“You CUT a chicken, you KILL a cow”

This was our last week of teaching! We taught sex education and STD prevention. I was a little nervous but it was actually a lot of fun. I really enjoyed teaching the reproductive biology lessons and drawing all of the organs on the board, although penises aren’t that fun to draw from any direction. Another highlight was the banana and condom lab on Thanksgiving. Dot took the day off to work on dinner so Katelyn taught the girls and I taught the boys. It went surprisingly well. Only one boy, Bliss, absolutely refused to touch the slimy, lubricated rubber. Yesaya called me over to help him at one point. He was having trouble stretching the condom over his banana. I smiled and said “You just have really big banana!” He grinned. The only misbehavior was from Frank, of course, who wanted to know how many liters of water or sperm a condom could hold so he snuck one outside to test at the spigot.

After the lab, Mwakaje came to our class to translate some the ideas we’d taught all week. He opened it up for questions and reassured the students that it was safe place to ask anything. The kids just went crazy. They asked so many questions, both funny and thoughtful, that they wouldn’t have been able to ask in English. It was great. One girl asked what she should do if she wanted to have sex with a boy but his penis wouldn’t become erect. A boy asked how he can tell if the sperm is in the woman. Another boy asked if a boy can ejaculate without a woman. We said yes and he just asked how…There were also a lot of questions about how HIV/AIDS is spread and how soon you will test positive after contracting it. Later Mwakaje said he had a lot of fun helping us. He said some of the students in form six didn’t even know the things we were teaching to our students. It was exciting to hear that we were really doing something different.

That night we celebrated Thanksgiving with some of our closest friends here. Katelyn and I killed two skinny chickens earlier in the week with a lot of help and emotional support from Martin. Apparently Tanzanians don’t chop off chicken heads with an axe but instead you stand with your legs spread, one foot on the wings and the other on the feet, while you cut the head off with a knife. Katelyn let go of hers after cutting through just part of the neck and I went to get it out of the bushes after it bled to death. I kept my feet still but had to beg Martin to finish cutting through the neck bone. Then together we held its body down until the heart stopped pumping. Martin taught us how pluck, gut, and clean the bodies, although he’d never gutted a whole chicken before. He was making some great facial expressions as he pulled all of the insides out of a small slit in its butt.

For dinner we had the two chickens, roasted carrots,, mashed potatoes, stuffing (made from both Dot and Mama Mwasamwaja’s bread), gravy, beans, avocados, mango salsa (to replace the cranberry sauce), and apple dumplings for dessert. It was a beautiful and colorful Thanksgiving table with a green and white striped sheet as a table cloth. Ngwitika, her son Godlove, Martin, and the Mwasamwajas were our guests. Katelyn, the youngest, washed everyone’s hands with a pitcher and a basin as is the Tazanian custom. Katelyn and I boasted that we had killed the chickens and Mama Mwasamwaja laughed and said, “You mean you cut them? You CUT and chicken, you KILL a cow.” Very cool lady.

We finished the week with a fractured arm. Frank, usually so loud and chatty, was very quiet while we reviewed for the exam. He’d fallen from a tree the day before and his arm was very swollen. He said he wanted to take the exam but sat there, icing his arm, with giant tears rolling down his cheeks one by one. After the exam I walked him to the clinic where the doctor tied probably the worst sling I’ve ever seen. It was a strip of gauze tied around the break and then straight up around his neck. He told Frank that he needed to go to the district hospital in Tukuyu for an x-ray and gave him a report to give to the doctor on duty. Katelyn rewrapped his arm and tied a new sling. I walked him home and he asked for me to stay a while because his mom was still selling food to the students at Manow. It was awful to see Frank so hurt. He has the biggest tears I’ve ever seen.

Now we are preparing for the busy week we have ahead.

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Itende, Pilau, and Kyejo

This week I’ll work backwards. This weekend was very busy, all three of us are trying to fit everything in. Only two weekends left. Yesterday Katelyn went to Kasiba, a crater lake past Mbambo on the way to Tukuyu. Dot and I rode on the back of Isaac’s motorbike to a different crater lake called Itende (which we found out later Mwaikema has never been to—hard to believe we’ve been somewhere our local geographer has not). Itende is up in the mountains near where Isaac grew up. He invited us to the lake last Sunday after we walked to Lwangwa to see him sing and play guitar in the choir there. He’s very sweet and handsome with a gap between his two front teeth. His English is also very good. I was surprised to learn that he had never gone to secondary school because his family could not afford it. Instead, he took qualification test, which something like a GED, and went to study carpentry in Tukuyu. He was so proud to be showing us where he grew up, his parents home, his uncle’s home, and the church he attended as a boy (it was also the church he worked on to pass as part of his final carpentry exams).
He brought us to a very small, local congregation to worship where they had an incredible youth choir. They were so pleased to have us visit and gave us seats at the front of the church. Hearing them sing is something I will never be able to find words for. I’m not religious and I wouldn’t say the feeling their voices gave me was god, but the energy and emotion in their voices filled every space in the small, crumbling dirt church. One mzee told me Isaac that were the first wazungu she’d ever seen.
The congregation bought us each a soda and a couple bunches of bananas before we began hiking to Itende. The hike was a series of steep ups and downs and having hurt my knee on Saturday, I was forced to go very slow. Isaac would yell back to me “Hannah! Are you okay?! Pole sana Hannah. I know you are fast but today is slow with an injury.” We reached Itende, a deep, figure eight shaped lake, at the hottest part of the day. Isaac told us that he used to play there when he was a boy and he used to believe it was very large. Although it is deep, no one ever swims there. He said there used to be many monkeys near the lake too but yesterday there were none.
We took an even steeper shortcut back to the church and hoped on the motorbike. Sometimes, if the road was too rocky or steep, Dot and I would climb off the bike and meet him at the top of the hill. On one hill we went off the road and into a small ditch. Isaac laughed and apologized then asked if we would please push. We stopped at his uncle’s home again on the way back, where many of his family were sitting in the shade of a tree on a cliff that overlooked the lowlands toward Kasiba and all the way to Tukuyu. They were all very happy to see us and to share their home. They laughed with me when I told them the story about my fall and why I was limping. It was interesting to see that they’d installed a solar panel to their house since electricity doesn’t go that far into the mountains. I couldn’t stop smiling when we were with them but Isaac was the happiest of all, showing us everything that was so important to him and doing it with so much humor. My favorite introduction was to a man who he described as the one who has given him much good advice. He told him he should go to Tukuyu and learn to be a carpenter. It was such an amazing day that left me feeling really close to the people we have been living with.
Now, about the hurt knee. On Friday, some of the boys in our class, the ones who are the most local, living in Ndembo village (between Manow and Lwangwa) told us they wanted to climb Kyejo with us on Saturday. Unsure if they were serious, we told them if they really wanted to do it they had to come to our house very early at 7:30 or 8:00 in the morning. On Saturday morning at 7:45 I was reading No.1 Ladies Detective Agency in bed when I heard BAM! BAM! BAM! Dot yelled “Girls! Someone’s here for you!” Frank, Mponjoli, Erick, Umboke, and Diana all waited on the porch while Dot filled water bottles for everyone and Katelyn and I quickly got ready. The seven of us headed up behind our house toward Kanyelele. We walked to the carbon dioxide plant, which took us all the way around to the other side of Kyejo. Erick’s father, Fredy, the supervisor at the plant, just laughed when he saw us. He asked how we communicated with them. When we told him we spoke English together he looked shocked and said “They understand you!?” Erick just nodded impatiently.
It was a great hike, laughing and taking picture the whole way. It is pretty awesome that we could all spend an afternoon together as friends, communicating with our broken languages. They all have such strong personalities. Umboke is the sweetest, refusing to let me carry my backpack the whole way up and making a video of everyone eating manganga berries together. Frank is so quick and clever. He’s so smart. He was asking about the English words blind, deaf, and mute. I told him he should be a mute because he’s always talking. Frank looked at me with his big, round eyes, wrinkled his eyebrows and just started miming things as if he was unable to speak. He’s hysterical. On the way up he insisted on being the one to carry my camera and took very good care not to lose the lens cap. Mponjoli’s kind of the bad boy. He’s also very smart but so full of attitude. “Ponjo” doesn’t walk, he struts and his reply is always a cheerful but sarcastic “Okay, teacher” through his big, white smile. Erick looks just like his dad, with a funny grin. He’s pretty serious, always scratching his chin or rubbing his forehead like he’s thinking. He’s sneaky though, and just grins when he gets caught. He started pushing me in our tea time football game. I gave him a look as if to say woah! He just raised his eyebrows, grinned, and wiped his sweat from his forehead. Diana and Erick are cousins. She’s Mwaikema’s younger daughter and is very sweet and smart. You can always count on Diana to try to answer questions in class. She has big, round eyes and a very shy smile. It’s always funny when I’m teaching and look out into the class and see Diana and Yusuphu with their fingers buried deep in one of their nostrils. Diana because she’s thinking and Yusuphu because he’s always bored.
Diana was tired on the hike up but on the last stretch to the top she took off her flip-flops and crawled up the steep grassy ridge with her hands. We sat on the top together, everyone just resting and looking out across the valley and over to Rungwe. Katelyn and I needed to be at Mwasamwaja’s at 2:00 so we rounded everyone up and started down. Frank, Mponjoli, and Erick sat back down and said they were too hungry and needed chips maiai. I told them there were no eggs on the mountain and left them there. Eventually they ran after us. It was a very hot walk back but one woman invited us to her home and shared some water with all the kids. When we passed back through Kanyelele Fredy bought us each a soda and with the change bought Katelyn and I fifteen eggs! Eggs are the best gift. I think that’s what I’ll start bringing to people when they invite me for dinner in the US.
We told everyone we’d buy them all chips maiai when we reached Mbegele but when we reached a duka they said they were all out. We all dragged our feet back down to our house, past Isaac’s shop. Dot and Isaac just laughed at how tired we all were. Dot had met some of their parents on the way to Lwangwa who thought we would never make it with the students as our only guides. I think it was a better adventure that way. It was clear that no one really knew where we were going but it was so fun.
Once home, Katelyn and I had to rush to shower and get ready to go to the Mwasamwajas’. On the way down I bought chips for our hungry students and Katelyn and I started running down the road to Lwangwa and just before we reached their house I tripped on a rock. It was a very dramatic fall and all the kids nearby giggled as I limped the rest of the way.
Mama Mwasamwaja went right to cleaning my bleeding hand and knee. She sent me to the bathroom where she ran warm, salty water over the cuts on my palm. Then she told me she must put salt on them She dabbed a little salt on my hand then disappeared to another room to get some clean, white fabric. Oh my goodness it hurt. I yelled out for her in pain and could hear her chuckle from across the house. Without her First Aid kit all she had was salt to clean the cuts. She told me her grandchildren always say if something hurts you shouldn’t take it to bebe (grandma) because it will only hurt more.
Finally she blew off the salt and fed me warm beef stew with bananas instead of potatoes. For the rest of the afternoon we sat on the back porch talking, sharing pictures, and preparing pilau, the national dish of Tanzania. Pilau is a rice dish with beef, onions, garlic, and lots of sweet spices. I feel like I’ve been welcomed into their family. Their oldest son was there helping cook (she taught him to cook even though it is not Nyakusa tradition for men to prepare food). She’s a really amazing woman and has done so much in her life. Before she was married she was sent to Germany by her church. They also spent a few years in the US together when he was getting a degree at Wartburg Seminary in Iowa. They have so many photographs documenting their travels and all of the amazing things they have done. So much of their life has been dedicated to learning and teaching. He has taught all over the country and founded Manow Lutheran Junior Seminary in the early 1990s. They are definitely some of the most interesting people I’ve met in my life.
I’ve been so lucky to have spent so much time getting to know her. I took Thursday off this week and went with her to her shamba in Ikombe. I got to her house around 8:00 am and helped her prepare her delicious, sweet, milky chai over a fire in the kitchen behind her house. We walked about a mile together to her shamba, bringing chai to her husband. They’re behind on tending to their maize because of the recent death of two of her brothers. I helped her plant beans and then, while she rested in the shade, I helped two women weed the corn. They laughed but said I was a hard worker. Mama told me they never thought a wazungu could work. We took a break for chai before planting more beans. She did everything in one motion, making a small hole with her heel, dropping in two beans, then gently covering the beans with her toes.
We walked home and I continued to weave my mkeka while she napped next to me on the porch. When Mwasamwaja came home we prepared ugali (stiff corn porridge) and a beef soup. We ate together and they told me they were so happy I had decided to spend the day with them. She told me I was her granddaughter, gave me a hug and kiss on the cheek, and said she would think of me whenever she ate beans or corn. I hope that someday they can return to the US to visit, and of course I hope I can come back and visit them.
It was a good week. Busy but very comfortable. I feel close to our friends here and it makes me so happy to know that they have welcomed me into their lives.
There was not a lot that happened in class this week. On Tuesday, just before dismissal, Frank asked to go to the bathroom. When I told him he had to wait he said “Ok, I poop in the class.”

Mwandanje

About to begin week 8. We’re studying the lesson plans for First Aid. It was hard to get myself to write this post. My mind is all over the place thinking about home, our upcoming trips to Moshi and Zanzibar, and about the goodbyes that are creeping closer. I want to be able to remember and retell each moment exactly as it felt or looked or smelled. Beryl Markham had an amazing ability to make her reader feel the complexities of a situation or experience. There’s so much I’m trying to remember and fit in, I know it will be impossible to put it into words.

It’s Novemer and the rains are beginning, although Mama Mwasamwaja said it is still a bit early. She was unhappy with the rain because they are still weeding and not ready for the clouds to roll in. It rained every afternoon this week just as we were finishing our last lesson. It’s just about impossible to teach through the pounding of rain on the tin roof so we’ve been dismissing the students a little bit early. On Thursday we let them out when we heard the first rumblings of rain coming. Some of them refuse to bring their exercise books home if it is already raining when class gets out but we needed them to study for their exam on Friday. They seem to know it’s going to rain before we do. They get all anxious and fidgety and ask if they can leave before it rains. Dot and I just laugh and tell them they can leave soon, just calm down, the sun’s still out. Thirty seconds later it’s pouring rain and our lessons are brought to a chaotic end.

Last Sunday, Katelyn and I climbed Mwandanje – the large, round, green mound near Lwangwa. We were led by a young man from Ndembo village named Maxcepa and Mwaikema’s daughter Tumaini (“Hope” in Swahili). Two of Maxcepa’s friends came as well and, along the way, two young girls tagged along too. All together there were eight of us keeping Maxcepa’s fast pace. At one point a woman asked where we were all going and advised that we go a different way, a shorter way. Maxcepa ignored her advice and continued on his path until we ended up at the top of a different hill. He scratched his chin and then we all ran down the hill through a very dry corn field, leaving huge clouds of dust behind us. At the bottom we found ourselves at the foot of Mwandanje and we began to climb. Nearing the top of Mwandanje there is only grass and prickly berry bushes. In tired, concentrated silence, we all essentially crawled through the tall grass. Once we reached the top, Maxcepa was already beginning to descend the other side. Katelyn and I demanded a break and we all shared some bananas and day old chipati. We took a really funny photo of everyone using a timer and hanging the camera on a nearby tree. Although we got lost again on the way back (eventually Maxcepa’s solution was to just march us all through corn fields) we made it home, ankles bleeding and covered in dust, 4 hours after we’d left.

We had a few visitors this week. Jacob, who we met in Dar on our very first day in TZ, was in Manow visiting. He used to teach at MLJS and is a close friend of Nancy and our program. He visited our class and talked to the students about the importance of the next two weeks (First Aid and STD prevention). He’s such a cheerful, talkative guy. On Friday, we had him over for pasta with meat sauce, garlic bread, and BROWNIES. I baked brownies of Thursday evening and brought some over to our neighbors, the Malangas.
Our other visitor was the mother of our student Miriam. She lives in Ndembo and came over to thank us and bring eggs, a very welcome gift.

Yesterday was a beautiful day, the only day it didn’t rain. In the morning, Dot and I visited with the carpenter, Isaac, who was finishing a bed. Katelyn and I walked to the market late to be sure we didn’t miss the man who sells the really nice fabrics. I can gage my comfort here by my behavior in the market. We used to tumble through Lwangwa, throwing around money and bags in frantic frustration. I feel much calmer now, navigating and talking to people using the very limited Nyakusa and Swahili I’ve acquired. We each know where to get our favorite snacks and fabrics or who the nicest vendors are. Tangawizi (ginger soda) has been in town for a couple weeks so Katelyn and I treated ourselves and talked with a pastor from Lwangwa. He told us about the fighting in Mbeya between the police and mchinga (street vendors) and about the political parties in TZ. We eventually got all we needed and went over to visit Mama Mwasamwaja. She offered us tea but told us we are no longer guests and must get it ourselves, which I took as a great honor. We sat with her for a couple of hours and she let me weave some of her mkeka, trusting me to remember a different pattern.

Today was Dot’s birthday. Isaac invited us to go to the service at the Lutheran church in Lwangwa where he is the guitar player and choir leader. We walked down at 7:30 and were led to the front of the church when we arrived. Mwasamwaja was the pastor and gave us a very welcoming introduction. Mama Mwasamwaja and Dot sat on either side of me. I think I’ve adopted Mama Mwasamwaja as my fourth grandmother. At the end of the service Isaac asked if he could speak to the congregation. He wanted to tell them how happy he was that we had come and that we were very faithful to our word as we had only talked about coming yesterday. He was so happy to see us there. At the auction he bought us eggs and Coca-Colas.

Of course there’s more to write about. There’s always more to write but it’s Sunday night and I’m very tired.

you can feel the rains coming soon

Finished week 6 and it already feels like our time here is reaching an end. We taught sustainable farming this week. It was actually a lot of fun to teach, although it’s hard to tell how much the students understood. Learning about erosion, nutrients, organic matter, terracing, and contour plowing would probably sound very confusing in another language. Mwakaje came to our class (after a very last minute cancellation from Mwaisemba) to translate the weeks lessons on farming and global warming. I haven’t had a chance to look at their exams yet. Katelyn and I like to go to Mwakaje’s to watch Seinfeld while we grade, but he’s visiting his family in Mbeya this weekend. We decided to experiment with giving them a word bank on the board with sustainable farming terms…we’ll see how it went.

This week really flew by without many major events. The struggles of living together and working together have started to need addressing. Open communication and PATIENCE seem to be the most important ways to diffuse conflict. I started thinking about the differences between this adventure and some of my previous, shorter emersion experiences. I wake up some mornings and think I’m back in the U.S. and slowly realize (usually around the time a rooster crows right outside my window) that I get to walk out my front door and see the Livingstone Mountains one more time. Having now been here longer than I’ve ever been in any other foreign country at one time, I have some conflicting feelings about the U.S. and home. It’s almost like limbo. I’ve been away long enough that the stunning, fast-paced excitement has slowed (only a little) to a comfortable rhythm but I feel like I’m now having to look towards the end of our trip. What do I need to remember to photograph? What people do I want to give great thanks to? And gifts to? What hikes did I still want to take? My mind is not only full of thoughts about leaving but also thoughts of arriving in the U.S. Communication with home is forcing me to anticipate the shock to my system that will, and always does, occur before I settle back into another rhythm of living. It’s like going home from camp or from anywhere where you have spent a significant amount of time with the same individuals. You return home excited and full of stories but also feeling misunderstood without the familiarity of wherever you are returning from. This Saturday is a kind of tired day so I apologize for the tone of this week’s post.

I went to see Mama Mwasamwaja this Wednesday and pick up bread. She helped me prepare more green reeds so I can continue weaving. She’s excited for me to finish a whole mat. On my next day off, which will be the week after next, I want to ask her if I can just spend the day with her on her porch or at her shamba (farm). Her back porch is one of my favorite places here. The women here are all incredibly strong and beautiful. Sitting on her porch with them, I feel like part of their club. I’m not, I’m a young wazungu girl in Africa teaching English for just three months, but I feel really special in the presence of such smart, hardworking, women.

I guess I don’t know yet if I’ll feel ready to leave—it’s hard for me to ever feel ready to leave a new place, there’s so much more that I didn’t see and conversations that just never developed. For now, I’ll stay in the rhythm of living in Manow.