For Easter Break, I decided to travel down to the other southern part of Tanzania to visit with other volunteers. Every volunteer that lives in this region always tells horror stories about how hard it is to get back and forth from this region so I knew I was going to be in for an adventure. The total distance is only 240km or about 120 miles, which in America would only take 2 hours to get to, but it took me nearly 3 days to reach my destination. Since it was the rainy season the only form of transportation that was available to “safely” make it was a Land Rover. So I stuffed myself into a 1960s or 70s model Land Rover (that had no seatbelts, no side mirrors, the windows no longer roll down and had one door that wouldn’t open and another that wouldn’t stay shut) with about 17 others (not including the “conductor” that rode either on top of the spare tire attached to the back of the LR or on top of the LR with the luggage) and started my journey.
Since the road has not been paved in this region yet, it was raining, and this region is very mountainous we were only able to travel 50 kmph or about 25 miles per hour. The LR wasn’t in the best of shape and so every time we reached a hill all of us would have to get out so the LR could get up the hill. I stopped counting after 12 hills. On one occasion the LR kept dying every time it got up halfway up the hill and so they had to push it up the hill. Again, this doesn’t sound that hard if the road was paved but this is the rainy season which meant that the road was a complete muddy mush. Due to the road being in this condition, on many occasions I thought our LR was going to tip over, especially since we packed as much luggage as would fit on top of the LR, but our driver had experience with these kind of conditions so we didn’t.
The group of people that I was travelling with were all either used to these types of conditions or were understanding of the situation because there was never any fuss when we had to evacuate the vehicle. I found out that 3 of them were engineers that were going to work on the road.
When I finally got to the town where I had to stay the night and catch another LR the next day at around 8:30pm, I was greeted by a group of men fist fighting at the bus stand. I have seen many beatings here before so I wasn’t surprised. Normally the hotels near the bus station are some of the nicest ones and so I followed some of my fellow passengers to one and checked in for the night. It only cost $2 a night and I didn’t think anything of it since some of the other people that I was travelling with were also staying there but at around 12:30 am I got a knock on my door from the police who said they were looking for a robber. They wanted to see my passport and work permit. Luckily I had my old Passport and my PC id with me but I was unable to show them my Peace Corps Passport or work visa since their government was still approving them. They weren’t happy about this but they finally let me off when one of the other persons staying there lied and said that they knew me and I was a teacher there. When you stay at a hotel here you have to fill out all of this information about your tribe, your region, your passport number etc. so they knew exactly, to the skin color, who is staying in what hotel. I normally put American for tribe, and nationality etc. I later found out that this makes me an easy targets for poor policemen that commonly want money from whites. I am not for sure if this is true or not however, I didn’t see him knock on anyone else’s door at that hotel so it might be true.
The next day I was able to take a minibus for the next leg of the trip. We were making good time until we came upon a road that was nothing but sand. The minibus started smoking a lot but we were also stuck in the sand. They told us that another bus was coming to take all of us but after 5 hours I confronted them about what was all going on and they told us that no one was coming to take us. Later a huge industrial size truck (not a semi diesel) was able to pull us out of the sand and to the next town. They told us that the minibus would be able to go any further and so we would either have to get a ride on the truck that just pulled us out of the sand or stay the night in the little village and hope for something tomorrow. There were already people in the back of the truck and the 3 engineers that I was travelling with all happily got into the back of the truck so I figured I should follow suit. Peace Corps policy strictly forbids us from travelling in the back of open bed trucks unless in cases of extreme emergency. My fellow passengers from the minibus had already started begging me for money and I was not for sure if I would be able to find a place to sleep, so I considered it an emergency. Whenever I would see movies or news about illegal immigrants having to travel in the back of trucks I used to think how uncomfortable and dangerous that must be. It wasn’t as bad as I anticipated, although I have to say that standing in a moving truck for 8 hours when you are packed in with as many people and gunney sacks of full of produce that will fit, isn’t exactly the most comfortable way to travel. Due to my white status, I was given the most comfortable position to stand and hold on to the bars of the truck: a position in the very center of the bed of the truck. This was actually the safest position since it meant that I would fall on the other passengers or bags of produce before I would fall down. We all had to pay the same fare but some of the men thought it was fun to ride on the high siderails (ones that would support a canopy) of the truck.
At one point this old man, around 60-70 years old, flagged down the truck and asked for a ride. The man could barely walk (and I don’t know where he came from since there aren’t that many elderly still alive here) but he was anxious to climb aboard. Somehow we managed to make room for the old man to sit down although I think he would have been fine standing since he acted like this wasn’t the first time he had ridden a truck like this and it wouldn’t be the last.
It took us almost 8 hours to reach the next town where I would spend the night but the time seemed to fly by since I was the topic of conversation during most of those 8 hours. It seemed like everyone either had a question that they were dying to ask about America, or they were impressed that I knew so much Kiswhili and so they wanted me to speak more of it so they could be amused.
I am not for sure if you have looked at my pictures yet but some of them are of a national park my training group went to and you might be interested in knowing stories about that trip. Nothing quite as adventurous as my Easter Break happened on our trip but it was an enriching experience nonetheless. We went to a small game park that is only 2 hours from where we lived and studied during training called Mikumi National Park. The park, like most of them, is basically located in a crater so it is difficult for the animals to escape. The park was only about a fraction of the size of the Serengeti (also located in Tanzania) but we were able to see all of the major animals that inhabited the park except
Cheetahs. However, I must say that finding the animals is no easy task. You basically have to drive around for hours hunting for them and once you find them it is difficult to get close enough to them to take pictures. We were there for a total of two days but we only were able to see animals on our first day. I can definitely say that it is quite refreshing to be alone driving around a park on a dirt path with no signs of modern life and see exotic animals like lions, elephants, and giraffes in their natural habitats. Since I was able to see nearly all of the animals I wanted to see, and it is difficult to hunt them down I don’t think I will be visiting the expensive Seregenti while I am here.
A lot of things have happened at the village since my last blog. Last week we got cell phone coverage in my village! I don’t have it at my house but I only have to walk 10ft up to the school football field to get coverage. So feel free to call me and if you are unable to reach me just leave me a text message and I will text you back with a time when I will be available and in a good location to talk.
At school my teachers have found that the beatings aren’t teaching the students a good enough lesson so they are now making them kneel under the coldwater tap outside for long periods while they beat their tender skin. I have become quite numb to all the unusual punishments that they do to the students so nothing is surprising to me anymore.
My Peace Corps boss came to visit me at my site this past week to see how my teaching was going etc. I was very surprised when I told him they haven’t paid our cooks all year, they make students beat other students etc. and I don’t think he would have put me at my site if he would have anticipated all of this going on. (I will say that I am happy here and can’t imagine teaching anywhere else.) While we were having tea with the other teachers in the staff room one of the students got in trouble and so one of the teachers punished her by punching her in the face right in front of my boss! Like I said I am numb to all that they do to them but my boss was really affected by the whole thing.
There are a few things that it has taken me a long time to figure out about Tanzanian culture. Ever since I have arrived I have wondered about these small claylike rolls that they sell at the market. I have seen them at all the markets and they always seem to have them in red, tan, dark brown, and white colors. Every chance I have gotten I have asked what kind of spice they were to only get a responses like “they are for pregnant women”, “white people don’t use them”, or “oh, you wouldn’t like them.” Finally the other day one of my villagers was eating one of them and I asked her about it. She was embarrassed and she told me that she could get sick eating them since they contain worms when I asked her what it was. Finally after awhile she told me that she was eating “soil” or dirt! I was very surprised. I knew that some pregnant women in the states used to crave them but I never knew people to actually eat it. She said that she started eating it when she was younger and has liked it ever since.
The other thing I have learned is the reason why I have gotten requests for sperm donations. As it turns out, the people with the highest status in TZ culture among the Africans are ones with the whitest skin. Thus if you have a child that is not very dark but a tanish dark color he will have a higher status. I have found out from other volunteers that evidently, this trend used to dominate African American culture too and still does to some extent to this day.
I have had to have some repairs done to my house, that I could have easily done myself, but my school pays for any repairs so I decided to let them repair the problems. My door since it is nailed to a weak frame had started to sag on one side and thus wouldn’t close properly. In my opinion, the whole frame needs to be replaced to fix it. The repairman that they sent to my house, however, had other plans. He brought a saw and sawed the frame to fit the sagging door. The door closes fine now. I also had a clogged sink since dirt tends to accumulate in the pipes after years of use. The solutions this time was not to simply replace the pipes but clean them out with a dishcloth and reuse them! I would have been glad to pay for new pipes if I would have known they were going to do that!
A few of my teachers asked me about the Civil Rights movement in America a few weeks ago. I explained to them that the Africans that were in America were not given the best of jobs, education etc. and so they protested to get equal rights and facilities like the whites. No matter how hard I tried to explain to them about it they still couldn’t understand why in the world they were causing such a ruckus. How could anyone complain if you get free education up to high school, free use of textbooks during your schooling, (they have to pay very expensive school fees here every year after primary school and the school doesn’t buy textbooks the students are required to if they want them) and you actually have an opportunity to have a job other than farming (here although many people have a college education it is still very difficult to find a job).