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



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Maisha Plus

I went to visit Mama Jully yesterday afternoon. “When are your friends coming?” she asked. “Tomorrow?”
“The day after,” I said. She sprang into action: “Then we can go visit my parents today!”
Before I’d left for training we’d agreed to visit her village together, and she’d been waiting for me to return to go home.
“I’ll go get some clothes and meet you at the bus stand,” she said. So I did the same: went home, got some things together, tidied my house, fed the kittens. By the time I got the call from her (“Come! Car is ready!”) it was raining.
I sat in the front passenger seat along with an older man (the best seat in the car, even though it’s shared). I was on the window side and the window was open, so I wound up tugging on my raincoat (a great birthday present). He asked, in English, if I was cold. “Just wet,” I told him. We got to talking, on and off, during the hour we were sitting in the car waiting for it to leave. He asked me my age.
“Twenty-five,” I said. I add two years to my age in village so they’ll take me seriously. “Too young,” he said. “Too young.” He didn’t answer when I asked, but I’m pretty sure the answer to my question of “For what?” was for him to marry. Thank goodness.
After an hour of waiting, we left the stand at 3.10, arriving in Namanga around 4. The car dropped us off and went back for another load.
We waited. And waited. It was raining again. We got wet. It got cold. I put on my polar fleece under my raincoat.
The car returned around 6. Mama Jully told me to get on as soon as it came. I wound up getting into a shoving match with an old lady to get on (they have the pointiest elbows, and they’re not afraid to use them). We sat next to each other and exchanged smiles and greetings.
In the Landcruiser (like a Land Rover, but with two long benches in the back along the sides of the car, instead of seats perpendicular), there were three people in the front seat, plus the driver (cramming three into the passenger seat is never fun). Fourteen of us in the back, on benches and standing, plus an eight-year-old and a baby. Three guys hanging on to the back. Plus all the luggage on the top. Travel in Tanzania is always a joy.
We got off at 6.50 and walked well into the darkness, until around 7.30. It was still raining on and off. Lightning flashed in the distance. I watched every house we passed hopefully, wishing it was our destination. When we finally arrived we walked into the kitchen, sat by the clay oven. Bread and tea for dinner; when Mama Jully noticed that my eyes were watering from the smoke we moved inside, unrolled a mattress, slept. Isaack, Mama Jully’s grandson, slept between us, having expressed his desire to sleep “next to the teacher.”
In the middle of the night Mama Jully and her mother had a loud, extended conversation in the local tribal language. It went on and on. In the morning Mama Jully leaned over me to turn off the lantern and I moved to get up. “Sleep,” she said. “Where are you going? Just sleep.” I was happy to oblige.
Finally out of bed, she told me I was going to take me a bath, gave me the provisions, showed me to a sort of courtyard behind the kitchen. I had an audience of chickens and a soundtrack of pigs. I could see the neighbor’s house, so presumably, if they’d looked, they could have seen me. Thankfully, they didn’t.
A pear for breakfast, sitting in front of a dish of coals in the living room, mattresses still on the floor. I was banished from the kitchen because of smoke sensitivity. So it goes.
After church, typically boring, we went visiting. As we walked by grass-covered foundations, Mama Jully recounted: “There used to be a family here, and there, and there…but they all got HIV and died and now it’s just my family here.” We climbed down a mountain to a stream. “This used to be a big river. On a Sunday like this, there would be lots of people here washing their clothes. Now, no people. Nothing.” The stream gave way to an impressive water. There used to be a path to the bottom, she said, but not now.
She pointed out relatives’ houses. We visited her bibi mdogo–her young grandmother, her grandfather’s second wife. It wasn’t clear if he’d had them serially or concurrently, but given the tendencies of the tribes in this area my money’s on the latter. Bibi gave me a gift of a live chicken, which is now living at Jully’s parents’ house. We’ll eat it next time I visit, she says.
“Maisha plus”–“The good life.” Jully kept saying it to describe the life in village. Walking back, she asked me if I saw the problem.  “I see many problems,” I told her, dodging the question. “The people here died because they got HIV and drank too much and didn’t have God in their hearts,” she tells me. Looking around at these painfully poor people who can’t even afford salt but still give visitors gifts of food and of chickens, I can’t help but think that she might be right.

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