Today marks one month that we have been in Tanzania! What an incredible month it is been. I could write a book but I’ll try to synthesize this into a comprehensive recap (which will most definitely turn into a scatterbrained, story-telling spout…so I apologize in advance).
I have never learned/experienced so much in such a short amount of time. You know that expression about assumptions? Well, I’ve quickly learned that when you are living in a foreign country, it’s best to just assume you know nothing and start fresh.
Here is a list of things I’ve learned since arriving in Tanzania:
1. Swahili is a super cool and complex language. We are learning 24/7, for real. We have formal Swahili instruction for 8 hours a day and then we leave our little “Special Swahili” bubble and enter into a world where people speak at (what seems like) super speed, while we are racking our brains just to understand phrases here and there. My Swahili is subpar at best. I’ve mastered greetings though, which is incredibly important in TZ, so yay! Pole pole (slowly slowly) I am learning.
2. Tanzanians are some of the most welcoming, patient, and light-hearted people I’ve ever met. This is particularly true of my host family. I’ve been living with them for 3 weeks now. I’ve got a mama, 2 dada (sisters), a mjomba (uncle), and 2 watoto (kiddos)–a baby girl and a toddler boy. To them (and most Tanzanians), I am (E)-lee-za (which I adore being called). They have accepted me as one of their own and I absolutely love spending time with them. We laugh constantly. They tell me I’m funny (shocker), but I know it’s only because I embarrass myself on a daily basis. Truly though, I won the lottery with my host family…I just wish my Swahili was superb, so I could convey my appreciation. Hopefully soon. I don’t have photos to share of my family because for these first 3 weeks I really wanted them to accept me and not treat me as a guest. Tourists take pictures. However, recently they have been noting many photo-worthy moments, so I am sure we will take some soon.
3. Being in a minority is both enthralling and exhausting. This is just a nugget–still trying to wrap my brain around this concept. More insight to come.
4. Education is very different here than in America, but teaching is equally as rewarding. For my internship, I am teaching Form 1 (Freshmen equivalent) English at Korgowe Girls Secondary School. This school is not like most of my fellow PCV’s. We are a large boarding school with 966 girls. We have a lot of diversity because our school accepts students other public Tanzanian schools do not. I have 79 students in my class. Yes, all at the same time. We meet three times a week for 80 minutes each. 6 of my students are completely blind. Only about 20 of them are at grade level for English comprehension. All that being said, I wouldn’t change one thing about my class. They are so bright; teaching them is such a privilege and I love every single second I get to spend with them. They are teaching me Swahili while I try and teach them English. What could be better? My students with visual impairments are used to just sitting in class and being talked at, but not actually participating because they do not have the means to “copy notes”, as all their peers do. After one day, I knew I needed to do something to make my classroom more inclusive. I asked around to see if I could make any accommodations for these students. I’m glad I didn’t stop after hearing “no” twice because I finally found a teacher who supported me with my goal. Long story short, I have been learning Braille (it’s super time consuming but definitely worth it). I just produced my first lesson supplement for my students; I can’t wait until Tuesday!
5. Tanzanian food deserves a post of its own. We eat 5 times a day (7 AM breakfast, 10 AM Chai, 12:30 PM lunch, 3:30 PM soda break, and 8:00 PM dinner). To put it simply, it’s mostly starch and salt but they make some wicked interesting dishes. Also, the fruit is stellar. Particularly embaye dodo (world’s best mango).
6. You don’t need much to survive and even less to be happy. I live off $10 a day. I have 3 shirts and 4 skirts I rotate out. I live in my Chacos. I reluctantly embraced four-eyes life because it’s just not sanitary enough for contacts. I haven’t opened my laptop since arriving in TZ. What’s wifi? Toilet paper, napkins, paper towels, soap, silverware, running water, and electricity are all super rare, if present at all. And guess what the best part is? This life is safi kabisa (totally cool).
7. Tanzanian life skills are very different than American life skills. I have felt like a child much of the time because not only do I not know how to converse, but I also didn’t know how to do basic daily functions: how to light a charcoal stove in the dark, how to peel vegetables with dull knives (while using your hand as a cutting board), how to wash your clothes by hand, how to shower in the dark using a bucket and a cup, how filter water, how to reduce garbage because there are no trash cans and so many other skills. Thankfully, I am a child at heart and my family members are so kind as they teach me how to grow up.
8. You cannot anticipate what is going to happen in the choo (bathroom). You may think you’re going in for one thing and be surprised by what comes out. I’ve been a frequent visitor and I must admit, my shooting percentage is pretty good. Of course, even Michael Jordan occasionally missed. I’ve had a few health hiccups but as of right now, I am solid! 🙂
9. Tanzanian pets are not like American pets. Of course, there are exceptions. For the most part though, most animals are just “wild”. No, I am not talking about lions or elephants. I haven’t seen any big game yet. We did see baboons on our bus ride from Dar to Korogwe, which was wicked cool. The animals that are “pets” serve a purpose. We have a goat and a whole slew of chickens. I was so excited when I found out we had a dog but unfortunately he is 100% a watch dog. My uncle runs a duka (small shop) in front of our house. Fox stays tied up away from everything during the day but at night, he gets tied up next to the gated shop. I wish I could pet him…I miss dogs. If you are a cat person, you would probably both love and hate TZ. There are cats everywhere–outside, in houses, in schools, everywhere. However, beware of rabies. Some of my friends learned the hard way.
10. Spiders are no longer the enemy. When I walked into my host family’s bathroom for the first time, I almost came running and screaming back out. There were three very large spiders suspending from the ceiling. One above the choo and two above the “shower” hole. I realized that I couldn’t kill them because my family was intentionally allowing them to live there, in hopes they would eat the hundreds of mosquitos that were flying around. On day 1, I took the fastest bucket bath of my life in fear that they would fall on my head. On day 2, I realized I needed to befriend these guys, as we were going to be spending lots of time together. I decided I needed to name them. I instantly thought about this little restaurant called Bee’s Diner in my hometown (Winslow). That place has never fallen down, even after enduring a treacherous flood. Therefor, it is my hope that my new eight-legged friends (Bee, Dinah, and Winnie) do their names justice and never fall down.
11. Peace Corps friends fall into an entirely new category of friendship. We are on this unpredictable, wild ride together and we are sharing every experience…even incredibly disgusting and shameful personal matters. We have become really close, really fast. Our group is so diverse and every day I learn more incredible things about these people. The training staff could not be any better. Not only are they insanely helpful, but they have also become super great friends. Two people in our group have already gone home and those were the saddest days so far. I am super thankful to have already made such supportive “allies”. I know my spirits wouldn’t be this high if it weren’t for them.
So as I write this, I’m currently sitting with my feet up gazing out across the Indian Ocean. It’s winter here but this beach day has been perfect. My knees are exposed for the first time in a month and I’m speaking English will all my friends. This is the first day we have had completely off to simply enjoy TZ. I am so happy to be in this country and I cannot wait to see what the next 26 months will bring. Everyday I wake up and it takes a split second for me to realize where I am. Once I remember what my new life consists of, I instantly smile. Sounds cheesy, but it’s completely true; I’ve been smiling for a month straight. How lucky am I to work for this organization and live in this extraordinary country? So yes, nimefurahi kuwa hapa.
I will try to post more frequently, but internet access is sparse and I’ve really been trying to use technology as little as possible. However, I have loved hearing from you! Thanks to those of you who have reached out. Just so you know, I no longer have my old phone number. If you want my new one, send me a message, but FB messaging is probably the easiest form of communication, as of now. We have only had one mail collection day and I got three pieces of mail (thanks Mom, Grammie, and Meghan)! It was super cool to get mail. People have asked what I need, the answer is nothing, letters are the best. But if you really want to send a package, I tried to think of a few small ideas. If you’re interested, I wrote them under the “send me mail” tab. I do miss you all, but I am definitely in the right place. Asante sana (thank you very much) for your support and love!