Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Crooked Beak

It's no wonder I am a vegetarian - meet Crooked Beak, one of about fifteen chickens that come to eat our food scraps that we throw into our backyard. Every time crooked beak comes to eat my scraps, I am super happy to see him.  He obviously gets his name because his beak is crooked and it's hard for him to eat.  Jon and I think he might be a "special" chicken because he always seems to get caught in our yard when the other chickens can find their way out.  They belong to our neighbor who will probably eat them.  But, in the meantime, I am so happy to have crooked beak visit daily and make me smile.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Picnic area

We found an area that takes about 25 minutes to walk to that we have picnics or just relax outside when it's not too cold or windy.  There's a beautiful view from there of pastureland and rolling hills.  Also, we've calculated that we're actually at about 7,000 feet in our village!

Monday, September 26, 2011

This is me walking back home through the burnt-down cornfields.  We live among those houses which are houses specifically for teachers at our school.  You can get an idea of the rural nature of our area!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Chipsi Mayai

I don’t know if Tanzania has a “national dish”, but one dish you can order at just about any restaurant or that can be found in little wooden shacks on the corner of any village or city is called chipsi mayai.  It is delicious and to be honest, so many volunteers here have wondered why Americans haven’t caught onto this easy to make and delicious to eat dish.  So, here is a recipe for those of you who like to cook:
  1. 4 medium potatoes
  2. 2 eggs
  3. Oil (for frying)
  1. Peel potatoes and cut into the size of steak french fries
  2. Heat enough oil to cover the potatoes until drops of water cause “boiling”
  3. Put potatoes in the hot oil and cook until soft, turning occasionally so they cook evenly.
  4. Remove potatoes from oil and place in frying pan with 1 TBSP of oil.
  5. Beat two eggs and pour over the potatoes in the frying pan
  6. Cook them together for a few seconds and then flip using a plate (invert the frying pan over the plate and then slide the chips mayai  off the plate and back into the pan with the uncooked side down on the heat).
  7. Press the chipsi mayai into the pan with a spatula as it cooks.  After a minute or so, flip again using the plate and press again with the spatula
  8. Continue cooking until the egg is completely cooked.  
Most Tanzanians eat it with a tomato or chili sauce over top, you can use ketchup.  The name comes from “chipsi”, which is just basically British English for french fry with a Swahili accent and mayai means eggs in Swahili.
If you try it out, let me know!

Saturday, September 24, 2011


My new profile picture is a great depiction of my life here in Tanzania!  This is me at our watering station trying to get a bucket of water.  Unfortunately, this cow must have been super thirsty because every time I tried to get water he came charging at me, licking out of my bucket.  So, I had to leave one spout running so he would drink out of it while I filled my bucket in the other spout.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Going to church

Jon and I accepted an invitation to go to a church our first weekend here.  Tanzanians are generally very religious and devoted to their faith.  It is very odd to find a Tanzanian who does not identify with some faith.  About 35% – 40% of Tanzanians are Muslim, but this population is generally along the coast.  Then, about 45% – 50% of Tanzanians are Christian.  According to the Lonely Planet Tanzania guide, the remainder of Tanzanians follow some type of ancestor worship, or worship of the land and various ritual objects.  I don’t think I’ve met a Muslim in our village since we are so far from the coast.  One of the first questions you will receive from a Tanzanian when you first meet them is, “What religion are you?”.  It’s really difficult to try to explain concepts like atheism or being agnostic, so it’s easiest just to identify as whatever religion you know the best.  So, we’ll just say we’re Christian because we can talk about that better than anything else.
Peace Corps also encourages (highly encourages) us to get integrated into our village as quickly as possible.  We thought that attending church would be an easy way to meet people, be seen, and get integrated. As far as I can tell, the church we attend is a non-denominational Christian church.  There is a Roman Catholic church down the street, but they don’t have a priest.  The first week we attended, many of the students from our high school were also there.  They took up about 1/4 of the church.  These students provide the gospel singing and dancing which is phenomenal.  I was pleased we went simply to see these students sing and dance.  There is one student who plays a drum as well.  The remainder of the church congregation are some teachers, and many people from the village. Of course, the whole service is in Swahili, so we understand very little of the message.
The first week we attended, the principal or mkuu of our school introduced us to the congregation.  We were pleased that we were able to get an introduction to many villagers so early on.  We also got to meet the pastor personally and he is very kind.  At the end of church, everyone goes outside and they auction off items.  Basically, someone will bring in items as a donation and then the church auctions them off to people to get money for the church.  The first week, people donated eggs which were bought and then given to Jon and I.  They also auctioned off pencils.
The second week we attended was slightly different than the first week. The biggest thing we noticed was the church went from one hour to 2.5 hours.  The students were having a break from school, so they were not in attendance.  There was an additional pastor and we played a game.  Basically, the church has been trying to build a larger church for the last two years.  So, this week included a game which took about one hour to do, but raised money for the new church being built.   If you chose, you could buy a card for 1,000 TSH (TSH = Tanzanian Shillings) (like 75 cents).  Then, inside your card is a prize.  You could win a piece of candy, soap, pencils, a notebook, or the grand prize of a T-shirt.  Jon and I each bought a card and oddly enough we both won a notebook which we were happy about.  Then, we did the same auction at the end, where again, the eggs were bought by someone else and given to us.
I hope that we can improve our Swahili to talk to people more.  Also, it will be interesting to see if church begins to make more sense to us as our language improves.  Overall, it’s not too bad not being able to understand anything because the singing and dancing is entertainment enough.  In fact, in the Tanzania Lonely Planet guide, it marks church singing as one of the top 10 cultural experiences!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Neighbor kids

Jon playing with the kids who come to visit us often.  They basically just like to play in mud and watch us.  We can't understand anything they are saying to us because they speak so quickly, but they definitely cheer me up when they come over to our home.  The one boy is the son of the principal of our school, the other boy is the son of the school cook, and the third boy only comes around sometimes.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Is it a party?

Jon and I got really excited because it turns out that there is a village about 1.5 miles from our house.  You see, we live in teacher housing near the school and so there isn’t any real village around us.  We found one area about 10-15 minutes away, but it was hardly a village.  So, we walked into this village to see what it’s like.  As we entered, one of the first homes had about fifty people sitting around their lawn and large quantities of food being prepared.  We were super curious as to what was going on there.  Is it a restaurant?  Is it a party?  Is it a place where people get food?  We weren’t sure.
After going into the village and introducing ourselves to some people, we were ecstatic to find a little restaurant where we can buy chipsi mayai, one of Tanzania’s famous foods.  It’s basically just french fries and eggs together (it’s really good).  We also discovered places to buy more minutes for our phone and some food so we don’t have to buy it all in the major city that is expensive to get to for us. 
On our way home, we decided to stop and ask what was going on at that house with many people.  Of course, we used Swahili to try to learn what was going on.  The conversation that went awkwardly wrong went a little something like:
Jon: Hello!  What’s going on here?
Man: Hello!  It’s a <enter word we don’t know>
Jon: Hmm, I don’t know <that word>
Sara with a big, happy smile on the face: Ah!  Is it a party?
Man, in English: No, it’s a funeral
Jon & Sara: enter foot in mouth

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Solar savior

Thank god for solar power chargers!  That little guy on the left hand side of my ipod can charge our ipods, our kindle, and our cell phone.  We leave it outside for about 8-10 hours and wa-la, we can use our electronic goods again.  Best invention ever and so glad we decided to get one before we came!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Trophy: Goat

Right near our home, there is a soccer field where men have been competing since the first weekend we were here.  Finally, we discovered that it’s a tournament between villages nearby our home (relatively nearby).  At Jon’s request, I accompanied him to two games.  The first game we attended was incredibly awkward for me.  I was the only female there…yes, the only female and of course I stand out already since I’m a mzungu, a white person.  There were two other teachers from our school there, too.  When I explained that I used to play soccer, they were intrigued.  I can’t speak for the whole country, but it seems that in my experience, women don’t play soccer here.  Most women play a sport called netball which is a version of basketball.
The next game we went to was the championship game.  This time there were other women and easily 100 spectators and likely more.  The winners of the championship were to receive $20 for the whole team plus a goat.  Yes, a real live goat as the trophy for the winning team.  The game was wild.  Every time there was a goal, the spectators rushed the field, people were doing flips, and children were dancing.  There was one man who had a horn to provide the noise for the game.  It turned out that the horn was literally that.  An animal horn where the person had made a little place to blow into and made noise.
As it turned out, the score was 4-1, but the losing team was very upset.  At the end of the game, a fist fight broke out!  We couldn’t see much because the crowd rushed to the fight.  Once the fist fight ended between the teams, the losing team starting chasing the referee out of site.   Jon and I left before we could determine what had happened.  Our neighbor came over the next day to let us know what happened.  The losing team was supposed to receive a second place prize of $8.  But, the villages got together and determined that the losing team will not receive any money and those who fought and chased the referee will not be able to play in the next tournament.  All of this over a goat (and maybe some team pride)!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Our "choo"

Yep, so this is our "bathroom".  You squat over that hole in the ground to do your business and then pour some water into it to flush it away.  The little space in front of the toilet is where I stand to take a bucket bath.  This gem is one of the hardest adjustments for me.  I'm not used to showering over my choo or toilet, but it took me two days to finally do it at first and some holding back tears.  Now, I just go at it!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Rat Escapades

One common nuisance that comes along with living in Tanzania are the presence of rats.  Most families have this problem at some point throughout the year.   For instance, my host family had to buy poison to get rid of a rat problem they had while we were there.  There are several strategies to try to prevent this problem, one being simply not leaving any food laying around.  We definitely know that that volunteer in our house previous to us had rat problems.  When we rearranged furniture in our house, we discovered hundreds of rat pellet poop.  However, we had not seen any in our home….until two nights ago.

I was having one of my insomniac nights, I was  just teetering on the brink of falling asleep without actually sleeping.  I was laying in bed and I heard a noise that seemed to be coming from within our bedroom.  I figured it’s probably nothing because there are a lot of noises in the night.  But, then I heard something that sounded to be coming from within our clothing cabinet.  After ten minutes of making sure it sounded like it was inside the house, I finally woke Jon up.  It took about five minutes of convincing him that it was not “a bird on the roof at 3:00am”.  We lit a candle and searched our room, but found nothing.  Jon went into the kitchen and there it was, our first rat scurrying across the table in which we prepare all of our food.  It jumped off the table, ran behind our buckets of water, and scurried into our spare room where we have a bookshelf. 

So, at 3:00am, we put all of our food underneath pots and set up rat traps.  We took buckets, put some peas and powdered milk underneath it and then propped it up with a nail.  We set one up in the kitchen and one up in the spare room where we thought it was hiding.  After hoping that it either gets caught or leaves, we went back into bed.  It wasn’t even five minutes where we heard it scurrying around in our room.  We got a flashlight and caught it staring back at us!  It must have come into our bedroom while we were trying to set up traps.  We chased it out of the room and fell asleep.

The next morning, we woke up feeling hopeful that the rat fell for one of our traps.  Sadly, it had not gotten caught underneath the one in the kitchen.  Jon went into our spare room to check on that trap and he came running back out screaming.  The rat was on top of our bookshelf and when Jon walked into the room, they were eye to eye.  We shut the door to that room and went right over to our neighbor to borrow their cat named Miss.

Miss (who by the way is a male cat) was placed into the spare room to catch the rat.  After about thirty minutes of the cat trying to get the rat who was hiding underneath the bookshelf, we decided to try to to help Miss out by shaking the rat out of the bookshelf.  Jon went into the room to shake the bookshelf.  But, nothing came out.  Miss was scared of the commotion and left his resting place on our bag of charcoal.  As it turned out, Miss was sitting on top of the rat on the charcoal bag!  We didn’t know if the rat was dead or not. 

Our neighbor came to see if she could help the situation.  She is a 25 year old Swahili teacher at our school.  So, her and Jon went back into the rat room and I stayed outside peering into the room through the window.  The rat was not dead.   Our neighbor went to check on the bag of charcoal and the rat came running out, scaring our neighbor who jumped up and nearly landed on the rat as she came back down.  Miss was excited now.  I could see the whole room, so I was screaming at them where the rat was at all points.  This rat can jump!  It climbed up the bookshelf, jumped down, scaled all corners of the room, jumped two feet into the air to climb up our bicycle, hopped over onto my hanging laundry until Maida whacked it with a fly swatter back to the ground.  Finally, Miss caught the rat and enjoyed a rat snack.  The whole process took hours to finally get that rat defeated! 

If we get another rat, we are going to get a cat.  Our neighbor told us with Miss around they have not seen any rats in their home at all.  Rats eat everything: they chew holes in your furniture, clothes, shoes, eat your food, and are just disgusting to begin with.  So, that was the beginning of our week!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

August 30

August 30, 2011
I don’t know where to start, really.  I feel like the fun has ended and reality has struck.  On Thursday night, we got to our permanent site and have been very busy since.  Our house has no electricity or running water, which was a real possibility in any country that Peace Corps places us in.  It’s not terribly bad, yet.  We have neighbors across the street who are incredibly helpful and kind to us.  But, the school compound is set far back from the village.  I fear it will be difficult to integrate into our community as a result.  Today, we finally went for a walk in the village to see what is around.  We found a few places that sell the necessities like rice, beans, sugar, salt, and very few vegetables.  Thankfully, there is a place that also sells toilet paper.  That’s actually quite rare in villages such as ours.  We’re not too far from a city, but there’s no public transportation to get there.  So, it’s becomes expensive for us to go into the city to get what we need. 
Shockingly it’s been hard adjusting to the weather, because it’s too cold.  I really never felt that would be a problem living in Tanzania.  But, we are living at about 6,500 feet.  Naturally, it’s colder here due to the altitude.  When I finally managed to get out of bed this morning around 9:00am, it was only 60.  Right now, at 3:30pm, it’s only 65. 
We’ve been really trying to make our house feel like our home.  It seems no matter how much we clean, it never gets clean.  I take a shower and within 3 minutes, the bottoms of my feet are dirty again.  We have to shower over our “toilet”, which is also something I am not keen on. 
Today, I am feeling incredibly homesick, maybe for the first time since getting here.