Friday, September 23, 2011

Buses, Trains and Mushrooms

As an environment volunteer, I have heard many times that the second year is the best. Projects within your village begin to develop; there are opportunities for travel; and basically, an overall better feeling of knowing what you are doing. So far this has held true for me.

When I first decided to do Peace Corps, I thought ‘what’s two years in the whole scheme of life?’ Then I got here and thought ‘oh no, that’s 24 months…
26 including training…what was I thinking?!’ In my American-constant-fast-forward-mode, I could not understand why we do not just move-in, bang out a few improvements and then return to the wonderful land of hot showers and 44 choices of peanut butter at the grocery. Now I cannot believe I have only one more year to get things done. With the cultural and language barriers, the first year really does help to develop the relationships and trust required if you want any hope of making a sustainable difference.

So that’s where I am mentally. It’s been too long since my last post because physically I have been much more ‘shagalabagala’ or crazy and messy! There has been lots of travel, lots of fun and lots of really bad internet connections. When I have been in my village, I have been trying to focus more on interacting with my villagers and getting away from the mind frame of wondering what’s going on in America. Here is a few brief updates on the past couple months…

In July I traveled with other PCVs in the Mbeya region to the neighboring Iringa region for a new type of meeting the PC staff have added this year. Tanzania may be a fraction of the size of the US but the environment and land is just as varied. Regional meetings have been set-up to help those of us facing the same issues come together to discuss what we are doing and how it’s working. I really enjoyed this set-up and got a lot out of it. PLUS, Iringa has an Italian man who has opened a soft-serve ice cream shop!

July also started the new school term. My standard 6 students had been studying environment since I started teaching last September, so I decided this was a good time to switch them over to Life Skills. PC has a great manual for teaching Life Skills which includes lessons on HIV/AIDS, decision making and communications. The head teacher liked it so much I was able to add on a Life Skills class for the standard 7 class in addition to keeping my environment class for standard 5.

I have been so proud of the 5 girls I took to our Girls Empowerment Conference! They have really stepped up and helped teach without much embarrassment or nervousness about touchy issues like HIV/AIDS and condoms.

August was my one year mark for living in the vill! My training class gathered in Dar es Salaam for our Mid-Service Conference. Making it to MSC felt like such a huge accomplishment and none of us could believe it was already time for it. Sessions were held to update us on policies and procedures. We also had physicals and dental exams. I was relieved to be get the check up but strangely disappointed they did not test my poop…found out later I had to ask for that. Noted for my Close of Service med exam.

Besides all the good food and good visits with friends I had not seen in months, a big highlight was traveling back by train! Every time I go to Mbeya town from my vill I pass by the train station and had really wanted to take the train somewhere. A class of education PCVs were having their COS conference in Dar as well so I got to travel with a few friends from that group.

The train is really inconsistent on times so we decided it best to take it back from Dar when we would not have to be somewhere by certain time. This was really smart as we ended up with engine problems and sat for over 5 hours waiting on a new one! But the great thing about the train is having to sit is not so bad. We had our cabin to hang out in, watch movies off our computers, food from the restaurant car and -my favorite- a BATHROOM! So it didn’t matter how much water I drank. Whereas on a bus, you are at the mercy of when the driver wants to pull off the side of the road so you can use a bush.

I could write tons more on this trip but, alas, time and space are limited so you’ll have to wait for the book on this one.

You may have read a past post about the mama group I was working to start. That group has…well, been a frustration to say the least. Women in the village are so busy it can be hard to convince them the benefits of joining a group. At times it feels like the ones who do attend are just there to see what and how much free stuff they can get out of me.

Luckily, I have found there is already a group of women meeting in my village. Don’t ask how I did not know there was already a group…still a bit embarrassed on that. But it’s common for PCVs to learn these type things later than expected. Again, that first year of learning culture and language really does come in handy!

This group is exactly what I was hoping to create. They meet weekly about agriculture issues and already have the officer structure and leadership established. They are also really interested in having me TEACH them not just hand out money. So I am quite excited.

They have started a small edible mushroom crop and want help to enlarge it. Just by going through the mushroom info I received from PC I was able to show them a couple improvements to how they are growing them from bags. They really need a small house built of straw and bamboo to be able to add water to the air. So I am looking into writing a grant application through PC to help fund the project. I’d been a bit if-y about grants because I’m the first in my area and they are still learning PC comes in to teach not provide money. But I feel this is different since it’s a project they have already started and put their own money into as well. More on that to come!

In America I loved being involved in organizations and having lots of things going. So to help fill that need of my personality, I have been really trying to get more involved within PC. I am really excited to have been elected as the Mbeya region representative on the Volunteer Advisory Council. VAC is basically like student government. It meets three times a year in Dar, and reps bring up issues from their region.

I am also really excited to have been selected as a PCV Facilitator for the next training of environment volunteers! During 5-6 wks of the 9 wks of training before being placed in a village, current PCVs are chosen to spend a week helping with training and facilitating sessions on subjects they are particularly involved. I really relied a lot on starting my Environment Education in my primary school to help integration into my village, even though we did not receive training on EE until a later training. So I am going to help lead sessions on EE so those like me who want to get more involved earlier have more info on how to go about it.

That’s it for now! I promise to get another post up soon...well, I promise to try anyway :)