Monday, June 27, 2005



Today was my “rest” day—the one day of the week where I don’t have school. Gotta love Sundays! I was up at 7am and peeling potatoes for breakfast. Then my sister Mary taught me how to wash my clothes (soap, water, 3 buckets, my hands, and a clothesline to hang them on). It’s hard work! Then we boiled the milk (to pasteurize it, I think, since it came straight out of the cow in the backyard) and strained it and made chai (Tanzanian tea is called chai- its made with milk rather than water and is very sweet and mild, but nice). We had breakfast by 10am and then started on lunch. I learned to make beans and cabbage and ugali. Ugali is very thick corn porridge that is basically the consistency of cold mashed potatoes but has much less flavor. You don’t eat it alone or anything- you eat it with your hands, as most Tanzanians eat all of their food. You make a small ball of it and then dip it in your beans and cooked veggies and scoop it into your mouth. It’s a bit messy to eat your food this way but it works. After lunch we did a bunch of dishes (again, buckets and soap and water in the backyard) and had a 2 hour rest before we started on cooking dinner. I learned how to make machalida, which is a traditional Chaga (tribe) dish of unripe, cooked bananas. It was cool.

Cooking in Tanzania is very work-intensive. You sit on a small wooden stool either outside in the backyard (think dirt, not grass) or in the small concrete hut that is called the kitchen. In the kitchen are 3 small charcoal stoves on the ground, and storage for the utensils and charcoal and the ground maize, etc. It’s hot as hell to sit in there but you do it anyway. There is no such thing as a nice knife (think of an old knife with the handle broken off so it’s just a blade) or cutting board (you cut everything while holding it in your hand) or potholders (you use rags) or a vegetable peeler (you use that one knife blade). We are also cooking for 9 people every meal.

Tanzanian food doesn’t have much variety and wouldn’t win any contests, but it IS functional. It is full of cheap things that fill you up: rice, beans, bananas, corn, and eggs. Pretty much everything is cooked here except for fruit, which you always peel. This is due to the whole sanitation /food-and-waterborne diseases thing. (I know how to make a homemade water filter, to boil my water properly, to use iodine or chlorine to make stuff safe…so the good news is that when I get to my own home I can make myself a salad if I am willing to soak the lettuce in iodine for 20 minutes.) Basically every day is close to the same meals: breakfast is a hardboiled egg, chai, and a piece of bread. We have a tea-break around 10am that consists of another boiled egg, chai, and some fruit like papaya or orange or banana. Lunch and dinner are usually beans (I think they are pinto beans, we cook them up from scratch which takes forever!), a cooked green vegetable like cabbage or spinach or cassava leaves, rice or ugali, and more fruit. It’s pretty simple but it fills you up and I am happy enough that I know I wont starve. I guess I should add that there is often some type of meat for dinner, and sometimes for lunch. But trust me, it is cooked up so much (to be safe) that it is gray and I haven’t heard many good things about it from my friends who eat meat.

After dinner tonight I played cards with the kids for a bit before heading to bed. They play a game called kadi moja (one card) which is basically like Crazy 8’s. It’s a lot of fun. I should tell you more about the family. Here is a quick breakdown. I call the mother and father “mom” and “dad” in Swahili. Most of the kids have a real Christian name and a nickname that we use at home. I am only going to tell you the name that I use:

Here is who I have met so far:
Isaac, 24 – just finished teacher’s college to teach secondary school. He is the only child of Mama #2 who I have met so far. He comes over for dinner every night.
Jeni, 23 ---studying sociology at the university of dar es salaam
David, 16 – technically is a nephew of Baba, not a son.
Mary, 16
Georgina, 15 –she is the house-girl, not related at all
Neema, 13 twin sister to Baraka
Baraka, 13 twin brother to Neema
Willy, 10 technically son to Ray, grandson to Baba.

I have not yet met:
Ray, 27 – a cop in dar es salaam. Oldest child of my mama, and technical father of Willy.
Feube (Mama #2 is what I will call her!)
Victoria, 20- child of mama 2
Happy, 17 - child of mama 2
Musa, 13 – child of mama 2

We also have 2 cows, 3 goats, 3 dogs, and a number of chickens in the backyard in a small pen. I think I am going to learn how to milk the cow tomorrow!

My Baba is of the Chaga tribe, as is mama 2. My mama is of the Kaguru tribe. There are over 150 tribes in Tanzania, although all get along and intermix (the Masaai may stay somewhat more separate from others to some extent). Most have their own tribal language but all use Kiswahili as the official language of the country. When Tanzania first got independence, the first leader, who is still known as the “father of the nation”, made all adopt Kiswahili, abolished tribal boundaries, and encouraged people to move to new areas of the country so that they would mix up. This was about 1961, I think. He is credited with creating a country with little ethnic tension and a strong national identity, due to these policies. There are also a good mix of Christians, Muslims, and people who still have animist (traditional) beliefs. There is little tension religiously. I am woken every morning by the Muslim call to prayer (which is quite beautiful). Most towns have people of all tribes and all beliefs. And not all people of one tribe share the same religion, either. It’s kind of neat that there is so much cultural diversity even though most people look the same at first glance. And its great that everyone is so tolerant of other belief systems.

My family is Catholic. I still haven’t ventured into the conversation about whether polygamy is accepted by the Pope. My teacher told us that some Christian sects here will excommunicate you from the church if you take a second wife. (My teacher’s would…he is 7th Day Adventist). My teacher also said that it is not uncommon these days for men with 2 wives to build them separate homes in separate villages. He said that it is when the women share a home that they start to fight and cause problems. I guess when they are able to keep their own households separate, they are able to cope with sharing their husband much better. My teacher said that the women probably don’t mind because they are used to it, and it doesn’t seem all that strange to them. Can you imagine! The weirdest part about the 2nd wife is that it almost seems like they don’t want me to know. Mary told me but neither Mama nor Baba has mentioned the other wife or kids to me. Baba is here every night for dinner and I think he stays here–although, when I asked Isaac, he said that Baba does spend nights with his Mama also usually. Is he trying to hide the other wife from me? I don’t know! And I don’t know how to ask since he hasn’t brought it up! I think I am going to go to church with them next weekend, at which point I may get to meet the other wife and kids. I will keep you updated.

I’m exhausted from my day of rest. I feel good because I learned to cook a lot of food, learned to wash my clothes and do dishes, and spent quality time with mama. But I never thought I would be so happy to get back to work tomorrow! Tanzanian women work extremely hard, even when all they are doing is making food that will be gone in a few hours. I thought that since the family had a house-girl, maybe mama wouldn’t do that much work. But she does! I guess there is just so much to be done that you really need help when you have 7 kids in the house and you are doing all of the cooking and washing by hand. And, by the way, of course they have no refrigerator.

I will probably cook my own food when I get my own house. I may hire someone to do my laundry- especially since the extra money in a local girl’s pocket would be much appreciated by her. And also, we are permitted to have pets while here. A number of volunteers have dogs. Of course I will have one too, soon! mom is going to have to send me some frontline so i dont get fleas.



Jen said...


We miss you so much already. Jag talks about going to "that place where Jenny is". I wish I could take him but just to much for him at that age. Do you have an address where I can send you something? hope to hear more about your adventures soon.
Miss you-


Bena said...

Sounds so amazing, Jenny. Who would have thought you were so domestic...Miss you! -Bena

Elisa said...

How shocked, happy and proud I am of you just cant be put down in words. What you are doing and the way you describe it, thank you. Stay strong and may many more amazing moments like with the marbles occur in your life! I love you