8 April 2015

The week of exams has begun. I can check off the final written exam, which is nice. Next up a final readiness to serve exam. Then comes the final LPI – language proficiency interview – the one that’ll test your nerves. It’s a one-on-one conversation with the tester, they record the interview, and they ask you whatever they want to see the areas you’re comfortable with and those that are challenging. The testers really do try their best to reduce the stress, but… you know… I got a good score last time for the mid-training LPI, so I’m not too nervous for this one. After than we only have a group report and presentation to finish for next week – and that’s all she wrote! 2 weeks and we’ll be sworn in as volunteers!

Now, more about my home-to-be: as previously mentioned, I was a bit disappointed to find my house pretty dark and dirty and totally empty when I visited. It needed some work – some burglar bars and mosquito screens on the windows, sliding latches/locks for all the doors, and there was some standing water inside. It was also getting dark when I toured my home, so, with the small hobbit sized windows, the interior seemed extra dirty and dank. I have great hopes that it’ll be cleaner, the roof fixed, my windows and doors in good order, and maybe even a bed will be present when I arrive after swearing in. Keepin’ my fingers crossed. We shall see. On a positive note, I have a lovely courtyard that will definitely support a bountiful garden. Can’t wait to get that going.

I’m not sure what exactly is in my village at the moment . I saw maybe 20 houses, the primary school, the village government house, and my house – that’s it. I’m hoping there are a few dukas to buy soap and salt and matches etc. And it’d be great if there’s a place that sells some basic food. I’m guessing I’ll be able to get rice and beans and corn in my village, but I’ll have to go to town to get much else (another reason why the bountiful garden idea is appealing). A place to buy some cooked food would be nice too – I know that lighting my charcoal jiko (stove) will get old pretty fast.

Some notes on bus travel in Tanzania:

The main form of long-distance transportation, and the form PCVs use most often, are large buses. There is a great variety to choose from, ranging in prices and quality. The cheaper buses sometimes allow other people to pack on and stand in the aisle for a portion of the trip (basically they over-sell the bus). We rode on a few that were like this, but we also chose some good buses that had enough shoulder and knee space, that didn’t take on extra passengers, and that even provided a complimentary soda and biscotti – luxury. I found it interested that all the large buses, cheap or luxury, have extremely steep steps to climb up in order to board – a good quad workout. The buses do make infrequent stops at stations that have a choo (toilet) somewhere (sometimes you need to pay), but the more realistic idea is to forgo proper hydration. The buses also stop around lunchtime, allowing people to quickly grab some food. There are additional opportunities to buy snacks, like fruit, fried corn, mandazi (fried donuts), biscotti, soda, water, or juice, at any stop the bus makes – and you don’t even have to get out of your seat. People run up to stopping buses with boxes or baskets on their heads, brimming with these food items. They then stare through the windows and shout out their products hoping to make eye contact with someone interested in buying. My favorite salesmen are those in the South selling fried corn on the cob (not as appealing as you might think). The have the corn at the ends of long sticks, then proceed to shove the cooked corn through the windows of the buses, into the faces of the passengers. They hold it there calling out until the bus starts moving again. All in all, it’s an interesting marketing strategy…

Okay, now for the short story about my site visit travel troubles. To start off: some background: All of us PCTs shadowed a current volunteer during the site visit week, and most of those current PCVs visited our sites with us. Another PCT will be living two villages up the road from me (it’ll be great to have someone in relatively close proximity) so he and his PCV were visiting his site, and my PCV and I were visiting my site at the same time. There is only one “bus” that goes to and from town and our villages once a day (my village is at the very end of the road), so the four of us rode in together on the returning bus at about 1:00pm. The expectation was to stay at one of our houses for the night. Of course, once we got there we realized both houses were totally empty, and were not finished/in a secure state. Therefore, at about 6:00pm we realized that we couldn’t stay the night and had to get back to one of the current PCVs houses. It was getting dark, but luckily we were all together.

There was a driver from my fellow PCT’s village with a very old, we’ll say retired, daladala. He didn’t have gas, but he agreed to drive us the 1.5 hours to one of the current PCV’s site. He got some gas and we started on our way, of course with Tanzanians hopping in to join us as we went. We almost made it out of my village, but the bumpy and wet road quickly ended our expedition. We hit a deep puddle, which promptly broke the gas line. I have a feeling the bane of that dala driver’s existence is gas in one way or another. We all jumped out and then began the process of fixing the gas line, which involved taking out the entire gas tank, etc. Meanwhile it was getting even darker. Us four Americans began contemplating our options. The option that seemed more and more likely as the repair job was underway was to bunk with some Tanzanians for the night in my village. We decided to wait until we knew the status of the dala.

As the only light became that of the moon, we heard a car in the distance – not a pikipiki, a car! Sure enough a car drove up the road toward us. We hailed the driver and explained the situation. Thankfully he said if the dala couldn’t be fixed, he would drive us down to the PCV’s site. Of course the dala was not repaired, but the man was true to his word – for a rather high price, he drove us, all 4 piled in the back seat, down through the mountains to the other PCV’s site. It was a long ride, but we made it, and then proceeded to make ourselves a dinner of bananas, avocado, cheese (yeah, there’s cheese in Njombe!), and bucket wine (pineapple). A few card games later and we were ready for bed. Thankfully, our night of uncertainty ended well – and it wasn’t raining throughout the whole ordeal. Anything can happen while traveling here in TZ, and it could have been much, much worse. All in all, I think the situation worked itself out amazingly well, thanks to some ever-helpful Tanzanians. I do, however, hope when I return to my site there won’t be so much uncertain excitement in my first few hours… We’ll see!

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