixed feelings.  Some of my time there was good, some obviously bad.  Around the third week of training, I was at my lowest point, and wrote a letter to my college friends that really expressed that well.  I wrote the letter by hand, and emailed it to them once I came out. Instead of trying to summarize or write something about my 4 weeks, I think the letter shows a decent slice of my experience with army training.

Dear Friends,

It has been 3 long weeks in the Korea Army Training Center, and recently I've been thinking about what I would tell you once I get out of here.  But life here has been quite meaningless and I am now jaded.  I feel like my mind will forget my thought I have now as a defense mechanism, so I write this to you now.  Today is Sep. 3, exactly 21 days since I came here.

As you all know, I am part of the public service training center (now that I think about it, I never told this to you).  Trainees in my regiment only have to train for 4 weeks, instead of 5, and will work in various public service institutions, such as district offices, public parks, subway stations, etc.  Overall training, therefore, is less intense.  I am no more buffer than I was in May.

Life here is extremely frustrating.  It is not exactly like Macalester, if you know what I mean.  From 6am-10pm, there is severe control from above.  eating, sleeping, training, clothing; imaginge your everday life, and how it would be in the military.  I've been voted as a squadron leader, so I've been a bit more intense with life here.  There aren't much perks with the position, except for 1 or 2 extra phone calls.  I have no contact with the outside world except from 1 or 2 phone calls to my brother so far, and a couple of letter correspondence with him.

I detest this institution, military.  The lack of freedom is picking on every nerve I have.  There are some kids I can't stand here.  I've had many bitter banters with them.

On the positive, I've made some friends who are quite enjoyable.  I've become accustomed to the shitty barrack, which was built over 30 years ago.

(I wrote about a funny anecdote that happened but I feel that it is too gross to share at the public sphere.)

I wish I could share more with you now but to be honest, I am already forgetting what has happened here.  I have no will to think deeply into my memory, but feel free to ask me any specific questions, as I would be glad to satiate your curiosities.  I just do not have any desire to think deep into my life here.

I long to get out of here, and the next one week will feel extremely long.  I am not happy here, but life goes on.  I will be better by the time you read this (and I AM!).  I hope the best of you, and look forward to seeing you again.



Of course life in the training center wasn't that bad all the time.  I've met some really decent people and really felt good helping a kid with slight mental disabilities.  But to give a punch line, I'm glad I'm not doing this shit for 2 years.

 For bonus, a picture of the 28th Regiment 3rd Battalion 10th Company of the 437th Training Session.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009


After years of advertising that I will be joining the military, I'm not.  I had a series of denial, anger, and frustration regarding my inevitable fate tied to my citizenship; until I psychologically settled down. As my graduation date came closer, I was braced for the imminent future.  I began to mentally prepare myself, thinking of what I would achieve in the 22 months of service.  And after passing the Army Translator Exam, I found out there was an opening for a math teaching position at KOICA, the Korean equivalent of Peace Corps that allows overseas volunteer jobs to substitute military service.  What an exit strategy!  As much as it is a way out of the dreadful military, it was also what I've always wanted to do.  Studying IR and a notable amount of international development, I wanted the "field experience."  And then, I had the chance to be a part of ODA, technical assistance, and of course, the target of aid skeptics.

The application process was long and dreadful.  It required a written application, knowledge tests, and an interview.  The knowledge tests were by far the hardest.  I had to write an essay in Korean, which I haven't done since middle school, and take an exam in Mathematical Education Theory.  Other than this exam, I've never taken a 20 question multiple choice exam that I had to guess every single answer.

Fortunately, I got the job.  I'll be teaching at a secondary school in somewhere in Tanzania.  I currently do not know the details of the job.  It's a 30 month commitment that started on August 13th with a month long basic army training (more about that later).  Currently, I'm on standby before job training starts in one week.  I won't be going to Tanzania until mid November, and won't start teaching until next January, yet, I'm already excited.

So, this blog is about my non-military service.  It's a way to show my family and friends about my new life a ta new home.  But it' also a place where I share my thoughts on ODA, technical assistance, aid skeptics, Tanzania, travels, the meaning of education, living somewhere really hot, the 2010 World Cup, frustration with government agencies (which I've already experienced so much), and of course, all the unpredictables.