happy

Happy New Year from Africa! -by Pamela

- for the Grateful Web

Hi Everyone! Hope your holidays were warm and wonderful!  Mine were fantastic, I spent them with other volunteers in the area.  We cooked up a couple of huge feasts and made memories to last a lifetime!  If I hadn't had gotten together with other volunteers, it might not have felt like the holidays at all.  Christmas here is very subdued, because most Tanzanians don't have any money to spend on things like gifts or decorations.  In the village, the Tanzanians I know spent Christmas by going to church and spending time with their families, which is what Christmas is all about anyway.  For New Year's, the other volunteers and I had a big party at my friend Carolyn's house, who is my nearest PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) neighbor.  There were 19 PCVs and several members of her village government and their families who showed up.  It was great to have the villagers there!  They are used to big parties, because they have them all th e time.  However, their drinks of choice are ulanzi (fermented bamboo sap) and pombe (a brew cooked up from corn and millet).  I find ulanzi to be quite tasty, like a Bartles and James wine cooler, but pombe I find to be terribly repulsive!  At our PCV gatherings, we stick to the traditional wine and beer.

Now it's back to the business of settling into my new home.  For our first three months of service, we are not expected to do anything except set up our houses and get to know the people and needs of our villages.  I have already become good friends with several of my female neighbors, the mamas, who are either teachers or wives of teachers at the school.  It is not acceptable here to be friends with someone of the opposite sex, but all the mamas bond together and support each other.  They have been very supportive of me so far by sending their kids over with cuttings of flowers for my front yard, helping me haul water from the well 150 yds from my house (with buckets on our heads!), and giving me fresh harvested beans and potatoes from their farms.  I have tried to return their favors by baking them cakes and breads and sharing vegetable seeds.

One of the biggest tasks I have accomplished so far, with the help of Doris, a neighbor girl, is digging up a large area for a garden.  The area was previously sod, and it was a tremendous amount of work overturning the soil and removing all the grass!  Doris (who is only 16 and half the size of me) could swing the jembe, a large hoe, up over her head and get it twice as far down into the ground as I could!  Of course, she's been doing this her whole life.  A common sight around my village now is all the women and children out working in their fields, swinging jembes.  The women will often do this all day long, sometimes with babies slung over their backs!   Most fields are planted to corn, beans, potatoes, and pumpkins or other squash, and these are usually intercropped together.  It is a goal of mine to encourage growing other vegetables as well, like tomatoes, carrots, mchicha (a local green), onions, etc.  I have been told however, that it may be too cold here to grow certain things like watermelon, peanuts, and maybe even tomatoes and green peppers!

My village is at elevation 6,000 ft, and every night I sleep with 2 heavy blankets. Some mornings I can see my breath!  It's hard to believe this is the warmest time of year, and hard to believe I am in Africa!  Never did I imagine I would be writing home asking my folks to send a hat, gloves, and long johns!  I will certainly need them come June and July.  Oh but I'm not complaining!  I would be complaining if I was one of the other volunteers who live down in the lowlands or along the coast.  They say they do nothing every afternoon except sit nearly naked in front of a fan and try not to sweat.  No thanks!  I'd rather be curled up under a blanket any day. 

Adjusting to a life of solitude has been somewhat challenging, but I'm sure times will easier once my Swahili improves and I become busy with projects.  For now, I have been spending my time reading, writing letters, sewing, learning how to cook and bake on a charcoal stove, doing yoga, meeting people in the village, working in the garden, and getting out to explore the INCREDIBLY BEAUTIFUL surroundings on my mountain bike!  It is a very peaceful life, going to bed and rising with the sun, and having no distractions except ones I create myself.

Well, except for the distractions of rats and bugs!  Hopefully soon I will have a cat to take care of the rats, and as for the bugs, I'll have to learn to tolerate them.  Most don't bother me though, and there are some really cool ones here!  Butterflies and moths of all colors, shapes, and sizes, and strange looking beetles, grasshoppers, and dragonflies.  There are some really neat birds as well.  With all the trees near my house, I have several birds that serenade me in the mornings and evenings!  I have been able to identify a few of them with the help of an ID book my friend Lori gave me before I left.  (Thanks Lori!).

Happy Valentine's Day... from Africa!

Pamela in Africa 2003/2004- for the Grateful Web
- for the Grateful Web

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!