8 February 2016

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The rains continue here in the Southern Highlands, and using solar power has become increasingly difficult! While February tends to have less rain than January, it is still cloudy most days. March is when the HARD rains come, and I am grateful that I will be traveling for half of that month, and will be distracted by the site visits of the new health/agriculture trainees for the rest of it. Then in April, the rains lessen in intensity, though they won’t stop until May or June. That’s a normal year, at least.

Here are some pictures of my permagarden that show the power and gift of the rains, even though they limit my electricity usage – so green now!

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You may be wondering why I’ll be traveling for so long. I will be helping to train the new trainees during their pre-service training (PST) in Dodoma. I recently attended the training of trainers (TOT) in Dodoma and saw the training site, and the villages the trainees will be living in for those 2 and ½ months of PST. The weather is so much nicer than my training location in Tanga region, and the houses the trainees will be staying in are really nice – very modern, electricity, some even have running water… The classroom in a village that I visited not only was on the second floor of the building, but it even has its own balcony! Posh. The training center, where the trainees will go two or three times a week to learn together in one setting is also nice. The PCTs will be very comfortable!

The week of TOT was a good one. We found out which weeks we will cover during PST, and therefore which sessions we will be responsible for. My sessions are: Coping with unwanted attention (which I’ll do with PCTZ’s safety and security manager), Overview of Agriculture in the Host Country, Volunteer Resiliency (which I’ll do with the Country Director), Gender equality and women’s empowerment, Introduction to soil (which I’ll do with our awesome agriculture expert), Local environmental issues, Practical nutrition (looking at Tanzanian staples), Gardening preparation, tools, and seedbed prep, Maintaining mental and emotional health, Alcohol Awareness, and Nutrition and dental health (which I’ll do with one of the PC medical officers). I’ll also be there for the sports and games afternoon on my last day! That’ll be fun. It will certainly be a busy week and a half, but I’m really excited to meet all of the new trainees. Plus it’ll be a really good experience helping to facilitate all of these sessions.

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This is my mwalimu (teacher) from my PST last year. He’s a goof.

After my time at PST, I’ll be going to Dar es Salaam for the USAWA committee meeting. We’re sorting through the nine applications for new members now, and will meet those we select at this upcoming meeting. We’ll also get ourselves organized to get the LEAD conference (Leadership Experience and Development) up and running for this year – it has been delayed due to grant issues. There will be other items on the agenda as well.

As I mentioned, the trainees will be doing site visits at the end of March, which is extra exciting for me because the neighboring village will be getting a health volunteer if all goes well! I’ll be able to see a friendly face after only a 20 minute bike ride. That’ll be just crazy! Needless to say, another volunteer so close will change my service. I’m already doing work in that village at the secondary school, and with water project development, so I’m sure we’ll be able to collaborate on some things. Also, if I’m having a rough day, I’ll have someone to turn to. This is assuming that the volunteer isn’t extremely anti-social. I can only hope!

Yesterday marked the second meeting of my Mamas group. We baked corn bread this time (I added some onions and green peppers and spice), and made guacamole. They loved the guac! I’ve heard stories from other volunteers, who also have an abundance of avocados in their village, that they tried to teach the Mamas how to make guacamole and it just freaked them out – they didn’t like it. Putting raw onions and tomatoes in a mashed up mix of avocados and spices?! That’s just unnatural! I was happy to see the women and children eating the guac in large spoonfuls. We also put some on our corn bread as well.

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I am lucky to have such a healthy and perfectly sized avocado tree directly behind my house! I can climb up into it very easily, though I still can’t reach all of the fruits – I get the children to help me with a long stick for some. This was my harvest today, and as you can see there are many more that will be large enough to pick soon!

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I also showed off my permagarden to the Mamas, and they were very impressed by the size of my squash plants. I planted some summer squash/zucchini, and one pumpkin plant – the seeds were from America.

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My cucumbers are also doing well so far.

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As is the sweet corn (from America) and the beans I intercropped with the corn (from TZ).

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Also, I am seeing some exciting growth in my containers – the broccoli is finally looking stable, the tomatoes are taking off, and some dill has popped up as well.

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I’ve not had much luck with other herbs, like basil and cilantro, which is really unfortunate… My attempts at kale have also been unsuccessful. I’ll keep trying though! And I’ll make another small garden bed inside my courtyard when the rains slow down in May. Maybe the drier weather will be preferable.

I know the drier weather will be preferable for me! My roof is still so very leaky… I tried using some sealant today to cover where the nails come in to hold the iron sheets to the lumber. I doubt that’ll do anything… It’ll probably end up making the leaks worse somehow, just because every time I’ve tried to fix the roof, or my friend has tried, it’s only gotten worse…

Also, with drier weather I’m guessing the mushrooms that have taken over my bath room will die out.

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It smells in there. Why does it have to be such a struggle to get someone here to fix it?? I’ve arranged over and over a day and time for someone to come, but it never works out. I need new cement, which needs to be applied at an angle so that the water can drain – simple! I wish those termites had chosen a different spot to mess with way back when I first arrived at site… They’re the ones who clogged up the initial drainage hole, and then moved all the soil beneath the concrete so it cracked and broke away.

Talking about pests, some ants are doing what the termites did, only in my choo – toilet room… I opened the door yesterday to find this patch of writhing, swarming little bodies covering one of the cement blocks (you stand on two blocks as you do your business in my choo). They’ve been causing the floor to crack ever so slightly for a while now, but this was the first time I saw them en-masse. Luckily I had some Raid on hand and took them out… I had to spray three rounds over the course of an hour – they just kept coming! Then I washed all their dead little bodies down the choo hole. Yuck.

Another pest that has just stuck its furry little head into my business is a rat/mouse. I don’t know which it is because I haven’t seen it yet. As of right now it’s just a ghost, a really obnoxious one. I’ve had some little mice in my house before, but they were good at coexisting with me – they never touched my food, they didn’t gnaw on anything, the most they would do is kick down some dirt from my walls of ceiling beams. Then they just left!

This rat/mouse is not good at coexisting. It is a menace. And I hate it. The first night it ate all of my bananas, well actually just the last inch at the end of all my bananas. It enjoys gnawing through the twine I use to hang cloth between my ceiling beams. That cloth is extremely important because it catches all the dirt and dead bugs and lizard poop that falls from the cracks in the roof. When one gnaws through this twine and it breaks, those cloths fall down, allowing a hell of a lot of gross shit to fall to the ground – or onto my sleeping self when the cloth happens to be positioned right above my bed…

Other items this menace enjoys chewing on: my skirts, other cloth I have around, my toothbrush (both the bristles and the plastic handle), and soap. It took my soap from my desk and brought it to my couch to then chew it into little pieces. It also stole my bandana that I hung last night to dry on a line of twine in my bedroom. Yes, my bandana just disappeared… It’s like I have some little devilish sprites (or other more appropriate creatures of true torment) living in my home, taking, moving, breaking, and chewing on all my stuff.

I constructed two traps for last night – one was a bucket of water with a peanut butter covered toilet paper tube on a paper dowel (see below)… The rat/mouse theoretically climbs out onto the dowel, which is stationary, then steps onto the toilet paper tube for the peanut butter reward, at which point the tube will spin, and the rodent will fall into the water to eventually drown. I unfortunately found no drowned rat in the bucket this morning.

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The other trap is a plate of water beside a handful of rice. The rat/mouse will theoretically eat the rice, gorge itself because rats are stupid, and will then drink the water. The water will eventually cause the rice in the stomach of the rat/mouse to expand, hopefully fatally damaging internal organs. I noticed a lot of rice was eaten last night, and there was some poop next to the water, so perhaps this trap worked… Though there was no dead and bloated rodent to be found.

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Therefore, tonight I will try some homemade rat poison! Yay! It’s a simple 1:1:1 mixture of flour, sugar, and baking soda. The sweet flour will theoretically be an appealing snack for the rodent, which will then gorge itself. Then the baking soda will react to the stomach acid, also hopefully fatally damaging internal organs.

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If that stupid rodent makes it through tonight to chew down my dirt-collecting ceiling cloth, or to eat holes in my skirts, or piss next to my toothbrush again, I just don’t know what I’ll do. I’m taking precautions, putting things in bags so that they can’t (I hope) be accessed. And I used nylon string to tie up my ceiling cloths this time, which will hopefully be less appealing… I’ll hide all my bandanas too…

I have to admit, I am constantly, subtly on edge living in a house where rainwater continuously seeps through the roof to fall on me or my notebook as I sit at my desk; where I try to avoid taking a bath or using my toilet because there might be an undulating pile of insects or a freshly grown patch of smelly mushrooms; where I tune into even the smallest of sounds, or cringe when I hear some dirt and pieces of cement fall in the next room, dreading the damage of that one little rodent with its dirty paws all over my stuff… It gets to me.

I can’t control my living environment like I could in America, in a weather-proof house that I could clean easily, track down and eliminate pests easily, and safely store my clothing and other items easily. There are so many minor stressors in the Peace Corps that are born from an overload of the unfamiliar. Add that to the many, and more major, job-specific, or language and cultural stressors, and one realizes that this is a tough job!

I’m glad I’ll be helping to facilitate the Volunteer Resiliency session for the trainees at their PST… I want them to know that they will face both major and minor challenges day after day, that they will reach the top of what may seem to be the tallest of mountains only to turn around and see an even taller giant casting an inescapable shadow. This journey wears on you. You know the only way to escape that shadow is to reach even greater heights, and that may seem impossible. But everything is possible.

If you look long enough at the giant peak looming before you, a path will appear to you, however grueling or steep. And while you know you’ll have to descend from your current glory to continue on, you’ll do so, and you’ll climb, and you’ll fall, and you’ll climb some more, and then one day you’ll discover that you escaped that shadow and now there is nothing to block the sun. Then you’ll take your next step and find you can walk on the wind. I haven’t acquired that skill quite yet, but hey, the thought of it keeps me going. The thought of it keeps all of us going.

To end, here are some more pictures from daily life…

The best picturesque house on a hillside to be found within biking distance.
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Coloring day with my favorite family in the neighboring village. I encourage imaginative color choices.
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The felling of one of my favorite trees… They’ll sell as lumber.
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Migratory bird that makes me smile with its quiet call as the sun sets.
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