From Wisconsin to Tanzania

I had no idea I’d be finding some of Wisconsin here in Tanzania. Life has had a habit of reminding me that people just aren’t so different.

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Editor’s Note: This article was guest written by Adam Nothem, a fellow UW-Oshkosh alum. 

Sometimes, a seed sprouts best after it lands in new soil.

I was born and raised in Wisconsin. I grew up near Green Lake in Farmington and I always felt a sense of community around me there. We all knew our neighbors and people watched out for one another. My summers were spent with my friends swimming in the lake, exploring the nearby woods, and hanging out in the yard with my family and our dog and having campfires. Where I’m from, and likely many of you as well, we walked through yards to visit our neighbors because no one has fences. And when I got called home for dinner, it was by hearing my name being called from the porch. My drive home from school passed innumerable corn fields, dairy farms, and a quaint village named Cheeseville. Wisconsin was always my home and, in 2014, when I was leaving home to live in Tanzania for my US Peace Corps service, I had no idea I’d be returning to a very similar sense of community; one that I had lost slightly during my time in college and while living in the city.

In case you are unfamiliar, the Peace Corps is a government organization that favors a grassroots development strategy and a commitment to a particular village for at least two years. I lived in a small, rural village named Mnavira near the southern border of Tanzania where the sandy soils nourish mostly corn, beans, mangoes, coconuts, and lots and lots of cashews. Most people are subsistence farmers but many farm cashew nuts for pay as well. Cashews are the main cash crop and are harvested once each year. Many villages like Mnavira are absolutely dependent on the cashew harvest. If the rains or high winds affect the trees and the yield is less than planned, many families can be left with light pockets and heavy burdens. It’s common for extended families to share homes to all help one another out. Generally, the men do the farming and are responsible for bringing in income and the women maintain the home. Often though, with their child on their back and more in tow, the women find themselves in the fields as well or hauling water from the stream or spout.

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Upon first arriving, one may focus on many of the cultural differences. But part of what makes our 2 year time frame so advantageous is that it gives us and our community members time to get used to the shallow differences and start to connect to our deeper commonalities. And what I began to see early on is a very similar sense of community that I grew up with. This was partially due to how readily they welcomed me into their community. My neighbors kept watch on my house if I was gone, they would check on me if I was sick, and they would always welcome me to share meals with them. The Tanzanian people are an extremely welcoming people. That made my time here so much more comfortable and helped me integrate to my new home. I can only imagine what it would’ve been like to receive a cold welcome or open animosity. It would’ve been nearly impossible to integrate effectively or to learn the Swahili language. As a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV), I have several goals. The first one, since I am a health extension agent, is to assess the health situation in Mnavira and to try to improve it in any way I can. The second goal is to make Tanzanians more familiar with America and the American people. For many people in Mnavira and Tanzania in general, their only experience with America is through news headlines, movies, or music videos. As you may imagine, that leaves people with a pretty interesting perspective of our home and an endless flow of questions. The third goal is to make Americans more familiar with Tanzania and see it as the individual country that it is among the vast expanse of Africa.

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The familiar sense of community that I returned to made reaching those goals possible. It’s amazing how much information you can share just through normal day-to-day conversation and inclusion into a new culture. I would do this while helping my neighbor farm his cashews, while my friend Mudi and I would do home projects and he’d teach me the local way of doing it, and while I would just sit with my neighbors on the grass mat under a mango tree. I was there during holidays, weddings, and funerals. These were new experiences for me because of the difference in culture but also because they were done along the Islamic traditions and prayers.

In Tanzania, Muslims make up nearly half the population and Christians make up nearly the other half. This ongoing interaction creates a very peaceful life with most people thinking of others as fellow Tanzanians first, and their religion or tribe second. In Mnavira, nearly everyone is Muslim but the few Christians were warmly welcomed to share their food even on holidays like Eid. I celebrated Eid twice during my time in Mnavira and I highly recommend it. There is just such a good mood in the air and the food is fantastic. And during Christmas and Easter, many Muslims break bread with their Christian neighbors. This close sense of community and togetherness gave me all the motivation I needed to do health work.

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In Mnavira, many people get infected with the malaria parasite. At the local clinic, an average of twelve people a day tested positive for malaria and got treatment. This is a heavy burden on a community both financially and emotionally. For some, the symptoms are fever, chills, muscle pain, and vomiting. For others, it can be serious enough to cause seizures, cognitive impairment, or death. These severe outcomes are more commonly seen in children under five, pregnant women, and people living with HIV. Mnavira, like many Tanzanian villages, also struggles with water availability, nutrition, and HIV. These factors combined with low income, inadequate health education, and inconsistent healthcare access can create a crisis for many families. That is why the headmaster of the primary school, Rweikanisa, applied to the Peace Corps for a health volunteer. He and I quickly became close friends and he was an invaluable neighbor to have throughout my service. Together, we came up with new ways to teach people about health information. To name a few, this ranged from doing formal lessons at the primary school and clinic, to painting a mural on the school wall, making radio programs for the nearest station, an educational storybook to be read by students and parents, and making visualizations of the high cost of continually treating malaria in the village rather than preventing it. He was also essential in our lessons about reproductive development and gender equality, a beekeeping program for people living with HIV, and in organizing the construction of a new pit latrine at the school.

During our time working together, he always helped me integrate further and helped strengthen the community ties between all of us. These projects were no easy task as many people often seem complacent in their situation. Malaria has always been here and it is difficult for people to imagine life without it so they can sometimes look at the disease like we may look at the common cold. I focused on malaria in my time at UW Oshkosh, so I was especially keen to put forth extra energy to our malaria work. It is a disease that is entirely preventable and treatable and I find it unacceptable how many people, especially young children, die of the disease. The number of funerals I attended for my community members was truly saddening and I was highly motivated for the two years I lived in Mnavira to give help in any way I could to the community who welcomed me so thoroughly.

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In fact, I decided to extend my time in Tanzania for another year. I found a small non-profit organization in the north of the country in a city called Tanga called MEA. I saw that they trained community health workers (CHWs) in the surrounding villages to treat their fellow villagers for minor ailments. Often, minor ailments can go untreated and can develop into bigger problems so these CHWs put in the time and effort to help. The organization, MEA, mentioned how they’d like to get those CHWs involved with malaria work and I applied to help start the program. During my third year of service, I was technically still a Peace Corps Volunteer but I was also the Malaria Program Manager for MEA. During the course of the year, we were able to gather the support and encouragement from the district level to the national governments for our new program, the first of its kind in Tanga region, and we were able to train and certify nearly 200 community health workers. The health workers, along with their usual treatment duties, now also test people for malaria using rapid diagnostic tests and treating people with the proper drug regimen. Most of them do this in addition to their normal work because they are paid whatever little bit their patients can chip in and no one is turned away for not having any money to pay. Their individual agreements are driven by their shared sense of community. The patient wants to help the health worker be paid for his or work, but the health worker doesn’t want to burden patients to where they won’t seek treatment any longer. As of now, nearly 200 health workers are participating in a program that will test and treat more than 41,000 people each year for malaria.

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When I was at UW Oshkosh, I dreamed of being able to do direct malaria work. I thought often of what it’d be like to live in a new place, to learn a new language and actually be able to use it to teach and have conversations, and to immerse into a new culture. I knew that, if I wanted to fulfill that dream, I’d have to leave my home of Wisconsin. I had no idea I’d be finding some of Wisconsin here in Tanzania. Life has had a habit of reminding me that people just aren’t so different. As my service comes to a close this week, I can’t help but reflect on that and count myself very privileged for being able to have this opportunity. It can be a scary thing leaving one’s home. For some, time like this can be a break from the life they were living and they can go right back when they’re done. For others, it can be a jumping off point to a new life if and when they return. For myself, I’m happy to not choose and just to see where it goes while enjoying my newfound perspective.

 

Adam Nothem, a native born Wisconsinite, has spent spent the last 3 1/2 years living in Tanzania serving with the US Peace Corps. There, he has continued with his passion for combating malaria; a passion he’s had since his time as a biology student at University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.

 

 

16 of the Craziest Things I’ve Done on Discover Wisconsin

Cheers to another year full of adventure, mishaps and fearlessness!

One of the more popular questions I get asked is: “What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done on Discover Wisconsin?” There’ve been so many wild moments, but here are 16 that come to mind:

  1. Completely bombed a waterski jump on Lake Arrowhead…three times in a row
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  2. …but redeemed myself by waterskiing behind a seaplane!
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  3. Kept the bulls at bay as a rodeo clown in River Falls
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  4. Competed in a smooshboarding competition in Hudson
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  5. Judged a “Show Me Your Fur” Contest during Fun on the Frozen Flambeau in Rusk County
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  6. Kayaked these CRAZY rapids in Black River Falls…
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  7. Floated above Lake Geneva in a hot air balloon
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  8. Motorcycled my way around southeastern Wisconsin
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  9. Toured Lambeau Field with former Packers kicker Chris Jacke
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    Dressed up as an 1800s dame at the Baker House in Lake Geneva
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  11. Competed in a barrel racing competition in Buffalo County
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  12. Buzzed around Lodi’s Smokey Hollow Campground in a giant shopping cart
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  13. Made my way around the backwaters of La Crosse by airboat
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  14. Flew over Oconto County in a helicopter
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  15. Played snowshoe baseball at Blizzard Blast in Conover
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  16. Performed with the Rock Aqua Jays Water Ski Show Team in Janesville
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Ah, the memories! Hats off to the #DWcrew for putting up with my shenanigans 😀 If you have a favorite moment or episode, comment below. Let me know if you have a destination you’d like to see featured on the show, too!

Cheers to another year full of adventure, mishaps and fearlessness!

Advice for 20-somethings from a 30-something…on Life, Love and Living

After burning my horribly self-defeating H.S. diaries, I am writing again….about what I should have written about 10 years ago.

Editor’s Note: This article was guest written by my smart, lovely and talented stepmom, Amy Haberman.

I recently came across my diaries from high school and early college. Wow! What a trip that was…and then I promptly burned them. Seriously. The timeframe in which I wrote these notes may be similar to where you are in your life, so I want to speak to who I was then and why, if I could do it all over, I’d do it differently.

Despite the popular quote that is circulating on Pinterest and Facebook “Don’t cheat on your future with your past. It’s over.” I propose we take a look back at what I’ve learned in the 10 years that have passed since those rambling diary entries. I am hoping this defies the wisdom of the quote because you will delve into MY past to better YOUR future. I’m willing to take the risk…

I’ll spare you the sad, sad details of my prolific diary entries. But I can tell you the main subject matter never did change: BOYS. Despite successful academic and athletic careers at both the H.S. and college level, I cared more about boys than myself, my future, who I was or wanted to be when I “grew” up. I didn’t come across any diary entries pondering college major decisions, career path choices, life goal ambitions or anything of the sort. I was more interested in whom my next date would be with.

I justified my dating experience (once older) to say that if I had not had these earlier experiences I would not have realized my husband was “the one.” That my ability to quickly dismiss many men from my life gave me the fortitude to know what’s best for me and recognize it when he walked into my life. True. But it also did something else: it left me completely unprepared for real life or life beyond that moment when I found “the one.” And it left me completely unsure of who I really was. I was so busy focusing on all the men around me, I completely ignored the woman inside me (besides her opinion on men of course).

So my advice is simple. Pay attention to that woman inside you who knows deep down there is more to life than men, getting married and having babies. Even when happily married, what determines our happiness is not external, it’s internal. I can’t expect my husband to make me happy – only I can do that. Sure, he can certainly do nice things for me that I appreciate, but he is not responsible for sustaining my happiness. That is a big burden to put onto someone and why, oh why, would we hand over that power to someone else, when only we know, truly, what can make us happy?

I have been married for 12 years, have a college degree, a nine-year-old daughter and have worked a part-time or full-time job for nearly 20 years. But none of these things define who I am. I am trying to figure that out now. And let me tell you, it’s a lot harder to take time for you, when you have a mortgage to pay, mouths to feed, and housework to do, on top of working a full time job that is quite demanding and juggling a business on the side.

So, what I’d do differently and what I recommend you do before you commit yourself to a man, a mortgage or many mouths to feed: LIVE. Do all the things you are scared to do, second guess yourself, screw up, learn and do it all over again. Live life on YOUR terms, no need to hang on someone else’s coattails – wear your own cape!  This will do a few things for you: 1) you’ll learn what you love, what you hate and how to balance the two. 2) you’ll know exactly what you need in your life and you’ll be able to tell the difference between a need (food) and a want (man) 3) you’ll make the task of loving you much, much easier, because you aren’t looking to him to make you happy because you already figured that out (he’ll thank you later).

I’m certainly not saying if you don’t do things in this way your life will suck. Not at all. I overcommitted, I leaped before I looked and I got lucky. Things have turned out alright (well, much better than alright). In part, because I do think I married the best man for me despite my inexperience.

Now I’m taking my 30s to have my first real adventure (moved to Florida three years ago); I started my own business (graphic design on the side), setting career goals much higher than I had imagined (recently attained a director level position at a major university that made me vomit the night before the interview) and in general trying to be a leader by example for a nine-year-old girl who is looking at her mama and saying, “I want to be an artist and a baker and, and, and…” and I can say, “there’s nothing stopping you, sweetie!”

Following one’s dreams take a bit of coordination when you have a family to tend to, that’s why I say do it when there are as few obstacles as possible. I’m very blessed and have an extremely supportive husband, who has realized there is a lot of truth to the statement “if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Very cliche, but true, the more I attain my goals and follow my dreams, the more I push my husband to do the same and I know our children can only learn by our example.

So after burning those horribly self-defeating diaries, I am writing again….about what I should have written about 10 years ago, my goals, my dreams, my ambitions, and now, what I can do to nurture the dreams of my family.

On My Mind: 10 Things I’m Grateful For

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends. Here are just 10 things I’m grateful for. Please share with me what you’re grateful for in the comments below!

  1. My family. A gimmie, I know. But they really are the best!
  2. My friends. Samesies. I don’t know how I got so lucky but from my best friends to my “newest pals,” I have one heck of a crew.
  3. Caffeine. Anyone who knows me well, knows I have a terrible addiction to caffeine, specifically energy drinks. I know, it’s terrible – in fact, I’m not so sure this is something I should be thankful for. Anywho, I’ve tried to quit but as far as I’m aware, they don’t have programs for Monster addicts…yet. 😞
  4. My haterz. Thanks for showin’ me what I don’t want to be. ✌️
  5. Music. If it weren’t for music, I’d never hit the gym. Or find any enjoyment while driving the beltline during my commute home. Thanks music, for being there for me all day, err’day.
  6. Social media. This one may surprise you but I really am grateful for social media. It has introduced me to so many wonderful people and while I may not know them all personally, I think being connected to so many people really is a beautiful thing. Since hosting Discover Wisconsin, I’ve received hundreds of photos from photographers from all over Wisconsin – all over the Midwest actually. They each capture the state in their own talented way. I’ve come to know a handful of these photographers on social media. One of them being William Burdick. I learned yesterday that William passed away in a tractor-trailer accident near Madison. Of course, I was stunned and devastated. I immediately dug up the photos William has sent me over the years. The photo featured at the top of this article was one of my favorites. Although I never met William in person, I am so thankful to have been introduced to him and his talent via social media. Rest in peace, William.
  7. My job…Even when the hours are nuts and I’m all by lonesome in my hotel rooms, I am always quick to remind myself of how good I really have it.
  8. Staycations. Because if it weren’t for staycations, I wouldn’t have the time and motivation to be writing this blog post in the first place.
  9. My health. I’m positive I’ve taken my good health for granted throughout most of my life and so this is me, attempting to show some love to my health. Thanks for being good to me, mind + body.
  10. My happiness. I am a happy person by default and for this, I am eternally grateful for.