Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Teaching in Tanga

"If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours."

Henry David Thoreau

July 26, 2010

I am on the bus. I have refrained from speaking much about the long cross-country bus trips that must be taken from Njombe to Dar, mostly because I didn’t want to scare my mom. I have seen many disturbing things in this country, things I am not sure that I will ever be able to talk about, most of those were on Tanzanian highways. According to Peace Corps, Tanzania has more fatality accidents than any other country in Africa, but maybe this is the only country that keeps track of anything like that, I can’t be sure. Our main road from Njombe up to Dar is paved, windy, with many of it climbing mountains with steep drop offs on either side. Cars and buses in Tanzania are very poorly maintained leading to many malfunctions. There are no hard and fast rules for driving. Basically go as fast as your car will take you is the main rule. This bus rides terrify my friends and I. We choose what we believe will be the safest area of the bus, put in our iPods, emotional eat, and attempt to distract each other for 11+ hours.

The ride to Tanga and back, I have to do alone. It is eleven hours from Njombe to Dar and then another six from Dar to Tanga town. I have been chosen as Peace Corps Volunteer of the week, which means I go up to Tanga (the training site) to teach 45 fresh, newly arrived PCVs about my service and life in Tanzania. I am excited about this opportunity to share my service. I am not excited about the ride. On the way, I reflect on how did I really come to accept this culture as normal? A man carrying logs on the back of his bicycle has encountered a problem, in the middle of the road the have become unattached and now are laying on the roadway. He attempts to gather them up, not get hit by a car and move his bicycle to the side of the road. The bus stops and about five men jump off and help him resituate until he can go on. I knew this would happen. I don’t question if this added time onto our trip, because even though I am still an American, Tanzania has also done its best job to rub off on me, so what is good for one person is good for us all. I snack on fresh cashews, which I offer to my neighbors like a good Tanzanian. It is not rude to eat in front of others as long as you offer what you are eating. I wonder if anyone in America offers and accepts food when they don’t know each other? No, Americans are too worried about poison, about annoying ones neighbors, about making a connection… I am squeezed between two young guys one in a shirt with a huge bald eagle that proclaims in big letters “Proud to be an American,” and I am sure he would be if he were. The other one is in a pink Old Navy shirt that could have only once been placed in the women’s section. Pinky asks me if I am married and I tell both he and “the American” an elaborate story of love, intrigue and heartbreak between my husband and I. This eats up some of the bus time. Eventually the woman behind me taps me and throws her, maybe two-year-old, child forward. The little girl casually looks at me, as I pass her to Pinky (he is closest to the exit) he asks the driver to stop, gets off with the girl and pulls her pants down. She squats on the side of the road; he pulls up her pants and carries her back onto the bus where she is passed back to her mother. Pinky and this girl are not related. If fact, they have never seen each other until that moment. This happens all over this country because this child is everyone’s child. This is a collectivist society. “All for one, one for all.”

In Tanga, I have to convey this cultural message. The new PCVs must adapt to a life like this instead of the individualistic attitude that we have always known and valued. I meet the new PCVs, eager and clean, cute in their new “Africa clothes”, they look of people who have recently eaten sour cream, blueberries, sweet and sour tofu. Dust has not entered every crease of their bodies. They talk about music, movies and TV shows that I have never heard of. They miss America… Have I forgotten? Instead of missing America though, I miss my friends. Other people that have never held an iphone, do not know what music is in, are only able to wash their feet every few days. The people I belong with- Kate, Sarah, Katalina, Margaret, Greta- the Njombe girls. On a very conceited level it is sort of enjoyable to be in the process of finishing something that 45 people are on the precipice of beginning. I have just done what is these people’s dream to do. They ask me cute, concerned questions and I so remember being there. Was it really two years ago?


do said...

wow! thats a good story!
wish you well. its good that you notice the difference when you live as a common Tanzanian ,as you come to understand the values n norms that they use in thier daily lives... lesson that one day you should carry back to the US... leave the un-ustarabu (kiswanglish word wont find it in the dictionary) to us to improve... this is Africa still the third world...

Brie said...


I wonder what you are doing to "improve" Africa? I am not sure much of an improvement can be made. Tanzania is a pretty amazing country. I am not here to "improve" Africa, but to improve my experience on this planet by learning and teaching and promoting cross-cultural understanding. It has been my experience that Tanzanians also really believe in this. I also don't believe in the phrase "third world" . This is all one connected world.

mom said...

So proud of all you girls..This, for sure was a life changing two years. Go home, wash the dust off your body,do a little shopping and make the rest of your life a great adventure. I will miss hearing what's going on. Take care of yourself. Carol