18 October 2009

couchsurfing in a tanzanian village (part ii)

We got to visit Simoni's school, and the kids counted to 100 in Swahili for us, sang songs for us (from the ABCs to a song about being happy to be Tanzanian to a song about Hakuna Matata, which really does mean 'no worries') and then pretty much just stared at us for the rest of the time. Like all (okay, most) little kids, they were hyper, shy, curious and adorable.

Sadly, two of them weren't feeling well, so Simoni told the other teacher we would walk them home. As we walked, we learned that the boy was throwing up because he had malaria, and the little girl was crying because she was hungry.

It really makes one think of how little we need-- and how little it would take to make a positive difference in a village like Simoni's. I was really impressed with this Ugandan (NPR link), for example, who recycles hotel soaps and thus prevents thousands of children from dying from diarrheal diseases, many of which could be prevented through simple hand sanitation (per the NPR article).

People never cease to amaze me, like this 16-year-old Indian boy (BBC link) who now is the headmaster of a free school for all of the children in his village who can't go to school.

If you're interested in spending some time in a Tanzanian village (or know anyone who might be), Simoni said he's always looking for volunteers to teach at his school or help with other projects in the village. You'll get free lodging if you're interested, and you can email him directly at kimwerisimon@yahoo.com if you have any questions. Or you can email me, if you'd prefer.

After visiting the school, we went to the center of the village, where there were a cluster of traditional clay houses. We went to the village "restaurant" (max capacity: 4) and had Tanzanian tea (delicious) and these little donut-like cakes. Here are Simoni and my partner in front of the little restaurant:

And here is the woman who served us (on the right, weaving):

We learned that the clay houses were built by digging a deep hole (which became the drop toilet) and using the clay they dug out to make the walls.

It was neat to see the indentations from fingers in the walls, as if the builders were saying, "I was here." I also thought it was neat that the roof was half-thatched and half-corrugated:

After walking around the village some more (i.e., learning about the trees and plants and 'talking' (see sample interaction) with people from the village), it was time for lunch. Simoni's girlfriend, Edita, is an amazing cook, and we really enjoyed eating traditional Tanzanian food.

The main Tanzanian staple you'll see is ugali, which is made of cassava and/or maize. I read somewhere that it was an acquired taste, but I totally disagree. Ugali is great: somewhere between bread and mashed potatoes in consistency and similar to rice in taste. What's not to like? (Ethiopian injera, for example, with its slightly sour taste is good but more of an acquired taste, I'd say.)

Anyway, it comes out like this:

It's cut into thirds, rotated 90 degrees and cut into thirds again (nine square pieces plus rounded corners), and the proper way to eat it is to roll it into a ball in your right hand and then make an indentation with your thumb in the middle. You then can use your little ugali ball as a spoon and scoop soup/meat/etc. into the middle, like so:

My partner was a natural at this ugali rolling business, but I was totally hopeless. First, I rolled my ugali into a ball with both hands, and as Tanzanians consider the left hand dirty, I might as well have rolled my ugali on the ground (or worse). Then, my little ugali balls kept on crumbling into my soup. Meanwhile, my partner was making perfect little balls with perfect little indentations. Oh, well. At least I provided some entertainment for them. (Edita had a hard time finishing her meal, as my pathetic attempts at eating ugali properly were cracking her up throughout the meal.)

This is where Simoni and his girlfriend lived and where we ate lunch and dinner:

Edita cooked in the wooden shed (left) with a real wood fire, and we sat at the table (center) near it. For dinner, we had rice and beans and veggies, which were again delicious. Tanzanian food is flavorful and healthy, which has been great. We sat and chatted until the sun set.

We learned that much of Tanzania was matriarchal, where the family line often stems from the father's mother, and that men had to pay dowries to their future bride's family in order to receive their permission and blessing to wed. So, like brides in many other countries, Tanzanian men often save for years in order to save up US$4000, for example. Many men can never save up that much, and they end up living with their girlfriends and having children without marrying.

Simoni said he'd been saving for a while and that he was hoping to get married to Edita next year. Dowries are a funny tradition, and we laughed at how it seemed you were buying your future partner, but I guess you just do it if you have no other choice. Simoni and Edita are one of those couples who seem so happy together, and I hope they're always so full of smiles and laughter.

By the time we finished dinner, the sky was pitch black, and the stars were bright and twinkling. You could just make out the faint orange glow of Dar es Salaam to the east.

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