- 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
Wednesday, April 13, 1966.
School closed a week earlier than we’d planned. Three religious holidays were coming up in a row, so Mrs. King’ori, our new headmistress, decided to send the girls home on Saturday, April 2nd. The girls on the athletics (track & field) team stayed that day for the meet.
Vehicles were overbooked with girls going to buses, trains or the boat and others going to the track meet. Saturday morning I waited for an available lorry and chewed my nails. We have to check the baggage of the departing girls’ for books, so I made myself useful. One of the teachers took pity on me and drove the earliest competitors to the meet in her car.
The lorry finally arrived and the rest of us piled in. There was no top, so when rain burst from the skies, we all got soaked. At the track, the meet had paused for the rain, but even with some shelter, everyone was wet because it had arrived so fast. I was told to go to the outfield to mark shot put throws. You can dodge a shot, but the big splash when it hits the ground can still get you. By the time the competition ended, I was dripping in mud. At dusk I was marking javelin throws, a death-defying job. Javelins zoomed at me out of the dark. The field had no lights, and the meet continued until it was pitch black. We just had to make do, and duck.
We have natural a runner at our school, Esther, who was legman for the relay. When she got the baton, we were in last place. She took off like a gazelle and with each stride passed one more person. The team finished in second place! Quite amazing. And I’m supposed to train her? Ha.
Sunday the last of the girls left for home. The same day, Roger Howard, one of the boys in my PCV group from Mbeya, arrived escorting some students up on the train. He had to stay until Tuesday for the return trip, so he stayed at Steve Sterk’s house down the road.
On Monday, six of us took off for a hike with no particular destination in mind. Inside a jumble of massive rocks we found holes, so we shinnied up through the open spaces. Quite fun. I got lots of scratches but didn’t see any boas.
Now I’m in Dar es Salaam, attending the science course I told you about. I arrived by train on Monday, delayed six hours due to a five-car derailment (not our train!). The college bus met me, but I was the only one to arrive and the dorms weren’t ready. I left my stuff at the college and went into town for a few hours to wait. The course runs Tuesday to Tuesday, an odd arrangement but maybe it fits some schools’ vacation schedule. I don’t ask.
I saw Peace Corps Volunteers everywhere, we have a “look.” It was fun to visit with others from my group and everyone’s glad the first term is over, and now we are experienced teachers.
Today at a break in the course, I discovered that nine of us weren’t even expected by the college. They found beds for us anyway — so we are 48 total. Except for three PCVs, the students are career teachers: Indians, Africans, nuns and brothers.
The course will be like the physics Allen took. You have to discover what concept is being studied instead of just being told facts. Learning how to teach it should be fun. I feel a step ahead of the others, since I was not raised in the British rote learning system, which is probably why no one asks questions.
I may go to Zanzibar on Sunday.
Sunday, April 24
The science course here is okay though it drags during the hot afternoons. Friday, we were to study the proboscis action of a fly, i.e. when he sticks out his tongue. Mine did it a few times, I understood what he was doing, and studying it all afternoon seemed a bit much (Kay’s phrase).
Anne Wiggins and I decided to leave the course a little early Friday to go to the Peace Corps conference at Dodoma, about 400 km (220 miles) from here. Ten of our Tanzania X group rode together on the bus and used the nine-hour trip to catch up. It was pretty crowded the first night since some PCVs from another conference hadn’t left yet. 48 beds and 50 people but someone had brought a camp bed and one person was on the floor.
Not too much was accomplished during the formal meetings, but I really enjoyed talking to the others. We haven’t seen each other since we arrived, so it was fun to find out what they were doing. We all have some issues, like poor teachers, discipline problems and shortage of supplies. A few are in really remote places, so I think I’m pretty lucky to be so near a major town. We can find most of what we need and don’t have to travel for a day to shop.
I saw Kay, my housemate, a few times there. She had gone to Mpwapwa to see her boyfriend and was headed for Dar. She rolled her Volkswagen over so she came back to Dodoma for repairs. No injuries, luckily. She should be back in Mwanza by now. By the way, two letters of yours await me in Mwanza, Winnie informed me. She didn’t bring them because I wasn’t certain I would show up here when I left Mwanza.
When the conference ended, Anne W. and I needed to get back to Dar to finish our course, so we got a ride in a Peace Corps vehicle headed in this direction. We saw about 20 giraffes on the road. I don’t know if we were near a game park, but then the animals don’t know where they are either.
If we hadn’t gotten that ride, we would have taken the bus with others. We learned at the PC office that the bus had smashed head-on into a lorry, and four first-class passengers were killed. Pretty gruesome. We PCVs always go second class, which means the back 9/10ths of the bus, which was a good thing. All my friends were fine except Lou Bufano, who broke his nose in the accident. Bad luck for Lou because he broke his foot in training.
On the trip from Dodoma I had an attack of malaria. I didn’t get much sympathy because everyone else has had it several times already. They said the change of climate from Mwanza to Dar is supposed to bring it on if you have it in your blood. You get what feels like a cold and are weak, making it likely the malaria will flare up. I was pretty miserable for a couple of days, with a wretched headache and chills, but the Aralin (chloroquine) knocked it out quickly, so I’m fine. I’ve been bitten by so many mosquitoes I’m surprised I haven’t gotten it before this. Anne and Scott Wallace, who teaches here in town, both live in high malarial zones. Mwanza is not one.
Since my train to go home doesn’t leave Dar until Thursday at 2 p.m., Anne and I and Scott are going to Zanzibar. We leave early Wednesday.
Fritz Snyder wanted to come with us, but he was bitten by a dog before going to Dodoma and he has to stay in Dar to get his rabies shots. They’re injected in the stomach, and he says they really hurt. I’ll avoid dogs. He said it was a mom with pups and it probably wasn’t rabid, but the Peace Corps is very protective, so he has to take the whole series.
The weather here on the coast is too hot but occasionally becomes bearable. Right now, the breeze is lovely but in town, I know, it is quite muggy. We are seven miles out at the university.
April 30, 1966
Today I arrived back in Mwanza after a 44 1/2 hour train trip, only six hours late.
Lots to tell!
The seminar ended Tuesday at four. Anne and I went into town and stayed at the Peace Corps hostel. We had dinner at “Margo’s,” a nice place with safe steaks that I can order medium rare. Well done is dry and unappetizing. I don’t like them that way even if they are safer.
Wednesday morning we got up at six to meet Scott at the airport. After a short flight to Zanzibar, a man from the travel agency helped us through customs and took us to the hotel for breakfast. We three were taken to the travel agency with an old lady. It seems she was to go with us on our tour, but she was quite grumpy so we complained and got rid of her. On our tour of the town we were driven past several old estates and the government farm with samples of everything grown on Zanzibar: cinnamon, clove, coffee, tea, ylang-ylang. We visited a place where they prepare copra, the coconut flesh for export. At the clove distillery, the aroma knocked me back, it was so strong. Yum! It was an interesting tour in Swahili. Scott’s Swahili is the best, so he helped Anne and me where we didn’t catch what was being said. I don’t think the other lady would have enjoyed it at all. Her taxi passed us, in fact, so she was probably seeing most of the same things. Maybe they gave her an English-speaking guide.
After lunch we walked around the town and got delightfully lost. Most of the narrow streets are too lean for cars, but bicycles rip through at a high speed. On the wider streets, you have to jump into a doorway to let the horn-blaring cars pass, because the streets are the exact width of one car plus three inches.
We found an Ismaeli mosque. Some old men showed us their upper room, a huge chamber, very clean, with mats on the floor. In one corner was a large square bed covered with plush silk pillows, with a lit picture of Aga Khan above it, in anticipation of a visit. He is the head of the largest Shiite sect. I don’t think he ever has visited, but they are ready. An Aga Khan boys’ school in Mwanza is well financed by him and he supports many others in towns where the sect is strong. Downstairs a bunch of women sang in a bored, whining nasal monotone. I wondered if they were reciting the Koran.
We wandered some more, tried the door of a church hoping to climb the belfry for a city view, but the staff wouldn’t let us up the stairs. After dinner, we bought some souvenirs. I got two carved boxes, an Alexandrite stone, and an ivory fan for around $25. Thursday morning, we looked up one of our Swahili teachers from our Syracuse training who is teaching in a secondary school. She just married the Minister of Finance for Zanzibar. We had quite an enjoyable time, and were glad we spent the night for the extra time to nose around rather than making just a day trip.
Flew back to Dar in time to catch my train.
Lots of letters were waiting for me when I returned to Mwanza, so here are some answers to questions from your last four letters. Only Shirley has a radio, but it doesn’t get much world news; most of that comes through Newsweek, the one with flimsy pages, and the New York Times Sunday supplement that Shirley gets and passes on.
Food is OK. Juma cooks. He isn’t great but I’m not picky. The meat we can buy is mediocre. There are two cuts of beef. We buy fillette (everything pronounced) at thirty-five cents a pound which can be made edible, though sometimes it’s pretty tough. Moja moja is everything else cut into chunks, so named because it’s one shilling for one kilo, or nine cents a pound. It is very tough. There are no other cuts. Kay buys the stewing meat for dog meat which she feeds Freya. I think it is a bit rude when she orders “dog meat” rather than moja moja, since most people eat it themselves.
The fish we can buy is tilapia, three to four fish for $1. If the gills are bright red, it’s fresh. One fish is a meal for one person. The chicken is passable for variety if cooked in a stew, though seeing it hanging with tons of flies on it is rather off-putting. (That’s one of Kay’s expressions.) Better to buy a live one and have the cook kill it, but they look so scrawny, even with all their feathers on, that we don’t do that very often.
As a note, a week’s worth of fruit and vegetables costs about a dollar, and we eat lots in season. We buy bananas, the small, very sweet ones, and juicy oranges. Mangos are cheap because there are mango trees everywhere. I love mangos and could eat two or three a day. Travelers prepare them by slicing through the fruit as close to the flat seed as possible. They score the bright orange meat and push from the skin side, turning it all inside out. The cubes stick up on the inverted skin, perfect for bites. The mango trees are huge, with thick, rounded tops and lovely shade beneath. Papayas grow on the school grounds but I think someone claims them. One skinny one grows at our backdoor and has one papaya on it. We buy most of them at the market, and eat the long slices with a squirt from the tiny local limes. They are bigger than footballs! Delicious. I ate my first mushrooms of the trip in Dar. Very expensive and canned.
The girls live in four Spartan dormitories with metal bunk beds. I suspect girls from the same region sleep together in the dorms because they are not segregated by what form they are in. The girls do their best to make their personal area homey, and each one has a suitcase or trunk for her stuff. A shower/toilet building is shared by two dorms, with sinks on the outside wall for washing faces and clothing.
Everyone calls them girls, but it feels strange. A few of the girls in the upper forms are not that much younger than I am. The older ones are quite mature and very serious students. Space for qualified girls in secondary school is limited, and only a few who finish primary school are able to attend. Only a few are goof-offs andI wonder how they got in. Connections carry a lot of weight, and I have my suspicions. The girls can leave the property only with a teacher or with special permission. A popular pastime for them is to braid each other’s hair, and some of the designs are stunning: rows, coils, designs that boggle the mind. They will stay tight for several weeks before turning a bit ratty-looking and need to be redone.
Carol: I am glad you are planning to visit. I sent brochures for the trips to Treetops and the Serengeti and holidays in East Africa. But I don’t go on safaris, so to share my experience, you may have to give up tours and physical comfort and just let come what may. The things you see, the people you’ll meet and what you learn will more than make up for any slight discomfort.
Regarding the Peace Corps Volunteer who was killed: her husband is being held here in Mwanza on a murder charge by the Tanzania government. Those who know him can’t imagine him killing her. They’d been married about a year. Tanzania only has one kind of murder charge, no first-degree or second-degree, etc. We have had no news for several weeks about this.
I don’t know about the Kilimanjaro program yet. Not a peep from outward Bound but I’ll let you know as soon as I do.
School starts Tuesday.