The Lucky Ones

I’ve been thinking about Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article for quite a while now. Slaughter makes the excellent point that we as women in America should not forget that we are blessed– we get to make the choice to have a professional life, to have a family life. It is this point that has stuck out to me more than anything these last few days here in Tanzania.

A few days ago I encountered a young Maasai girl—not more than six years old—lying in the grass at her father’s feet, her eyelids shut and flies filling her mouth with blackness that obscured the white. Her father was sitting calmly in front of his hut at the forefront of the boma (village), whittling away at a small piece of wood. We couldn’t take it, and he wouldn’t listen.

“When will you take her to the hospital?”
-“Yesterday.”

Clearly time was an illusory concept.

And then, the father’s follow-up.“She is not sick, she is mentally ill.”

The conclusion needn’t have been voiced to hit us full force in the face like the heat of the dry plains near Lake Manyara, Tanzania. It deadened the air around it and sat their lordly and despicable–there she would remain.

Out of place though we might have been and deadly scared though we certainly were, we persisted. But inquiries addressed to the mother led to deference to the father, for whom the life of an unhealthy daughter seemed to be of little consequence.

Now, my purpose here is not to render trivial the hopes that many American women have that they will fulfill their desires for personal and professional success without undue impediment on the basis of their sex—but rather to put it in perspective.

Although the kind of deference I saw a young mother show to the males around her conjures up images of decades long gone and fought over in the United States, the lack of support that I saw among a network of strong, capable Maasai women is part of an ever present reality that persists today. Time after time, we greeted the women of the boma individually, and each one led us to a group of decision-making men. The deference was so ingrained that it had become absolute–the terrible thing was that I knew that I didn’t have to be in a Maasai boma in Tanzania to see it.

So yes, in many ways we are the lucky ones. We won the “birth lottery” as so many before me have concluded. So then, it seems to me that we have an obligation to use what we have been given and support each other–as women who believe in the strength and capability of the women around us. It also means that we have a responsibility to spread that belief to the bomas and the townships and the villages where women were not so blessed in the circumstances of their birth.

We were born with luck in our hands. What will you do with yours?

Makers.

For Ishani and I making ‘it’ happen is tough. We have so many dreams, so many goals, so many simple to-do’s. But time… it passes by so fast. And some days it really is hard to know where exactly we’re headed or even what exactly we’re doing. Sometimes, we just need a little inspiration.

Enter makers. This AWESOME video initiative showcases the work, the struggles, and the stories of the incredible women who make America. From Hillary Clinton to Sheryl Sandberg to Barbara Walters, they’re all there. But what we loved even more were the videos and stories of the everyday groundbreakers– people like Katharine Wolf (she was a teaching fellow in one of our classes this year!) and Zainab Salbi— who really are making the world a better place. THEY inspire us.

If you need a pick-me-up, a little tap on the shoulder telling you to keep doing what you do, or just a little push, check out what these women have to say. Trust us, these women really are makers.

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“I want to tell any young girl out there who is a geek in high school… I was a really serious geek in high school. It works out.” – Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook

“You always think that you’re an imposter… As women we tend to try to be humble and put ourselves down in hope that someone recognizes all our strengths. But the reality is you have to recognize your strengths and tell people your strengths and be proud of them and just do what you do well.” – Katharine Wolf, President and CEO of Organ Jet

“The 19th century was about ending slavery and the 20th century was about ending totalitarianism; the 21st century is about ending the pervasive discrimination and degradation of women and fulfilling their full rights.” – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Waiting for Connection

When my fellow interns and I walked into the Association of Private Health Facilities in Tanzania (APHFTA) training session we were leading for local doctors in the seaport city of Tanga, I felt assured that I knew what I was doing. After all, we had already worked with many different clinics in other parts of the country, helping them use technology to more easily and efficiently keep records and communicate with their patients. As I walked in, I opened up one of the small, black netbooks we were using for training and sat next to an elderly doctor with a slightly furrowed forehead and a perpetual smile bouncing on his lips. I could see him observing me intently as I plugged in the Airtel internet modem into the USB drive and prayed that four little bars would pop up in the bottom right hand corner of the screen.

I prayed for a long time.

Ah, only in Tanzania. “Slow connection?” the doctor said, looking at me knowingly. Luckily, Dr. Mberesero wasn’t the type to get frustrated, and to him, our waiting time for one connection just presented an opportunity for a different one. “So, why do you want to study medicine?” he asked, with that distinctive Tanzanian accent that I have come to love.

That was the beginning of the longest, and most meaningful waiting conversation I have ever had—a small blue circle pivoting furiously on our blue screen all the while. No matter, one lack of connection had led to the ability to make another.

In the U.S., I have learned to accept the long expanses of time spent waiting on a doctor and hoping that he will be able to spare a few minutes of his time to answer my questions. I’ll watch the minutes tick away as I become well acquainted with the hospital waiting room because Dr. So-and-So has too many patients to tend to and will be out in just a minute so that his student intern can introduce herself. In America, waiting is an endless menace that tantalizes you with the promise that it will all be worth it on the other side.

In Tanzania, you don’t wait on someone or for someone—you wait with them.

Many people, myself included, do not truly know about Africa. Worse, many are too impatient to experience it for themselves before making a judgment. The Tanzanian doctors and nurses who walk into our training everyday have given me the gift of getting to know at least one part of this incredibly diverse continent. They –with all their years of medical education behind them—also have an unparalleled patience and a willingness to learn from me—,just an 18 year old Sri Lankan-American girl who sits with them while the small blue circle spins furiously. Thinking about it now, I realize what a lovely little circle it is. A furious, impatient, connection-granting circle. It too is hopelessly oblivious to an understanding that the Tanzanians have had all along and have so graciously shared with me in my time here—there is no such thing as waiting for connection, just the thrill of waiting with it.

From Tanzania to Argentina: Hakuna Matata!

poa kichizi kama ndizi: it’s SAFARI time! 

Ok, so that may not translate exactly right, but nevertheless, I feel like it’s an appropriate phrase. Tanzanians have a special emphasis on the importance of greetings, and whilst walking down the street, you will inevitably hear many a “Mambo!” or “Hujambo!” expecting a response in return. “Poa” is the standard, informal response that also conveys that you have a little cultural know-how in you. Yes, we are not full mzungus (foreigners) any more.

And “poa kichizi kama ndizi” is the more advanced version of the response (which I am mustering up the courage to try) and it means more or less “cool like banana.” :)

Used or not, I feel like this phrase accurately sums up my feelings as I get ready to leave Arusha and head off on our our safari to Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater, and Tarangire parks in just a few hours! We’ve packed, bought supplies, and watched “The Lion King” in preparation.

I will be offline for a few days as I meander through some of Tanzania’s most famed parks and witness the wildlife unlike I’ve ever seen it before.

As I wave goodbye, I’ll leave you with a few lyrics for inspiration :)

Hakuna Matata! What a wonderful phrase

Hakuna Matata! Ain’t no passing craze

It means no worries for the rest of your days

It’s our problem-free philosophy

Hakuna Matata! 

– Ishani

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the simple things.

So often when we visit someplace new, there is an urge, a need to see everything. From museums to landmarks, famous restaurants to hotels, we scurry about trying to maximize the time we have.

But this weekend wasn’t about maximizing anything. No elaborate visits, no museum-going, no plans. This weekend was filled with visits to playgrounds and panaderias, gardens and little fruit stands along the river. I got up, drank a really good cup of coffee, left my apartment building and just started walking… with no destination.

This weekend I saw Argentina– the kids, the parents, the friendly baker at the panaderia. I listened to music on the street, ate ice cream at the port, took a train ride along the coast, and got hopelessly lost trying to find my way home. Oh, and I visited the playground. The swings specifically. And it all just made me so happy.

“Get caught in the race

Of this crazy life

Trying to be everything can make you lose your mind

I just wanna go back in time

To American (insert: Argentine :) honey”

– Lady Antebellum, “American Honey”

I agree with Ishani– Hakuna Matata! Here’s to this week! xo Inesha

P.S. Here’s some more pics from the weekend!






These days.

Little Vicky told me to tell y’all: “HOLA!” :)

Yesterday, I got to play ‘doctor’ with THIS cute 4 year old. Goodness I forgot how fun that game is. At least now I know what I put my poor parents, sisters, and probably any poor bystanders through. I officially apologize if I put a stethoscope to your face, jabbed a plastic spoon down your mouth, or tried to give you a plastic injection. I promise it was with good reason: I am officially never going to be a doctor (so you probably helped save some lives down the line- ha!) Although I must say, the doctor I had yesterday was mighty cute and gave me so many kisses and hugs… she could have cured anything ;) Have a good weekend!

P.s. See below for some more pics from my week here in Buenos Aires!

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An Update from Tanzania!

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While Inesha is off enjoying the sights and sounds of Buenos Aires (miss you big sis!), I have almost reached the halfway point in my 2 month adventure in Tanzania. And what a trip it has been! First, a brief bit about what exactly I am doing here for the many who have asked :)

This summer I am serving as a Harvard Global Health Institute intern, placed locally with the Association of Private Health Facilities in Tanzania (APHFTA), an organization which serves to unite the medical facilities which offer private care in and around Tanzania. As an intern, I have been helping to deploy mMaisha (Maisha means “life” in Swahili)—a program that is in its pilot phase here in Tanzania. If all goes as planned, it will greatly improve the quality of care offered at medical facilities because it will make it easier for doctors to communicate with patients via mobile technologies as well as make medical records electronic and, therefore, more accessible.

Traveling from Dar to Moshi to Arusha to Tanga has been an absolute joy, because with it has come the opportunity to see an incredible amount of the Tanzanian countryside and interact with medical professionals and townspeople in every place we visit. As a student with an avid interest in Anthropology (especially Medical Anthropology),  I have really been enjoying the opportunity.

When my fellow interns and I aren’t helping with trainings in the use of the program or traveling around the country to visit different clinics and interview the doctors and nurses working there, we are embarking on our own study—one of the culture and community in this amazingly vibrant place :)

A few highlights—

  1. Trekking to Ndoro waterfalls. A beautiful place, a peaceful day.
  2. These doctors and nurses. Its amazing to see the pure excitement and joy in the expressions of our dedicated doctors and nurses when they realize the power that lies in their fingertips—power that they realize can truly make a difference as they approach the keyboard of their computers. Some have never seen a computer in their lives, let alone tried to use one. Thinking about those moments, I am incredibly touched and humbled by my opportunity to teach them something, considering all that they are teaching me.
  3. Meeting Deodata. What an incredibly strong, powerful woman. She is our very own “Tanzanian Mama,” and is truly an inspiration. She commands respect without ever having to ask for it and provides us with invaluable guidance as we navigate the terrain of Tanzania and our lives.
  4. Galanos Sulfur Springs & Amboni Caves. I love nature. And I absolutely love being surrounded by it and experiencing it in the way that it was intended to be experienced. But ah, how rare that is in the 21st century! I must say that our tour of Amboni caves in Tanga was the most natural cave experience I have ever had—no bright lights, roped in areas, or gift shops—it was just what it was intended to be—a beautifully dark and natural cave, with sloping walls that shone with the light from our flashlights bouncing across them.
  5. Church on Sunday. I have been Buddhist all my life, but when I read in my Lonely Planet Guide that there was a Sunday mass at the local Catholic Church in Moshi on Sunday morning, I consulted the team, and we decided to go. After all, why not? And what a cultural experience it was—complete with the typical Tanzanian lack of punctuality and beautiful “chagga” singing… we also soon realized that we had inadvertently sat in the children’s section of the pews and were happily swimming fishes in a sea of bright, curious faces.
  6. Swahili. Still learning!  :)

And that’s it for now! We will be off on Safari in just a few days and then on to Lindi!

Until then, kwaheri! 

Ishani :)

#strugglebus

I’m probably not alone when I say my morning does not begin until I have my coffee. So today at the office (more about my summer internship with Ashoka later!) when I struggled—and I mean STRUGGLED—to make my coffee, I pretty much sort of almost died. No joke.

First it was the milk. I thought there was none but after asking (something I always recommend!) I was given a sealed carton of milk. How exactly do you unseal a sealed carton of milk? Common sense and Spanish failed me again and again. Feeling incredibly stupid but not wanting to waste more time, I finally just gave up and summoned the courage to ask (read: bother) my supervisor again… “Um, so how do you open this?” I think she thought it was quite amusing. Imagine a full grown 18 year old asking: “So, how do you open this milk carton?” Of course. You just need scissors, you big dumbie!

Contrary to what you may think, I am not sharing this rather embarrassing incident with you because I need to demonstrate again my LOVE for coffee or my complete ineptitude in making it or even because I enjoy making fun of myself. Rather, I think this morning’s events encapsulate rather well the real reason I love traveling and exploring new places. You see, making coffee is something I do every day. I’m not a pro but of the limited edible things I can make for myself, coffee is one of them. But in this new context with Spanish ringing around me, stubborn milk cartons, and spoons that come in all different shapes and sizes, even something as simple as making my coffee is different… and, as much as I hate to admit it, challenging. But in a good way. Doing all the same things I do at home in a different context—and often in a different way—make me appreciate more and more the simple things I love about home, the simple things I can find for myself wherever I go. I mean, really, I probably will never love American milk cartons—lids and all—as much as I do right now ;) But seriously, these new experiences—however small—allow me to find my new footing in a place that is still very much new and different to me. And just going through these motions day by day assure me that I will very soon find my way here. I am outside of my comfort zone, but that doesn’t mean I can’t find the things here that make me comfortable. For now though, I think we can all just be grateful that this internship doesn’t have me making coffee for anyone but myself :)  Happy Tuesday!