Wednesday, August 31, 2011


So many people had told us they wanted to be invited to our house that we decided to have a party for our fellow teachers.  We decided to do it on Eid, a two day holiday that signifies the end of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting.  We were told the holiday depended on the moon and that it would probably be Tuesday and Wednesday, so we did not show up for work on Tuesday.  It ended up being Wednesday and Thursday, so we are getting an extra day off.  Everyone supposedly knew this by listening to radio or TV, but since we have neither and no one called us, we pleaded ignorance.

Our party was scheduled for Wednesday.  We met Mama Caritas and three READ International volunteers for dinner on Tuesday night.  The volunteers came from England and were staying in Bukoba for about 7 weeks, but were here overnight to give out books to the schools.  Naturally, the power went out right before the dinner, and they had to find their overnight lodging by flashlight.

I got up to go the bathroom about 2 a.m. and realized the water was out but the power was on.  I stayed up to boil 2 kilos of potatoes for the potato salad we planned to have, knowing I could not count on being able to do it in the morning.  We used bucket water to prepare our whole buffet, which included potato salad, macaroni salad, cabbage salad, and fresh pineapple.  I made peanut butter cookies the day before using Rob's oven, but got halfway done when the power went out, so completed them the next morning.  That didn't taste quite like they do at home, since I had to use cassava instead of wheat flour, and had no brown sugar.  The water came back on about 12:30, about the time we finished our preparations.  We borrowed dishes and chairs from Rob.

All our teachers had been invited, which included about 10 from Bree's school in Murguanza and 20 from my school.  Almost all of Bree's teachers showed up, plus Mama Caritas from the District Office and Megan, Vanya and Kara from Womencraft NGO.  They stayed from about 1 to 3 p.m.  None of my teachers had come and we had lots of food left.  Finally 3 showed up about 4 p.m., the official end time of the party.  The teachers and students had apparently been at school all day getting ready for graduation on Friday, even though it was a holiday.  I am so out of the loop there, since all the announcements on the blackboard in the staff room are in Swahili.

Anyway, our party was a success, even though most of my teachers did not come.  We gave leftover food to the guards and the girls at the canteen, and still had a lot to feed us the next day or so.

Saturday, August 27, 2011


On Wednesday Helen Claire, the Director of WorldTeach, who is in charge of the programs in all 20 countries they operate in, was to come over to Ngara for one night after meeting with the government in Rwanda to formalize details for starting the program there.  We wanted to clean up our house for her, but, alas, the water went out again so we only got to sweep the floors.  Thank goodness Bree's cat, Poa, is getting pretty good at going to the bathroom in the shower instead of our living room rug.  Don't know how he learned that, but when we go in to go to the bathroom he often comes in and does his thing at the same time, so it must be learning by example.  Having cats go to the bathroom in your shower does not sound great, but a big improvement over the rest of the house!  The shower hasn't worked since we have been here, anyway.

We expected Helen Claire to come around 6 so she could see our house then have dinner in the canteen at 7:30.  We did not have her phone number so were unable to call her.  Their car apparently broke down at the Rwanda border.  They were able to get it going again, but it broke down again right when they got into town, next to the petrol station where they were supposed to meet Bree.  They were able to see the station right before the power in the whole town went out, and everything was suddenly pitch black, except for the gorgeous stars in the sky.  Helen Claire said she tried to call Bree about six times en route, but her cell phone apparently could not connect in the rural area. 

So about 8 p.m. Bree got a piky piky to the station to meet them and show them the way to our compound.  There was apparently some discussion about leaving one person behind so the car was unattended, but Bree finally convinced them that we have a low crime rate here and the car would be fine.  So they showed up at Afriline by taxi around 8:45.  The prepared dinner was on the cold side, but everyone was hungry enough to do it justice.  We ate by candlelight, since there was no power.  The visitors were tired and in a rush to get to their "hotel" as their driver was threatening to walk there.  So they left after about 20 minutes and not much conversation.  Bree accompanied them to their room at Womencraft, a local NGO that sells baskets made in the villages, where Bree had arranged for them to stay.

The power was on the next morning, but still no water.  Bree met Helen Claire and her companion, Susan, at Womencraft and walked with them to her school.  Her students were prepped to give a little "Welcome Helen Claire" speech that was well received.  They then came to Ngara Secondary School and met me.  I had kept my Form 1C students for 3 periods, hoping the visitors would come and be able to see me teach, but they arrived about 15 minutes after I finished.  I had taught "occupations" and had the students play "What's My Line" so all my writing was still on the board when I took them to visit the class.  My students had a free period and swarmed the visitors instead of the very organized reception they got in Bree's class.  The students finally sat down and got introduced, but Helen Claire commented on what a "challenge" they were.  I then took the visitors to see the library and one of my other classes, also in free period but not so rambunctious.  There is something about cameras, which Helen Claire, Susan and I were all using, that gets the kids really excited.  I think they rarely have an opportunity to get their pictures taken.  Nobody really misbehaved, but they were definitely a little overenthusiastic.  I think the visitors were charmed, nonetheless, as they really are great kids.

the girls get their heads shaved when they enroll,so no fancy braids here

Susan with the Twins

Bree, Helen Claire, and Susan visit one of my classes

Fellow teachers on break

Unfortunately, Helen Claire has gotten word that her mother passed away the day before (not unexpectedly), so her planned visit to Rulenge to see the classes of Lauren and Allie was cancelled.  She wanted to give plenty of time for the ailing car to get them back to Kigali and the flight home for the funeral in the United States.

I have to say, through all the trials and tribulations of their trip to Ngara (car troubles, power and water failure, cold food, no cold beer, late nights and early mornings, curtailed visit) I never heard a single complaint from either of these older women.  Hopefully their journey home went without a hitch.  But TIA (This is Africa!)

Some of my Form 1B students outside of class.  There are about 40 students in each of my four Form 1 streams.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


I came back from Kigali (6 1/2 hours bus and shared taxi) to find that the water had come back on briefly, but was out again.  I went several days without a shower.  Luckily the weather has been cool.

 I walked home from school one day and it was pouring rain.  I didn't have an umbrella but my pashmina protected my face from the water and kept me warm, even though it got soaking wet.  My shoes took 3 days to dry out.  Heavy storms and dirt roads are not a good combination, especially with a little thunder and lightning thrown in.  The roads are usually bustling but almost no one was seen walking or driving.  No motorcycles or bicycles in sight, and no taxis.  Only stupid mzungos (white people) walk in the rain, I suspect.  It wasn't raining when I left school, but the storm lasted for a few hours after I got home.  Usually they are over quickly, which is why I kept walking.

One of my teachers is helping me deal with the plumber in Swahili, trying to get our kitchen sink drain that was running directly onto the floor fixed (he took a week and a half to get there and do it)  and to get hot water hooked up in our shower.  He arranged for the plumber and electrician to meet at our house on Saturday, but only the electrician showed up, and he can't do anything until the plumber makes a connection in the shower pipe for the heater.  My teacher friend came to my house with him when he came to fix the sink, and has called him several times about the other, but the plumber often doesn't even answer calls or texts.  Tanzanian time, again.

I went to Rulenge for fellow WorldTeach volunteer Lauren's 23rd birthday celebration.  I was alone since roommate Bree and neighbor Rob had gone out the night before to bake the birthday cake.  I walked the 40 minutes to Ngara town then it took over an hour in a shared taxi (sharing the front bucket seat with a man this time; my leg fell asleep from having the circulation cut off).  They had arranged a party at Mama Penda's restaurant, which was a walled in outdoor compound and very pleasant.  I met several of her teachers and her headmaster, as well as her and her roommate's piky piky drivers, who were invited.  They were pleasant young men, and when we were told we would have to stay there overnight because there were no taxis available, they got a friend to take us back to Ngara.  So we were able to make it to school Monday morning.  It cost us 40,000 shillings to come back, though, versus 3,000 each to get there.

Another week has come and gone, and still no plumber.  We had a dinner party last night with about 7 Mzungos.  Jeremy is a medical student here for two weeks from Australia and Amy is a new Womencraft recruit from Chicago.  Everyone was under 30 except me and "other" Rob, a 40+ missionary from Australia who is staying in Murguanza with his wife and 3 young children.  He was happy to be able to have a beer with us in our home, since the diocese does not allow him to drink in public.  Bree made her aunt's cabbage salad recipe and we had rolls she found on her way home.  There were supposed to be peanuts in the salad, but Rob and Vanya reported that the usual sources were not around so they could not get any.  Protein is severely lacking in our diet, but at least we are trying to eat more vegetables.

Sunday, August 7, 2011


They finally got our water back on after a week and the shower installation was completed.  They have to get an electrician to repair the hot water heater, since something has apparently chewed up the wires.  Between rats and no cooking or bathing facilities, I was ready to get away again.  We have a holiday Monday for "Farmer's Day" so I decided to travel to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda.  Bree is staying in Ngara to get her room in shape and paint it, hopefully making it habitable after the rat took it over temporarily.

I left around 9:30 a.m. on Saturday.  One of my neighbors helpfully gave me a ride to town, which otherwise is a 40 minute walk.  I found a taxi going to the border.  He already had 3 people in the back seat, but wanted to charge me 40,0000 shillings (about $26) for a "special rate."  I thought that was too much for a shared taxi, and asked others what it should be.  Some of the other taxi drivers backed him up, but one guy on a motorcycle said it should be about 10,000.  Finally, one of the taxi drivers told me it would be $26 if I hired the taxi to go to the border by myself, but a shared taxi should be 3,000 shillings to the transfer point and another 3,000 to the border.  I agreed to this.  Meanwhile, the driver kept stuffing more people in the back, until there were 5 adults and 3 children in the back seat, two in the hatchback space, and a girl sharing my seat in the front.  He picked up two more along the way, and for awhile he was sharing the driver's seat with a teenage boy, so that he had to reach around both of their legs to get to the shift, while my seatmate was sitting halfway on the emergency brake.   When we got to the transfer point, I was told that that was as far as he was going, so I gave him 3,000 shillings and got in a different car, a 1980 Toyota Corolla.  We had to wait about an hour to get the 5 people he needed to make his trip worthwhile. A bus came and he ended up with 5 people plus two children in the back seat, and I had a boy on my lap in the front.  About halfway to the border, I smelled burning and smoke was coming out of the dashboard.  The driver said he had an "oil leaki."  I thought he was stopping to put oil in, but he picked up 3 more people and put them in the hatchback space.

We got to the border and I walked through, checking in with Tanzania and Rwanda immigration.  I was able to change money on the other side and get a minibus to Kigali for 3,000 francs, or about $5.  We had to wait about an hour to go and it took 3 hours to get to Kigali, with a few brief stops.  The land is very mountainous and greener than Tanzania.  The cows are much fatter.

I had no guide to Rwanda and the only hotel I knew of was the Milles Collines, famous from the "Hotel Rwanda" movie.  Someone pointed a hotel out to me an told me that was it, but it ended up being the Top Tower hotel.  At that point I was tired an decided to stay there the first night.  It was $120, more than I usually would pay but less than the Milles Collines, and they took my VISA card, which is pretty unusable in Tanzania.

I actually enjoyed the hotel.  My room is on the 6th floor and has a great view of the city lights.  It is like a moderate hotel room in the USA, with table, chairs, desk, flat screen TV (5 channels), and nice bathroom.  The big thing is free high speed wifi, which is why I am able to catch up on my blog for the first time in a month.  The hotel restaurant was nice, and I enjoyed chicken curry and salad, unobtainable in Ngara.  They had a top floor disco, bar, restaurant with 360 degree views.  I was planning to have crepes and wine the first night, but was just too full after dinner, even though that was my only food the whole day.  I am pretty much used to starving by now, and have probably lost ten pounds.  The second night I skipped dinner and went to the top floor restaurant and had wine, but my craving for salad won and I never did have crepes there.

Transportation here is mostly by pikypiky (motorcycle).  Every trip I took cost 1,000 francs ($1.60).

The big tourist attraction in Kigali is the genocide museum, a memorial for the big genocide in 1995.  I had not realized until I went there that the genocide actually started around 1959 and Tutsis were killed intermittently since then.  It was more a result of colonization as the Germans and Belgians required identity cards and made racial and economic distinctions.  The French government actually underwrote the financing of $12 million for weapons for the ruling party, which used propaganda to marginalize or remove the Tutsis and formed a special militia to annihilate them.  The lists of names were made up well before the major genocide began and one million people were killed out of a population of 6 million.

Many different kinds of roses at the Genocide Museum depict the many kinds of people killed

It is sad to note that I see things like this on almost every trip I go on: the near annihilation of the Incas in Peru, as well as the guerilla wars there; the desparecidos in Argentina; the Cultural Revolution and persecution of Tibetans in China; the Hanoi Hilton in VietNam; the Killing Fields in Cambodia, and the River Kwai with its mass graves of soldiers and civilians who died building the railroad there during WWII.  I will skip the concentration camps in Europe.  Man is a terrible animal.

A highlight here was a trip to the supermarket downtown.  Such wonders that you would never see in Tanzania!  I stocked up a bit, since I don't know when I will make it back here.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


I have been if Africa almost two months and the only wildlife I have seen are 3 monkeys on the roadside while driving to Lushoto.  That does not mean we do not hunt big game.  We have had 3 huge black spiders in our house that look like tarantulas.  We are told they are poisonous but don't like to be around people.  They are almost impossible to catch, since they can scoot over a whole wall in seconds and know where to hide.  They supposedly prefer abandoned houses and I haven't seen one in the last couple of weeks, so hopefully they moved on.

We also have several geckos we happily cohabit with, since they kill mosquitoes.  I am not on prophylaxis, but am ready with malaria test kits and have the pills for treatment.  Hopefully it will not get to that.  Mama Caritas came over with our mosquito nets that finally arrived from Mwanza, but they are the kind that need a frame so she will have to arrange a carpenter to build one.  Still waiting for our stove.

I got up around 4:30 a.m. yesterday and found Bree trying to sleep on the couch.  Apparently there was a huge rat on her bed.  The security guard came by later that morning carrying a kitten and Bree arranged to adopt it.  She named it Poa, which she says means "cool" in Swahili.  Unfortunately, she says the kitten is smaller than the rat, so we will have to wait till she grows some to be a rat catcher.  Meanwhile, one of the teachers from her school came over, found the rat, and killed it with a stick.  Bree is exhausted from ceding her room to the rat for 3 nights.

 Bree and Poa, our designated rat catcher