Wednesday, August 8, 2012

I'm Hungry or Mostly Just Random Anecdotes

We have entered the month of Ramadhan, which means food during the day is scarce in the predominantly Muslim areas, but dinner invitations have sky rocketed! I am interested to see society decay as people starve themselves everyday for a month- my bet is that chaos will run rampant as the month nears its end and people have had enough of being hungry. Well, you know, more hungry than normal, in my undernourished village.
Personally, what Ramadhan means to me is a battle trying to educate pregnant women that they really shouldn't be starving themselves for a month- they are already undernourished and they should be increasing the amount of food they consume, not obliterating it! Its a rough argument, though, because its me, who they know is not Muslim, a white stranger, telling them to go against their religion and not make this sacrifice to the god they believe in. I may have science on my side, plus my very verbose mama, telling them their babies will come out underdeveloped or mentally deficient, but these women's lives are much more influenced by the religion they interact with daily than some science the white girl brought with her from America. I'm surprised at how frustrating I find it when women refuse to stop their fasts. Not that anyone would blatantly refuse, that isn't Tanzanian, but I hear a lot of “I'll eat tomorrow,” “I'll stop fasting tomorrow.” In Tanzanian culture, that means no. It shouldn't concern me so much- these women are used to not eating a whole lot, hopefully the effect on their babies will minimal, and I don't have to take care of whatever problems that baby comes out with it if there are considerable effects- but I find it so disturbing when women refuse to make a concession to their religion for the health of their babies. Maybe if I were more ardently religious, I would feel differently. I've tried using the argument that don't you think God would want you and your baby to be healthy rather than you make this sacrifice, but I doubt that hit home with anyone. Its not my place to interfere with another's religious choices, but it is my place to be educating people on making healthier choices, and when it comes to Ramadhan and pregnant and nursing mothers, this conflicts.
Other than my current struggles with Ramadhan, I want to share some little anecdotes and thoughts, that haven't really merited their own posts, but I really want to share. Scarcity is the mother of invention I have found in Tanzania. My mama was making nyama choma for me one night, which is basically BBQ minus the sauce, and I told her about shish kebabs. She wanted to try it, so she goes over to the roof of her chicken coop, where she stores random things, which is also hidden in the dark so I can't see what she's doing, and comes back with skewers which she proceeds to use to skewer and cook the meat. I am amazed that she has skewers, and my first thought is that she must have purchased them somewhere, in a nice set of 6 in a pretty plastic wrapper... Yeah, forgot I was Tanzania for a minute. I ask her where she procured her skewers, and she replies, “Umbrella.” She was using the spokes of an umbrella to roast her meat.
Another occasion of scarcity inspiring brilliant creativity took place before the rainy season ended. I had already realized that my water catchment system acted just like a faucet of running water, making it perfect for washing dishes. I had a few dishes collected that I had been putting off washing because washing dishes is the most evil house chore in existence, but really the thing that was bothering me was how nasty my hair was. Its not uncommon for me to feel like I need to wash my hands after touching my hair, but this time it had gotten to the point where I never wore my hair down, not even while sleeping, because it was so gross. My hair was so nasty, it made my skin itchy and uncomfortable. I stopped touching it because it was not just oily, but there was definitely dirt mixed in. Why had I allowed my hair to get so gross, one might ask. Washing hair in a bucket bath sucks is the answer. It doesn't actually make your hair any cleaner, and you have to hang over, bent in half, in order to get your head into the bucket, which causes all the blood to rush to your head, and if you have a cold, all the snot in your sinuses to readjust in an uncomfortable manner. So, one afternoon, it begins raining, and I rush out with my dish soap and dishes, but half way through rinsing off the one bowl I own, I realize that I could wash my hair. At first I hesitate- how weird would that look if someone walked by and saw me washing my hair in my water catchment system- but probably no one would walk by- nothing is worse to a Tanzanian than walking in the rain. So I run for my shampoo and proceed to wash my hair, standing outside of my house, in sweatpants, my head under a concentrated downpour of rain water. I have never felt cleaner while in my village.
Dancing is often considered a large part of African culture. It certainly is in Tanzania. Little girls come out of the womb being able to shake their asses. There is a teacher at my secondary school, Amina, who, although she may be a very conservative Muslim woman, shrouded in head covering and black gown, she can move! Its surprising, though, how diverse the styles of dance can be sometime. There is a club in Dodoma of which I have frequented many a time, where women come in surprisingly culturally inappropriate apparel- knees, shoulders, oh my!- and exhibit their skills on the dance floor. The favorite move by far, you may ask? The Electric Slide. Tanzanians will, no exaggeration, line dance for hours. It never seems to get old for them. Any music becomes line dancing music, once one person starts with the side step-ball-chain. If the dance floor wasn't full before, it will be when its line dancing time. So, my question is, is this a case of southern revival, or the Out of Africa Theory?

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