Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Week in the Village

We got back yesterday afternoon after spending five days camping in a village somewhere near the border of Kenya. I wrote down the name of the district, but I left that paper at my homestay. Sorry. I believe it was near Longido. Or it was Longido. I'm not sure. You can look up Longido on Google maps, and I believe that is approximately where we were. Very beautiful area, full of rolling hills and a view of Kilimanjaro in the morning, and sometimes later in the day depending on the cloud cover. We could also see Mt. Meru to the south when it was clear. We were a a little elevated in the hills so we could look out for miles and miles to the north. People kept pointing out the Kenyan border, but I never got a very clear idea of exactly how far out in the distance they were pointing. Either way, I can now say I've seen Kenya and Kilimanjaro.

We arrived in the village just before lunchtime on Monday morning. We started to unpack the car, and it wasn't long before we had a little group of spectators. The children in the village came out to watch us unpack and set up camp. This became a theme of our visit to the village and the surrounding areas. Wherever we went, it didn't take long before a group of kids came to see the wazunga (white people). At first they hung back, and if you got close they would run away screaming and laughing. After we set up camp, I decided it was time to break the ice, so I pulled out the very little Swahili I know, and said, "Mambo!" They responded with a chorus of, "Poa." So cute. Then I offered to shake hands with them. Many of them shyly came up to shake my hand. Some thought it was hilarious and pretended to be afraid to touch me, reaching out their hand, and then quickly pulling it back, until they would just barely make contact with my hand, then run away laughing. I felt a lot like an animal at the zoo. One of the other volunteers and I showed them how to high-five, and then gave them all high-fives. As the week went on, the novelty of the newcomers wore off a little, but not as much as I would have expected. They liked to play with us, and they would bring their "balls" (plastic bags rolled up and tied together with string) and we would throw it or kick it around. They never tired of this.You would have to tell them, "Ninachoka. Baadae." (I'm tired. Later.) after a while in order to get any rest. But even if we weren't playing with them, they still seemed to be fascinated with us. They would watch us play cards. Even when I was at my most boring, just sitting and writing in my journal, they still grouped around me and just watched. One of them did offer me a ice pop, which I gratefully accepted.

Playing with the kids was an interesting experience (I'll probably frequently use the word "interesting" when I don't know what other word to use. Basically I mean the experience was thought-provoking, but with no conclusions drawn). There clothes were fairly dirty, which didn't surprise me too much. If I were a mother there I probably wouldn't bother washing my kids' clothes very often because there is so much dirt, and the younger kids especially frequently sat or would even lay in it. Trying to keep those clothes clean would be fighting a losing a battle. Their toys were very humble compared with what you would see in the states. I already described the balls. They also played with old bucket lids that they turned into little hoops. They would use sticks to roll these around. They also had a couple of sticks with bucket lids nailed to the bottow that they would roll around. One of these contraptions had the end of the nail exposed, and the kid playing with it was sucking on the end of it, waving the toy around...I felt sure someone was going to lose an eye. I also noticed a couple of kids had sores or scabs on their head, probably from flees. That was hard to see. But the kids seemed pretty happy overall. I saw very little fighting between them, and heard very little crying. They got along with each other very well and were pretty capable of entertaining themselves with what little they had. I was also impressed with how responsible they could be at young ages. It wasn't uncommon for some of the kids to have a baby sibling strapped to their back. Some of those caring for younger siblings couldn't be more than 7 or 8.

The work we did in the village was trainings in sustainable agriculture. We taught for three days and then showed the groups how to build a few things on the last two days. Some of the subjects we covered were composting, double-dug beds, crop pairing/rotation, and natural pest control. In the mornings on Tuesday and Wednesday I helped the applied technology group build a hafir, which is a rain-water catch. I did a lot of digging, and expect to have a very toned back by the time I return home. The afternoon was for the trainings. I really liked the group I helped train. It was mostly a group of men, many in their late twenties/early thirties, and just a few women. They seemed very interested in the subject, and had many questions. For the practicals we built a key-hole garden, which is a raised circular garden bed with a stone wall, and with a little indentation on one side so that the entire bed is within arm's reach. On Friday we built a sack garden, which is exactly what it sounds like: a sack filled with soil and slits in the side for plants to grow out of.

One thing I really like about GSC is that the staff here is almost exclusively comprised of locals. They are experts on the subjects we do trainings on, and are able to communicate and translate with the trainees. Although they have the volunteers teach and they translate, in reality, the people translating could just teach the classes. They know more than we do, anyway. I asked one of the staff members about why they have the trainings set up the way they do, and she said it was partly for the service-learning aspect (for the volunteers to learn through service) and partly because, especially in the village, they love visitors and are more likely to come out and listen than if it were just the local staff. I thought that was interesting information but admittedly I wasn't really sure what to do with it. I knew going into this experience that I would take much more away from it than I would contribute. Sometimes I wish I feel like I was doing more, but mostly I have just decided to be grateful for the experience, and also grateful that the local staff is incredibly competent and don't really rely on outside help. Tanzanians serving Tanzanians. And I get to see it up close and help as I am able.

Squatting toilet. Much cleaner than the one I used.
To close this post, I will offer an amusing little story that happened while I was in the village. They don't have sit-down toilets in the village. They have squatting toilets. Some of them aren't so bad, if they are kept clean. Using them really wasn't so bad. They are pretty easy to figure out. The one closest to our campsite, however, was pretty nasty. It was discolored, and the little closet always smelt like urine. But you do what you have to do. I went in there one night, using my phone as a flashlight (I'm sure you already see where I am going with this). I bought a cheap little cell phone to use while I am in Tanzania. It probably cost about 25 USD. Having forgotten my headlamp back at my homestay, I had to use my cell phone. Well, I walk into this gross little room and start looking around for somewhere I can set down the phone so that it won't get contaminated, but so that I can use the light. As I'm looking around, I drop the phone....and it goes directly down the hole. Suddenly it is pitch black, and I know the phone is gone forever. I start laughing, because, why not? It was a cheap phone, and what a place to lose it! The downside was that I was now without a flashlight for the rest of my stay in the village. I bought a new phone when I got back to Arusha, and was able to get the same number and retrieve the minutes I had already purchased. And  I have been able to give several people a good laugh when I told them I dropped my phone down a squatter.


Julie Cannon said...

Ah, squatty potties! Better than having to dig your own hole, I guess :) And I know what you're feeling, wishing you were doing more to help. I felt that way a lot in Ghana, that I wasn't doing much good. And now looking back, I wonder if they ever think of us (probably not us specifically), but I think of those kids every single day. I think you will provide an important example of positive interaction with outsiders, and they will remember your willingness to come teach and help them. And yes, you will gain more in the long-run than they will from you, personally, but I think that's okay.
I love your description of the kids and their curiosity and also apprehension in getting too close. That's exactly how it is there...and it's endearing. I love your posts, Katy!

Anonymous said...

Hey Katy! Remember the time that you were using your cell phone as a light...that was awesome! Thanks for posting about your interesting experience in the village.