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 Swahili....as 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 it....in 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 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!
I feel more secure having two very close neighbors....so 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.