Upendo, always with a big smile, my savior in teaching other mamas how to teach cooking porridge.. swooped in when I looked like an idiot over burning goop
The little boys sprint over from the soccer field when they see me carrying empty buckets. They fight for their chance to carry my water, knowing there'll be a treat involved. Fifteen minutes later, seven children in tattered sweaters with huge smiles come into my courtyard carrying buckets full of precious water. Dry season is sneaking in and my gutters are dry. These little boys get lucky; I have a plethora of avocados and hand each of them half of one in addition to the normal allotment of 3 jelly beans. Their huge smiles bring me joy knowing there will be something in their tummies. I close the courtyard door and go inside to cook lunch.
Half an hour later I open my back door. The courtyard is open, solar panel turned upside down, and my external battery has been ripped from the cord, leaving the panel in disrepair and me with no reliable source of charge. Since my original solar panels, hardrive, camera, and several other things were taken in the largest burglary, these last few things were my lifeline with no electricity. Those smiles that initially brought fulfillment suddenly fill me with resentment and rage.
more minor than the others, this theft was the fourth reportable incident at my house, in addition to other shady circumstances that let me know things are happening behind the scenes. When I go to the school to report what happened, I watch the teachers summon the culprits and begin smacking them in the face, swinging sloppy roundhouse kicks to ward off eavesdroppers behind them, and flailing switches to intimidate answers out of the terrified posse. It's clear not all the boys were involved. Two of them tear up, seemingly suspicious. I begin to wonder if it was worth reporting.
Mob justice often means no-holds-barred in corporal punishment.
Let's avoid the hero-complex, I realized being here makes me a target due to my excessive privilege in comparison to my ville, and I accept that. I will easily replace things that were stolen when I'm employed after Peace Corps, and my support system back home will make sure I have what I need. In the grand scheme of things, these little thefts won't affect me. At the same time, Peace Corps funding is about to provide 3000 apple trees to our village. I've worked with these boys' mamas, led them
A visit to the farm.. did you know corn stalks taste like sugar cane?
in community theater, and gifted them soccer balls. It's the principal of the matter, and I feel the jaded darkness well up.
It's being sorted out. Our safety and security team is deciding what to do next, whether I should remain in the village, and how to approach my village government. Meanwhile, I traveled to a regional training and was able to get away from the stress for a weekend.
On the way to the training, I stopped at the Fox Orphanage for a couple nights, where children from ill or traumatized backgrounds are housed and fed, learning in a Montessori style classroom and interacting with both Western staff and host country nationals on a daily basis. My former site mate has extended her service for a third year and is living there as a health volunteer. Medical students, German, American, and various other volunteers stop in for various time-periods, assisting this magical place in meeting its basic needs and maintaining stability for these children who, by majority, are HIV positive.
Entering the space is ethereal. Ivy-lined houses with water catchment systems house groups of kiddos who's English is impeccable and opportunities multiplied by their presence here.
Clipping Janice Joplins wings
House mamas scurry about, baking huge loaves of fresh bread and collecting eggs to keep both residents and volunteers nourished. Mama Love brushes oil on steaming buns as a visiting American PhD student and I exchange a glance. We snatch one from the tray, burning our fingers. As we pull the oven-baked bread (AN OVEN!!) apart, the fibers stretch and steam, eventually leaving us with two fluffy halves ready for doses of homemade pear jam from Mrs. Fox herself. For dinner? Homemade tomato pie, because I have all day to bake and tomatoes are in season. Mom's recipe knocks the socks off the Brits and the Yanks alike. Oh God, we even have peanut butter cookies.
The Foxes come by to say hello and stay through dinner, this time Ive fried homemade sweet potato chips from my own harvest. They lose their minds over the Orange flesh of the potatoes, begging to know how to get them. Ohhhh, the potential for OFSP!!! I start explaining my project and the importance of Vitamin A for villages. Looks like they'll be planting soon enough!
At 4:15 the next morning I hike to the road to catch a van, and finally
Christina, always "kali" (tough, intense, sharp), has the most tender heart underneath with the warrior.
make it to Iringa for Super Regionals after a big hug to my amazing site mate and a heart full of gratitude for her having me there during her work week.
Super Regionals is a fairly open event lead by PCVs where topics are chosen and discussed in open spaces. I suggested a women's self defense session and it was a hit! My friend Paige studied Jujitsu and with knowledge of Krav Maga, we were able to teach a two hour session for female PCVs to protect themselves. We talked about using their voice first and their bodily weapons when necessary. Three of our male volunteers, including my awesome new site mate, came to hold pads and be attackers for drills. They got sweaty and beat up-- the absolute best allies for our powerful group of women.
Super Regionals also included ideas about more local trainings, information from our FEAST Committee (check out FEAST Peace Corps Tanzania online for more info and my recent blog post there!) and interesting info on incorporating gender discourse into projects at site. Our favorite, of course, was beating the crap out of couch cushions and learning to escape a choke hold. What
Mama Love and her hot buns!
can we say? Peace Corps Women are badass.
I'm heading back to site tomorrow and waiting for more information about what's to come. I'll keep you all posted. Our chickens should start laying any day, sweet potatoes are coming out of the soil, and my adult English class is now performing teach-backs to each other in English! To demonstrate the use of rhubarb, I made homemade strawberry rhubarb jam and shared it with the family who propagated the original plant for me. It was gone in a day, Vitamin K and all.
Despite every frustration, nothing someone steals is more valuable than this experience. The jaded darkness only lasts until I pick a strawberry from my garden, hug a mama by the water tap, or see my favorite cucumber farmer pick the best ones just for me.
"The Hardest Job You'll Ever Love" always rings true in Peace Corps.
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