Saturday, August 19, 2006

In less than a month I will have been living here in Tazania for an entire year! It is hard to believe I know. I found out a few months after I moved to my site that my boss and some of my trainers thought I would return to America within my first month at site (living alone in my village). I am still not for sure why they thought that but it seems I have made it. It is amazing for me to think back to how much I have changed since I arrived here last year. I will never forget taking the bus from Dar es Salaam (the capital city of TZ where our KLM plane landed) to Morogoro (where we trained for 3 months). On that 3 hours bus trip I remember how none of us volunteers said a word since we were in total shock of what we were seeing. We saw little signs of development but rather hundreds of people living in mud huts, people walking with no shoes, and people carrying water, bricks, or firewood on their heads. I never thought I would ever get used to this type of environment let alone adapt my lifestyle to live among these people. Now I don’t think twice about what I see here and it’s hard for me to imagine that I could have ever lived in a place that wasn’t similar to this environment. Actually I get reverse culture shock when I go back to Morogoro or Dar and these cities are only somewhat developed compared to any American city.

I have also changed physically. I have lost around 20 pounds (but according to the scale in the PC medical office I have actually gained weight since they altered the scale so we won’t freak out about how much weight we have lost), gotten used to having my haircut as short as possible with the clippers since it is hard to find someone here that knows how to cut mzungu’s (a white man’s hair) with scissors and speak Kiswhili fluently (my villagers are currently teaching me the tribal language Kendendeule and so I know some of that too). However, some things never change like people asking me what tribe I am from, how many tribes are in America, what kinds of crops does my family farm back home (it is hard for them to imagine that not everyone farms in America since 90% of the people here farm for a living), what foods do I eat back in America since I don’t eat meat or fish here (it is hard for them to imagine how many varieties of food we have in America since the diet here is basically ugali (dough like cornmeal), rice or spaghetti noodles (if you are rich enough to afford them like me) for carbohydrates and beans, meat, or cooked vegetables to go with the starch), why does my skin color change when I am out in the sun too long, when will I marry a TZ girl, and why don’t I want an African child. People also ask me to give them money to go to college, build a house, pay for their child to be delivered at a decent hospital, or for sugar or alcohol.

A lot of people have asked me what do I miss most about America. During the first few months of living here I used to miss all the varieties of food (especially cheese and Mexican food) and entertainment that are readily available in America. (I have had so many dreams about grocery stores that they are too numerous to count). Like I mentioned early I have since gotten used to the food and entertainment situation here and I thus don’t have dreams about grocery stores anymore. The main thing that I miss now, and have ever since I arrived, is my friends and family. I know that this is something I will never get over and thus have learned to deal with it. I am very grateful for all of you and thank you so much for continuing to write, email and call me. It means more to me than you will ever understand.

One of the things that I know that I will miss about TZ when I return next year to America is going to be the amount of respect that I get from the people here. Many people still treat whites here the way that they used to treat the white colonial leaders because they think we have the same expectations. For this reason, they won’t allow us to carry anything heavy, or do any task that will make our hands become rough and show signs of a laborer (they actually say peasants), and they always ask us to give our opinion in gatherings or meetings even if we don’t know anything about the topic. This isn’t the type of respect that I am talking about. This type of respect at times can get annoying. The type of respect that I am talking about is the type that people give us because they understand all of the sacrifices that we are making to be here and serve their community for two years. They demonstrate this by cooking me dinner and bringing it to my house, giving me a portion of their harvest and meeting my demands for food as best as they can. For example, this past week I told the lady that cleans my house, without even considering how she would take it, that I haven’t been able to buy bananas in the village for a long time. She took it that I wanted bananas and therefore the next day three different people showed up at my door with bags of bananas!

Another thing that I know I will miss when I return home is the bush “GPS position locating system” that exists here. There are very few white people living here in TZ and so the people here consider it their job to update us on where our brothers and sisters are (they consider all white people family even though they know we are not blood related since they consider other Tanzanians to be their family even though they are not blood related). One time I was just walking down the street in town minding my own business when a man came up to me and told me that my brother was in a restaurant nearby. I wasn’t looking for another white person but it was nice to know the location of my fellow PCV. I have also been able to ask people, even in the capital city of 2 million people, where other volunteers are and most of the time I have been able to locate them by this method. This is just one example to show that even though we don’t have a lot of fancy technology we are able to make up for it.

It is still hard for me to determine exactly how much of a benefit, if any benefit at all, Peace Corps is making in this country. What I know for sure is that Peace Corps is a great benefit to America for two reasons. First, it forces Americans from all walks of life, religions and regions in America to learn about other Americans and how to cooperate with them. One of the main reasons that we are able to live and work in countries so different from our own, is that we are able to meet with other volunteers in our group on occasion and share our frustrations and successes with them and they understand what we are talking about. (If we try and share these sort of things with the people here they have no clue what we are talking about and thus it makes us feel like we are on another planet). We really don’t care what state they are from or what religion they are etc. we are just happy to be able to talk to another American! In this way we have learned that we are more alike than we are different despite the many stereotypes that Americans have about each other. You wouldn’t believe how many questions I have gotten from other volunteers once I tell them I am from Kansas. They people think that only white people who own farms and have little education live in Kansas. Its not that they are ignorant, it is just that they don’t come across that many people from the Midwest (a large number of volunteers come from the east and west coasts) that often.
One of the interesting things to consider concerning this benefit is to consider that there are many returned volunteers are currently serving in our government and just recently there was a bill that proposed to allow people serving in the military to do two years of military service and then serve their last two years in the Peace Corps in order to fulfil their requirements. Representatives from both political parties came together (mostly returned volunteers) and opposed this bill.

The other benefit is that it encourages volunteers that have little or no interest in the fields that they are volunteering in here (for example education or public health) to continue working in the fields that they volunteered in when they return to the states. I have heard from many returned volunteers that find themselves teaching in America when they return when they would have never done so if they didn’t first get a taste for it here. As a result, it supplies America with a few more workers in the fields that are deficient in workers. Both of these benefits, which I consider to be very valuable, come at a cost that is less than 1% of America’s Foreign Service Budget.