Karibu Nyumbani

11 12 2010

So I’ve finally reached the site where I’ll be working and living for the foreseeable future.  Thanksgiving morning I woke up at 4:45am to help some of the other volunteers load up their ridiculously large bags of luggage.  I also have 3 bags that weigh 100, 60, and 30 pounds respectively, but considering that is all for two years, it doesn’t seem so extreme.  It also doesn’t help that during training Peace Corps distributes countless numbers of instructional books on topics from health and safety to teaching methods in Tanzania.  But anyway, all of us volunteers will be transported from our hotel to the main bus station in Dar to meet up with our headmasters (school principal) and depart for our respective regions.  Most of the volunteer’s buses left at around 6:45am, thus the reason for waking up before the crack of dawn.  My bus however, for whatever reason didn’t depart until 10:30am, so I didn’t have to leave until later, but I wanted to say one last goodbye to the other volunteers.  I may see some of these people maybe one more time at med-service training but that’s about it.  It’s kind of bitter sweet because you’ve seen these 37 other people every day for two months.  You can relate to them and many times you even depend on them because they are having the same troubles and same joys as you.  It’s very difficult to explain exactly what you’re doing and how stressful and difficult it can be at times to people at home.  But you form these relationships and learn to depend on many of these people for support, then just like that after 2 or so months of training, POOF, they are gone.  After I saw all my fellow volunteers off, I promptly returned to bed…. My bus was the last one to leave Dar, and two other volunteers had later buses as well, so we got a ride from the Peace Corps staff to Ubungu, the Dar es Salaam main bus station.  Now I’ve been in country for more than two months now and feel pretty comfortable navigating around but this bus station was absolute chaos.  As soon as our car stopped outside the station, we were mobbed by guys wanting to help with our bags.  Lesson learned here; if you can carry your own bags, do it.  Otherwise these guys will try to charge you a ridiculous amount to carry your bags a short distance.  Part of the issue is that we are “wazungu” aka ‘White People’.  Most people here associate white with rich, and thus will promptly jack up the price of just about anything.  This is why the ability to bargain in Kiswahili is one of the most useful skills I’ve started to learn here.  The guy who carried our luggage wanted to charge us an astronomical price (even though I carried 2 of my 3 bags myself).  Luckily one of the Peace Corps staff was there to make sure we met our headmasters without any issues.  It still took the Tanzanian Peace Corps staff member 15 minutes to convince this guy he wasn’t going to rip us off.  So I’m glad he was there.  After about a 45 minute wait, my headmaster arrived at the bus to meet me.  His name is Nyaulingo, and as far as I can tell he’s an extremely smart and competent guy.  Some headmasters here can be quite difficult to deal with (like the one at my internship school) but it’s obviously the same in the US.  Some people are good at what they do, and some aren’t.  So we boarded the charter bus headed for Iringa (but not before making sure I didn’t get fleeced by the guys charging me to stow my luggage; transport fees here however still aren’t as bad as the airlines in America).  The bus ride was about 8 hours or so, which isn’t too bad considering some of the other volunteers going to the deep south had upwards of one 12 hour ride the first day and an additional couple hours ride on rough roads the next day.  We arrived in Iringa in the evening and I was immediately introduced to many people in the city by Nyaulingo.  After making our rounds, we got a taxi out to my site.  The taxi ride is only about an hour or so, which again isn’t bad because other volunteers sometimes have up to a 6 hour ride to their nearest banking city; it’s all relative.  I’m extra lucky because the town I’m closest to and that I go tot for banking is also a launch point for safari’s into Ruaha National Park, the second largest game reserve in Tanzania behind the Serengeti.  What this means for me is that what I now like to call “Mzungu Food” is widely available in town.  Mzungu food means cheeseburgers, pizza, sweet and sour chicken, fresh cheese, Panini’s, and a cornucopia of other delicious items that are rare here and which I so dearly miss.  Also, there happens to be one of the only dairy farms in the whole country right outside the city, so the yogurt is farm fresh and delicious.  Anyway, I apologize again for being sidetracked talking about food, but it’s a main topic of conversation here for volunteers.  I would say food and discussions of how great it would be to have a washing machine are the two most talked about topics here.  So yea, we got to my site when it was dark out, around 8:00pm.  My school is in what is called “the bush”, similar to what we’d call “the sticks” in America.  Basically in the middle of nowhere.  I’m in a real life African village with no electricity and no running water.  The taxi pulled up to my headmaster’s house and I, my headmaster, and the taxi driver (who is a family friend of Nyaluingo) went in for dinner.  This thanksgiving I’m thankful that my headmaster is on the ball; he said I’m welcome to eat at his house for all 4 meals a day (breakfast, chai @10:30 lunch, and dinner) until I could buy enough stuff to feed myself.  His house wasn’t too bad and was decked out with just about every solar powered device you could think of.  He had several batteries, 20V, 40V, 70V, and had enough juice to light his whole house and have the radio going with a computer charging.  For solar, that’s a lot.  For dinner we had rice, beef (Tanzanian style; bones, fat, and gristle), and spinach.  After filling up, it was time to go to my house.  It was tough to see since there are literally NO lights here, but my house was set from the school and headmasters house by about 100 yards and is in the middle of 2 other houses.  Other teachers live on both sides of me.  We entered my house armed with our solar and hand crank flashlights and he showed me around.  I have a huge concrete courtyard.  On one side I have four separate rooms; the shower room, the choo (aka squatty potty), kitchen, and general storage room.  On the other side is my actual house.  I have a huge living room and two bedrooms; one master (or larger room) and one smaller bedroom.  After he showed me around we unloaded my luggage and he said goodbye.  For a moment I just stood there in total darkness as I watched the taxi pull away and realized that I was officially alone.  It was eerily quiet; no highway traffic, no neighbors blasting a radio, none of that.  This is something we aren’t normally used to in the states, but it was fairly bright outside because the stars radiated so brightly.  I’ve never seen stars that bright in all my life.  After snapping out of it I moved my stuff inside and hung up my newly purchased solar light.  P.S. This was probably the best purchase here.  Without it, I would have been in complete darkness in an extremely unfamiliar place for the first night, which would not have been fun.  I only knew this because other volunteers without solar lights and electricity told me the first night was quite interesting trying to hang a mosquito net and unpack sheets to sleep on without being able to see your hand in front of your face… Anyway, I was able to get settled and unpack a few things.  After I got my bed all setup to sleep in, mosquito net hung, pillows, sheets, and teddy bear (just kidding…), I did what any human would do on their first night in rural Africa with no power; I fired up my laptop to see if I got internet.  I’m partially kidding, but it was Thanksgiving and was going to try and Skype with my family, who were all in Jersey for the holiday.  I was also excited to see the cardboard cutout of myself that my mother allegedly had made of my since I couldn’t be there in person.  As luck would have it, I DID get internet.  And judging by where I was, I was pretty damn shocked.  However, it wasn’t quite fast enough for Skype, so my family just called my phone.  Before that though, I got a call from two of my friends Race and Katie.  I just want to say thanks for calling.  I can’t really describe how nice it was to have someone call like that on the first night; it made me feel like I was still connected and not quite so alone here.  I know it sounds corny, but any contact from friends or family here means 10 times what it would if I were still in the states.  You’re out in a rural village where no one speaks your language.  You have no TV or electricity to break the silence.  It can be tough sometimes to deal with (ask Audrey, she can tell you firsthand J).  I always thought I was pretty tough in that regard.  Before joining the Peace Corps I think I underestimated the feeling of detachment that you would feel at times.  How people did it without even a phone in the past is impressive to me.  So basically I just wanted to be a tad emotional for a minute and say thanks to Race and Katie, it meant a lot to me that you called.  Okay, enough emotional stuff.  After that first night, my task was to determine how I was going to fill my days until I started teaching.  I don’t start actually teaching until January 10th.  I spent the first week trying to find out where I would buy the essentials; food, cookware, and drinking water until I could boil my own and get a filter setup.  The first day, my headmaster walked me down to the village area where most of the shops were.  From my house it’s about a 15-20 minute walk.  On the way, we stopped and talked to countless people.  I was introduced so that people wouldn’t wonder who the strange white person is walking around the rural African village.  I was able to buy a few things such as fruit, a couple vegetables, a jembe (hoe to farm), some salt, and some sugar.  Most things I’ll need, I’ll have to get from town, which is a 2 hour daladala ride into town.  My two neighbors happen to be awesome.  Both are guys in their late 20’s.  Station lives to my right and has running water in his courtyard which we use to fill our buckets and Charles lives to my left.  They both speak decent English and have been extremely helpful this first week or so.  They know which house to go to to buy fresh milk, charcoal, and honey.  A lot of things here in the village aren’t sold in stores, but out of villagers houses.  Without my two neighbors, God knows how I would have figured all this out.  During the day, I don’t really have trouble finding stuff to do; I clean my house, arrange it, make lists of items I need, tend my garden, and walk around practicing my Swahili.  It’s the nighttime which gets real interesting.  I have 1 solar light so my options are really limited to reading, writing, and cooking our hanging out with Charles and Stanton if they are home.  Most of the time they are and we’ll just hang out and talk.  It works out okay because they are able to practice their English and I’m able to practice my Swahili.  However, one night Charles fired up his generator and we were able to watch TV.  Yea, I know, we don’t have electricity or running water, but we have a massive satellite dish to watch TV with when we buy fuel for the generator.  Unfortunately, Charles’ generator just broke down.  Fortunately he wants to buy a new one that is better, and I agreed to pay for half so I can charge all my electronics.  I’m pumped about this because this means I’ll have enough battery to check my email a couple times a day, so send away!  Additionally this past week, I was able to go into town with Stanton who helped me buy a bunch of things I needed.  I also went in the next day to meet up with a bunch of other Peace Corps volunteers.  A couple of them were education volunteers I trained with but most were health and environment volunteers who were stopping there to do some banking/wazungu food eating on their way to mid-service training.  It was cool to hang out with them after being isolated for a week or so at site; plus they knew all the good places to eat.  The one place we went to is basically like a borders bookstore with a coffee shop.  It is a quaint two story building run by Italian Missionaries.  The bottom floor sells various craft items made by disabled Tanzanians.  The upstairs is a Panini and coffee bar with wireless internet you can connect to.  I thoroughly enjoyed hanging out there as the bottom part of the building is all decked out with Christmas decorations and crafts, which is special because if you didn’t look at the calendar, and you were from the states, you wouldn’t know Christmas was approaching, and I LOVE Christmas.  It reminds me of that song “Do they know its Christmas time at all?”  I’m pretty sure this will be my new hangout spot.  I’m going back into town this weekend where I’ll probably post this blog entry and attempt to Skype with Audrey and my sister, so keep your fingers crossed!  Anyway, my hand is starting to hurt from writing so much, so I’ll try to wrap up.  Recap: I’ve got to my site, I’m working on getting into a routine here and getting settled, just like you would when you move to a new place in the states, but it’s going to be tough to fill my time until teaching starts.  I believe I’ll be teaching Form 3 or 4 mathematics, which is the British System equivalent to maybe 10th or 11th grade math in the states?  I’m not 100% sure.  I’ll teach all 4 “streams” or groups of students.  It comes out to 24, 40 minute periods a week.  It may seem like a lot, but since it’s the same level , I’ll only have to create lesson plans for 1 class;  the challenge will be marking the papers and homework for 200 or so students.  Anyway, it is not time for me to go outside and put buckets near my roof to catch the rainwater since it’s pouring here; the rainy season is just beginning and fire up my charcoal jiko to start cooking my mid-morning snack, or what is called “chai” here.  Tutaonana!




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