28 March 2016

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To start off, some pictures of the land in and around my village – been lovin’ the long walks of late.

Currently I am sitting in my house on a sunny Monday, using my computer that is being charged by my own solar set up. I don’t think I can properly express how… surreal this is. I’m in my house, at my table, plugged into electricity, typing away, BUT I am also in a small rural village in the middle of nowhere Tanzania. Pretty cool I’d say. I bought the whole set up from a pair of volunteers who have just finished their service here for a total of about $100 usd. One panel, a huge battery, and inverter (as shown below), along with another smaller panel that hooks up to a whole light set up and another inverter for charging smaller things, like my phone or ipod. It was a pretty amazing deal (thanks Paul and Kirsten!!).

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Since I spent so much time in my last post writing about the rat menace that drove me crazy for about a week, I figure I should probably follow up on that issue… It’s dead. I bought a great homemade trap in town, set it up the night I returned, and at exactly 12:56am, the trap snapped, and the bastard died (though the later part took a minute…). Here’s a picture of the set up.

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I have a picture of the rat dead in the trap too, but I thought that would be perhaps too sadistic to post in my blog (send me a message if you’d like to see, though, it was a giant!!).

While I have lived a free and joyful existence post-murder, I awoke to a slightly disturbing sight this morning… My fruit and veggie basket that I hang in my kitchen room (with hemp twine) was chewed down. It fell, taking out a few pots, and my bananas and green peppers landed in a heap on the floor. Somehow I didn’t hear this in the night. Also two of the pieces of twine that hold the sides of one of my ceiling cloths were both broken. Luckily that didn’t result in the cloth falling, which is one thing that drove me crazy the last time. But I am now extremely nervous that another torment has come to live in my abode. I retied all the corners of all my ceiling cloths with nylon twine, rather than the hemp stuff I used originally, which for some reason helped last time. And I have reset my trusty trap, this time with a hunk of banana and rice at the base. If I wake up to another shower of dirt etc. in the night, I might just…… yeah… be very angry…

I returned to my village a week and a half ago, after my long adventure to Dodoma, up North, and Dar es Salaam. I was three weeks away, and it was a really awesome adventure, even though I ended up pretty exhausted and in need of some alone time by the end. I started out in Dodoma at the new Health/Ag class’s PST (pre-service training). The training is 10 weeks long, and I was there for the second half of week 2 and all of week 3. I loved the role of RePCV (resource Peace Corps volunteer). Leading so many sessions was kind-of tiring, but everyone was really engaged and asking questions, so it was refreshing at the same time to see such interest in the things that relate to our service here in TZ. And the questions never stopped! Trainees asked about all aspects of life here as a volunteer in between sessions, at meals, after we finished for the day – it was great! And tiring too… but great. I was able to share so many experiences, to talk about the ups and downs, and to be real with them about things (even though I always made sure to put a positive spin on everything – you have to know what optimism is to be in the Peace Corps…). It felt great to be in that position, having experienced so much in just a year, and to get the newbies pumped for the continuation of their own adventures.

I led, co-facilitated, or participated in 15 sessions – quite a few! They were: Coping with Unwanted Attention, Volunteer Resiliency, Overview of Ag in TZ, Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment pt. 1, Intro to Soils, Local Environmental Issues, Practical Nutrition, Gardening Preparation: Tools and Mapping, Gardening Prep: Seedbeds, Maintaining Mental and Emotional Health, Intro to PSDN (peer support and diversity network, a PCV-led committee), Alcohol Awareness, Nutrition and Dental Health, International Women’s Day Card Making, and Sports and Games day! My favorites were gender equality, the PSDN session because we had some real talk, the card making, and sports and games day.

Sports and games day was one of the best days I’ve had in country. Being outside, wearing shorts, running around with some fun and amazing people, playing ultimate and just tossing a frisbee, playing kickball and capture the flag, feeling physically exhausted that night and even the next day… So much fun! I think all the trainees had an absolute blast too.

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(I take no credit for these pictures btw)

After my time at PST, I left Dodoma and headed to Moshi for two nights. I met up with a PCV friend from my class and we spent those two days shooting the shit and simply enjoying good coffee, fresh salads, milkshakes, and Mexican food (real Mexican food!). We also walked all over town looking in some touristy stores, an actual supermarket/department store place (?!), and an art gallery of sorts where artists actually work (mostly paintings) – always great to see some creativity here. Evenings were spent with some red wine and movies. I mini vacation!

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(The highest point in Africa!)

We left Moshi together and headed on to another volunteer friend’s site about 45 minutes Southeast of Same. Spent two nights there as well, and enjoyed more red wine and delicious dinners, a boisterous dog and some relaxing walks, and replanting a garden. Also, an adorable neighbor child who was extremely bashful around me… So cute!

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Next up was an adventure into the mountains North and East of Same. After a 5 hour drive in a packed bus through dried seasonal river beds, and up a terrifyingly narrow road into the mountains – freakin beautiful if you don’t look down… I guess still beautiful even if you do – I made it to another PCV friend’s site to stay another two nights. The neighboring volunteer, about a 45 minute walk away, also came over to hang out. We chilled the first night, cooked some food, enjoyed some beverages, and jammed back and forth on the guitar a bit. So relaxing. Then the next day we went on an amazing little hiking adventure through the village, then down through the bush into a ravine to find a beautiful waterfall. While the walk through the bush was a little treacherous, and thorny, the destination was 100% worth it.

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Upon arrival, we decided that the water was raging a bit too much to go swimming, so we did a little bouldering instead to get closer to the falls. It got to be rather slippery at the end, but we made it up a final rise and then felt the wind and mist that was the power of the falls. Little rainbows here and there, shafts of sunlight breaking through the canopy’s cover, and the water pounding, racing, falling gallon after gallon…

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After we journeyed back to our arrival point, a nice flat-ish boulder in the river, we just relaxed and imagined the shapes of the clouds into all manner of creatures and people.

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(Waterfall pics taken by my friend on the right above.)

Once our imaginations had their fill, we hiked back up and out of the ravine, through the village, and spent the evening cooking and drinking beverages once again.

The next morning, my friend and I left her house at 3:45 to get to the early bus that goes to Dar. It of course didn’t leave until about 5:30, an hour late, but we got great seats! As we crested the hill coming out of the mountains to start the descent into the valley, I experienced one of the most brilliant mountain sunrises I’ve ever seen. The thin layer of far away clouds with a pale, half, waxing moon up above them; the mountains in the distance rising from the wide, flat valley to touch the clouds, some a part of a group, one just standing alone; a lake with a smooth curve of a shore beside that lonely mountain; and the fog that sat on the sides of the mountain we were descending, helping to frame the mountains, the valley, the lake, in beautiful, nebulous gray. And as we started to descend on that narrow road, the sun began its rise, lighting each water molecule on fire, an orange expanse between moon and land… Just beautiful… And no, I unfortunately have no picture but the one in my mind.

It was a long, hot journey to Dar, but we arrived around 3:30pm and made our way to our accommodation – the Econo Lodge. Over the next two days, we attended our USAWA Committee meeting (unified sexes achieving a wealth of awareness – the gender equality committee in PCTZ), along with the 8 other PCVs in the committee. Other volunteers were there too for trainings and medical appointments, so it was a jol. Good food, especially Indian food, a productive meeting with solid discussions, and some fun nights out – it was a perfect, short visit to the big city.

I finally returned to my village after the 12 hour bus ride from Dar to Njombe… But only for one day. Then it was back to town to greet the 10 new Health/Ag trainees that will be living in my region after they finish PST. It was site visit week. After a day spent at the nearby lake (we had sun for a good portion of the day!!!), we took our “shadows” to our sites, and then to see their future sites and houses. I spent two days with my new “site mate” – he’ll be in the neighboring village, about 5km away! Super easy going, he was excited to see his new house, meet his government officials (who can mostly speak English!!), and go to the zahanati (health center) where he will be working down the road. After that, we met up with the volunteer in the next village over, an ag volunteer from my class, and he took over the “shadow” duty for the rest of the week. It’ll be great to have another volunteer to rendezvous with after just four short weeks!

And now, how about some updates about my garden? I had a frustrating moment when I returned for that one day after my three weeks away – my permagarden was in pretty bad shape. A friend in the village was supposed to be looking after it, coming to my house every two or three days to water if necessary, weed, harvest things, and just look after the garden. Well, he might have done that for the first week or so, but it was clearly neglected after those three weeks. He came over before I left, and we went over all the things I wanted him to do or not do, and his attitude was basically: yeah, I gotcha, I’ve done this sort of thing before, no worries… So I was confident! This is what the garden looked like when I got back from my trip:

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The cucumbers were totally dried up, the fruits rotting on the ground, the leaves and flowers of the zucchini and pumpkins had been picked, two plants totally removed, and some zucchini left to rot as well, the sweet corn was looking dried up, the sweet potato leaves and spinach were left un-harvested and taking over the garden, and he definitely did not weed.

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And this is after some serious damage control:

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You can see in the initial picture, my courtyard had a lot of overgrown weeds as well when I returned, so I got the help of some primary school students to clean up! They are so helpful…

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At one point during our work, a chicken got into my courtyard – probably the stupidest chicken I’ve ever had to chase around my courtyard. When I first saw the chicken, I caught myself from chasing it away because it had a GIANT grub it was eating… Grossly fascinating of course. Anyway, the students found me hilarious when I started to chase the chicken, making chicken chasing sounds (short hisses through your teeth, FYI), only to stop abruptly, lean over to get a better look, then exclaim, “Uuuuuugh! Mdudu mkubwa sana!!” = “Uuuuuugh! A really big bug!!” They cracked up, then, once the chicken finished its meal, helped me chase it out the fence door. Such a bonding moment.

Because my sweet corn was drying up, and the ears drooping, I decided to harvest a few days ago. The ears were very small, but I knew they wouldn’t get any bigger, so I cut my losses and nilivuna (I harvested).

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It was a great addition to both a veggie curry, and an okra-bean-potato soup. And now it’s all gone… I’ll plant more soon! I also harvested some of the beans that were ready, and those worked their way into the soup too.

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I’ve already started some replanting in my garden, and will continue to try to bring it back to its former glory…

Lately I’ve been doing my ECA Club (environmental conservation and agriculture), which has been quite fun. This is a picture at the secondary school, during the first lesson about human impacts on the environment.

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And these are pictures from the primary school, during another lesson about water. We made homemade watering vessels, which not only serve to water your vegetables, but also your friends standing nearby, or your teacher and her camera… It was pretty fun.

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Each lesson, we start off watching a Planet Earth episode, which is definitely a highlight. The students absolutely LOVE seeing different places in the world, and all the crazy creatures and their antics. The class has to crowd around my computer to watch the videos, but it seems to work.

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More lessons to come! The next one will be constructing one type of home garden – vertical gardens.

To wrap things up for this post, here are some amusing Tanzanian attempts for you… One, obviously a matchbox, the other from a menu – my favorite is the American Chicken wiwth anion sicy garlic harb butler… mmmm! Now we’re talkin!

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Oh, and here’s this beauty: about 3 inches long including legs, and a resident of the space above my bathroom. I’m glad I haven’t seen one of these inside my house yet… Until next time!

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One thought on “28 March 2016

  1. Christine, I’m so glad you did not include the big rat pix! I cannot imagine the bugs and animals you’re having to deal with. Good for you! And it is a shame about your garden, but the corn and beans looked healthy and delicious. Webster is having very cool weather (about 40 F), but the SUN has been out today. Sure hope you’ll put all of this into a book when you return. Enjoy your weekend, and I love reading your blogs, Ginny Graham (friend of your mom and dad)

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