Friday, February 19, 2010


There are incidents in life that I simply call “moments.”  No three adjectives suffice to describe the moments.  They are indeed memorable, but not to the extent of life-changing.  They are not grand events, such as a wedding or a dental accident.  They provoke some thought, but are perhaps more sentimental than stimulating. 

The first of these moments happened during the homestay period. Mr. Mawazo is my co-worker, which means that I got to bug him a lot during the homestay period.  He also taught me two hours of Swahili every other day, only because the KOICA office obliged us to get tutors while we homestay.  Mr. Mawazo is a math teacher, thus not a very good Swahili instructor.  So during the first half of the class, he taught me some basic words, and during the second half, we walked around the school and I asked him a bunch of questions about how the school works.  One day, both of us somewhat fatigued with the lesson, he took me outside the school to show me around the area.  We walked a bit until we reached the main road.  Then he offered to give me a ride on his bicycle.  I first refused, thinking “this is a bit strange.  This won’t ever happen in the US/Korea.”  But he insisted and my Swahili sucked enough to refuse him.  So I hopped on, and felt strangely good.  I was having a bit of trouble adjusting to the bucket showers and the pit latrine, but as I was on the back of Mr. Mawazo’s bicycle, I thought maybe life in Mtwara won’t be so bad at all.

The second moment happened today.  In mid-morning, the school has a tea break.  I spent the whole morning watching BBC news on the school television, and I was getting sick of watching the same news twice.  I left to get some breeze as the third news cycle was about to being.  Then, Mr. Prosper (what a name! And Mawazo means ideas.  I should have a post on Tanzanian names sometime soon) invited me to his place of tea.  This meant that there’ll be some food as well.  I always feel a bit nervous when a Tanzanian tries to be too close, but I felt it would not do me much harm.  Mr. Prosper is a soft-speaking man, and he doesn’t speak much in English as well.  Naturally, there were some awkward breaks in the conversation.  I kept reminding myself that it’s awkward only because I think is awkward, and so talked about the Chelsea calendar he had in his room.  Soon, he introduced me to his wife with so much pride, as he is a newlywed.  He showed me the photo album of their wedding, and provided me with some tea and food.  Fortunately, once the food was over, he thought we should go back to the school, and I was relieved.  Yet, I felt a mild pleasure of being invited by a colleague so soon, and thought again that life here won’t be so bad at all.

Except, now the electricity is out, and tap water has been sparse for the past two days.


I’ve finally arrived in Mtwara, my home for the next two years.  However, for the next two months, I’ll have to live in a guest house, again.  I’m staying at Mtwara Lutheran Center, which in very plain words of the Lonely Planet:

Another good budget choice, with reasonable no-frills rooms with nets and meals with advance notice.  The rooms vary so check a few, and try to book in advance, as it’s often full.  It’s on the Southern edge of town, just off the main roundabout along the road heading to Mikindani.  Arriving by bus, ask the driver to drop you at the roundabout (which we did!).

It took a long time to get here.  I started the military training back in August, which is the beginning of my 30 month volunteer / military service, which means that it took me six months just to arrive at my work place.  I haven’t had a place to call home since May, and I won’t be moving in until late March, so that’s also a long time without a home either.

Nowadays, I’m going to school, greeting my coworkers and the headmistress, observing some classes, but overall I’m not doing much at all.  Expect similar degrees of low excitement for the next few weeks!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


The training group went to Zanzibar for a two day trip.  Zanzibar is the name of my friend Naerae's student's cat.  It's also a nice island.


View from the small ass plane


On the third floor of a very modest museum


Daehee checking out Stonetown


Jino and me


Jino and Sunguang

With Namho and Sunguang.  Namho is a volunteer working in Zanzibar, and was helpful in organizing the trip.  And we did not buy those hats.

International School of Tanganyika

I went to an international school, and I know that these schools are in most cases extremely wealthy.  I took advantage of this fact, and asked the International School of Tanganyika.  The school was generous enough to lend me three mathematics and four chemistry textbooks.  Thank you IST.

Jae’s Dad

I forgot to share this magnificent story that happened during the two week long homestay period.

Jae, my colleague, will be working at a Secondary School in Moshi.  He applied to be a volunteer because of his dad.  His dad works for KT, a major telecommunications company, and is working in Rwanda, setting up some wireless infrastructure.  While in Rwanda, he met some volunteers who are servicing instead of the military, and recommended Jae to apply.  He naturally chose Tanzania for its proximity to Rwanda.

Moshi and Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, is not that close at all (824 KM, on East African roads).   Here's a map:

Well, this map sucks.

But during the homestay period, Jaes dad and his driver came all the way over Moshi by car.  It took them a day and a half to arrive.  The father and son met for an hour only, because the father had work the next day, in another country.  He brought 4 boxes of instant noodles, 30 cans of tuna, 1 medium sized plastic container of kimchi, and 1 terabyte of computer entertainment.  The two shared two instant noodles together, and then he left.

Jae’s eyes were a bit teary when he told me this story, and now most KOICA volunteers in Tanzania know it too.  By far the best story here so far.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


A key component of living as a foreigner in a poor country is being conned.  Many local people think that foreigners have an endless stack of cash in their wallets, just ready to spill over.  We, as foreigners, are personal stimulus packages.  Naturally, we are prime targets of conmen, and it’s terribly annoying.

Most conmen are not very good liars, which sucks for them as lying is an essential skill for them to do their jobs well.  If you keep talking to them, they make mistakes, saying the truth instead of a lie, or something ridiculously illogical.  They also get nervous, and show a wide range of emotions.  They might be show anger and pleasantry in the same conversation.  They try to be personally close to you, saying words like “friend,” or shaking your hand a bit more firmly than normal.  Just one small doubt is enough to reveal their intentions.

Last Saturday, two locals ended up escorting us to a reggae performance.  One introduced himself as a musician, and the other as a friend.  We ended up in a real performance at the French Cultural Center, and I was surprised that they brought us to a legitimate location.  We met some other KOICA volunteers there, and had a good night.  When the performance was over, the two conmen called two taxis for us, and said each one would cost 15,000 TSH.  We knew this to be bullshit, so we argued there for about ten minutes with all features from the above paragraph happening.  A volunteer friend who we met in the concert helped us by calling a taxi that would only cost 6,000 TSH.  When we told this to the two conmen, they accused my friend to be drunk, that I was disrespecting the friendship.  They eventually lowered the price to 10,000, and the taxi drivers even offered to go for 6,000 TSH (so no commission for the conmen).  Emotions were heated, and I felt that the two conmen were not going to let us go easily.  So I told them to wait outside while I would go talk to my friend in the building.  Of course, by then, my friend had already left, and we took the back door to get on the 6,000 TSH taxi he called.