Hujambo from Tanzania!
My life continues to be full of surprises and adventures. So many things that are "taken for granted" in the U.S. can become a major challenge here. I have a cute roommate in my little cement house that I call Larry. He's a tiny lizard about 3 inches long who is awesome at keeping the mosquito population manageable.
It is very difficult to find a stamp for a post card or letter and even harder to mail (for me, it involves taking a raggedy taxi into the village and HOPING the driver can find the tiny Post Office!) Clothes "shopping"is even harder. Seldom are clothes pre-made for women. If you wish traditional fabric and dress, there are many places available to do so, most at very reasonable prices. I went into a little shop with a friend to pick up the dress they had made for her. The tailor held up a blanket (rather small) as she tried it on -- good thing it only needed minor alterations! I had a pair of slacks made from a hand-printed batik fabric that ended up being large enough for at least 2 people to wear (although they had actually taken my measurements). When I showed them how big they were on me and asked (nicely) to have them taken in, they ended up way too short and still very baggy, but they ARE comfy! As we say here Hakuna Matata - "no problems, no worries!"
Cleanliness is, Well You Know
I've been on a "cleanliness campaign" at the prison lately. I announced the other day, that it is NOT bad to be poor, but there's no excuse to be filthy. I'm embarrassed when visitors come to the prison and see trash and mud everywhere -- "this is your home. No reason to smell like a pigpen!!" The next morning when I arrived at work, ALL of the prisoners were standing in a line in the front yard along with the warden to greet me. (VERY unusual, since there are normally only 2 or 3 boys with bundles of sticks "sweeping" the front yard so we look wonderful for the outside world). This day, the warden greeted me with "Mama Pati, smell the boys!" I'll admit that this is about the STRANGEST thing anyone's ever said to me! With trepidation, I approached my first lanky prisoner and was astonished to find he not only had showered and brushed his teeth, but scrubbed his "wardrobe" and had on clean clothes! I found that the boys took turns wearing someone else's clothes while they washed their own until EVERYONE was clean.
I was thrilled to find the entire prison had been scrubbed. The warden then asked me to check the smell of their cell. I will admit that I was VERY nervous because I had been in there BRIEFLY the day before, and I thought I'd throw up from the smell. Much to my delight, the beds were all made, the floor and walls scrubbed and even the toilet wasn't totally disgusting this time! The boys were almost as excited as I was, and there were many happy hugs!!! For a special treat, we cancelled Math for the day, and spent the day beading necklaces and bracelets. When I asked one boy why he wasn't beading, he told me the warden said he had to make his bed and brush his teeth first! (Yaa -- I AM making a difference!)
Now to help the guys learn to do this consistently without my encouragement, is my next challenge. By the way, to my knowledge, this is the first shower any of my guys had in the first two months since I arrived!
A "Lizard Wedding"
Much of the time, a good sense of humor is my salvation. The other day, our director came over to me, quietly chuckling, and informed me that I'd caused a problem for him. He said he was TRYING to give a serious lecture to a group of new volunteers (yes outside; EVERYTHING is outside). He said he glanced over at me and saw me quietly sneaking up on a "lizard wedding" to photograph and he couldn't concentrate because of my activities. I obviously get totally absorbed in my photography!
Daily Life in the Village
Traffic in our village as well as other areas is truly an "experience" to put it mildly. There is no such thing as speed limits or traffic control signs and driving is incredibly creative. Bikes are everywhere; quite often stacked high with unbelievable loads. Pedestrians actually walk ON the roads most of the time and seem to cross anywhere they wish (I guess they are assuming they won't get hit!). Many people on bikes are carrying several large yellow plastic "jugs" -- their only source of "fresh water" from a local muddy river.
There are tiny roadside stands everywhere with the latest local produce -- usually a few tomatoes, some potatoes, avocadoes, bananas, papayas, or oranges. Small herds of goats or cattle wander freely along the roadside, usually herded by a small young boy with a stick.
Everywhere there are ladies (and sometimes men) carrying impossibly heavy loads on their heads of everything from huge branches of bananas, or baskets of oranges, to piles of bricks and loads of lumber. Men push unbelievably heavy carts of metal or wood with unbelievably huge loads of handmade wooden furniture and a variety of other monstrous loads. Laundry is spread out to dry on any available bush after being thoroughly "scrubbed" in a local muddy pond or river.
By the way, the few small stores around here seem to be only open "whenever," no set times, so if you think you REALLY need something, it's wise to tell friends, and hope someone can buy it! Although this is a very slow-paced life (and I admit this can be frustrating at times) people DO take the time for others. I've finally discovered that when I ask a question (and need a certain response), I won't get the one I want at first. It's not necessarily a "language" thing, so you just learn to be patient and wait until the "good" response comes up!
Learning and Loving
So I AM learning a lot!!! In general, I LOVE the culture and LOVE the people even more. I LOVE feeling free to smile and wave at people as I pass by (even those I don't know), knowing I will usually get a wave and smile in response. I've learned to avoid my "ever helpful" backseat driving as my competent driver slithers our van through unbelievably tight spots (without my help)! I've learned to "dry clean" my long skirts by rubbing the dried mud out, so I can be ready for another day at work. I'm getting very good at sharpening the pencils for my Math students with a pocket knife. I've learned a variety of African dances (in spite of joint replacements), and even danced in an African version of a rap video with my students at prison. I've learned that you REALLY don't have to wear two socks at the same time and it's rather hard to eat the Tanzanian way without using ANY silverware (particularly since I'm normally left-handed and ONLY the right hand is to be used for eating!!!).
Most of all, I've learned I'm where I want to be---I'm where I need to be---I know I AM making a positive difference in many challenged young lives!
Published On: August 13, 2008