The views expressed herein are mine and not those of the Peace Corps.



Useful Acronyms

PC Peace Corps
ICT Information & Communications Technology
PCT Peace Corps Trainee (pre-swearing-in)
PCV Peace Corps Volunteer (post-swearing-in)
PST Pre-Service Training
CBT Community-Based Training


The Swahili word for “no” is “hapana”; for “yes” it’s “ndiyo”. I mention these not only for your edification but to point out that the Swahili words are both three times as long as their counterparts in English.

This could be an insignificant detail or a profound statement about the culture here. Given my experiences and what we were told during pre-homestay orientation, I lean more toward the latter.

Walking in the market, Anita and I greeted many of the people we saw. I remember one mzee (old man) in particular. “Shikamoo” I said, to show respect. “Marahaba” he responded, accepting it, and then he tossed greetings at me, one after the other, as though testing me. “Habari za leo?” (“Nzuri.”) “Mambo?” (“Poa.”) “Salama?” (“Salama.”) Satisfied, he moved on, and Anita and I looked at each other. “I guess we passed the test,” she said.

During training, they told us that every interaction here begins with a prolonged exchange of greetings, and I have found that to be true. Walking around with my mama, we pause often to chat with neighbors or greet friends; each conversation begins with several question/answer sequences. Even though the answers are always the same (in training, they warned us not to be honest about a bad day unless we wanted to provoke many questions), they pave the way for a real conversation to take place.

The other day, mama asked me if George Bush was from Israel. In orientation they mentioned that Jews are basically unknown here, so I tried to explain what a Jew was (“Ah, like Jesus!” she said) and then that Bush was not.
She was very surprised. “He is not from Israel?” she kept asking, and I kept telling her no.

Evitha, the two-year-old, has warmed to my presence. She was initially afraid of me, but now she treats me like a sibling. When I sit down in a chair to study, she toddles over and looks at the seat next to me. “Hapa” (here), she will tell me, and I have to scoot over so she can climb up and sit next to me. Not much work gets done while she’s there, but she’s awfully cute.

Lately I’ve had a lot more practice riding the dala-dalas. Once Anita and I got on when the seats were all full and had to stand. I braced my back against the ceiling and pushed my feet into the floor to prevent myself from tipping into the laps of the people around me during acceleration and braking. It was extremely uncomfortable.

But the more recent times I’ve had a seat. On the way home from town today, I got into a conversation with some nice locals that involved a lot of me saying “say again?” and “I don’t understand” in Swahili, and them laughing as though I’d just made a great joke. I did manage to tell them my name, where I was from, where I was staying, that I was a student of Swahili, and that I’d been in the country for two weeks, so I count it as a victory.

Today is a Muslim holiday, Eidd. We learned that it would be today and not tomorrow last night when it was announced on the television. Which day is Eidd depends on when the moon is visible, or something? It is somewhat confusing to me. But at any rate, this means that we are off from school (it feels like the weekend!) so I’ve been home doing chores and hanging out. I finally washed my room! It’s nice to have a clean floor. I also boiled water for drinking and folded some clothes. I’ve been helping to cook, and today I made the beans (with some help from mama). My favorite cooking activity so far is grating a coconut. There’s a special implement specifically for the task.

I want to buy some fabric to have clothes made. I keep seeing awesome kangas and kitenges on the women in town; my favorite motifs are teapots and chickens. Mama says that we will go to the market this weekend (hopefully the big one on Sunday), so I will buy fabric when we go.

Every time I look at a piece of wood here, be it a door or a crudely-made school desk or carefully constructed furniture, I can barely see the quality of workmanship because the wood is so beautiful it distracts me completely. None of the other PCTs or PCVs seem to have this problem; I wonder if they do not notice or if they have adjusted.

It’s very strange to me: I haven’t taken my mandolin out of its case, nor sang, since I started my homestay. I haven’t listened to a song on my computer or iPod since before then.

Music was such a big part of my life back home, is such a part of how I view myself. My voice is as crucial to my self-image as any other part of me (excepting, perhaps, my intellect), yet I barely think about not singing for so long.
Part of it, certainly, is that I’m exhausted from the new environment, from learning all day. I collapse into bed every night and wake up still tired. The rest of it, I suspect, is the new environment on its own: with so many new stimuli, it’s hard to remember that old stimuli are missing. Once I am at site, alone, with time, things will change. Thinking about it now, writing about it, I do miss hearing my own voice (yeah, yeah), but I do not think I could feel comfortable singing here, in a house full of people.

I leave you with instructions for taking a bucket bath, because I know you’re curious…

  1. Boil two containers’ worth of water. Dump water into bucket.
  2. Add cold water until desired temperature (I like to add four containers’ worth).
  3. Change into going-to-the-shower clothes.
    For women, wrap a kanga around your chest (like a sarong; it will cover chest to knees) and drape your towel over your shoulders.
    Men are on their own in this step.
  4. Assemble other necessary implements: shampoo, conditioner, soap, pitcher, laundry soap (if wanted).
  5. Proceed to shower.
  6. Wet hair.
    I like to dip my head into the bucket of water, then dump small amounts of water over my head using the pitcher.
    Once hair is wet, shampoo and condition as usual, washing with small amounts of water.
  7. Clean body as usual, working soap to a lather before washing off with small amounts of water from the pitcher.
  8. Finish by dumping water over your head until you feel clean and/or water is gone.
  9. Bonus: if you have extra water and have remembered your laundry soap, you can wash your underwear with the remaining water!
  10. You should retain a small amount of water to clean the shower floor. Clean the floor now.
  11. Put everything in the bucket (except kanga and towel, which should be wrapped as above).
    Go back to room.

So that’s that. Salama.


Comment from lauren
Time October 7, 2008 at 11:12 am

i really like this entry! thank you for talking about it. love,

Comment from kit
Time October 7, 2008 at 11:38 pm

miss you and your voice like mad.

Comment from Chris
Time October 9, 2008 at 4:20 pm

New picture! Love it.

Write a comment