- 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
16 January, 1966
Here at last! Steve Sterk, Winnie Golliday and I climbed onto the train in Dar-es-Salaam with several others in our group. Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) usually take second class, but those seats were sold out, so Winnie I and travelled first class. The car was a bit younger and cleaner than the others. The English-style meals were fine, your basic meat and potatoes and overcooked veggies. Our little room had big windows to the outside, seats on the wall that made into beds, and a sliding door to the passageway, like the trains Miss Marple takes in England. I opened up the window by lifting a limp leather strap at the bottom of the single frame. This pulled the heavy window out of a groove and allowed it to be lowered into the wall pocket. Clever, but we had to close it because the diesel smoke from the engine made us choke.
Later, a little cross-wind solved that problem.
We chugged through the heart of Tanzania. Golden expanses of dried grasses and grey-green, spiny scrub brush were punctuated by flat-topped acacia trees. No wild animals approached the tracks, which seemed wise of them. Houses changed as we moved inland. The coastal mud-on-stick walls were round with peaked roofs; inland they became rectangular with flat roofs. As we approached Lake Victoria, the houses became round again, and larger than on the coast.
On the train, one of the PC volunteers had his wallet stolen, so I lent him 60 schillings. This left me with under 30 shillings, which you will see was fortunate.
At stops along the way we said goodbye to our friends, Fritz Snyder in Morogoro, Ingrid Samuelson and Went Fels in Dodoma, Diane DeLisle and Bernie Masterson in Tabora. Like us, they were destined to teach in secondary schools. We’d been together for almost four months, and as they disappeared behind the train, I felt a twang of separation. Leaving them made this experience suddenly real.
The three of us still on the train arrived in Mwanza Wednesday morning. John McPhee, the local Peace Corps representative, drove us the three miles out of town to our schools. A mile or so off the main road we dropped Steve at Bwiru Boys Secondary School, and drove on to Bwiru Girl’s Secondary School. The tradition of separating the genders seems to hold over from the British system. Tanganika was a British colony and then a British protectorate for the United Nations.
The Land Rover halted inside the entry gate, and a nicely dressed African woman came up to introduce herself as Mrs. Makonde, the headmistress of the school. A pleasant, chatty woman, she was clearly glad to see us arrive. Some call her a Mama Mkubwa, big mother, which refers to her importance, not size, as she’s a bit short and plump. Over tea in her house, she told us there were three Africans on staff and the rest were American, Canadian and British. I was a little disappointed as I’d hoped to get to know Tanzanian teachers. But we are training future ones so I had to let that go.
Mrs. Makonde took us to the staff room and introduced us to the teachers having their mid-morning tea, the ones who had returned from their school break. After brief introductions, she called to a passing student who showed us the classrooms: adequate, but spare and dark. Nothing on the walls to brighten the room, no bookcases or shelves with interesting objects, and without students they felt rather bleak. So I peeked in the large windows of the labs where I will teach, and those rooms looked bigger and brighter.
At lunch with Mrs. Makonde I was self-conscious, trying to please, impress and chat all at once. Politely, I choked down a very spicy tongue stew on rice and decided we’d better settle the housing quickly. You know tongue is my least favorite meat, and the stew was so hot I needed a large portion of her rice. She noticed the tears streaming down my cheeks and diplomatically pushed the mango chutney in my direction. Hardly pausing in the conversation, she said, “It really cuts the heat.”
After lunch, Winnie and I were given the choice of living together in a very distant house that Mrs. Makonde said was subject to burglaries, or sharing two already occupied and equipped houses that could each accommodate another person. It would have been fun to live with Winnie, but given the distance and danger of the first house, we chose to split up. I couldn’t remember much about the people I’d met that morning. One taught English and was a British TEA (Teachers for East Africa) and the other was a PC volunteer who taught maths (that’s the British name for math.) Winnie chose the math teacher, Shirley, and I took the other.
Living with Kay is a lucky choice, because she gets paid more than I do so she has dishes, cutlery, bookshelves and a car, a VW bug. Only secondary school teacher are in the TEA program and the American part of the program was replaced by the Peace Corps. We are some of the first in the new program, possibly a political decision. Kay trained for a year in Uganda and while she gets paid more, she doesn’t have the in-country staff support we do. The previous PC programs were mostly primary school teachers in more remote areas, but secondary schools draw students from a larger region and are located in towns, that have more infrastructure. I don’t think we need the support as much as they do.
Our house is rectangular, made of cement block, plastered and painted, like most here. It has a living room and open porch in the center, two bedrooms and bath on one end, and the kitchen and dining room on the other. It’s surrounded and scented by poinsettia and frangipani like the plumaria we saw in Hawaii. On one end a big bougainvillea with dark pink flowers is growing up the blank wall. From our porch a lovely path goes down to a lake. The soft sands and deep blue waves are tempting, but I’m resisting the bilharzia-infested water. (More on bilharzia later). No swimming for me! We were warned about it in our orientation in Dar-es-Salaam. Then we left the session and had a great time swimming in a salty bay that is safe, at least from bilharzia. I succumbed to the challenge of diving off the channel marker since others were going off the thirty-foot tower. On the first dive, I learned that pointed hands just don’t open a hole in the water and the top of my head hit hard. After that, I jumped.
Kay reads volumes and sometimes neglects her work, she says. She likes to cook, fine by me since I don’t and seems to have a good sense of humor. She makes fun of stuffy Brits and says, “Oim Bratish” in a gargled voice, and laughs.
A house “boy” cleans, does laundry, turns down our beds and tucks in our mosquito nets before he goes home. Doing the net is fine, but I can do my own bed. It’s a little strange to have someone else doing that. Kay says that with two people living in this house, we can afford to get a proper cook.
Anyway, classes started on Friday, mostly introductions and handing out books. I’m teaching only 20 hours a week. It’s a light load but I have Form III physics-with-chemistry, which is mostly physics at this point. I also teach Forms I and II biology, which I never took in college (I wanted to but the pre-meds were so competitive). My high school class with Mr. Folk will pull me through. I have to do a lot of preparation, though. Drat. We have a curriculum, so there’s some direction. Physics just isn’t my strength.
I stand behind a twelve-foot wide solid desk which serves as a table to do demonstrations. The blackboard is behind me, and the girls sit at tables used for experiments and lab work. My rooms have lots of windows.
A form is like a high school year, so Form I is the same level as freshman. Each form has 70 students in two sections, so I have four biology classes, with 35 girls each. I am a little worried right now. I hope the training and student teaching we did in Syracuse was enough. Not much I can do about it.
To get off to good start, my wallet was stolen. There wasn’t much money in it since I lent out most of it on the train. My passport is safe, but please send another copy of my birth certificate. Can you get me an international driver’s license from Triple A? Kay says I can drive her VW, if I have a license. She only has a learner’s permit, which means she should be driving with a licensed driver. That doesn’t stop her from driving alone. I think she is supposed to have a big “L” for learner on the car like I see on other cars, so people know to stay out of her way.
Winnie and I shopped all day yesterday in Mwanza, a good-sized town of about 30,000. You can get anything you want of poor quality and no variety. There’s one kind of toothpaste or soap. The men are dressed Western-style, a few in suits near the government offices, and the shop owners, in the commercial area, had on white shirts and dark pants. The helpers’ pants were a bit shiny from ironing with a too-hot iron. Many men not tending shops wore tatty T-shirts and khaki shorts; laborers and visiting villagers, I think.
The women usually wore a cotton dress with a kanga, a brightly patterned rectangle of cotton cloth, wrapped around the waist. A second panel of the same pattern often carried a baby or wrapped a load balanced on a woman’s head.
The local market is located near the center of town. It is has a cement floor and a wide tin roof. Items for sale are displayed on cement benches. Vegetables, fruit and eggs were in one section, meat in another. At the edges were a few non-food vendors with small selections of children’s clothes, plastic shoes, rope and hinges, and other things. We stepped across hoses and sloshed through puddles created by the vendors who were cleaning up. The vendors talk to each other in Swahili. Rather, they yell a lot because with all the activity it’s quite noisy.
We bought a few things to try out our language skills, which are pretty basic. Winnie is Black, and the people at the stalls couldn’t believe she was an American but they wouldn’t acknowledge that. One man insisted on knowing her tribe, a traditional part of greeting someone. Without that, he didn’t seem to be able to understand what she was saying. I can get the gist of it, but I want to polish my Swahili so I can really understand what is said. Swahili is an ancient trade language created by the Arab traders, so it is no one’s first language, a good thing with so many tribes in this area.
On the road home, we passed women carrying bundles of firewood, sugar cane and maize stalks. The men either pushed a loaded bike, or they peddled with a woman balanced on the back, legs sticking out to the side. We even saw one man with two children on the front bar as well. Every horizontal part of the bike frame can be a seat for someone. Boys with thin sticks beat the backs of cattle that moseyed along the side, stopping for a bite of grass when the mood moved them. And everywhere are the kopjes, natural formations of gigantic rocks that look like they have been piled by a giant child.
I feel overwhelmed and I’m scrambling to remember everything I’ve been told. This stage of my two-year tour is exciting and new and at the same time frightening and a bit depressing. I’ll be glad when it is over and I know what I’m doing.
22 January, 1966.
All the teachers take turns doing “lights out”, making sure the girls are present and in bed. Last Sunday I decided to go with Shirley to learn what to do. Usually the lights go out at nine-thirty but this week it’s later due to Ramadan, the Muslim holy days that last for a month. The Muslim girls fast all day and can only eat after sunset, so they devour a good meal at seven p.m., and the cooks leave them snacks for ten p.m. That way they get two meals. The cooks don’t come early enough for breakfast before school, so some get a bit groggy during the day. Someone said the most devout Moslems don’t even swallow their spit, but I haven’t seen any of the girls spitting, so I guess they are a bit more liberal.
Shirley’s house is about 100 yards from mine by way of the shortest route, a path overgrown with tall grass. I grabbed my powerful “torch” (flashlight) and left for her house at 10 p.m. I had been hearing some grunts outside our house, but thought they were hyenas, and everyone says they will run if they see you. Just in case, I traded the shortcut for a longer but wider, safer route, the one I take to school, past the frangipani border. As I stepped onto the car track towards Shirley’s, I heard another grunt, and flashed my torch toward it.
A figure jumped into the brush about twenty feet away, a slim spotted body that moved like a cat. A leopard! I switched off my torch and ran to Shirley’s. She was wide-eyed at my story. As I told it, I realized I had run right by the leopard. It must have been as startled as I was, and maybe my rattled brain figured it was running away too fast to turn and eat me.
That night we decided to skip our duty. We had tea and peeked out the windows for an hour, but never saw the leopard again. Shirley invited me to sleep on her couch, which I thought was a fine idea.
When her cook arrived in the morning, he told us he’d seen the leopard at dawn. We found a paw print four inches across in the dust, not very big according to the cook but big enough for me. Even though Mwanza is only a few miles up the road, we are in a rural area and close to the Serengeti. People are settled in the valleys but the rocky ridges between are thickly covered with prickly bushes and a few scrubby trees, perfect leopard habitat. During the day we can hear the whistling of the rock hyraxes, tasty tidbits for a leopard. Hyraxes are cat-sized, piggy-shaped mammals with pointy noses.
A few things would make life easier. My window screens need replacing, the tub takes an hour to drain and the toilet overflowed. My tape recorder only plays for an hour before it dies and I haev to recharge it. I don’t think I like the rechargeable battery.
A couple of nights ago I took my first “prep” duty to monitor the girls studying in their classrooms. The girls were quiet, so I watched a bat flit around in the staff room. They live in the rafters and as the light fades, they get restless, preparing to hunt. When the action starts, I wait outside and watch the eaves until I see a squinty little bat face poke out from under the grass roofing. If I flash my torch on it, it will disappear for a moment. I’m easily entertained but impatient; the bat doesn’t have to wait long for me to leave.
Wow, last night, the rain was just pelting until about 8:30. This morning more rain threatened, and the ground was wet and muddy, so I wore my poncho and boots when I left the house. Approaching the classrooms, I saw the girls standing in little clusters and whispering to each other behind their hands, pointing at me with their chins, giggling and turning away. During my class, I let one of them wear the poncho to get a new book from another building. She did so gladly. They will all wear ponchos soon, I’m sure.
Meanwhile our new cook, Juma, started a few days ago. Kay hired him. I wouldn’t know what to look for. Her family lived in Tanganyika while she was young and they had house help. Juma is not perfect, but Kay is training him. This morning, she said to me, “Imagine. He’s put jam out for breakfast instead of marmalade.” Good thing I didn’t set the table. She’d be furious at me.
Last night, a bunch of us went to see “Tom Jones”. The film didn’t arrive, which apparently is common, so we watched an East Indian Cowboys and Indians flick. Upper primary PCVs live in pretty remote areas, and one couple had driven 60 miles to see the movie. They used the trip to visit friends, do some shopping and have a restaurant meal, so it wasn’t a total loss. I am sure lucky to live so close to town.
13 February, 1966
Dear Carol and everyone,
What a nice surprise to get your card right on my birthday, because our mail comes at strange times. Diane, a TEA like Kay, delivered it last Sunday on her way back from church.
Shirley invited Kay and me to dinner with her and Winnie, quite a nice gathering which opens the way for thumbnail sketches of a few people here.
Mrs. Berry is a dignified fifty-plus British teacher, well-respected, not at all stuffy. I don’t know what happened to her husband. She is our wise woman, and the younger teachers chat with her about personal issues on occasion. Mrs. Makonde consults her on administrative things because she has so much experience. She will retire to England in May. Her hips bother her from an old riding accident she had in Bechuanaland. She uses a cane and is quite heavy. I’m sure she was more mobile until recently. She’s lived in Africa for most of her life.
Betty and Dave Merchant are two Peace Corps volunteers. Dave taught in middle schools until they got married last August. Dave has been in Tanzania three years and extended to stay with Betty. He is the only man on the staff. They have two dogs. Dogger is a small mongrel, and Sam eats bones and is kind of like a pit bull, chunky with short legs but not at all ferocious.
Phyllis is one for the books! She is one of the last American TEAs and almost finished with her service. She took Winnie to the Serengeti in her car and didn’t take any money with her. Winnie had to pay for the gas, entrance fees, etc. When the weather turned bad they returned early. Phyllis screwed up the calculations and figured Winnie owed her money and then tried to get Winnie to buy all the surplus food! She is not very popular here and leaves in May.
Shirley’s the volunteer whom Winnie moved in with, and lately, Shirley has been upset with Winnie, who has admitted to not being a good roommate. Shirley, whose confessed primary fault is indecision, finally had to speak up. She asked Winnie if she wouldn’t like to move into Phyllis’s house when she leaves, a rather oblique solution, in my opinion. Now Shirley wants me to live with her. I’ll think about it, but Kay and I get along well enough, and I might go nuts with Shirley. No matter what she asks you, when you answer, she says “Well, do you really think…” or she’ll ask your opinion then and ask if you really think so. Every time.
15 February, 1966.
I just wrote, but this time I have to thank you for the work on the international driver’s license which I look forward to receiving soon. I mailed some slides of the school to you, some taken from a nearby hill which shows the layout. The school property is referred to as a compound, though many compounds have a fence or wall around them. We are at the end of a peninsula with Lake Victoria on three sides. A rocky slope separates us from the rest of the peninsula. It’s not impassable but not very convenient either for clandestine access by suitors though apparently thieves don’t have any problems.
The school buildings are scattered along the shore and up away from the lake. Three staff houses are quite close to the lake. Ours is in the middle, Mrs. Berry’s is on one side and the Merchant’s on the other. In the morning, I walk from my house inland past the field where the girls muster around the flagpole and hear the announcements. To open, they sing the national anthem and harmonize beautifully. I’ll sing it for you next time I see you but it won’t be the same with just one person singing.
Several of the slides I sent are of birds. I took a series of the weaver birds making their nests. Clever little guys. They start with a vertical circle made of grass and fill in the sides so it looks like a slightly elongated ball hanging down. They leave a hole in the bottom for the entrance. I think there must be some kind of partition inside or the eggs would fall out. The popular trees are covered with nests! The birds are very chatty, happy with their colony. No leopard photos though. They just come around at night.
I got a letter from Mom today and in answer to her questions: even though there’s lots of dirt around here, everyone is quite clean. The girls have showers, and the villagers can use the lake. The girls must wear uniforms, white cotton blouses and pastel green skirts during school hours, but can wear what they want otherwise. Often it’s a kanga with a blouse. They all do their laundry on the weekend in the sinks outside the bath houses. I’ve seen them ironing with charcoal irons, so there may be some sort of inspection. When I do lights out, I often see the irons smoldering outside. An article in the paper the other day documented a whole family that died because a charcoal iron still warm was left in their house when they went to bed, and they all suffocated — not uncommon.
Yes, we have a refrigerator. It is fueled by propane and sits in the dining room because the propane stove, sink, prep table and a stand for the water filter fill the tiny kitchen.
Many people in this area are infected with bilharzia. We took a group from school to the Bilharzia Research Center, in town, which will close soon. Lack of money. The way they infect research animals is just horrid. We watched while a researcher dropped guinea pig into a beaker of water full of the schistosomes that cause the disease. It was large enough so the guinea pig could stand up on his tip toes and reach the top, but a glass plate held him inside. He was chewing and scratching and so panicky I felt awful for him. He is left in there for an hour to make sure he is infected.
After doing major damage to the mammalian host, the guinea pig or people, the schistosomes lay their eggs, which are “disbursed,” i.e., leave the host in the poop. Most rural people do not use toilets, but do their business at the side of a stream or lake so they can clean themselves afterwards. The poop washes into the lake, the eggs hatch and the schistosomes infect a specific variety of snail which is abundant here. They hang out in the snails, and in another stage leave the snail to find people again. Cycle complete.
So while a cure is sought, one solution is to convince people to use proper pit toilets which would keep the poop from the water. Schistosomes in the lake burrow into people. They go right through your skin and cause a rash, sometimes called swimmers’ itch. I think other things can cause the itch as well. Because they slice up livers, kidneys and other organs as they wander around the host, my image of them is tiny swimming razor blades.
People who are heavily infected pee blood. It’s one of those things that are hard to diagnose because the person is just very weak. Several of the girls suffer from bilharzia (also called schistosomiasis), and it’s tough for a student because we have our share of malingerers. She has to convince the nurse she really is sick. There is no cure in spite of the efforts of the research center. Right now, the best they can do is to give some vile medicine with aluminum in it. If it doesn’t kill you, it might kill the schistosomes.
By the way, our water does come from the lake, through a pump house beyond the last building. I hope the intake is out beyond the snails. The lake water is stored in a small tank in our attic and sits long enough for the schistosomes, if there are any, to die. I guess the bath water is safe because I’ve never felt itchy. Juma boils and filters all our drinking water. It goes through two porous cones in the top tank to the bottom tank. You have to wash off the cones weekly because fuzzy brown stuff grows on them.
A local man brings our milk to the kitchen door, where Juma reigns, in a quart-sized brown beer bottle with a twist of corn leaf for a stopper. Juma boils that as well. When it cools, a thick skin of cream forms on top. It’s nummy on smashed bananas.
Kay has a small black and white cat. We can’t tell if it is a male or female, but I think it’s pregnant. Maybe it just has worms because its stomach is huge. It whines wretchedly when it’s hungry.
If you are thinking of visiting, our last day of school in 1966 is November 23. We begin again the middle of January. December is supposed to be the short rainy season, but right now the season’s rains have just begun. It’s no worse than Oregon rain, but a bigger problem because most of the roads are unpaved, and the mud can get pretty deep. If you are thinking of flying in or out, you should know that the airstrip lies close to the lake and sometimes goes partly underwater.The gold course is also on the lake, and one of the golfers told me that there is a special rule. If your ball lands in a hippo footprint you can take it out without a penalty. It was even in Ripley’s Believe It or Not. I wonder what the planes do. The temperature is in the 70s, which is close to ideal for me.
I bought a bicycle for 395 shillings, about $20. The Peace Corps will reimburse me for Sh. 300 if I ever fill out the form. Last Saturday, Shirley and I rode to town and back. It was fun going in, half downhill and half flat. We planned to stop on our return trip at the McPhee’s house, the Peace Corps rep. They live part way up our hill. We were going to just “pop in” for a glass of water to get us to the school, but no one was home. Oh, well.
Mrs. Berry and Dave had birthdays last Saturday the 12th. I gave Mrs. Berry a lei I made out of frangipani flowers. Kay and I gave Dave a big cockroach corpse we found in the back of the carport for his lower form science classes. He loved it.
We have lots of cockroaches here, though we don’t see them very often. On evenings when I’m done with my prep and grading and looking for something exciting to do, I go into the kitchen, flip on the light and see how many cockroaches I can stomp on before they scurry into their hidey-holes. It’s a personal best thing. Kay doesn’t get as excited as I do. She prefers to read. You have to make do with what’s available.
25 February, 1966
Last weekend Kay, Winnie, Steve and I went to Tabora for the wedding of our PCV friends, Diane and Bernie. We were worried about roads being rained out, but when we left the weather seemed fine. We nominated Steve to drive because he drove a VW like Kay’s from Peru to the U.S. on his way home from his first Peace Corps experience.
Tabora is 278 Km from Mwanza, about 172 miles. We planned to spend a night in Shinyanja, about halfway, but we had not contacted anyone before we left Mwanza, around 4:30 p.m. The Williamson Diamond Mine is sixteen miles this side of Shinyanja, and John Wenge of my group is teaching at the new secondary school. We weren’t sure where the school was located or even if John was there yet. We poked around the mine fences, which were serious fences. Diamond mines are closely watched. When the lights inside around the equipment and mine buildings started to go out, we decided the school must not be inside the fence, so we went on to Shinyanja.
We were almost there when we passed an upper primary school right on the road. I got out our Guide to Peace Corps Volunteers, which listed two PCVs who were teaching there so we knocked on their door. We were hoping for an invitation to stay the night but they gave us coffee and directions to our next stop without the offer. We moved on, a little worried because it was getting quite late.
On the train to Mwanza I‘d met a religious sister who was starting the commercial school in the next town. She’d told me to come and see her if I got to the area, so I did, with my three friends, at 10:30 p.m. We were getting desperate.
The sisters were just going to bed, but they were gracious and seemed glad to have company. We begged for floor space and they were happy to accommodate us. After more coffee, we sacked out on the concrete porch. It was bit firm, but we were so tired we slept fine. They prepared an excellent breakfast and showed us around their not-yet-open school. They were very proud of it, so we oo’ed and aah’d. They were really in a remote part of town, and if I had been them, any visitors would have been quite welcome. We thanked them profusely before we left.
With no directions for finding our friends in Tabora, we searched for schools, which all have a playing field and are not difficult to find in such a small town. When we found the school we stopped at the first house to ask directions. To our surprise, we found the groom (Bernie) making his final preparations inside! He was startled and glad to see us because we were the only people who had come from out of town.
We changed clothes quickly and had ten minutes to spare before the wedding started in a large church. The reception that night was low-key, which was fine with me. The next morning, we visited them in their new home and started for Mwanza. Steve did well driving back on the rough, washboardy roads. The rest of us were able to grab a little sleep. It had rained while we were in Tabora, and the roads were muddy but not too squishy yet. After a nap, I was enjoying the scenery and a breeze from the open window when we passed a big truck. It hit a huge puddle, and I got a face full of muddy water.
We were home by dark. Kay and I discovered her cat with her new kittens…on MY pillow! Yech. I had to clean up the mess. The cat loves my pillow and I had been willing to share, but really, that was just too much. So now we know that she is a female and she was pregnant. It wasn’t worms, which would have been REALLY disgusting on my pillow! But that wouldn’t have happened. She is a bit more discreet than that. Each of the three kittens is a different color, and must have had a different father. We now have one black and white kitten, a tabby and grey one. That hussy.
This week’s excitement has been lake flies, a bit like mosquitoes but much more delicate and no biting. They hatch when it rains, and on Wednesday night it rained very hard. In the morning we saw a huge brown cloud on the horizon, roiling like an approaching storm when we went to class. We were sipping our cups of hot, milky tea and nibbling our sweet biscuits at the break when I looked out the window and noticed it was getting dark. I thought it was just heavy rain, but there was no sound. Shirley saw me looking, and gasped. “Lake flies!” she said, and everyone ran to the windows to verify her warning.
The cloud of insects arrived and I couldn’t even see to the other side of the courtyard, maybe fifty feet away. We scrambled to close all the windows, but it was too late. The tiny insects filled our classrooms. They got in my nose and mouth and made it hard to breathe.
At night, they gather in busy clouds around lights to die and fall into deep, fluffy heaps on the floor and sills of the porch windows. The students say that some local people make them into patties and fry them, and they taste like fish. Most of the girls don’t live on the lake and think that is an awful idea. I do, too.
When it was raining so hard, I wore my poncho as usual, and most of the girls had nothing to keep them dry to get to the physics-with-chemistry lab for class. They usually put their textbooks over their heads and run fast, but the rain was pelting so hard I lent them my poncho. They ferried themselves to my lab in little rafts of six, clutching each other in a giggling clump. They think my poncho and high boots look quite funny, but they are willing to use them. I don’t mind. A little diversion is welcome.
Last night I saw “My Fair Lady” at our local theater. This is a roaring town! We let some students cut grass around our house so they could earn the two shillings to go to the movie. About one hundred upper-form girls went to “My Fair Lady” because they study Pygmalion in Kay’s class. They really enjoyed it. After being in Tabora and Shinyanga, this feels like the center of a cultural universe.
I have no fear now of hyenas and leopards. Often I see them, and they just run away. Either I am too big, or they aren’t hungry enough. I saw monkeys and rock hyraxes in a tree when I was walking the other evening. The hyraxes climb the rock mounds and step right onto the tree branches. They look like little furry pigs walking high off the ground. Very strange. I’d like to see one up close, but they are very flighty. I looked them up in my mammal book and the closest biological relative to a hyrax is…an elephant! due to the fact that their testicles descend into the scrotum only when they are breeding. Pretty remote relationship, if you ask me. When I told Steve this amazing fact, he got a funny, pained expression on his face.
I found the missing 100 shillings in my camera lens case so Juma didn’t steal it as I had suspected. I stick my extra cash in my socks, shoe bags and other safe places, but I need to remember where I put things. Thank you for the birth certificate. Kay might get her driving license soon, but I still want mine.
8 March, 1966.
You asked about the leopard (or least you should have). Well, the game wardens set a trap last week near the playing field. I went down to check it out: a long, thin metal trap of thick mesh, baited inside, like a giant squirrel trap. When the animal enters, the trap springs shut. The bait was a live chicken tied by its leg.
Thursday, on my way up to the classrooms, I was surprised to find a stream of girls flowing down the car track, chattering and gay. Very unusual. I stopped one and asked what was going on.
“Oh, Miss Dainsone,” that’s how they say my name, “Mrs. Makonde gave us permission to leave class because the askaris (game wardens) caught the leopard. Come along. She is in the trap.” She hurried to catch up with her friends, and I followed. A mob of girls surrounded the cage, chattering and jumping with excitement, but in a peculiar way. Somehow it felt like a victory dance, though I don’t know how the girls helped. This poor leopard never hurt anyone, since no one has been injured lately. It just scared the girls when they saw it at night, like she did me. The way the girls acted, you’d have thought she had killed someone, a real menace.
I inched my way into the crowd, and they drew back so I could see. I was as thrilled as they were to be so close to a live leopard. The fur looked so soft and the spotted pattern was stunning up close, deep black spots on a rich background of butterscotch to wheat to cream. Much as I would have loved to stroke her, well, I didn’t. The game wardens said she had cubs somewhere because she was full of milk. I wonder where they are because they will be hungry by now, poor things.
The girls returned to class, but not for long. At about 10:30 a.m., the game department truck came to take the leopard to the Serengeti. This time the entire school, teachers, students, cooks and shamba boys (yard workers) and office staff, trooped down to the field to see her off. The day was heating up, and the leopard’s tongue draped down the side of her mouth. Her side almost vibrated, she was panting so hard. She had to be very thirsty. In spite of the curious crowd, she was calm and not fighting the cage. Maybe it was just exhaustion. She had a little blood on her nose, so at some time she must have scraped it, but she had no other injuries. The game wardens had a crane on the back of their truck and lifted her in the trap to the truck bed and off she went to the park. I hope she got to her new home safely.
A few days after, one of the shamba boys glimpsed another leopard and a cub during the day. We think it was the father. The trap has been reset, but I hope the cub gets caught if Dad does, and that they all find Mom. I can only hope it is eating something besides milk.
I took Kay’s guitar to the school hall last Saturday. Some girls heard me warming up and came in. Six of them had learned some songs with a previous teacher, so they sang them to me. I joined in, and we had a great time. One of the songs stumped me. The words were a total mystery, hardly English, and the tune was a bit mushy. When I heard “diddy, diddy” I finally figured out it was the song “Roses are Red, Dilly Dilly.” But “L”s are hard for them to pronounce. I found it in my songbook and we sang the whole thing together. They were delighted. Then I sang them the even sillier alphabet song “B A Bay” (B E Bee, B I Bickie Bye B O Bo Bickie Bye, etc.). You go through the alphabet and use new consonants for each verse. They really cracked up at that one and wanted to learn it.
Sometimes, when I put the lights out, I go into the dorms and chat for a while and recently, I’ve been giving lessons to teach that song. Everyone wants to learn it. During school time, when they pass me I hear mumbles of “B I Bicky By, B O Bo…” and they all laugh.
Sunday morning, I polished some of the songs I know for a hootenanny that evening pulled together by some volunteers in the area. I’m one of the three guitar players, and one guy plays a ukulele. I hold my own in the group, and it’s great fun. There’s quite a group here who sing the same sort of folk songs I learned at Pomona: Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul and Mary, etc., and we are all learning new songs and chords from each other. Great fun.
The science club visited one of the two Tanzanian agricultural research centers nearby. It was quite a warm day, and we walked to the top of a rock dome for the class. A blackboard was already set up under a shady tree that grew out of a crack in the rock. Next to it was a table full of soil samples from the region. From the top, we could see the whole valley. Fat clouds passed over, and the light play on the fields below us was gorgeous.
The instructor lectured on soil, fertilizers, etc. and the main crop here, cotton. I learned you can tell good and bad farming in the local plots by noticing what color of green the crop is. Something’s lacking in yellowish green plots. Healthy crops are a deeper green.
I sent some local fabric (it comes in sets of 8 yards) to Mom or Carol to make a blouse or dress. For this area, the pattern is quite conservative, but if you will wear it I will send some of the really snazzy African cloth which is even more colorful. I also sent Allen a shirt made of the same material. Please tell him it’s one of the two styles available. You buy the cloth and have the seamstress in the shop sew it up.
I picked up the international and Oregon driver’s licenses you sent, and thank you. Wow. Now I’m mobile. Kay drives and I have the license. It works. Teaching is fine. The Form IVs keep stumping me with questions about electricity. I just thought they were eager, but finally figured out that they were using me rather than looking up their own answers to the questions they have been given by Mrs. Birnie, their physics-with-chemistry teacher. I haven’t studied electricity for years so I had no answers for them in that subject. I do wish my books would get here from Syracuse.
Our Peace Corps conference, April 17-18, falls right in the middle of our two and a half week vacation. It’s in Dodoma, next to nowhere. I think I’ll stay here to bone up on the Form IV material. After this term, when Mrs. Birnie leaves, I will be the senior science staff, teaching all the upper form sciences. I can also straighten up the lab and there is a lot to do. The room has built-in cupboards full of things for demonstrations. I can figure out if they still work while I’m cleaning out the old wasp nests and termite tunnels.
The kittens are almost playing now, although their mother gets anxious when we put them on the rug. She wants them in their cozy box. I’m getting used to the wild animals wandering around. I’ve chased several hyenas down the path away from the garbage. All of them seem afraid of people unless they are cornered or trapped, like the leopard was. Monkeys wander through sometimes. One sat on our driveway and looked in to check us out. Apparently, we were not interesting enough for a close inspection.
14 March, 1966
Thank you, Mom, for preparing my taxes. Here is what I know: PC teachers in my group get 850 shillings a month as living allowance from the Tanzanian government, about $42, but since it’s from the Tanzania Government, no U.S. taxes. Not much but enough for personal needs. We only pay U.S. taxes on our $75 per month accumulating from the Peace Corps, which we’ll receive when we return home. I’m not sure about the $7.50 per day vacation allowance, but since I haven’t received any, I won’t worry about how to deal with it.
You worry about me being dirty. Kay says Americans have such a “sterile” look about them because they prefer short hair, shaved legs, etc. Actually, cleanliness is no problem. I’ve finally gotten used to taking baths since we don’t have a shower. We have a tank on the wall above the bath and when you turn on the hot water tap, a propane flame ignites and heats just what you need. Pretty neat. We have two five gallon propane tanks for the frig, stove and hot water. When one runs out, we just unhook it and take it into town to be filled.
Juma is surly as well as being a bad cook. He is sick now and can’t cook anyway, so we do it. He coughs a lot. It came on suddenly so I don’t think it’s tuberculosis, but there is TB in this area. He went to the hospital yesterday and again today; we don’t know what he learned but are being cautious.
Kay has arranged for us to get a new cook next month. His name is Suleiman, a common Muslim name. I haven’t met him, but Kay is excited, and I’m sure she will be happier with someone who knows how to cater to a Brit. I’ve never had a cook before now, except my mother!
I’m thinking about vacation possibilities with our first school break approaching in April, 2 ½ weeks. We get another short on in August as well. In December we get about six weeks vacation, which is the best time to climb Kilimanjaro, but I might wait to do that later. It will be very hot in Dar, but maybe I’ll go there for a week this break and visit Zanzibar.
You wouldn’t know of any high school students who would like African pen pals, would you? The girls really thirst for first-hand news from anywhere. I don’t think any of them have been anywhere besides home and school. Geography is a lovely class, but a real live letter is something to be worshiped in its entirety. Tell Allen that if he gets any strange letters from Africa, it’s my fault. I broke down and gave his address to some girls who are dying for pen pals, pronounced “pin-palls.” They want to correspond with anyone, but especially boys. Tell him if he answers, not to say anything even vaguely suggestive. These girls are so bowled over by letters from anyone they willread into it almost anything, especially letters about America. Tell him not to make jokes. They won’t understand, and they could easily misinterpret. I wouldn’t be surprised if they asked him to pay their way to America just to see him. They figure that any money not their own must be easy to come by. Their families pay school fees, so they don’t handle much money. Any price more than the price of a bar of soap is the same to them.
All is well.
27 March, 1966.
Dear Mom and Pop,
Carol, the TV show you mentioned, ”Daktari,” must take place somewhere near Mt. Kilimanjaro. Speaking of which, I just wrote to see if I could assist the girl’s session of the Outward Bound Mountain School located on the Kilimanjaro slopes. The school is four to six weeks of training, climbing, hiking, etc., and the climax is the five-day climb of the mountain from the northeast. Since it’s for girls, I think I can do it. I hope I can.
You asked about my schedule. Every day is different. This term is about over, but here’s an idea. Classes last 40 minutes each, starting at 8. The teachers move between classrooms unless it’s a class with equipment, e.g. science class, cooking, sewing or typing, when the students have to come to the special rooms. There’s a pot of tea with milk and biscuits 10-10:30, classes until 12:30, lunch until 2, and three more classes until 4.
And, of course, we have tea after classes end, a very British custom. I’m getting used to the milky tea and the cookies (biscuits, really, not sweet like a cookie. Kay calls them bickies.) It’s kind of nice, really. It gives us a chance to chat and unwind from the day. Some of the teachers don’t come, which is too bad, and we don’t see much of them, mostly the Africans. Makes sense, since tea isn’t their thing, but we are a small community and it’s hard to get to know someone who seems to avoid the staff room. Their houses are in a different part of the compound, so it’s hard to just “drop by.” Then there is the language problem.
This term I’m only teaching 20 periods out of 45 possible in a week, a lighter load than most regular teachers because I’m new. I get to learn the science ropes from Mrs. Birnie. Some teachers come with no overlap, so I’m lucky. After school on Mondays Mrs. Birnie takes (“as in “does”, not “leaves with”) the science club, which I’ll inherit.
Thursdays I take athletics with the girls. It’s track and field, running, jumping, throwing. Kind of fun. Their last coach left a while ago, and they haven’t had anyone since so I volunteered. Better me than no one at all and I always wanted to figure out how to throw a discus. It doesn’t look very hard. Running is running so that shouldn’t be too difficult. Some of the older girls are pretty good at the events and can help me out. Esther even went to the Commonwealth Games in Jamaica a couple of years ago. Attendance is voluntary but there is still a good turnout. Otherwise, there is nothing physical for the girls to do.
Every other Wednesday I’m on duty for study period from 7 to 8:30 at night and then I do lights out at 9:30. I’m also one duty three days per term, one Friday, and a Saturday and Sunday, when I just have to stay at the school for problems that might arise, and to chase away the boys who wander down from the boy’s school. It isn’t a hard for me since I live here, but it’s less convenient for Mrs. Birnie, who lives in town with her husband. She brings books to read and hangs out in the staff room grading papers, or she visits us.
It’s not as humid as it was when I arrived, and I have more energy. The temperature now is perfect, cool if anything, and an occasional sweater feels good. It doesn’t take much of a drop in temperature for everyone to start complaining of a cold snap. Even when it’s raining, it’s nice. We have had more rain lately, but the clouds come and go and the sun returns.
The vacation is terribly confused. A change was made by someone higher up, and now Monday is a public holiday. It’s rumored the girls will go home early. How early? Who knows? I had planned to give tests, but we must collect books.
When school does close, I’m going to a two-week science course for teachers in Dar es Salaam at the University College. I toured it when we first arrived. It’s out of town a ways, built on a hill to catch a lovely breeze.
Can you send me the LIFE nature series? It really has terrific pictures, and any zoology text would help. The British high school texts here don’t cover everything. And they are written for the English climate (and culture, I might add). A lesson that strikes me as especially inappropriate for these students is the one on condensation: “When steam rises from your bath, note how it condenses on the cold water spout.” These girls take showers, just lukewarm out of the tap, which feels good when it’s hot. No steam condenses on anything metal because it doesn’t get cold enough. Ever. I’ll have to boil some water and find a glass to demonstrate this strange idea.
Lately I’ve been climbing. Quite fun. It takes about ten minutes, leaping boulder to boulder, to reach the top of a rock mound right next to my house. Sometimes they’re too far apart, and I touch the ground between, kind of like cheating. I can see the whole school from the top, and when I turn my back there’s nothing but water. No one else likes to do this kind of stuff so I’m all alone and love it, just me and the lizards. Mrs. Berry told me that years ago another teacher was wandering around on the rocks, and she was killed by a boa constrictor, so I’ll keep my eyes open. Did I mention the big lizards? They bob their orangey-red heads, their eight-inch blue bodies with long tails, sitting on hot rocks or on school roofs.
Higher ridges separate us from the valleys on either side, and I climb up them, too. Cattle paths all over, but sometimes they peter out into some delicious grassy area. The other day, I watched a couple of men digging a pit, wide and shallow. A few days later they filled it up with wood. There are not many large trees around, and now I know why: they’re cut for charcoal. The wood is carefully stacked crisscross in the pit, covered with dirt and set afire to smolder for days in the oxygen-depleted air. Some days, I can see the thin string of smoke from the house.
When I returned to the spot, just a few charcoal bits were left in the empty pit. Men walk the road with huge sisal bags full of charcoal balanced on their heads, or on bicycles. Sometimes, several shoulder-high bags are propped together at the side of the road. I don’t know if people buy them there, or they are waiting for a truck to pick them up.
Flame trees and jacarandas grow around the school. When the flame trees (flamboyants) bloom, they’re covered with clusters of small but intensely orange flowers. Now, huge old flat pods dangle open from last year’s seeds. You can shake them like a rattle. The jacaranda is similar, but with clusters of medium blue flowers and flat, round pods. After the flowers have impressed everyone the leaves emerge, and the trees cast a deep shade, which is what I enjoy now.
I tried your recipe for brown sugar brownies but would you check the amount of flour? The recipe says to use two-thirds of a cup, which makes them like candy, not how I remember them.
I just got your letter. The kitenge cloth I sent is made in Holland and Japan, for sale in Africa only. You can’t get it anywhere else at these prices. The Dutch cloth is a better quality than the kangas and comes in stunningly colorful patterns. It is especially good for a straight shift dress. One pattern is the Tanzania national cloth, which women wear in a number of ways on national holidays. Like most patterns, it is based on a rectangle, with wide and complex borders and a center pattern. The national cloth has kind of a big eye shape in the middle.
There’s a better selection of cloth in Dar, so I’ll get more when I’m there.