19 June 2015

It has been a busy week and a half! I’ve met with so many people, asking so many questions both in Swahili and English. I learned about the water issues in the Ward. There was a Peace Corps volunteer in the neighboring village, same Ward, in 2001-2002 who did a water project in my village. He worked with the SHIPO company to install a hydro-pump and 11 different stations to pump water from wells. The machinery no longer works, however. I’m not sure about the details concerning the hydro-pump, but the issue with the well pumps is that the ropes that are needed to pump the water break very easily with friction and not many villagers know how to fix the ropes, nor are willing to personally invest in new ropes. The mwalimu mkuu (head teacher) has taken it upon himself to constantly fix the pump at the primary school, and to buy new rope from his own pocket. I’ll hopefully be able to go to a Peace Corps water training sometime in August to get some ideas about what I can do and what sort of project would be best for my village in particular. We’ll see if I’m selected!

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(Pump at the primary school)

I also learned about some of the health issues in the vil, though I’ll meet with the health extension officer for the Ward next week to get more details. I met with the mbogamboga group, which focuses on family nutrition. They grow leafy greens on their group farm and then distribute those to families in need, currently 15 families. They also distribute seeds to families that wish to learn to plant their own home gardens. I saw a bunch of different home gardens (mostly containing a lettuce-like green they call chinesi), and also visited the group’s farm and talked about their methods of planting and watering and fertilizing.

DSC04576 Chinesi

DSC04580 More chinesi

DSC04586 Squash

DSC04588 Showing the method of planting, thinning, and replanting in the raised beds. They cover the younguns with dry grasses.

DSC04600 Leader of the mbogamboga group

 

I was able to tour some chai farms in the village for this month’s harvest last week. Every month people here harvest tealeaves. A tractor comes through with a big trailer to collect all the leaves. The drivers, from a local tea company that has a lot of land of its own to grow chai as well, stop at a few designated locations in the village and weigh each farmer’s contribution, writing down all the necessary details so that when they come for next month’s harvest they can pay the farmers their due. It seems to be a working system… The farmers usually just spend that one day harvesting, but some start the day before pick-up. A good farm can produce about 80-120 kg depending on how much rain there was that month, which should bring in 20,000-30,000 tshs, about $10.00-15.00 usd I believe.

DSC04517 The walk down to some chai fields

DSC04525 Harvesting on the slopes

DSC04515 Chai field and the hills beyond

I visited the Ward Executive Officer (he’s awesome, likes Chris Brown a lot, which is endlessly amusing for me) in the neighboring village and got some population statistics. In my vil, including all 5 sub-villages, there are 1,806 people, 862 men and 944 women. I also learned about the governmental institutions and programs with a presence in the Ward, saw SACCOS, the savings bank, which an estimated 75% of the population uses, and toured the primary school. The primary school in that village is really up-and-coming. They have been working extensively with UNICEF, which has sponsored classroom renovations, including new windows, a rain water collection tank with pipes that lead to hand washing stations, and new toilet facilities, including water storage barrels, separate rows of boys and girls toilets, and even a girls changing room that stocks pads for the little ladies (that’s pretty unheard of). UNICEF has also just sponsored another project that hasn’t yet begun for a new kitchen facility both for school lunches and to make the school a more appealing location to host various meetings and maybe raise a little money. Before all this renovation, and before the school had funds to provide school lunches, attendance was very poor. But now with the provided food, the attractive facilities, including safe, clean toilets, attendance has soared, as has student performance. Two years ago the number of student in the final level of primary school who passed their final exams to then go on to secondary school was about half. Last year all but two passed and went on to secondary school, and this year the head teacher believes all 48 students in that class will go on to the next level. He explained, with great enthusiasm, that the reason for their success with UNICEF aid is the parent’s involvement. The parents are very invested in UNICEF projects, try to match the aid they receive in money or supplies like bricks, and help with the process of project implementation – they’re there every step of the way, which means that they will be endlessly invested in the success of the project. It is quite the inspiring story.

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From left to right: my Mwenyekiti, the Ward Agriculture Extension Officer, and the Ward Executive Officer.

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New classroom windows

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The old kitchen building, still serviceable, with wood fire inside.

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Water tank (with ladder)

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New toilets!

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Hand washing and water storage container. The soap is in the small white bottle hanging on the right.

In my village, too, we have received aid from UNICEF to build new toilet facilities and hand washing stations, and the project is underway. They also already sponsored the rainwater collection tank, which is great when the rains are here.

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The tank

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Old toilet facilities

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Another view

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New toilet facilities

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Another view

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Hand washing area

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Happy class 7 students

Here are pictures of the rest of the grounds of the primary school in my village (not so fresh and new), with some very excited photo bombers.

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The walk in

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Nice landscaping

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Map of the world

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Main classroom area

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Pumpin’ water

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A typical classroom

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The soccer field

I spent one day on a grand adventure with my mwenyekiti (village chairperson) and the Ward Counselor, along with a few others. We drove in the Counselor’s truck down to town one morning, and after a bit of bumming around and a few delays (about 2 ½ hours of them), we made it to a celebration for Children of Africa Day at a primary school in a village nearby (that’s Tanzanian “nearby”). I sat through a bunch of speeches as an honored guest, and watched the school children sing and dance and perform skits (funny). Then wheel chairs and crutches were given out to disabled children and adults and it was announced that a great sum of money had been raised to help with … something – I was zoning out after a few hours in the heat of the sun. But it was really awesome to see all the excitement and smiles and laughter. There was then a lunch of rice, pilau (spiced rice), meat, meat with sauce, and beans. Yum…

That’s classic Tanzanian fare for you. I was starving at the time and didn’t mind the lack of anything besides protein (with lots of fat), and starch. I practiced using my right hand fingers as a spoon and shoveled it all in – well not all of it. TZ portion size is out of control… After the lunch we loaded a bunch of wheel chairs, crutches, and a hand-powered tricycle in the bed of the counselor’s truck, and piled 7 people inside leaving one lone soul to sit atop the large, heavy, clunky tricycle for the ride back to town (a dusty and bumpy journey).

After arriving in town once again, we dropped off two passengers and all the tools for the handicap at the church (the tricycle was a gift for one of the guys who came with us from the vil who doesn’t really have legs, so that stayed with us). Then we began the business I was looking forward to all day: buying furniture for my house. The guys helped me find it and buy it, keeping the prices to the local’s level. I bought a sofa, two chairs, and a coffee table for 250,000 tshs (pretty typical), then the cushions for the sofa and chairs (the only good brand: Dodoma Foam) for 150,000 tshs.

Once again I was involved in a game of tetras. They managed to fit all my furniture and cushions with that stupid, large, heavy, green hand-powered tricycle on top of it into the bed of the truck. They used some cardboard to pad a few areas that would rub and scratch, but I’ll admit I was terrified for the survival of my new purchases. The dirt roads are bumpy, mind you. Very bumpy. They tied everything down very well, and nothing flew off the back, but once we arrived at my house, and they somehow managed to move everything inside through my narrow door, I saw the wounds from the journey. There are some nice scratches and areas where the wood was scraped down well below the finish, and, I can’t forget, the residue of green paint along some of the arms of my chairs.

I could care less that my new furniture is scraped up – hamna shida (no problem) I now have a soft place to sit in my house! Every time I see that green paint, though, I’m going to shake my head in amused exasperation. That freakin’ tricycle! So boxy, so clunky, so large, so very very heavy, so green… I wish I had taken a picture of that truck load, but didn’t have my camera with me. Alas, the green paint will always be there to bring the image back to my mind…

Here’s my new living room! With and without the mat I bought a few weeks earlier that matches so very well (pictures taken from different sides of the room). There aren’t many choices when it comes to cushion colors or styles, but I think it’s beautiful.

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Also here are pictures of some other home improvements to be mentioned, previously added to the house. The first is a picture of my pile of dirt and dust and grime (and oddly, a decent amount of red fuzz – no idea where that came from) that I scraped from my “ceilings” and rafters and walls. That was 8+ hours of a dusty hell, but an essential cleaning in order to convince myself that I wouldn’t shower myself in dirt by letting the door slam shut. The next is a somewhat blurry picture of my water filter buckets. I put boiled water in the top bucket with the filter that then connects down to the lower bucket with the nozzle. It seems to be working so far (not been sick yet, knock on wood). The other pics are of my “tippy tap” (for hand washing), a system shown to us during pre-service training. It’s hanging from the top of my choo/bafu building. The red wood (half of the handle to the broom that I broke during my intense day of cleaning – yeah I brush my teeth too hard too…) serves as a foot lever to pull down the white jug that has some holes towards the top to let out water when tilted – or tipped. It’s a useful hands-free system.

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And finally, here are just a few pics of my village – the main road early morning when no one was out (aka when everyone had already gone to their farms), the village government office building, recently renovated with fresh walls and doors and a new room for the monthly children’s clinic, the duka la dawa (shop of medicine) where you can buy basic stuff, but can’t receive any medical attention, tests, or vaccinations, and the roman catholic church where I have attended service twice now (the first time dancing and clapping in the very middle of the choir, the second time bobbing a bit in the back row of the choir, the latter a situation I much prefer).

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Well that’s about all for now! I’m in town this weekend, and then I’ll be in the vil for another two weeks until I come out for the 4th of July. I’ll probably make some plans to see other volunteers, and there’s talk of camping at Lake Nyasa – but who knows! There are many more meetings and interviews to come in the next few weeks to learn about the village and its members, and without a doubt there will be more stories to accompany those interactions. Until next time!

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