Saturday, May 25, 2013

Tales from the Village

Finally another blog update! To help sum up what I’ve been up to the past couple of months I thought I’d just write down some of the highlights. After I got back from training its been mostly village life for me. The biggest challenge is trying to keep myself busy. You never know what’s going to happen tomorrow though, and a lot can change in one day here… or it can be exactly the same as yesterday…

It’s weird to be on opposite hemisphere and to be technically going into winter. Here it’s called the dry season though, and the villagers keep telling me that the rain is definitely over and we wont see another drop until November. This will be interesting… The rains weren’t very big this year and everyone is complaining about the crops not doing well and not harvesting enough food. That’s probably going to be a big problem in a couple of months since people rely on what they harvest to feed their families, and they’ll probably run out earlier this year. Corn and peanuts have all been harvested and people are starting now on harvesting the sunflowers and njugu (like chickpeas?). Sunflowers are one of the major cash crops here. People sell them to be made into sunflower oil, which is the preferred cooking oil here, so they usually get a good price for them. Still trying to figure out how all that works though.

Dry season also means that it’s getting colder though, which I wasn’t expecting. Its by no means New England winter cold, but I’ve brought out a light fleece and its nice to not be sweating constantly anymore. It makes bathing harder though – I have to heat up my water now, which can be logistically challenging.

Here’s an interesting glimpse of African tribal beliefs. The other week my mama’s older brother came to visit from the big city. He called ahead of time to say that he was coming and asked my mama to find a sheep and that he’ll explain later. So she asks around for a couple of days and finds a sheep to buy in one of the neighboring villages. Sheep aren’t that common here, and are only used for their meat, which not that many people seem to like to eat. The next day the brother arrives and explains that he has a problem and this apparently is his solution to fixing whatever isn’t going right for him right now. I’m told all this second hand, so I don’t really know what exactly his situation is, but I’m told that to get help he wants the whole family to go out to the father’s grave site to ask for help. According to local tribal beliefs, if someone gets into trouble, one solution is to go ask for help from a family member who has died. To do this, the family goes to the family member’s grave with the person who has a problem and slaughters a sheep. The idea is that the soul of the sheep is a sacrifice to the deceased family member who then will help the person in trouble. Or something like that. Then they all sit around the gravesite eating the sheep. It has to be consumed at the grave site and can’t be brought back. I didn’t quite understand all that was going on, and when I asked different people about it I was given quick explanations as if it should be obvious the workings of the souls of various animals and deceased people. There did seem to be an interesting division though between those that still believe in tribal beliefs and those that consider themselves Christian. The people of my village are mostly Christian, but it seems that some still have held on to tribal beliefs as well. According to others though they see this mixing of Christianity and tribal beliefs as immoral and against the wishes of God. I think because of this people don’t really talk openly of tribal beliefs. Even when I was asking people questions about it they would only talk to me about it if we were alone where other people couldn’t hear us, as if it was a big secret. Still trying to read the facial cues and other non-verbal communication to understand better what people are trying to convey. A lot of what people convey here isn’t obvious in their words, so I’ve found I get a lot more out of people if I understand the non-verbal cues they’re communicating.

Another fun story – one of the first days back in the village after I was away for a while, there was a Student Teacher good-bye party at the primary school near my house. Formal parties here are a big deal, especially in the village where they like to go all out. At the last minute before the party was supposed to start the headmaster for the primary school heard that I was back in the village and immediately invited me as one of the guests of honor. Since my mama was also going to be one of the guests of honor and was part of the reason I got the invitation, I felt compelled to go, even though I had no idea really what the party was about. When we got there they had a generator with a huge speaker and a mic. There were about 6 of us as “guests of honor” that sat behind a decorated table with sodas and bottled water, while the student teachers sat to one side of the room and the other teachers and people involved with the school sat on another side. We were then entertained with various groups of school children coming in doing a song and dance for the student teachers, saying they would miss them and good-bye, in Swahili and some broken English. After a couple of speeches by the other guests of honor, most of which I didn’t understand, they asked me to say a few words to the student teachers. I was still pretty clueless and only knew that the student teachers were going back to the teaching school to finish their exams then they would be assigned schools to go teach permanently. The only thing I could think of to say was congratulations. I would of said something like good luck too, but I hadn’t heard Tanzanians saying that phrase so I wasn’t sure if that would make sense to them. They usually say something about god bless and god will show the way, but I couldn’t think of something like that to say at the time. So I awkwardly stood there looking at the guy with the mic, just saying uh, Hongera (Congratulations)? They all laughed a little and let me sit down again. Then we got a sweet meal of pilau (spiced rice) and various meat, probably fanciest food I’ve eaten in the village. After that was the dance party, where I was dragged to join in on the Tanzanian version of the conga. Then people were just doing freestyle dancing, and several of the student teachers came up to me asking to dance with me, with the sole purpose of getting their picture taken dancing with me. Especially the guy teachers. The girl teachers came up to me acting like we were best friends, wanting their picture giving me a big hug. When they had their big group photo I was then called up again to be in the middle of their picture. So awkward. But at least it was pretty amusing. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the celebrity status I get, totally against my personality where I’d much rather blend in large crowds. Still working on accepting that I’ll never blend in here and I might as well just embrace it.

Last fun tidbit – some kids came to my house the other day trying to sell me a hedgehog. I asked them where they got it and they said out in the forest/wilderness area. I didn’t even know hedgehogs lived here! Since pets aren’t really a thing people have here, except for protection and mice hunting (neither of which a hedgehog would be good at, I assume) I tried to ask what people do with hedgehogs here, but I was just given blank stares. I was really tempted to buy it, I’ve always thought it would be cool to have a pet hedgehog, but I don’t know anything about how they lived and the last thing I need is to have to look after this thing. It was pretty cute though. So I turned the boys down and left them grudgingly walking away with their new friend.

I think that’s enough for now. Hope you’ve enjoyed it!

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