And so here we go again…
Some days I can’t believe I’ve started all over again. Some days I feel right at home. Some days I look around and think wow, I’m well into my second year living here in Africa, and just starting a year in Tanzania. It is said that every PC Volunteer’s experience is different and nothing could be more true, but this transfer has offered me a unquestionably unique experience and chance for comparison – how have I changed over the last year, how have my values and perspectives changed, how has my ability to interact with new people, new cultures changed, how has my view of development changed, how have the things I appreciate/take for granted/etc changed, how has my heart and its capacity to love simply and generously and also its ability to hurt changed.
Well, I’m not even sure where to start relating these changes or describing what I see and feel on a daily basis, but I suppose in the absence of pictures (sorry…soon), I could start with a general picture of my new village, Endagaw.
Tucked away in the hills of the Maldabaw Escarpment of the Rift Valley, Endagaw is a small yet sprawling village focused around farmland irrigated by a natural spring and surrounded by landscape pocketed by old volcanic craters and landforms. My backyard is shadowed by Mt Hanang, Tanzania's third tallest mtn and an extinct volcano itself, south side blown out in a past eruption and now softly carpeted by green vegetation and low misty clouds. It is harvest time, so my window view overlooks a valley of sunflowers and corn. It is ‘winter’ now, so mornings and evenings are usually quite chilly, often gray and cloudy despite being only a few degrees south of the equator. It is beautiful and completely different from Katsepy.
My neighbors are awesome…beyond…they help me is almost every single way. From starting my charcoal stove (challenging) to fetching water (a huge ordeal) to feeding me (every evening) to showing me around town (and meeting other awesome villagers) to patiently listening and letting me struggle through Kiswahili (getting there) to helping me become more ‘Tanzanian’ (I’ve got toes and fingers covered in traditional henna dye and two fancy and very bright dresses made by the local tailor). Endagaw has a population close to 5000 people, about half Christian, half Muslim, representatives from a variety of East African ethnic groups (at least six separate local languages are spoke in the village) and almost all subsistence farmers and pastoralists.
Tanzania is more developed than Madagascar. More roads are paved here, schools are nicer, people have more in the way of furniture, electricity runs through my village (I don’t have it) to pump water to water taps throughout town, my banking town (what would be a large town in Madagascar, but not ‘stocked’ enough to be banking town) has internet, a bank, a post office, I readily have access to such wonders as butter (well really margarine, but at this point equally as amazing), brown rice, peanut butter, more that one option of beer. Yet, for people here life is strikingly different than anything we would experience in the States. Can you imagine fetching water for your family for up to three hours a day (carried in 20L buckets on your head across fields)? Cooking with a three stone ‘stove’ fed by firewood that you collected from the surrounding hills? Depending entirely on the land, the rains, your harvest for your year’s supply of food and income? Being acutely aware of how each of these resources is used for your family’s daily survival? Not to mention childcare, education, health concerns, family obligations and religious practices…
And I’m the third volunteer here. People know about Peace Corps. People know about development work in their country. Heifer International has done amazing work in my village providing trainings, dairy cows and goats, bee and fish farming. And there are groups up, running and ready to work with me. The school was very receptive to my presence and already has projects in mind (and the teachers speak English…I’m getting questions answered I wouldn’t even dream of asking with my current Kiswahili). And I only have a year, so I’m saying okay, let’s go. There is a sense of organization here that seems like it will be a great starting point for projects. My goal is to be more hands-off this time around…letting local professionals take charge of projects, letting the groups plan their own project implementation, and I not afraid this time of saying if you’ve got that piece figured out, yes, I can help you get money for it (many volunteers – I did at first – struggle with the idea of being valuable as a source of money, often only).
I’ve lost a bit my American sense of independence/self-reliance and now recognize that African culture embraces hospitality, dependence on friends and neighbors, openness with needs, a relaxed sense of boundaries, physical and personal, and awkwardness hardly exists (This is something I felt very acutely at the beginning of my service…now I’m confident that if I’m ‘awkwardly’ hanging out at a neighbor’s house for a few hours, letting them give me food, standing around staring at our feet when I’ve exhausted my limited Kiswahili, it is all perfectly okay...and expected). People showing up at my house anytime, kids wanting to play or just watch whatever I’m doing doesn’t bother me this time around. It someone wants to help me plant trees around my house or start my garden, I say go at it...here’s my shovel. And I like it. I think it is one of the biggest changes I will bring home with me… I can be independent, I can be different and offer a new perspective and I can also appreciate the presence, freely given help and unbounded willingness to befriend and share of others – new friends, neighbors, children and even strangers. It is okay and part of human nature to rely on others and expect that reliance to be placed on you…we all have a shared responsibility for one another. And I’m thankful for the opportunity to recognize this change in myself through transferring to Tanzania and starting over again with my very own altered point of view and approach.
I still miss Madagascar and think about Katsepy, my friends and my life there daily. I received a call from a Malagasy PC staff member now working temporarily in Tanzania…hearing her accent, her news from the island, speaking Malagasy made me so happy and simultaneously sad…that lost is startlingly still so raw. She shared that no decision will be made to restart the program in Madagascar at least until December now (originally it was July). As that situation remains unresolved and detrimental, please keep the Malagasy people in your thoughts…their strength, the strength of Africans overall is inspirational. Thanks for reading, listening, reflecting and sharing. I think of home often, missing and loving friends and family every day of my changing Peace Corps experience. I’ve traded eating rice on straw mats for eating stiff corn porridge with my hands, but my friends and family are a constant and unwavering source of love and support, enhancing these changes as I, we, make our way through them.