6 March 2015

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Hamjambo?! (How are you all?!) Habari za Marekani? (What’s the news of America? / What’s up in America?) Things here in Tanzania are safi sana (awesome, literal translation: very clean). Anyway, enough Kiswahili greetings, though here in Tanzania there are never enough greetings! We are now three weeks into training, though it feels like months because we’ve been so busy and have seen and experienced so many different things. Every day is filled to capacity with Kiswahili lessons, lectures, garden/farm work, chores, homework, family time and cooking. It’s a good, but exhausting existence. Below, I’ll split up my stories into sections so that all the info I have to share is easier to process, and topics are easier to explore.

Village and Family Life:
I am living in one of the many villages about 30 minutes outside of Tanga. When compared to my volunteer counterparts, I live with a small family. The family consists of my Mama (mother – if you didn’t guess), Baba (father), and their grandson. And me. The family grew considerably for about 4 days this past week when my dada (sister) came home to get married, but I’ll write about that later. Most other volunteer’s families contain a lot more children and other relatives, but I am very happy with my calm and collected household.

The house is made out of cement blocks that have been plastered with mud. The dirt here is not red like the other villages nearby, but a gray color, which blends well with the cement. The roof is made from metal sheets, and the floors are a smooth concrete. We have a lovely porch as well where we do most of the cooking on a small charcoal stove. We also have a choo (toilet) next to the house – basically four walls and a roof around a hole in the concrete floor. It is an unfortunately small hole. The bathing area is right next to the choo with the same characteristics minus the roof. I thoroughly enjoy looking up at the moon and stars while I take my cool bucket bath. My room is very spacious and has a great big bed for my great big mosquito net – my safe zone. The two windows are barred and also screened. Believe it or not, my house has on-and-off electricity! That means there are a few fluorescent light bulbs for the dark nights – and that we have a small TV (televisheni) to watch the news and many music videos. My room is one of four in the house – there are two other bedrooms and one living/dining room/kitchen.

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(Living room and my room – sorry the pic is a little dark!)

One other notable characteristic of life here is the animal presence. Firstly, there are chickens everywhere. Everywhere. It’s pretty amusing. Also, we have a small goat that unfortunately has a broken leg. He’s just a bit pitiful, hobbling around, but the bad leg doesn’t stop him from going places where he shouldn’t, like on the mattress, or through the pile of cut potatoes. Others in the village own goats and chickens as well, along with ducks and cows. Secondly, there are wild creatures present as well. Nothing big – no lions in the backyard or baboons at the window – but lots of creepy crawlers, like scorpions, cockroaches, rats, mice, lizards, big spiders, and other disturbing bugs. We have bats too, but I like bats and don’t find them creepy. Also, a mama paka (cat) and her kitten randomly appeared a few days ago. I guess they’re part of the family now too, which is fine with me.

Duka-s, Bustani-s, and Daladala-s:
While we have seen and done a lot since getting to our villages, here are the stories of three specific occasions that were interesting/eye-opening for me: a visit to a local shop (duka), a visit to a garden (bustani), and a visit to the nearby banking town:

Duka: After two days of being in my village I needed to go get some airtime (vocha) for my phone. I asked the kids who were hanging out at my house on the porch if I could buy vocha here (ninaweza kununua vocha hapa?), to which they replied yes. So I told them to show me the way. I started out with three boys accompanying me from my house. We walked down the path to the main road, which we crossed, and then we went to the other half of the village. I later realized that they took me the long way to the duka. They wanted to show me off to their friends. I got to the duka and bought my vocha, then turned around to find about 20 children staring at me. I did realize as we were walking along that a few were following and talking to my original entourage, but was surprised to find that so many had followed. I figured that they would leave when we crossed back over the main road, but when we got back to my house there were at least 35 children. I wasn’t quite sure what to do, so I said “Sawa, sawa… Haya, baadaye!” (Okay, okay… alright, see ya!), and then I walked inside. The children quickly dispersed and I was left simply smiling and shaking my head. (FYI, the duka-s here sell things like matches, kerosene, cooking oil, soda, vocha, tea leaves, sugar, etc., and some also sell some veggies and fruit.)

Bustani: In our classes, we are learning about gardening, specifically the Tanzanian way of gardening and the positives and negatives of those current methods. Last week we visited a garden in our village – possibly the only formal garden here. The farmer (mkulima) was nice enough to speak with us and answer our questions (with the help of our teacher as translator). The garden was built next to a pond, which has since dried causing the garden to fail. It is a very small bustani with one bed of mchicha (like spinach), a bed of mixed mchicha and okra, a bed of just okra, and a bed of tomatoes. The farmer used a water pump to get water even during the dry seasons from the shallow pond, but is moving to different land at the moment with a more stable water source. His water pump and most of his attentions are now at the other location. Seeing the bustani and speaking with the old farmer was a great peek into what my work might be like in the future.

To Town: Last Saturday (Jumamosi), we went on a nice adventure to the nearby banking town to visit the market (soko) and the shops around the market. We of course went there by daladala. The daladala-s vary in size, but are basically big vans that people pile (and I mean PILE) into to get from place to place. Usually you are standing on one foot, trying to hold onto a part of a hand rail in the ceiling or a seat nearby, you are most likely half sitting on someone who was “lucky” enough to get a seat, while other people push against you to fit more and more into the vehicle. It’s very fortunate if the door can close. Quite the hot and invasive experience – the concept of a personal bubble does not exist on a daladala. It’s all good, though because that’s the cheapest (and only) way to get from place to place – unless you’re going long distances and can take a real bus. At the market, we walked around to see all the fruits and veggies and spices and beans that were being sold. I haggled for a mango (embe) and got the seller to drop the price by 100tsh. It wasn’t so very expensive to begin with, but I wanted to practice my vocabulary. After the market, we walked around in different shops. I bought some hot sauce and light flip-flops. Then we went to the bar (baa) for lunch and to escape the hot sun. It was chipsi mayai all around (basically a french fry omelet), and beer for some. We met up with volunteers from another village and just chatted and pumzika-ed (rested) for a few hours. Then it was back to the village via daladala!

The Food:

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First of all, it is pretty easy being allergic to gluten in this country. I just don’t eat bread, the fried donuts, or other baked items. The staples all seem to be free of ngano (wheat). Ugali is a very common dish – a giant communal ball of maize flour served with a stew of either meat or veggies. Wali na maharage (rice and beans) is also very common, often served with mchicha. I’ve also had a chili-like dish consisting of beans and corn called kande. The rice here is great – wali wa nazi (rice with coconut). The rice (mchele when it’s not yet cooked) is basically boiled in coconut water. Kitamu (delicious). And banana, potato, or cassava dishes are also common. Ndizi na nyama (bananas and meat), ndizi na viazi (bananas and potatoes), chipsi mayai, cassava with coconut, etc. etc. The fruit here is amazing, and the veggie dishes (mchicha and kabichi, cabbage) are also very tasty. All I have to do is stay away from ngano and any uncooked, unpeeled veggies. Easy.

The main (and usually only) seasoning used here is salt (chumvi). You see more variety if you make spiced rice (pilau), and cooking things with coconut adds a great flavor. The other “seasoning” added to things, specifically the chai/tea is SUGAR. The majority of Tanzanians like their chai extremely sugary. Sugar is also added to spaghetti, like in Elf, though they skip the maple syrup, poptarts, and candy here. Many here also drink a lot of soda. There’s cola, orange soda, grape soda, and cream soda in ready supply at the duka-s, most under the brand name “Azam” in 300ml plastic bottles. At the baa, you’ll find slightly bigger, glass bottles with different brands and possibly more variety, like Tangawizi, a gingerbeer equivalent (yum).

Televisheni:
Yes, it’s crazy, my family has a TV – and that means some electricity. Actually, fun fact, they just recently started a small business charging other people’s phone batteries. They bought about 5 chargers and people drop off their batteries for a couple of hours in exchange for X tsh. (tsh means TZ shillings – the currency here. To give some perspective, 10,000tsh is approximately equal to $6usd.) I was certainly not expecting to have electricity, much less a television, but it has been really interesting seeing what the TZ channels have to offer. There are a few channels that show music videos all day – both American (older ones) and Tanzanian. Some channels have a lot of soap opera-like shows – extremely cliché story lines involving varying degrees of jealousy in relation to a girl cheating on a guy, or a guy trying to juggle multiple women. I was lucky enough to see one in which the girl who was being cheated on murdered her unfaithful man (with a machete of course), and then proceeded to kill herself (also with the machete) in her profound grief, which was an extreme display of vocal volume, aka: wailing and screaming and making other sounds I’ve never heard a person make before. It was fascinating.

The commercials on TV here are very repetitive and are mostly for the different phone services – Airtel, Vodacom, Tiga, and Zantel – and for mattresses. My little kaka (brother) always sings along with the jingles or songs associated with these commercials, which is hilarious. As for the news that airs, I have noticed one common topic that is always covered every time we watch: albinism. It is apparently a hot topic and a really big issue here. Most albino babies are killed when they are born, but the news seems to be covering the different ways Tanzanians, including albinos, are spreading awareness. Other topics focus on the daily weather, sports, and politics (there is a presidential election coming up in five or six months, a long with a new constitution being developed), and some world news as well. I also see a lot of footage featuring roads destroyed by the rains, and patients with various illnesses and diseases. Anytime we watch the coverage of these more sensitive or tragic topics, the women watching (including my Mama) will make clicking sounds and shake their heads. I found myself doing it with them the other day.

The Weather:
As mentioned previously, it is very hot here in Tanzania, especially where we are at the moment – hot and humid. The sun is just killer. From what I’ve heard it is much cooler in the highlands of Tanzania (the Southern Highlands and the Kilimanjaro region), so I hope I’m placed in one of those areas. Luckily, the long rains are supposed to start soon, which means it’ll be a bit less joto (hot). I cannot wait! They say there are two rainy periods in TZ – the long rains March through May and even into June, and the short rains in September, October, November. The rains make it generally cooler because there is cloud cover and the sun is hidden, but there are other problems associated with the rains – like roads that turn to mud and cease to exist.

Training and In the Classroom (Darasani):
We (myself and the three other volunteers in my village) have class four days each week at a house-turned-school. We use the dining/family room in one of the village houses as our darasa. We spend the majority of these days learning Swahili, which means verb tenses, commands, time, dates, days and months, numbers, question words, fruits and veggies, the family, at the market or the shop, noun classes, etc. The lessons are going well, but I have come to fully realize that there is a huge difference between Swahili on paper and spoken Swahili. Understanding the words, grammatical rules, and sentence structure when they’re written down is one thing, but grasping the necessary parts of words to decipher the meaning of a spoken sentence is another story… As our teacher talks to us in English, I’ve latched on to an interesting linguistic characteristic of many Tanzanians. The “r” in English words is often pronounced as an “l” – a few examples: “actually” becomes “actuary” – “only” becomes “onry” – “really” becomes “reary” – “correctly” becomes “correctry” – “briefly” becomes “briefry – “mostly” becomes “mostry” – and “basically” becomes “basicarry.” It’s been fun catching more and more of these words as examples.

In addition to learning Kiswahili, we also spend two or three hours each afternoon focusing on gardening. Thus far, we’ve made our own garden beds and will soon make fencing and will talk about vertical gardens and planting fruit trees. The two other days of school are spent at an agricultural training institute a short drive away. For these days all the volunteers come together for large group training, which has focused on cross cultural issues, mental health and stress, nutrition and environmental issues in TZ, the agricultural systems that exist here, soil types and quality, etc. etc. Lots of information! Thankfully, the training staff here are very good with both keeping us engaged with interactive activities, and with taking our feedback and questions to manipulate and mold the following training sessions based on our needs and the areas where we are lacking.

The Wedding (Harusi):
My Dada’s (sister’s) wedding was last Friday, January 27th. However, the family celebrations began Wednesday and the last guests left Sunday. Thursday night was the big party night, and when I say party, I mean PARTY. Tanzanians know how to get down and dance literally all night long. The music began at about 6pm and didn’t stop until the next morning at about 6:30am, which means people were dancing throughout this entire period. My family hired a DJ who had a giant stack of speakers, conveniently placed about 15 feet from my window. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep that night with the bumpin’ base that shook down a noticeable layer of dust from the rafters in my room by morning. The house was vibrating all night long – and so was I.

At about 8pm that night, before the majority of the dancing, a gift giving ceremony began. The bride-to-be walked out (very bashfully) to sit on a couch in the middle of the circle of ~100 people. She had a few sisters by her side as women danced up, one by one or in groups, to present her with a few dishes, or a piece of cloth, or some money. If the gift was cloth, it was wrapped around my dada. If it was money, the bills were brushed lightly up and down her body, then beneath her nose before they were presented. The gifts were then passed on to her sisters to be piled to the side. After this elaborate ceremony that lasted about two hours, the dancing picked up again. This time young men joined in and circular trains formed, people dancing one in front of the other, moving counter-clockwise. I lasted until about 12:30 before exhaustion took hold and I bathed, and then got into bed.

Friday dawned with the dancers still moving round and round in their train, music blaring. At that point, I had to go to school for the day and leave the wedding behind. The wedding guests collapsed for a few hours before beginning preparations for the actual wedding ceremony, which was to take place at about 1:00 that afternoon. By the time I returned (after the ceremony) there were only about 20 guests left, all women. The social visit lasted throughout Friday night and Saturday. Most people left by Saturday night, and the remainder left on Sunday. It was clearly a very happy time, and all the socializing amazed me. Weddings here are certainly events designed to allow a family (and extended family) to catch up, tell endless stories, and laugh.

What’s To Come:
First of all, tomorrow we are spending half the day playing sports and games, including frisbee. I’m super pumped but also terrified by how hot I will be and by how much sweat will vacate my pores. It’ll be fun. Next week we have so-called “readiness to serve” interviews, during which we will have the opportunity to state our preferences for site locations. The interview also gives the staff a chance to check in on how we are each doing individually, and to see how well we are retaining the material they’ve been tossing our way. Next Saturday we get to travel to Tanga for the day! Everyone is excited, especially by the prospect of going to the beach. The week after next is busy and action-packed. We start the week off with our mid-training written exam on Monday. Tuesday takes us into another testing situation with the mid-training language proficiency interview. Wednesday will be an exhilarating day because we find out where we will be living and working for the next 2+ years – aka site announcements! Then Saturday and Sunday we leave for our weeklong site visits (on the21st and 22nd).

All in all, things have been great here in Tanzania. It’s be over three weeks in country, and in less than two more I will know where I’ll be spending my service as an official Peace Corps Volunteer. Exciting times…

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