Twisted Steel and Sex Appeal

October 26, 2011 § 2 Comments

When I first arrived at site I was a motivated, starry eyed boy with a certain ambition for self improvement.  That quickly fell by the wayside; long staring sessions – at the sunsets, the monstrous boulders in the distance, my impeccably spackled concrete walls – fill up a good part of my unoccupied time. As my closest confidantes know, I am well versed in the practices of ideation, list making, and general life planning – I’ve notebooks chalk full of enthusiastic sentiments and goals of achieving great, manly prowess and skill.  Of course, lists are great, but, in the past, I was only ever held accountable to myself by my caressing, somewhat vanity ridden ego.  This has not done me wonders.  I came to Africa not only to help others, but also in some half wrought effort to fast track progress and growth – a notion which, in retrospect, seems entirely quixotic.  But what I lack in resources I more than make up for in free time and a wily ability to adapt, MacGyver style.  Although I’ve never been the best task master, I do hope that providing a public record of my pursuits will, somehow, galvanize a burst in willpower and hard work which has been somewhat lacking in my self-improvement exploits.

That photo (up yonder) was taken during a community theater workshop at which I learned the basics of a number of African dances.  Note: White boy has no rhythm.  The waifish, constipated looking and man diapered rogue to the right would be me, decked out in what I can only assume was our African instructor’s inside joke.  The point of this is that, for most of my life I’ve been rather pencil-like – an ectomorph, mantisy hominid.  I’ve striven, in spurts, to physical feats, but always fallen off the proverbial wagon.  I think it may be a case of extraordinarily limited willpower which has quailed me; as I recently read, willpower is a finite resource, and mine is often taken up in the morning with the vital choice of a v-neck sweater or a dashing cardigan.  I believe, truly and honestly, that the development of the body is vital to the comfort of the mind – a workout regimen reduces stress, raises confidence, all that jazz.  It would also be a wonderful idea to fall back on in times of strife; that is, “I’ve followed through, regularly, with a strenuous regimen for so many months or years.  I can’t be all that terribly lazy!”  Plus, there’s the whole increasing appeal to the opposite sex thing as well (I can’t imagine how mortified my mother already is at reading this).

So, like Herakles I’ll set off on my trials, and hopefully erupt from my Peter Parker nerd state to post radioactive spider bite Odyssian power. As to what I will be actually doing?  Well, this is an interesting question, for in a Tanzanian village the seemingly mundane becomes, well, difficult to conceive.    Without weights, I’ll be trying out the couch to 5k program, a somewhat embarrassing excursion in running and walking for the all but stagnant.  I suppose I can’t knock it until I try it though, and in order to run with the wolves (or hyenas), I guess I’ll need to saunter with my bovine neighbors first.  I’m also taking on a course of body weight calisthenics, because, well, equipment is scarce here.  I’ve constructed a pull up bar (note to potential peace corps volunteers: paracord is awesome!), and hopefully this will be all I need for now.

So this is the beginning of a sort of off shoot of my experiences in country, along with my many other exploits in self improvement.  The simple things, village chic, and expect a bit of a site overhaul to accommodate.  Say goodbye to the skinny lad, for I will be throwing myself towards the inevitable one armed pushup, pullup, handstand pushup, and the pistol squat.  Cyborg strength, in time, that is.  Look forward to more silliness, with pictures, logs, and programs, to come.

Also, for posterity, here’s an image of us looking rather kick ass, if I do say so myself, to kind of offset our other picture.

Each Trip, an Expedition

October 20, 2011 § 1 Comment


Traveling in Tanzania is, well, not like traveling stateside.  When I lived in the States any car trip in excess of two hours signaled a certain repulsion in the subconscious centers of my brain; not so much a repugnance, but more an overwhelming distain for such an epic journey.  What would I do during such a trip, and what would entertain my reeling mind?  How would my brain not melt from the sluggish progression of a slowly irradiating suburban New Jersey past my window? Indeed, how would I sustain my bodily functions?

My time in Tanzania has all but quelled that sentiment, replacing it with an attitude in which I hardly blink an eye at a many houred, and many adventured, excursion.  Yes, each trip in Tanzania is an expedition, and perhaps this anecdote of my travels from last weekend will provide a fine testimonial to the rabbit hole which one enters upon stepping through that magical bus door.

This past weekend I decided to, somewhat impulsively, hitch my rucksack and head to meet a number of other fine volunteers in the capital of Tanzania, Dodoma.  Now, since the road was paved about a year ago, this trip has the potential to be a fine, three hour sightseeing tour of local rock formations, desolate but beautiful scrub planes, and finely constructed brick and mud huts.  Of course, the trip is occasionally punctuated with a truck stop full of sprinting and seemingly crazed vendors, but otherwise, the oft unfulfilled potential is there.

I began my trip in my village, pondering what to do with the bulk of my still drying underwear (the sun was not particularly forthcoming that day), when I decided to hang the unmentionables on any open surface in my house and book it to my local bus stop.  Now, I’m rather privileged to have nigh constant flow of cars, trucks, and buses through my village.  Unfortunately, the rate varies extraordinarily, from three buses crowding our little market center at once to perhaps 0.1 automobiles per hour.  It turns out noon is a terrible time to catch a car, and don’t even try on Friday.    The car I ended up taking pulled up after about an hour of waiting, and I stupidly bought a ticket in a misguided effort to reserve a spot.  The driver needed to walk into the village for some misadventure though, and in the time I waited for our departure a few other cars and vans blew by in a whirlwind of dust and exhaust.  We ended up leaving about thirty minutes after my endorphins kicked in at my car’s arrival, and bumped and kicked the 20 km to town over another hour or so.  This is the norm.

When I arrived in town I was informed that all the buses to Dodoma were full – engorged and unwilling to take me to my delicious food and fine company.  So I hoofed it to the road, in the hopes of using my winning smile and dashing good looks to coax a lift from someone.  This turned out to be tremendously fruitless, but I did jump in a paid van to Manyoni (about halfway to Dodoma) where I was promised I’d be able to catch a ride to the capital. I sat in the front of our thundering tin box, right between the driver’s and passenger’s seat on a piece of foam which rested on what I would swear was a small dagger aimed directly at my right buttock.  It was tremendously uncomfortable, but probably less so than for the nine adults and two children jammed into what I can only guess was a six person cab.

I arrived in Manyoni and, luckily, caught a van after waiting two and a half hours for further driver misadventures.  We stopped by a local graduation to pack in, seemingly, the entire ceremony, and I was gifted with a small child to hold on my lap for the rest of the journey.  Now, this was not all that bad, although I certainly prayed that the girl was potty trained (others have had worse luck), and it was rather cute when she almost immediately passed out in my lap, only to wake up and cry for her mother as she found herself in the clutches of a strange white humanzee.  Her little head also had a tendency to nuzzle my face which served to exfoliate my freshly shorn cheeks to a nice, new car shine.  Anyways, our van stopped about every one hundred meters or so to offload or take on new passengers, and by the time night hit we were hitting speed bumps with the vigor of a monster truck at the local drag strip.  It was awesome, and my many dreadlocked driver seemed to revel in his extraordinary disdain for the safety of his passengers.

I reached the urban sprawl of Dodoma around 8:30pm, ready to down a beer and a massive amount of other victuals.  That was about a nine hour journey, in total, for maybe 240 km traveled.  Indeed, the trips here are little adventures in themselves, less trolls and goblins but certainly with their share of obstacles and oddities and perhaps even giant beasts.  And that is the norm, of which I will provide other, and most definitely shorter, anecdotes.  Just take this away from my brief story: if you are traveling in Africa, be patient.  You will get to where you want to go, but you will almost never get there as quickly as you think.  Every bus driver and conductor will tell you that you are leaving, “just now” and “just now” really translates to, “sometime today.”  Just go with the flow, be cool like the Fonze, and bring a damn good book, and an iPod, to pass the time.  Oh, and sometimes, the scenery outside the window makes it all worth it – this is Africa, after all.

Just one last note: when I was in the States I noticed a proclivity among Americans, particularly in the Northeast, to become extraordinarily impatient with delays of any sort.  Interestingly, I found myself often swept up into the mob agitation, and although I have gained some perspective here on the important of chillin’ and grillin’, I have to wonder how quickly that propensity will escape me once I return to that mad world for good.  As always, we shall see.

If I name my dog Argos, does that make me, like, a 21st century Odysseus?

October 12, 2011 § 1 Comment

What’s it going to be then, eh? I suppose that, since this is my inaugural posting, an introduction is in order: my name is Mike, I am a 20-something year old Peace Corps volunteer serving in the semi-arid heart of Tanzania, and … I idolize Han Solo?  This here is my second year in country, on this adventure 10,000 miles across the globe, and I just decided, upon returning from a little respite in the States, that I need to catalogue some of the things that I’m doing.  You see, there seems to be some interest in what this life is like – my life! – and I feel terrible for not keeping up better correspondence.  So, I thought that I would document and ruminate on my experiences in an open forum for anyone who cares to read this fluff; provide some pictures, soothe my soul, open myself up to public criticism and humiliation, that sort of thing.  Since I’m a year in I may reminisce every once and a while, and do expect pondering and other such nonsense.  Also, expect video game references, nerdom, and a bit of self-effacing with a dash of pomp.

I’m also going to keep this blog as a sort of task master – my digital mistress who will keep me on track as I attempt a course in self improvement, for I am a fine dreamer, filled with aspirations and quite able in the art of fantastic ideation.  For example, one of my dreams since entering college has been to develop a bionic arm, not unlike Luke Skywalker’s. No joke.  (Actually, Dean Kamen, the guy who invented the Segway, is already well on his way towards impulse controlled limbs. Nice job, Segway guy).  I also love cryptozoology.  If you don’t know what that is, look it up. Or don’t, because, good lord, I fear I’ve already scared off half of any would be readers away.

Anyways, back on track.  What I am no good at is action, and I sincerely hope that the prospect of public humiliation in the face of failing in a task will be enough of an impetus to keep me going.  I’ve got to overcome my activation energy, if you would, for I would like to emerge from among the Bedouin a man, of sorts. This little blog will, hopefully, spur me on through the slings and arrows of tremendous laziness.

So, look forward to tales of the green hills of Africa and to the thoughts of a young man-child, stuck in the flux of this emerging adulthood, staring at a sea of possibilities.  Look forward to a slightly humiliating and personal account of my life, and feel free to bolster or criticize as needed.  Oh, and above all, thanks for reading this far, for if anything, Peace Corps is an excellent emotional amplifier, and I can see that this last diddy did tend towards the dramatic.

Until next time.

  • Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed on this website are strictly my own and do not reflect those of Peace Corps, the U.S. government, the Tanzanian government or anyone else.
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