Rainforest in Murangu

It gets drier somewhere in the middle

The coastline at Bagamoyo

When I told people I was going to Tanzania this summer, at least half of them remarked, “Wow, it’ll be hot.”  Really?!?!?!  Hotter than a Georgia summer?

While most places near the Equator are hot and jungle-y, east Africa tends to be much cooler and drier.  The plate tectonics that made the Great Rift Valley, the great lakes of east Africa, and Mt. Kilimanjaro have left Kenya and Tanzania high and dry (but not a desert, generally).  The high elevation in parts of these countries make the temperature nice and mild.  Mountains to the west also block the west African monsoons, leaving a drier, less humid climate compared to west Africa or South America.  Plus, June and July tend to be the cool season for most places in Tanzania.

Yes, I went to the Equator to escape the Georgia summer heat.

Topography dictates climate here.  There are rainforests in the highlands, arid regions in the central plateau, and hot, humid coastal regions.  By itself, Mt. Kilimanjaro has 5 major biomes as you climb up:  rainforest, heath, moorland, alpine desert, and the glaciated (for now, anyway) summit.

As we drove from Moshi to Dar es Salaam, the landscape changed quickly along the way.  Lush trees gave way to cactus-like Euphorbia and then again to coconut palms.

The socioeconomic status of the people changed, too.  Part of this change is politics, but a lot of it is the difference in biomes.  The mountain regions have lots of rain and good soil, so the population is much wealthier than that of the drier regions in the middle.  Even though delicious fruits come out of some of these dry places, much of it goes to waste because it either can’t be transported before it spoils (solar dryer!) or there’s no market transport them to (open up, world).  On the coast there are fishermen and lots of international trade (formerly ivory, gold, and slaves–a tale to be told in another post).

It’s not the Sahara, folks.  Tanzania is a country of biodiversity and cultural diversity.  Even in Zanzibar, I’ll be sitting more coolly than I would in Athens, GA.  Drinking coconut juice.

Statistics from the World Health Organization

The thirtieth anniversary of the first reported case of AIDS was on Sunday. As local reporters reflected on the history of AIDS in America, I remembered the fear and uncertainty of the cause, the stigma associated with AIDS as a “gay” disease, and the discrimination faced by Ryan White, a boy only two years older than myself. But there was a deafening silence in many of these reports. They focused only on the United States and failed to acknowledge the present state of HIV infection as a pandemic.

Ukimwi (AIDS) has decimated sub-Saharan African populations.  People in their 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s are being wiped out, leaving orphans to be cared for by elderly grandparents and leaving economies with holes where the most productive demographic should be.  Thesis after thesis could be written about the spread of HIV in East Africa.  I’d like to make only three points.

  • Most of the people infected with HIV in East Africa are women.  It is easier to transmit the virus from man to woman than from woman to man.  Whether her partner is her husband, a boyfriend, or someone imposing himself on her, it is very difficult for an African woman to ask him to wear a condom.  There is also a large number of children living with HIV who have contracted the virus from their mothers.  Looking at the graph, you can see that in America, most of the cases are men, but heterosexual infections are on the rise.
  • While the total number of HIV infections among these four countries appears to the same, keep in mind that the total population of the United States is about 10 times that of each of these East African countries.  HIV infection rates in the U.S. are about 0.4%.  In East Africa, they range from 2.7 – 4.2%.  If you consider only the adult population, then the infection rates are closer to 7%.  Botswana in Southern Africa has rates as high as 24.8%.
  • The number of people living with HIV is relatively steady.  With prevention, fewer people are becoming infected.  With health care and antiretroviral drugs, people can live longer, more productive lives.  HIV doesn’t have to be a death sentence.

For more information, go to UNAIDS or the World Health Organization.

The bounty from Athens knitters and crocheters!

As a part of GPA Tanzania, we will be interacting with local schools, including an orphanage in Moshi.  Dr. Moshi (yes, I think the names are connected) gave me a challenge–teach some of the orphans to crochet.

I have taught very few newbies to crochet.  My dear friend asked me to teach her once, so I bought her a book and a hook and offered to help once she taught herself the basics.  She has since made a lovely baby blanket.  The tiny little newbie details are difficult for me to convey.  How do I hold a hook?  How do I hold the yarn?  Where the heck does this thing go?

But I firmly believe in the power of crochet.  It is an outlet for creative energy as well as the nervous fidgety energy some of us have when sitting still for too long.  It enables people to clothe their family and furnish their homes with their own creations.  It can provide a source of income.  I am inspired by the work Krochet Kids has done in Uganda–I don’t aspire to create a self-supporting women’s group selling items internationally, but I think their success story shows what crochet can do.

Language will be interesting.   I know that “to crochet” in Kiswahili is kushona.  So is “to knit,” “to sew,” and “to weave.”  There’s a bounty of names for “hook”–hangue, kingoe, kiopoo, kombo, kota, and kulabu.  I’m not sure which is appropriate (I hope it’s kiopoo; I like the way it sounds).  Never mind the vocabulary for yarn over, single crochet, slip stitch, etc.  Depending on their age, many of the kids will have some English.  But then there are the discrepancies between American and British crochet terminology when they start to read patterns.

I’m not sure about the availability of tools or yarn.  There’s tons of crocheters in Kenya, but I don’t think knitting and crocheting permeated the culture in Tanzania as much since the British were not as present. The local machine-knitters import their yarn from Kenya.  Hooks could be carved, but I won’t have time for that.  Through the generosity of the knitting and crocheting community in Athens, GA, I will have ample hooks and yarn to get the kids started. Asanteni sana, marafiki zangu!  Thank you so much, my friends!  I hope my suitcase is big enough!

I accept this challenge.  I once taught a 10-year-old Kenyan boy to play Uno Hearts with my minimal Kiswahili and his minimal English.  It just takes a sense of humor and some love.  I can’t wait to meet the kids and share my love for crochet.  We’ll all try our level best and we’ll have some yarn fun.