Happy Valentine's Day... from Africa!
I am back in Iringa again, to take care of some business and buy certain things that I cannot buy in or near my village, like a new (used) pair of work pants and a new short-wave radio, since mine for some reason is not working. I have been borrowing my friend Carolyn's radio however, and listening to BBC or VOA everyday. I find all of this talk about war to be very disturbing, but I also feel removed from it. There are a few Muslims around in this part of the country, but they do not at all appear to be threatening. The only adverse attitudes we volunteers have encountered is the occasional "Osama!" shouted out at us from little boys, usually only in the bigger cities. There has been terrorist threats on the island of Zanzibar, but no action resulted from them.
Life in the village continues to be nothing but peaceful. I am beginning to be very busy - talking with farmers about the problems they are having with their crops and trees, and projects they would like to do. Beekeeping, medicine for cows, and layer hens are first on the list, but I will not have any funds to initiate these projects until May or June, due to changes in our Peace Corps project budgets. In the mean time, I have begun helping to weigh babies at "clinic day" which is held once a month for the mamas to bring their babies to be examined. These days will be good times for me to hold seminars about health and nutrition for the mamas. Next month already, I'm giving a seminar about how to make banana bread and corn bread! Bananas and corn are two things that we have an abundance of in the village, and although sweet breads may not be considered to be entirely healthy, they do add some variety to the villager's diets. Also on Monday, I will begin teaching English to first and second graders at the primary school near my house. At first I was apprehensive about this since I have never taught English before, but first and second grade should be fairly easy, and I think it will be a lot of fun! Once the students get to secondary school, all of their courses are taught in English, and many of them fail since English is not adequately taught in primary school, so I feel this is a very important thing to do. There are four students from my village that attend secondary school (the have to ride their bikes 12 miles every day round trip!), and I have begun to tutor them in English and other subjects. Very few students have the opportunity to go to secondary school, because not only do they have to pass a very difficult examination (in English!), but their parents also have to pay fees. So usually, only students with parents who have paying jobs get to go.
Two opposing attitudes I have observed and experienced here have posed challenges to feeling completely comfortable and "blending in" with Tanzanians. One attitude is that because I am white and come from America, some villagers seem to think that means I can do anything and have all the answers to their problems. I feel a lot of undue respect from them, especially when I look around and see many of their answers to their problems (their poverty in particular) are all right here. Several farmers already make compost and use contours and have fruit trees and beehives. It's just that the information is not shared. Some people seem to be saying that only if it comes from me, it will seem like the right thing to do. How I will convince them that their knowledge is just as, if not more valuable, I do not know. The other attitude is apparent resentment of my material wealth. I look around my little cottage of a house and think about how few things I have here compared to what I had or what most people have in the States! But even what I have here is far more than most villagers can ever even hope to have. This resentment is more blatant when I leave my village, and people shout out at me, begging for money, or when cocky young 20-something males strike up a conversation about the differences between the US and Tanzania, and ask "so why is it that you have a job and I don't?" Jared Diamond offers an answer to these questions in the book Guns, Germs, and Steel (an excellent read, I highly recommend it), but how do you begin to explain his intricate and elaborate theory in a 10-minute conversation (and in broken Swahili and English)? I'm not sure this question can ever be answered in a completely satisfying way for those of us who feel guilt, or for those of us who feel resentment, about the disparities in the world. But I'll continue to carry on, waging PEACE!