Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Other White Nyama

Written September 21, 2010

I have been waiting to write about the topic of this post until this very week. As I write, thousands of pounds of pork and hundreds of chickens are being seasoned and basted in preparation for my all-time favorite festival back home- BBQ on the River!

Though all the festivals throughout western Kentucky have their own charm, I love BBQ on the River for four simple words: Bar-B-Que-Nachos! Imagine nacho chips and cheese sauce layered with bbq pork, bbq sauce and bbq powder. Ah, it's the best of both the Mexican and BBQ food worlds!

I was fortunate to live and work meer blocks from the festival. Practically all meals during the 3-day period were spent with co-workers, friends and family trying all the different booths to see if we agreed the judges' ruling on who had the best grill of the year. Of course, we also had to try the odder treats like frozen pickle juice and fried Twinkies!

Upon arriving at my village that first crazy night, one of my initial sights proved that my pork-luck had not ended. I have an "in" in the Tanzanian pork-scene!

Since most areas of Tanzania are predominately Muslim, pork is more of a vague tale of deliciousness said to be found in some southern villages. Believe me, the irony that it is mainly found in the "South" is not lost on me.

There are two places among the dukani, or shops, offering what they call kiti moto. This translates to "Seat Hot". (Fun Side Note: All adjectives in Swahili are after the noun.) I believe this is called so because it is typically served with peppers and onions, though in my ville it is simply cooked in big skillet of grease.

The important part to always remember when ordering kiti moto is to request "steaki" which refers to the cut. Arteries, fat and cartilage are the prime cuts to locals, and they are more than happy to get rid of the meatier pieces to the crazy Mmarekani!

I did not order the "steaki" the first time so I could try what the locals prefer. The arteries were not so bad, similar to clams. Though people in my village were entertained by watching me eat around the fat and skin. That same night I had to go back for a steaki order cause I did not really get any meat before!

Maybe when I return home in couple of years I will enter traditional Tanzanian kiti moto in BBQ on the River!

Impatient? Who Me?

Written September 21, 2010

So one day during my first week in the village my lack of experience speaking Swahili got me in a little hot water. I ran into my VEO (Village Executive Officer), and- even though we both knew I am not suppose to be doing much more than observing these first 3 months- I felt I needed to say something that at least made me appear to be productive.

Some volunteers get a VEO who speaks English. But those of you who know me know that kind of thing never happens in my life. Those of you who know me also know that I have habit of speaking without really thinking it through.
So instead of going home and writing out in Swahili what I should say to explain that at some point I need to meet with the head teacher of the school, I tried to say it in Swanglish...yes, we've coined a term for inserting English when we do not know the correct Swahili word.

Since I did not know how to say "at some point", I said kesho which means tomorrow. In my defense, tomorrow rarely means tomorrow. Nothing happens that fast here! Of course in instance, it actually did!

The next day I head to the primary school with a different village official, who also only speaks Swahili, and met with who I thought was the head teacher. She spoke a little English but it was still fairly confusing. For some reason, she did not say what I expected her to say in my mock conversation I had prepared in my head.

I had figured it would be at least the next term before they could work me in, but as the meeting came to an end, it was expressed for me to start like now. She said a bunch of Swahili of which I understood a tiny part that meant I should return on Monday. I honestly was not sure what I was expected to do when I returned on Monday, but I figured I could roll with whatever.

Then the more I thought about it, the more I started to worry. Primary school is our equivalent of elementary school, and classes are taught in Swahili. I had originally thought I would do some teaching at the secondary school (high school) where classes are taught in English. But my village shares a secondary school with the next village up the mountain.
Now that the snowball was rolling I did not want to offend anyone by switching schools. Though when I mentioned to my villagers what I was setting up, they were not exactly confident in my ability to teach at the primary school. Most laughed hysterically! My constant use of the Eng-Swahili dictionary has become a running joke.

I was able to get lesson plans for environmental education from another volunteer so I could be prepared for whatever Monday brought.

When I returned, I met with a different lady who I found out was the head teacher, or principal. I was better prepared, and she spoke better English. So it was really a great meeting. We set up for me to teach standard (grade) 5 on Mondays and 6 on Tuesdays.

She asked if I wanted to start that morning. At which point, there was only 10 minutes left in what would be my class time. Since I wanted to keep both days on the same lesson plan, I requested to start the next, but learned they were on vacation then. So we decided I would start the following Monday....see, nothing really happens that quickly!

This morning was my second day of my second week, and I am loving it. The lesson plans I got are in English so I am learning Swahili better through translating and teaching in it.

I got a huge, wonderful surprise on the first day when the 5th grade spoke a little English. I was surprised as I had heard that many school systems are not able to teach much English in the primary school, which leads to problems in the secondary school classes given in English. I usually say everything in Swahili and repeat in English as well as write the key points in both languages on the chalk board.

I am still a little nervous asking too many questions to the class as I may not understand their answers, but so far so good!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Written on Friday, September 3, 2010

Well, I have been in my village for exactly two weeks today! Time is both flying and standing still. I often check the clock after long time only to see that 10-15 minutes have passed. Or I wake from a deep sleep, fully awake and realize it is only midnight!

The first three months at site are primarily suppose to be spent learning about the village and people. This means popping a squat next to a woman selling produce or men hanging around the shops. Does not sound to hard, eh? Even fun?

I enjoy meeting people and talking, but this is a whole new level when no one speaks English and my Swahili is not far past greetings and buying toilet paper. In my last life back in the US, I loved being busy and juggling several things at once. So now I am adjusting to slowing down and my "work" being to shoot the bull in a language I cannot speak. It is not as easy as I expected. Particularly when I try to explain that I do not understand so the person tries to make me understand by standing closer to my ear and shouting the same words over and over!

As time progresses, I am sure my language will come and things will flow easier. I am very lucky to have such a friendly and welcoming village. I am the first Peace Corps volunteer to be in this village so I do not think they really know what to think of me being here! On the good side, I can pave my own path and not be held to a mold of what they saw past volunteers do.

Last week I finished painting the living room which makes everything more clean and comfortable. This Sunday I will get to meet the carpenter who made furniture for some other volunteers. I still just have the bed and folding chair so I am really ready to get a couch, table and some cabinets. Right now everything is all sitting on the floors and driving me crazy!

This week I have gotten to do more exploring in the areas around my village. There are two coffee estates nearby. One is a beautiful 45-minute walk into the mountains. The other is an hour and 45-minute hike over steep hills but it is well-worth it because it is also a resort! They offer a day pass that gives access to a swimming pool, tennis court, squash court, pool table and table tennis. They also have a fabulous menu featuring ice cream and pizza on Sundays! A truly great place for anyone wanting to visit me!!

Home Sweet Home

Written on Sunday, August 22, 2010

After a quick two days in Dar es Salaam for our swearing-in ceremony at the home of the US Ambassador, we were off to our villages! I was pumped to finally see my house and the village that will be home for the next two years.

Much to my excitement, the 14-hour trip from Dar to Mbeya includes a brief jaunt through a national park. Everyone in the van was glued to the windows trying to spot any kind of wildlife. After a long 15 minutes of nothing, our path practically became a safari! We saw elephants, giraffes, zebras, impalas, bamboons and even a warthog (was that Timone or Pumba?)!! Yes, I admit I let my hick side show again, but I was so excited to see them all just hanging out and munching on grass! Even after we drove out of the designated park area, bamboons continued to be spotted on the road side.

Once arriving in Mbeya city, the seven of us living in the Mbeya region met with our District Executive Director (who happens to be a woman- woop, woop!), our Village Executive Officers and a few of the other volunteers already living in the region.

Peace Corps dropped my VEO and I at my house at 8 p.m. ....yep, it was total darkness and a little eirie not being able to fully see anything. But the villagers instantly took my mind off that (for a bit) with a rousing welcome! About 50 of them greeted me at the house with singing, drumming and dancing. It was insane trying to get my luggage separated from the other's and off the van when they kept pulling me back into the dancing and celebrating!

A few words were said by them and myself- all in Swahili but I think they were glad to meet me. At one point, the VEO asked the crowd what I should be called. Someone yelled out Sharli, they all cheered and now they all call me Sharli. I was later told it means "pretty lady" in I mentioned it was really dark.

After most left, a few started bringing in food to my kitchen. I thought, 'how nice, they are stocking my kitchen for me.' Then I hear a chicken abruptly stop clucking....they had just killed my kitchen! So at 8:30 p.m., they literally killed a chicken for my supper!
Now to be honest, I was holding out a little hope that I would be one of the lucky few to get a house with electricity. That did not happen but I do have running water! It is a hydrant in my enclosed courtyard. Many villages have one or two water sourc es that volunteers must fetch from or pay to have delivered. So this is a huge luxury that I am very thankful to have.

The House
The house is actually just what I was looking to buy in Paducah: a 3-bedroom fixer upper with charm and potential! Ok, so I could be stretching the translation a bit. But it is nice and spacious with my own enclosed courtyard. The choo and kitchen are in a separate building from the living room and bedrooms.

The past couple of days have been spent mostly cleaning, which is a task I really appreciate having at this point to unwind and adjust. I plan to paint at least the living room and, since the house only came with a bed and wooden folding chair, I get to have some furniture made by a local carpenter and go shopping for other needs!

The Neighbors
I feel more secure having two very close close we even share an outdoor area. Luckily, I also have private courtyard but personal space is not really seen as important here. In fact, they rarely live alone and feel sorry for us volunteers who do. They expect us to be really lonely and tend to visit a lot.

This may explain why my first visitors arrived the first morning just before 8 a.m. I had just woken up and headed out to the choo when I heard the "Hodi" call. At first, I thought it must be someone to see my neighbors. Who did I know well-enough yet to visit at such an early hour?
But a knock on my courtyard door followed the next "Hodi" so I knew it was for me. Come to find out it does not matter how well you know the person for them to come a knockin in the early morn. Throughout the past couple of days, people have continued to stop by to say hello, present me with food and introduce themself.