Sorry for my lack of update in this blog. Everything has been happening so fast. Even though during June I had a “break” I was still busy with Peace Corps trainings, events, or just meddling around the villages nearby talking and meeting villagers. And then some of you know I actually went back to America for my grandmother’s funeral in September. But I’ve been back in the village now for almost 3 months. And I was just blessed by the visit of my family (dad, mom, brother) and had the pleasure of showing them around Tanzania and my village. Here are a few highlights in random order since April.
50th Anniversary of Peace Corps – This event took place during June and I was privileged to travel all the way to Dar es Salaam to celebrate at the US Embassy with some fellow volunteers. I think I highlight this event because I felt so out of place there. There were so many Americans working abroad and I was very interested in hearing all these new possibilities that I had never even heard of.
Basketball – There is a dirt basketball court that was created by the students at my school. Currently it’s in a super run down condition because we have used it quite a bit. I even bought a basketball back in June so that the students and I could play. But to give you a better picture of what it is like, it’s about half the size of a real court and I can dunk. And to give you an even better picture, I’m the Yao Ming of my village, not because of my height, but because I can play just a bit better than everyone. I’m not trying to be cocky here but I’m more of trying to paint a picture of how basketball here isn’t very big yet, but the students like to play. And during the break in June while Form 2 and 4 students stayed back to study for their National Exams, I had one of the best weeks in Tanzania playing basketball with the students (boys versus girls).
Christmas in July! On July 1, 2011 I went hiking to a village nearby called Luvungo with a student Hilary to visit his mom’s side of the family. And apparently EVERYONE in this village is related to each other. I’d say Luvungo consists of about 250 people including the elderly, adults, and kids. A good number of my students actually come from this village. We first stopped at his grandmother’s house and when we got there they were somewhat shocked to see me. After introductions and greetings in the village dialect of Kipangwa, his grandmother’s first question was if I was a male or female. I got a kick out of it but they really just don’t know. Then the grandmother and my student had a short conversation where she told him she would get a little bit of money in October and during October she would give him money to buy pens for school. She reminded me of my grandmothers and it made me miss home. Then we went to visit his grandfather who lives on the part of the mountain where there’s a gorgeous view. When we got there he wasn’t there, but was at his farm. So one of his granddaughter’s takes us to his farm to say hi. His grandfather was overjoyed to see his grandson. And Hilary’s grandfather said something that really hit me. He said in Swahili, “you come from far away, were educated and then you came here to live with us and teach our children. You’re helping us so much. You are our family here.” And this was the first time I met him. I felt so welcomed. Then he told his granddaughter who was with us to give me a chicken. A chicken here is equivalent to gold/diamonds to us. It’s like the prized possession of Tanzanians. And I’m super hesitant to receive gifts here because people here are living in poverty and yet they give with such a loving heart. But in Tanzanian culture, it’s very rude to reject gifts. And so I accept this gift and I feel super bad. I’ve been to his house, seen his children and grandchildren living around him and most of the kids are malnourished. And here I’m taking away with me a chicken. It’s super humbling to accept a gift like this and such a powerful display of God’s love through people. This was the main story I wanted to share, but throughout the day other people from my village just randomly gave me gifts. I really felt loved.
First term of school finished in early June while the second term started on July 4th (and I remember the date because I was bummed not to get the day off!). But it was a nice change to be back in the bustling school setting with students screaming and running around. But it took a little bit for me to get back into the groove of teaching my heavy load of periods. I continued teaching Form 1 and 2 Mathematics and Form 4 Biology. And it was a bit rough preparing my Form 2 and 4 students for their National Exams in October and November. But before exams, there were many graduation celebrations (school/clubs) that took place in September. And Tanzanian celebrations are similar but also different than in America. But I thoroughly enjoyed each celebration I attended.
Community Theater Training – During the end of July, I was able to attend a Peace Corps Training with another villager named Titho to learn how to use theater to encourage behavior change among the community. Most villagers have been taught or know about health issues and HIV/AIDS. But because many are already comfortable with their lifestyles, there are no positive changes in their lifestyles. So the training focused on how to use theater/arts to stimulate behavior change in everyday life.
World AIDS Day (Dec 1, 2011) was held on Sunday December 4, 2011. A Community Based Organization (CBO) in Milo (a neighboring village) called Luyode partnered with my site mate Amy Smith (Milo) and I to bring awareness about HIV/AIDS to villagers. This year’s theme was “Getting to Zero” and we invited the whole Milo Ward (consisting of 9 villages) to come participate in this event. After 2 months of long planning and work, the event turned out very successful. We had students from the Secondary School I teach at perform a 30 minutes theater skit showing the truths, dangers, and myths about HIV/AIDS. Other students also helped perform a song/rap about waking up to the reality of HIV/AIDS and the possibility of a HIV/AIDS free Tanzania. In addition to performances, we also invited nurses from the district to provide free testing to villagers and provided free condoms and demonstrations on proper uses. We had football (soccer) matches between villages and also a Baba cook-off to show a little bit of American culture. The goal behind the Baba cook-off was to encourage husbands to help their wives with household chores such as cooking, cleaning and caring for the children. And I’m really glad my family was able to be there to experience this event and intermingle with the local Tanzanians.
Lastly, I was very blessed the last 2 weeks to have had my family here with me. It was a little stressful doing all the planning and guiding, but truly such a joy to have them by my side and experience my life here. We were able to go see animals at Ruaha National Park (the 2nd largest in all of Africa), eat local Tanzanian food, visit my home in the village and meet my African community as well as go on a few hikes, with an end trip to Zanzibar Island on the Indian Ocean. I hope they enjoyed their time here, experiencing a new land and culture as much as I enjoyed having them here. And I think it’s obvious I’m enjoying my time here in Tanzania. I miss my family (haha I just saw them too) and friends back at home, but God has provided me with a new family and friends. It’s ultimately where He wants me to be right now. And as for the future, I’ve been looking into Graduate Schools and it’s nerve-wrecking because I still don’t know what I’d like to pursue. I’ve officially lived in the village for just a little over a year now and I like the simple life. And although it’s so simple, I feel like I’ve been able to do so much.