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.

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