Fourth Break

Sunday, April 9, 1967.

Dear Mom,

Letter 9 April

Happy birthday to you tomorrow. Wow, 52 years!

The boat to the little town of Bukoba, on the east side of Lake Victoria near the Ugandan border, shoved off  at 11 a.m. last Thursday. My job was to escort the Bwiru girls from Bukoba home for the school break.

The girls traveled third class while I was in second. I didn’t know how I was supposed to supervise them from there, but that was the ticket I was given, so I leaned over the rail to see the girls on the deck below me. Really. They had no benches or chairs and no shade, and the sun was baking. One girl came up the stairs to the chain where a little sign dangled forbidding them to go further. She asked if I had any aspirin because they were getting headaches. I gave them what I had, and they stayed on the deck and didn’t go below. I don’t know what’s down there, but since most people in third class hung out on the deck, maybe it was dark or stuffy. The girls make this trip at least three times a year when they go home from school at the end of the term, so they know how to cope. The other way is a night run.

My options were sitting at the snack bar or on some boxes on deck, but the deck surface was a bit grody. Some second class passengers went up to the first class deck, but not me. I’m always good, you know.

After we watched Mwanza harbor fall off the edge of the lake, all we saw was water. As we approached Bukoba, the sun touched the horizon. It lit up the large steeple of the new Catholic Church that dominates the skyline.

It was too dark for pictures when we tied up in Bukoba, near 7 p.m. The girls who live in the town left for home as soon as we landed, but the buses leave between eight a.m. and four p.m., so we arrived too late for the rest of the girls to get transportation. My school had arranged for a Land Rover and driver to meet us, and we were shuttled to the upper primary school a little way out of town. The kids in that school were already on holiday and so was the head teacher, where I was supposed to stay. I got the driver to take me to Ihungo Secondary School, where the Pattersons teach. They were expecting me on Friday, but took me in anyway.


Friday, I was supposed to be with the girls as they dispersed. I told the driver to come at seven, so I got up at 6:30. I was very restless that night for fear I wouldn’t get up in time, but he didn’t arrive until eight. Arg. We swung by the upper primary school for the first load of girls and drove to where the buses leave. There is no station, just a bare lot. A few vendors sell greasy food, fruit and warm bottled soft drinks. My job was to see that the girls didn’t go off with their boyfriends, which is common. But how could I know if they got on the right bus, or even on a bus at all? I didn’t know where they lived. Some guy hanging around saying he’s someone’s brother may just as well be a boyfriend. They all call themselves brothers and sisters, no blood relation involved. Maybe my authoritarian presence was supposed to keep them in line, but I doubt it had any effect.

I didn’t want to twiddle my thumbs at the bus depot all day, so one of the local girls showed me around the town. We inspected every dusty shop, potholed street and dented car and were through in an hour. After tea, she went home and I went to the inn to await Betty, who said she would take me out to their school after lunch.

I read from 12:30 to 4:15 when Betty arrived with one of the brothers from Ihungo, a Catholic school. We went to the beach where the brother took a lovely swim. Bette and I watched him and caught up with each others’ lives. It was agonizing to just sit and watch him splash in the water. I asked about bilharzia, but he swore Bukoba has much less than Mwanza. Much less. What does that mean? I didn’t have a swim suit, anyway.

White-Headed Barbet

I told the driver to pick me up at eight that evening to catch the overnight boat back to Mwanza. He came at seven. Maybe he needs a watch, or maybe he didn’t have anywhere else to hang out. That’s very common. I hadn’t eaten, so he had tea while I ate with the Pattersons.

On the return trip to Mwanza, I was in a second-class cabin, six metal bunks to a room, three high, with two ladies and five kids. A teenage boy walked in after we were all settled, and the boat was underway. He lay down on one of the kid’s beds. I didn’t know if he belonged or not, but no one made him leave, so I said nothing.

I slept as I was, dressed, on the top steel bunk, no pad or bedding, in the stuffy cabin.  I was mindful of Kay’s experience when she accompanied the girls on the same trip. She made the mistake of taking a lower bunk under two tiers of kids. In the night, she awoke to trickles of urine running over the sides of the bunks above her. The kids in my cabin were quiet, and I got a better sleep than expected, arriving in Mwanza bright and early on Saturday.

Pombe Man

Tomorrow we begin “office hours” until all chairs, books etc. are counted. The estimate is three days. I have no other plans for this short break except a biology field course here in Mwanza. The Serengeti trip I was going to do with the leftover girls who can’t go home was rained out, the roads impassable. Some girls don’t go home because of the distance, and some parents don’t want to pay for them to come home. Happily, they’ll all get to go home over the long Christmas break.

A few weeks ago, a man came around with a basket of carvings he had done in a light colored wood. Most didn’t appeal, too ordinary and like what you can buy in the market. I did buy one of a guy sitting on a stump with a mug of pombe, the local brew, on his knees. I like to support local vendors, but thought his subjects were too macho. I asked if he would do a special one for me of a woman and child. I didn’t really specify much more, or maybe I did, because we were speaking Swahili!

Today he returned with my carving, a woman and child alright. I was thinking the child might be on her back, or by her side. Nope, she is nursing. That makes sense, but the breast she holds out to the child is five times the size of the other one. Rather grotesque. I bought it anyway, though I do hope if he does another he will pay attention to proportions. Maybe he has never studied a breast, difficult to believe. Maybe he’s a Picasso in disguise. I should have gotten his name before he becomes famous.

Mother and Child

I have another small ebony carving from Dar. The Makonde carvings from the south coast are popular throughout Tanzania. Most are of witchy, strange spirit sort of things. Mine looks like a boatload of happy drunks. Four guys, one with a really funny mouth, like he’s in a wind tunnel blowing his cheeks out. I think it’s supposed to be a big laugh.

We were warned to check for black shoe polish over white wood. Tanzania’s ebony is a hardwood, so dense that it’s the only kind of wood that does not float. The heartwood of the tree is black, but a log of ebony has a black core and a layer of white wood around it. Wood carvers are tempted to take economical shortcuts and include some white wood if it stretches their wood supply, then polish it to match the black heartwood.


Sunday, April 16, 1967

Dear Family,

Many East Indians are leaving the country, even ones who have been here for generations. For years they’ve owned and run small and large shops throughout Tanzania but since Independence, they have been feeling a bit uncomfortable. They are resented by the Africans because they send money back to their extended families in India. And even though they have been here for so long, they keep to themselves.

Happy Boatmen

The new resolution in the Arusha Declaration states that all businesses must be co-owned by an African. It’s a lovely goal, but not many of them know how to run a business or possibly want to. I doubt the Indians will be thrilled to teach them how, anyway, since they hadn’t asked for partners. Any Africans who worked in the stores were the sweepers and stockers. The Indian families who are staying are sending their children to school in India or Pakistan just in case things get rough.

When the banks were nationalized some imports were restricted as well, something to do with the self-sufficiency theme. Thus cement, road paint, and brown sugar are in short supply. I don’t use much road paint, so I’m fine. However, this month our salaries were sent to the bank very late. In spite of all the changes, Bwiru is quite peaceful. Mwanza is far from the center of things, so maybe more is happening in Dar or the Arusha area.

We had a barbecue by the lake for the eight girls who couldn’t go home for vacation. If I can’t swim in it, I can enjoy a having a party on the shore, which is about only about ten feet wide. Those little schistosomes can’t crawl across the sand. About twelve other odd bods who haven’t left town joined us as well. Wieners, hamburgers, marshmallows, guitars and singing. Quite fun. About 9:15 Anita told the girls that she would take them home when they felt ready. They said, “We want to stay until the end,” so I guess they enjoyed themselves.

Free Time (AF)

Helen Inkpen left yesterday. The new Danish headmistress, Sister Jacque Marie, doesn’t speak English well, but is very good in Swahili. She is just settling in with another Dutch sister for company.

Last week I fiddled about in the labs, cleaning and organizing until I got tired of it and went to help Kay and Anita inventory all the stores and ledgers. I don’t mind counting things; it doesn’t take much brain power. Now I have nothing to do until the term begins in two weeks. I don’t think Kay is going anywhere either, though lots of the other teachers have left.

Yesterday we had an influx of students from Makerere, the university in Kampala where Kay trained for a year. I thought them rather rude. They arrived not knowing a soul here, and asked for a house. Not a bed, a house. Egad. How timid we were when we went to Tabora for the wedding. We should have been bold like them and demanded a house! I don’t think I can do that.

Freya had puppies on Friday, eight coal black little fuzzy things. She can’t handle them all, so I killed three and might do one more. Not something I like to do but it had to be done. The father is either a German shepherd or a dachshund, the two who were the most ardent suitors.

Not much to write that day.

Misc:  I’ve found more rock paintings and carvings. One is quite indescribable, many loops and curls, and many more concentric circles

We are at Anita’s for a spot of tea. This mark  is Tia Maria (coffee liquor). The purchase of the bottle was a great splurge so it will last until I leave.

I’ve been writing for the Peace Corps magazine, articles on animals here, the rock art I found, and the biology field course. I’ll send them to you if they are published. [None were-Ed]

All of the rat babies died. Just mom and dad left. I think it was a vitamin deficiency. Perhaps we’ll try again.

Mama cat gets spayed tomorrow. Hooray.


Wednesday, April 19, 1967.

Dear Carol,

Happy 28th Birthday.

Monday, a friend of Kay’s from Tabora SS arrived with 48 boys and another fellow. They are on a geography club field trip to see the industries of Mwanza: Coca-Cola bottling, soap making and fishing. The boys sleep at the upper primary school, and the two guys are staying in an empty house here. They have meals with us and are eating us out of house and home. Kay swears she’ll never get married because men eat so much. We have such dainty appetites compared to them, truly.

European Roller

Last night we all went to the Royal Circus of India. I was sorry there were so few people, perhaps 100-150, for a capacity of 1500 per show. At two shows a day and three on Saturday and Sunday, they pretty well milked Mwanza dry after only a few days. I was impressed anyway. It only had one ring, but nothing as bad as I’d expected, and some acts were excellent. They had six ligers, beautiful animals born from a female tiger crossed with a male lion.

I don’t really know what to call the art in my front yard. Most are shallow indentations, like a finger drawing on sand, only it is rock. Maybe they are petroglyphs. I have found bits of paint in a few places, and I wonder if something in the paint etched the rocks. That’s why I call them etchings. I’ve been trying to make some kind of a direct impression of them. The rock is too coarse to make a rubbing so I’ve tried chalk, paint and wet paper with only mild success. I’m sure they are genuine and old. Look up The Prehistory of Africa by Sonja Cole, which I have, pp. 222 to 244, where notes refer to paintings of concentric circles and line drawings. I have numbered the areas in my yard from 1 to 30. I defined an area as the isolated drawing, or a group near enough together to possibly be one drawing. The scientist at work.


To the Top or go to Fifth Term