- Leopards at My Door: Peace Corps Tanzania, 1966-7, Introduction
- First Term
- First Break
- Second Term
- Second Break
- Third Term
- Third Break
- Fourth Term
- Fourth Break
- Fifth Term
- Fifth Break
- Sixth Term
- Looking Back on the Peace Corps Experience
Tuesday, August 30, 1966
For the three days after I got back, the weather was cool and rainy or overcast. On Sunday, twenty-seven teachers from Mwanza, including six from Bwiru, were going of a field trip to learn about the local culture, so I hoped we would not get wet. The Sukumu are the largest tribe in Tanzania, and Mwanza is the center of their tribal activities. We began our tour on a lovely sunny day in the Sukumu village where the chief lives, near graves of past chiefs, their presence important to all the tribe.
The Sukumu live in rural areas and in a good year, support themselves on shambas (farms) that have been in their families for generations. Their ancestors watch over them and tie them to their land. They grow rice, cassava, potatoes and corn, and herd cattle into our yards, among other places. As early as the sixteenth century, the Sukumu chiefdoms began to consolidate and trade with Arabs from the coast. European explorers like Speke and Livingstone passed through Mwanza area. During the colonial era, the Sukumu struggled to maintain their identity and culture as their lands changed hands among the European communities. The Sukuma are united with the other Tanzanian tribes through their common language, Kiswahili. Tanzania is the only country that did not adopt the language of a colonial power as their national language, though the children learn English now.
Peter Hughes, a teacher at Rosary school in Mwanza, was eager to visit the islands where more rock paintings had just been discovered and organized our boat trip. We all piled onto a small boat and putted around the tiny islands and did find some of the new artifacts. Peter found them eagerly and pointed them out for us. Some resembled people, and others were spirals and circles. Bits of paint still showed, but most looked like weathered, etched or chiseled rock. We spent an hour or three poking in and under the brush, and did find a few new ones.
Most islands are so rocky; it was hard to find a comfortable spot for lunch. One island had a suitable picnic spot and another had a tiny beach. A few brave, or naive, people took a swim. Not me, though it was warm enough to seriously consider a dip. But I know better. Maybe there aren’t any schistosomes around an island offshore, but I’m not taking any chances. We got back at 5:30, sunburned and tired.
A friend of Kay’s from Kampala, John Kesby, is staying with us for a while and went on the island trip. He’s writing the history of a tribe around Kondoa but said he couldn’t tell anything about the paintings.
I still don’t know about our vacation dates next year. We still have no headmistress. We might get another biology teacher, which would thrill me! I am teaching way too many classes to do all well. I will keep one biology class.
Mom, can you find a recipe for guacamole? Avocados are so cheap here I’ve learned to like them, and today I got three for one shilling, $.14. I finally perfected chocolate chip cookies! Hooray! Send a recipe for oatmeal and molasses cookies.
In Kabuku, Cathy warned me about funzas. They are tiny insects the size of small fleas that lay eggs under the skin next to the toe nail. I knew what to expect and found three in my little toe. At first, it looks like a gray, watery blister with a spot in the middle. She said I’d know when it was ripe. Following her directions, I opened the first one with a razor blade, careful not to break the egg sac, and teased out the little bag of fluid and eggs. It left a big hole in my toe, but the wound didn’t get infected. It was quite entertaining, like picking scabs, which I can’t resist. I may have to go back for more.
Sunday, September 11, 1966
I haven’t received anything from you lately, but we have a clerk who is getting increasingly lazy and antagonistic. She may very well have lost one or more of your letters, maybe on purpose, and probably some of mine to you. This place is so disorganized it’s pitiful. I just teach and keep my head down.
I asked about our vacations for next year and was told that the staff will decide soon. Talking to the others, the mood today is to have two terms with a midyear break. It is really the most logical since the girls are from all over the country and some live so far away they can’t go home during a short break. By the time they arrived home, they would have to start right back. With three breaks, two of them are too short and two trips home cost less money than three. Anyway, if you visit, come before the end of January or in June-July. I’ll let you know definite dates when I know them.
Kay finally made the collage she has been talking about and got it up on the wall. It looks quite nice. Since we still have no curtains, it makes the room seemed less bare.
We have now four cats, no dog and one rooster. The dog moved to Merchant’s (Dave and Betty) house next door, where she lived all day anyway. We were given another cat, very cute but not yet toilet trained, and I bought the rooster for a biology class that is studying birds. It’s so ugly and scrawny, the gender was a mystery to me. I wondered if we would get eggs. The wattle and comb are tiny, but Suleiman set me straight with a chuckle. I think he has his own way of knowing. Kay thinks the chicken scratching is homey, and she wants some more to add to the menagerie. Just wait until I get my bush baby. All we need now is a cow. Why not?
Tuesday, September 20.
The staff made a list of extra activities that we are doing, like sports, religion class, and so forth. Shirley and I have as many as all the rest of the staff together. I’ve started a folk singing group with the girls, not even on the list of possibles. Yea for PCVs.
We are supposed to get a pay cut, from 850 shillings (about $80) to about 695 shillings(!) because some people were able to actually save money. Oh, no! Giving the same salary to everyone is asinine. Of course some can save, but others are starving because each place is different. All the Peace Corps hostels in towns, where we paid Sh 7 per night, have been shut down, so we have to stay in hotels. The cheapest is Sh 12 a night but most are 20 to 25 shillings.
Miss Triplow, the Swahili teacher, is the new temporary headmistress. She’s very nice, and fine at signing papers, but we need a strong hand at the wheel right now, and she’s not it. We volunteers and other overseas teachers don’t qualify for the post, though I think a couple of them would do a bang-up job.
We staff are just getting organized for the term. I think the new physics-with-chemistry teacher arrived yesterday. Haven’t seen her yet. The Canadians who just arrived lacked any kind of orientation and seem a bit unprepared. A new couple, the Coopers, live at the boy’s school and Mrs. Cooper teaches here. Her husband spent a week fixing up their house and that of their cook. He even put in electricity to the cook’s house and whitewashed his choo (outhouse)! Nice for the cook, but it pissed off the Bwiru Boys School staff since he should have been teaching. Most of them started teaching within three days of arriving. When I first arrived, we were teaching the next day.
The athletics girls make maandazis four nights a week here at my house. Maandazis are like flat doughnuts, heavier and without a hole; basically, fried dough covered with sugar. The girls enjoy themselves, chatting and laughing in the kitchen, and they leave everything clean and tidy. Maandazis’ sales to the other girls will raise money for their athletic shoes. I buy the stuff on their shopping list, they reimburse me from their earnings. They do a good job budgeting and tracking the money. A regular little business. They’re also working on some plays and will charge a fee for that as well. It’s great to see some ambition amidst the rest of the chaos.
I’m off to see the Beatles movie, HELP!
Friday, September 30.
Please don’t take that article in Time magazine [Sept 16, 1966, Trials: The Peace Corps Murder Case] to be unbiased. Some Peace Corps volunteers here doubt Bill K’s innocence. The story that his wife fell off the rock could be true…or did he push her? Could he have prevented her fall? An unhappy person could hesitate at the fatal moment. From what I hear, total rumor, the marriage was not as idyllic as some thought. But he’s home free now, and only he knows the truth.
We are almost definitely getting a salary cut to 635 shillings per month, prompted by the belief that some people are saving to go on vacation. So, it seems to me we should get a raise in vacation pay, to 100 shillings a day, so we can at least stay in a hotel when we need to, but I’ll bet we just get the pay cut. Anyway, unless you smuggle money to me I won’t be able to keep up with you when you’re here.
The staff meeting today was useless. We can’t agree on whether we are going to have two or three terms next year, and Miss Triplow, our temporary head, won’t decide. Last year, the first term started about January 15, so maybe you can think of that as you plan your visit. We did decide today to start an effective discipline system, which we need! One of the new teachers is a real organizer, and Kay is chief disciplinarian. Fur will fly.
All the girls got smallpox vaccinations today. Someone said there was an outbreak somewhere nearby. I guess Dr. McHugh, our Peace Corps doc, will let us know if we need them.
Last night, just after Suleimani left, I heard a bang in the back. I thought it might be someone trying to get into the cook’s house behind the kitchen. The moon was half full, so there was good light, and it was only about 7 p.m. Out the kitchen window, I saw a large animal sitting with its back to me about 10 feet away. I thought it was a hyena, but as my eyes adjusted to the dark I realized it was a leopard. At this point, a leopard out my window doesn’t bother, but I called Kay because she’d never seen one outside a cage when it was caught here. We watched it batting around an old wooden box at the corner of the building where Suleimani sits. Finally the leopard wandered off.
We stayed at the window in case it returned, and after a short period of quiet, one of our little cats tiptoed out from behind the box! We rushed it inside. But we were curious where the leopard had gone. Out the front door, my powerful torch did not show anything unusual. Seeing nothing, we opened the front door and slowly, looking around, we crept to the front of the porch. To the right, there was nothing. I scanned to the front. Nothing. Then I moved slowly to the far left.
He was lying on a heap of dirt about 30 feet from us. He blinked at us, but didn’t move, just stared. We yelled. He didn’t seem to care. We tried to shoo it and yelled again. Nothing. We stared for a bit, and I blinked. Yikes! When I opened my eyes, it was gone! I didn’t even see it flinch. It was there and then it wasn’t.
Kay and I ran inside, terrified at how suddenly he disappeared. Safe behind the closed door, we started laughing at the absurdity of our actions. We must have looked like the Keystone cops the way we raced each other for the door. Really, he could have run our direction as quickly as he’d disappeared. I guess we didn’t look tasty enough.
We stayed inside, but kept watch out the glass French doors. After a while, the leopard sauntered around the corner of the house and stepped up onto the porch. He hung around for about an hour, making himself quite at home. We only have two cats now, so it must’ve eaten the other three, including the two I liked best.
Christmas presents: label all packages used clothing. I would like two Villager-type shirtwaist dresses size 14, two squeeze bottles or sticks of deodorant, drip dry print blouses, six bandido scarves for Kay, five black, fat point Lindy pens, one 8-ounce medium-rare steak from the Country Kitchen with fried onion rings, one pair of thongs from the farmers market, one new bite plate, one genuine pine tree, a rose and water to swim in. Haha.
Monday, October 10, 1966.
We are finally getting a halfway decent headmistress. She came to visit last week, tall and slender, early thirties maybe. In two more weeks she will return to take over for at least six months. She was Head here several years ago and says it will take until June to straighten out the accounts. She wants the school to have three terms next year, but still no date has been set for the January start, and three terms means an April vacation. Well, best of luck with your plans to visit since I can be of little help.
Saturday I was on duty. In the middle of the morning I was working in the staff room, and three girls ran in the door, bursting with excitement.
“A snake. A snake, Miss Dainsone. Come and see!”
One of the shamba boys told them there was snake where he was working and they felt I should know since I’m the biology teacher. Surely, I would want to see it.
Well, of course I did.
I walked down to Mrs. Berry’s old house, where the snake was still in the garden. It hadn’t moved at all from when it was first found. I think it may have been sick, because they poked it and it just kind of cringed. I went back to the lab and looked it up in my snake book. OK, it was a puff adder, quite poisonous with a hemotoxin. After summers in southern Oregon, always alert for rattlesnakes, I knew what to do. After all, if my grandmother could dispatch a rattlesnake, I could take care of that puff adder.
I found a sturdy forked stick, long enough to keep me safe, and a panga, which has a two-foot-long heavy blade. I returned to the snake. The girls had done their job telling me about it and were off somewhere else so I was on my own, which I preferred. They get so excited at any wildlife, it was easier without an audience.
The snake was in the same spot. As I approached, the tail flicked a little. I used the stick to tease it out of its coil and pushed the fork behind the head to hold it firm. I cut off the head, and took head and body to the lab in a box. I was careful to avoid the fangs, even when it was dead. I skinned it. Don’t tell Pop. He might worry. The skin is really beautiful, shades of brown with a chevron pattern on the back. I pinned it out and salted it for preservation. I hope I can bring it home. If I leave it here, the climate and bugs will destroy it quickly.
I’ve been wrapping and sending kangas to everyone for Christmas. Quite cheap, and I love how colorful they are. Their light fabric ships well. They cost six to eight shillings apiece to buy and Sh 2 to send by surface, which is $1. 40 at the most.
All of the World Books arrived together and are in fine shape. I will get the head girl to write a thank you note to Mrs. Wood. My, those new yearbooks are really nice! We will put them to good use.
Thursday, October 13.
Dear Mom and Carol,
Regarding your forthcoming trip: 220 shillings equals about $31. Seven shillings to the dollar. I think “in season” for tourists is June to August. Do not plan a tight schedule. Anything can happen. I can be in Nairobi anytime. I am curious why you left Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater off your tour list. They are the two biggest attractions besides Kilimanjaro.
Re staying here: I think that after all the sightseeing, you will be quite exhausted. You must stay here at least a week. Even two weeks would be fine, and I insist you stay here at Bwiru. Beds may be improvised, but after sitting at the Mwanza Hotel for several hours today I don’t think you would like it there. Hot and busy. It is cooler here and more relaxing, scenic, congenial, entertaining. And there’s me. I’m here.
As far as disturbing my teaching, I have to be here almost a week before any teaching begins anyway to meet the girls, to clean out, have staff meetings, etc. I will be re-teaching the material this term, so there is not much preparation. The girls don’t work very hard for the first week of classes anyway. Stay as long as you like.
When you leave, you must go by Murchison Falls. That is one of the places on my must-see list, but I can see it later. Regarding transportation: bus by day from Nairobi to Arusha is the only decent one, and it takes eight hours. If you do go to Dar es Salaam, take the train. It is a leisurely 1 3/4 day trip, and you see lots of countryside. I think first class is about $15.
Otherwise, flying is the best way to travel. I haven’t heard any complaints, although I don’t know too many people who have flown. If you decide to go to Bukoba, you take a ferry which I hear it is quite pleasant. Another plan is to hire a car, not a bad price if you have enough people. There are many Volkswagen bus tours of the Serengeti from Arusha. Seranero Lodge, in the middle of the Serengeti, is quite lovely, according to people who have been there.
Whatever you do, do not feel hurried. December to January is the rainy season. The roads in most areas are muddy, but passable if you don’t rush. Tie-ups happen, but I find that they are as worthwhile as the journey because just looking out the window is so fascinating. People coming and going, long discussions of what has happened and what will happen, none of which I understand, but fun to watch. If you gear yourself properly, traveling is a pleasure.
I know some volunteers who travelled by train through Sudan and got a boat down the Nile. It was January and cold but sunny, and they enjoyed it.
Today we got rid of three of the girls who caused all the trouble last term. They were Form IV girls, obnoxious, who hadn’t attended classes. Long story. Finally, a policeman had to come and drag one away. She left on the train for Dar. The other two live in Bukoba and missed their boat. They were put in jail, but later released. Kay had to handle it all and did very well. The wishy-washy Miss Triplow did nothing. It is 10 days until Miss Inkpen comes. I can’t wait.
Wednesday, November 2.
Finally, the date is set – we return to school January 14. All staff has to be here for at least two weeks during the vacation. I am asking to make mine the first two, then I’ll go to Kampala and get some dental work done and meander around Kenya and or Uganda until you arrive, which I hope will be around New Year’s.
Well! Miss Inkpen has come. And how! In the two days she has reigned, the school has been turned upside down. Classes have not changed, but that’s about all. The rules are strict. Actually, not so strict, really, but quite so considering we hardly had any.
We are getting a guard for the entrance road to keep out boys and other undesirables. I suspect they are also to keep the girls in, but no one has said that. The staff is being put to work doing what they should have been doing all along. This is no burden on me since I actually have been doing more than I needed to do. What else is there to do? The girls will do one day of shamba work, garden and grounds, each week, plus two activities in addition to their classes, and attend assembly every morning. (Last term we hardly had any assemblies.)
Things are beginning to roll. The girls are not happy at some things, but I think generally, they will be pleased. The good students are willing to be neat and tidy, study etc., though it’s hard for them to be the only ones who want to study. The miscreants are being pulled into line but fast.
Miss Inkpen said that the head mistresses are having a separate meeting in December to discuss girl’s schools. Item number five on the agenda is Bwiru Girls School. Ah, yes. Our fame has spread far and wide. She is really great. In her forties, maybe, tall and somewhat athletic. She and her husband have been in the school system for years, so she can’t be fooled. The whip is cracking, and everyone is jumping. I love it.
Tell Pop that he’s trained me well. I finally got tools for the physics lab, i.e. soldering iron, hacksaw, a handsaw, a hand drill, et cetera. I’ve been working in my back yard building athletics equipment; sawing logs and iron beds for hurdles, and drilling holes for a high jump stand. Shirley’s cook says I’m a “fundi kabisa,” which means a skilled workman, or more loosely, a jack of all trades.
I’ll send this off knowing that my chances of getting a letter tomorrow are high.
Sunday, November 6.
Today has been quite nice. We have four more days of review before the holiday. No preparation, although quite tiring. Friday I have eight periods to teach, the most possible. In normal day I have five or six. After six periods of review, I was ready to climb the walls. A review session begins with my questions on the material and ends with questions by the students. That’s the worst part. It goes something like this:
Student A: Please. What is suction pressure?
Me: Suction pressure is (whatever it is). Is that clear?
Student A: Yes, thank you.
Student B: Please. What is suction pressure?
Me: Were you listening? I said………
Student B: Thank you.
Student C: Please. What is suction pressure?
Me (livid): ask A!
They just don’t listen unless you speak directly to them. Except for that, I’m quite enjoying this week. No classes to prepare, no papers to grade.
The weather is very cooperative. It thunders at night, and this morning, while it was raining, I slept late and read.
This afternoon, Anita, a Canadian volunteer, helped me finish our gruesome job of killing 35 rats and cutting off their hind legs for this damned Cambridge examination. I have to get 70 hind legs of rats and 70 of frogs for the practical exams. I have no idea what the question will be, but if you ask me, it’s a waste of animals.
I got my rats from the Bilharzia Research Center. If they were caught wild, I would say OK, let’s do them in, but catching that many would have taken too much time. I hate to think what diseases they might have carried. I couldn’t hire anyone to do the killing, or the girls would suspect what was coming. Anita teaches domestic science. Her field is nutrition, and she worked in a lab for two years and has handled lots of rats. I suppose I could have killed them myself, but it would’ve been a strain. I’m an animal lover, you know. And I love frogs. I have to actually find them myself, and even with the rain there aren’t many around here and those are pretty small, so their legs are tiny. It hasn’t been raining long enough for them to grow up, but I don’t have any choice. I use chloroform to kill them, but it’s the principle that counts. I don’t like it.
Mrs. Singh, one of the new teachers, supposedly the biologist, should have done the killing, etc. She’s university-trained, but she won’t even touch our little kitten. She’s a Sikh, and I thought they were supposed to love animals, their grandfather’s spirits and all. That explains not wanting to kill rats, but why not pet a kitten?
Now I have blisters from the scissors I was using on the rats and the panga (machete) from cutting brush. I love to cut down bushes, and there are lots here. When it rains, the vegetation just leaps out of nowhere and takes over.
No letter from you, but letters get lost in the office. Especially now. Great changes are being made, but the clerks are spiteful and you never can tell what they’ll do. Vacation: I’ll be here at school until about December 20, thence to Kampala and a vagabond until you come.
Tuesday, November 22.
I just wrote my Christmas card to Granddaddy, and here I sit amidst stamp trimmings. An airmail letter costs five shillings in postage, and I only had a bunch of small denomination stamps. I must say, the envelope is very colorful.
I really am up with the times. I just got finished sending kangas to all my friends for Christmas when that article came out in Time, but the material they were extolling is not a kanga, but kitenge cloth, a bit heavier cotton material from Java. Please set Portland straight on that point.
Kangas are very cheap, a dollar for about two yards of light cotton fabric, made in China or Japan. Always of brilliant colors, kangas are worn by most women in the villages and some in town. One piece is around the waist, and the other may attach a baby to Mom’s back or contain a bundle of something and balance on the head. I’ve seen some wrapped loads that look really heavy, though there must be a limit. It is cotton, after all, and not very heavy either. Most bundles seem to be catch-alls with irregular bulges. I saw one on a woman’s head the other day with an umbrella sticking out.
Each piece of fabric sold is actually two panels. It looks like they are made in bolts, but cut and folded for export. A sticker with the name of the company is slapped on, and it’s ready for sale. Somewhere, the various pieces are mixed up so that a small vendor can buy a foot-tall stack of different patterns. They are not finished, but most vendors have a sewing machine to hem the edges. They usually have a wide border with something inside, often a central figure, pattern or symbol with some Swahili words underneath.
If the women wear them around their hips, the center pattern and the words hang on their butts, and it’s nice to know what it says. I have one that says “Upate furaha wema na baraka,” which means “May you receive joy, goodness and blessing.” Another that says something about a rooster. I’ll translate it before I step out in a crowd. Haha. Actually, I only wear mine in the house and for good reason. I haven’t gotten the hang of the wrap and tuck, and mine falls off at awkward moments. If it’s the only piece of clothing, like a dressing gown, you wrap it up under the armpits and exhale to get a good tuck before rolling the ends under.
I have been studying the kangas on local women, many of whom are amply rotund. If you have an important message, I suggest you put it on kangas and give them away. A message wrapped around a pair of chubby cheeks walking down the road looks like a jumping billboard.
Every pattern for sale is loud by our standards. The shirt I sent Allen came from a bolt of fabric, not in rectangles. I’ve been trying to imagine him wearing it in Oregon. He will certainly be noticed, which he seems to like. The patterns are related to the tropics, brilliant birds and plants and cloth. But which came first? Did the fabric manufacturers make cloth in tropical colors to sell, which it did because there was no choice, or did the muted colors not sell?
Now it looks like Kay and I will drive to Kampala around the 17th of December. Yes, there is a good dentist there. I think Anne Wiggins, a PCV in my group, will join me in Kampala. You can reach me by writing care of Peace Corps, Nairobi or Kampala.
I’ve finished grading my final exams. Now I just have 1001 forms to fill out for the girl’s records. They are not just simple report cards, but a personality profile almost for the whole school. I should have taken notes, but who has time?
The Form IVs are almost finished with their Cambridge exams. After the biology exam, a few of the girls told me the frog legs were too little. They thought they were insects. I apologized, but I did my best. Tell the Ministry. Tomorrow we start the grand cleanup and inventory. Arg. At least I won’t have lesson plans and marking at night. Yippee!
Anita came storming into the staff room yesterday, mad at the Ministry examiner who tested the girls on O levels in cookery. Anita has to leave the room when the test is administered, but said that when she entered the cookery room afterwards, the examiner “was wild, and came at me with fire in her eyes.” Anita looked around and saw at each place a chocolate cake with white icing and, between the layers of the slices the examiner had cut, the girls had put thin slices of cheddar cheese!
The girls had been told to prepare a Victoria sandwich cake. So they did their best, and came up with what Anita found in the room. However, she realized that her first cooking lesson after arriving at the school was, in fact, the Victoria sandwich cake. It was listed in the syllabus for the Oxford Education Program for Colonial Education, but she didn’t have a clue what it was, and there was no explanation. Being resourceful, she gave a lesson on sandwiches.
Thus, the girls made a chocolate cake with cheddar cheese between layers. Anita told the examiner that we called these layer cakes, and she shouldn’t fail the girls because Anita herself didn’t understand the outmoded English terms. She said that! The examiner eventually agreed that it wasn’t the girls’ fault. She didn’t penalize them. And she admitted that the chocolate cake itself was excellent.
If only I had known. The cake the examiner wanted something we get in the staff room for someone’s birthday, white cake with jam and sometimes whipped cream between the layers and powdered sugar on top. I just didn’t know the name. It tastes alright, but I don’t think jam belongs between layers of white cake. Some sandwich.
I wish I had someone to chew out for the frog legs mess. At least Anita got it off her chest with a good rant.
I don’t know if I told you, but Kay got a record player. It’s a stereo and she has some classical, jazz, and popular music. The electric bill will go up, but it’s worth it. My tape recorder still doesn’t work very well. I can’t get another cadmium battery for it so I just use what little juice I can get into it for a while. Just as well. I recorded all my favorite symphonies on one-hour tapes before I left home. If the symphony plays longer than an hour, the tape just runs out. I’ve listened to them so often now that I anticipate the abrupt ending. If I actually hear that piece again, I’ll probably fall off my chair when the music keeps on playing.