Thursday, June 30, 2011

A mix of thoughts as I moved into my host family

June 21

            Hello from the beautiful, mountainous city that I’m not supposed to disclose J.  When we left Dar es Salaam and took a bus here, I finally got to see Tanzania.  I was fascinated and ecstatic to be out of our training compound.  Finally!  Some (a very small amount) freedom!  As we headed into the mountains, I was thrilled with it’s beauty.  It’s our third night staying with our host family and I’ve learned so much in training.  Our host family experience is not nearly as bad as I anticipated.  It allows for a fairly smooth transition from American things we all take for granted into the bush of Africa.  Our host family is also not at all what I planned for.  My host mama is a widow and 2/4 of her children live here.  The two that still live here, however, are both older than me.  So, here I brought crayons and coloring books for my host family’s children and they’re grown adults.  The family I stay with has electricity and running water, so we’ve had it pretty easy.  We even have our own bathroom attached to our bedroom.  The running water, of course, can’t be drunk without sanitizing it and the shower only spurts out cold water.  My host mama heats up water in a bucket for Jon and I (and the rest of the family) and we take a bucket bath.  It’s kind of cold taking a bucket bath still, but it’s so nice to poor hot water over my head in the morning.  The whole time I’ve been in TZ, I’ve been so glad that I decided to cut my hair.  It has made things far simpler for me.  The electricity in all of Tanzania goes in and out.  So, since getting out of training today, we’ve not had any electricity.  The sun stays out until 7:00pm (even though it’s winter!) and then we get by with headlamps and kerosene lamps. 
My host mama is a caterer and her children who live here help out.  Her son delivers the food and her daughter sells it at a nearby university.  Mama cooks it with the help of about 6 housemaids and men.  There are 6 people who help with the catering business and around the house.  A few of them live in barracks outside of our house.  There is “Babu” which translates as Grandpa.  He has been a house servant for about 25 years.  My host brother tells me that he’s so old and has been a part of their house for so long, they are expected to take care of him from now.  Then, there is a tall boy who is only 18 who helps out, too.  He just started here a week or two ago.  He’s incredibly happy and friendly all the time.  I love seeing him around.  Also in our house, is a young girl whose mother lives in Georgia.  She is the niece of my host mama.  There are people coming in and out of our house all day long.  My host mama and brother tell me that this is a “free house” (meaning they don’t abide by the normal Tanzanian customs and gender roles) and so people like to come here to be free.  Kaka (the Swahili word for my brother) speaks nearly perfect English, so it’s easy to get to know him.  My dada (sister) is always selling the food and I’ve not had a chance to get to know her, but her English is perfect, too.  My host mama has broken English, so we try to speak in Swahili to her, though we are incredibly limited.
My house also consists of two cows, three dogs, and I think I see some roosters or something clucking around.  Jon and I call the big cow, “Mooster” because she wakes us up in the morning with large moos like a rooster.  It’s practically right outside our bedroom.   Our host family is supposed to teach us how to do the many things that are different from the USA.  However, Peace Corps keeps us training and by the time we get home, Jon and I are exhausted and my host mama is exhausted.  We haven’t really learned any of our important life skills such as sanitizing our water, using a charcoal iron, cooking over an open fire, handwashing our clothes, etc.
Today the director of Peace Corps, Aaron Williams came to our training site.  It is quite an honor for him to visit us.  Tanzania is one of Peace Corps flagship programs, having been one of the founding countries and the first to invite Americans to serve here. This is Peace Corp’s 50th year anniversary, so he’s visiting many sites around the world. The education sector in Tanzania, which Jon and I are working in, is one of the best positions to get in Peace Corps, we feel quite honored.  I can see why it’s so good; our in-country staff members have been working for Peace Corps for so long.  In fact, I’ve been so lucky to have the longest staff member in country as my language instructor.  He has been working with Peace Corps Tanzania for 18 years.  I have been in his language class since being in-country and it is hard to be homesick when you have him instructing you.  I’ve met few people who are as truly happy as him.  He sings, dances, smiles and altogether cares for the well-being of us.  He’s an excellent teacher as well.  Jon and I said if we ever decide on children, we’re naming our son after him.  Unfortunately, he’s only filling in for our real instructor who has been away on Peace Corps business.  I truly hope our permanent instructor is as good of a teacher as our current one.  Our training group has been broken into small groups, so we only have five people per group.  It really makes it easy to learn language in such a small group.
We’re also getting sessions on how to remain healthy, avoid malaria, cultural norms, the Tanzanian Education system, and the basics of teaching.  Some of it is really great and useful and some of it is redundant given my past experiences.  The general mood of our group is positive and happy while coping with our new lives and challenges.  Oh, and we’re all just dead-beat exhausted.  We train for 10 hours and have homework in the evenings.  Meanwhile, we’re trying to build relationships with our host family and need to spend time with them.  Exhausting is not even the right word for how most of us feel right now.
My new training location is gorgeous.  We are surrounded by beautiful mountains.  I’m finding many of the things that I encountered in Japan have made me so strong to adapt to Tanzania.  I don’t care about being stared at, I don’t mind the language barrier, I understand speaking slowly to speakers of English as a foreign language, and I am just used to being confused all the time.
The food has been fine.  Nothing terribly exciting (except when my host mama cooks for me, because she is a caterer, after all!).  As a vegetarian, I am just eating a whole lotta rice and beans with veggies on the side.  We eat hard-boiled eggs and a lot of Tanzanian “bread”.   This is simply like a fried tortilla.  I know when we have our own home, this will get better.  Contrary to what I thought would happen, I think I am gaining weight.  Jon, too. 
I guess that’s all for now.  I am writing this on Tuesday, June 21.  I probably won’t get it posted until Sunday.  The only day that we get off of training is Sunday.  We have 9.5 more weeks with our host family.  It feels like forever, but hopefully, we’ll get more comfortable and better in Swahili so we can get to know mama better.  We are her 8th Peace Corps host children, and her third couple.  She is used to Americans and gender roles of American couples, that there’s not nearly as much cross-cultural exchange as I had initially expected.  This makes it a little bit easier for us.  One week later, minus the exhaustion, I’m still glad I joined Peace Corps.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Typical meal

Carb overload!  This is a typical meal for us here in Tanzania.  Always a carb, usually rice, sometimes a form of bread, some potatoes.  We always have some form of protein and it's usually beans.  Spinach is very common here.  That red sauce is a spicy sauce. My host mama always just calls it "pili pili" which just basically means pepper.  I have two recipes that I learned from my mama written out on my computer.  Before sharing with people, I want to try to make it on my own to adjust what I wrote down.  Mama just eyeballs everything and I make estimates of how she is throwing it together.  So far, it's easy being a vegetarian here!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Some wildlife

Very frustrated - I have about 10 blog entries and I forgot to bring them on my USB drive.  So, in the meantime, please enjoy some wildlife.  I'm trying to upload photos to facebook, too, but the connection is slow.  Don't know if it'll happen. 

This guy has been found outside our training classroom twice last week. They've got blue balls and very long tails!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Host family

Tomorrow we move to another city, but I am technically not allowed to post where we are going.  We are leaving this temporary training post and moving into a new location where we will focus 6 days a week, 10 hours a day on training.  The first two weeks we will train as a group, then the following 8 weeks, we train in small groups of five people.  We all move into host families tomorrow.  Jon and I will be living together.  We only got the name of the man and his wife that we are staying with.  Their name doesn't appear Tanzanian.  In fact, I think they might be of Indian origin.  If this is true, I am ecstatic because I absolutely love Indian food and it's likely there will be many vegetarian options.  Also, one of the current Peace Corps volunteers who is helping out in our training remembers this host family from last year.  She said they have a really nice house and it's located right near a public transportation stop.  Now, if they have a western style toilet, I will be soooo happy and lucky.  I am sad to be leaving Dar es Salaam without having seen pretty much anything, but am excited to get closer to our permanent site.  Swahili has been fun to learn and my fellow trainees and instructors continue to be patient and kind.  So far, I am really happy to be hear, still.  I wish I could type more about Tanzania, but I haven't really experienced much of it yet.  Peace Corps definitely holds our hands throughout this whole process.  I've had 3 shots so far and at least 2 more to go.  I don't know what my internet access will be like in the new area, but I certainly hope I will get to continue blogging!  Thank you again for all your support :) 

Friday, June 17, 2011

Day 2

I'm here in training and each day has been better and better.  I think the biggest impact for this attitude is that I finally got a good night's sleep last night (thanks to Lunesta!).  My first night here, I have to admit, I thought to myself...what did I get myself into?  I barely slept and my first day was hard.  However, I'm putting up a good effort.  Last night, myself and the girl (Tiffany) that I sat next to on the plane helped the cook roll out breakfast.  She gave us some lessons in Swahili while doing so.  The woman is a culinary teacher by day and cooks at this place we're staying at during the night.  The other Peace Corps trainees (technically, we're not volunteers until August) are all very nice and wonderful.  We aren't allowed to leave where we're staying, but there are many Tanzanian students here.  They are all so kind and welcoming.  I feel like the whole area is committed to ensuring we are leaning Swahili as quickly as we can.  They go out of their way and have a short conversation and correct us when we're wrong.  All the trainees have to wear nametags, so everyone calls to our name.  The Peace Corps personell are extremely caring and nice.  We had our first language instruction today and our instructor was great!  So far, I'm feeling really positive about being here.  I just put photos up on facebook..check em out!

Passed the Equator!

"Well, it's official, the stars have all changed now"

The excitement of entering the southern hemisphere!

En Route

According to my netbook, it’s 10:30pm and according to the little screen in front of me, I am somewhere between North America and Europe over the Atlantic Ocean.  This first part of the trip is almost over, and it’s been a very long day.  Considering I have lived in Australia and Japan, I didn’t think a flight to Africa could take as long.  I am miserably wrong.  First of all, I stopped in L.A. on my way to Australia and on my way back, making any one leg only 12 hours.   Somehow, flying to Japan seemed less time, although I’m probably wrong.
We woke up at 6:00am this morning to get a Yellow Fever shot.  We all hopped on a bus and got to the airport.  I finally received my official business passport.  Yes, folks, I have two passports now.   One for Peace Corps and one for just me.  The bus arrived to the airport about 4 hours ahead of time.  This flight is somewhere between eight to nine hours long.   Jon and I are not together on the flight.  This is one time I regret not taking his last name, we’re seated alphabetically.  Ah, well.
I think we’re doing a great job of being individuals and trying to make friends, and finding time to celebrate this achievement we’ve made as a couple.  Everyone knows that there is only one married couple, and people are sometimes shocked it’s us.  In Tanzania, we are not allowed to display any PDA.  In addition to that, being the only married couple, we don’t want to turn people off from us by being too much of a “couple”.  So, on our first day, we sat at separate tables, we met people as individuals, and we tried to make relationships that way.   However, we did avoid the twenty person dinner so we could have dinner to ourselves.  We don’t know the next time we might have that luxury. 
There are 39 of us flying to Tanzania.  There were 41 initially accepted into our program.  Our group is very diverse.  Ages ranges from just graduating college 2 weeks ago to probably at least 75-80.  We have many ethnicities, from black to Asian to hispanic, and of course whites.   Included in this are a few people who have already done Peace Corps in other countries and have come back to serve again.  The group is from all over the USA, many people not having even a fellow statesperson.
One thing, however, that we all have in common right now are the anxieties we feel.  Nearly everyone has addressed that they’re nervous of the lack of running water and electricity, learning Swahili, getting sick from parasites, mosquitoes, or who knows what else, severe sunburn, or simply just not succeeding.  It’s a relief to be amongst people who have signed up for this journey, still have some anxieties, yet still are excited to go.
Well, I think it’s about 15 more hours to go from here.  I’ve had a few glasses of (free!) red wine.  Maybe I’ll try to get a nap in.  Love from 35,000 feet in the air!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

One more day, sorta

Well, I can't believe the time has come, but we're as ready as we're ever going to be.  After weeks of preparation, fretting over what to pack, we're actually underweight in our luggage.  It's hard to believe we're fitting everything we need in two, pretty small suitcases per person.

So, Monday morning, we fly to Philly, we have a one day orientation and then on Tuesday morning we get a bunch of immunizations, take a bus ride to Newark and fly out at 6:40pm.  We fly for 8 hours, have a 3 hour layover in Amsterdam, then fly for another 10 to Tanzania.  We get in around 9pm on Wednesday night, Tanzania time.

Then, we are in Dar es Salaam for four days.  The key thing to note here is that we aren't allowed to leave our hostel.  After four days of adjustment there, we head to Morogoro where we train for the next few months.  We'll stay with a host family and study Swahili, the culture, and have job training.

So, I am writing this blog because Peace Corps has three main goals.  One includes helping Americans understand the culture and people of where we go.  I hope that those of you who are reading this will come to understand Tanzania better than you do now.  Also, because I want you all to know what I'm up to there!

Saturday, June 11, 2011


Today we had a goodbye party at my parent's house, just two days before we depart.  The outpouring of support from family and friends was wonderful.  We can't thank you all enough for your genuine interest in our lives as we join the Peace Corps!  It makes it hard to leave such great family, yet so nice to have the support.  We hope you all had as good as a time as we did!  Love and hugs - Sara & Jon