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


“You know what word I haven’t used since I got here?” asked Bret musingly as we made our way back down the mountain.

“What?” I said, paying more attention to placing my feet securely than to the conversation. Where we were walking, foliage often blocked our view of the ground, so this was a somewhat tricky proposition.

“‘Jungle'”, he said. “At home, I’d definitely call this a jungle”–he stopped speaking to push an enormous banana leaf out of his face–“but here it’s just a forest.”

“Huh”, I said consideringly. “You know, you’re right.” And he was: on the hike up we’d pushed our way through thick, wet vegetation strung festively with spiderwebs, leaves covering the well-used path, winding our way through groves of bananas and stands of papyrus. When we got to the top we reached a place where all the trees were totally covered by Spanish moss, presenting grizzled green branches to the world. Everything, in fact, was green, except for the profusion of flowers, orange and white and yellow and pink. No matter where we looked we saw glossy leaves, heard odd bird calls. The air was heavy with fecundity.

Usafiri (tena)

Yesterday’s trip to Mbeya ranks among the better travel stories I’ve garnered from my time here, although (surprisingly) not among the worst trips.

Jess was taking girls to a girls’ conference she had organized with a bunch of other PCVs, and Bret and I were tagging along. Because Jess would be responsible for these five kids, she understandably wanted to plan ahead. She had arranged everything with one driver–he’d pick them up at her house, and us along the way–and set the price and everything. Then, the day before we were set to leave, he called Jess to say that he’d be leaving from Mbeya rather than Makete, and that he’d have to pick us up at 10 instead of at 6 as planned. “Sorry,” said Jess, “that won’t work,” and so she proceeded to look for another car. With the help of Hekima, a friend in town, she found one in relatively short order and sent the driver a message outlining the agreement with the first driver to confirm that it was okay. He didn’t respond, but the cell network had been down so she thought nothing of it.

We all woke up early: Jess and her girls waited at her house; Bret and I headed out to the road a little before 6 AM, walking carefully in the cold darkness. And there we waited. And waited. By 6.30 we thought something might be wrong, but the network was still down so we couldn’t get in touch with Jess. So we stood there, freezing and watching the sun rise. A little after 7 she got a call through to us: the car had left without us, and all the other morning vehicles were gone as well. So Bret and I went back to his house; drank some tea; relaxed for a while. At 8.30 we walked down into Jess’s village and got the full story:

The second driver, who apparently has anger management issues, was enraged by the mere mention of the first driver, towards whom he apparently feels some animosity. So he decided not to give us a ride. He told everyone in the village, or at least everyone who happened to be around at the time, that Jess had sent him an awful, offensive text (she showed it to some of them later, and everyone agreed that the text was completely innocuous). He neglected, however, to tell Jess that she’d have to find alternate transportation.

So we all waited for the car we’d planned to take in the first place, the car that was supposed to come in from Mbeya around 10. The appropriate hour rolled around; the car didn’t. It was not, in fact, until 11 that it pulled up, filled to capacity. Hekima, bless him, told the people in the front and middle seats that the seats were already reserved and kicked them out. Jess and I sat up front with a girl between us, and Bret shared the middle seat with the other four. It was a tight squeeze. We finally pulled out at 11.30, after all the luggage had been anchored to the roof.

From there the ride was uncomfortable but uneventful. We only broke down twice, once when the car overheated after a particularly steep hill and once when we got a flat tire. We arrived at the conference at 4.30, far too late for the 1 PM opening ceremonies.

Then later, in the evening, Peter and I sang on the balcony of the dormitory. My voice was as I love to hear it, soaring and pure, the most fragile part of me but so solid I could almost touch it. It was glorious. The acoustics of these Soviet-designed buildings are terrible for speeches but great for singing.

Nipo wapi?

I upend the cat onto my lap; he lies there contentedly, upside-down, all four legs and his tail grouped together. I watch as he starts to wash his paws, hold his tail for him so he can clean it properly. Sometimes he misses and cleans my fingers instead. Sometimes he stops and just looks up at me with his pale wintergreen eyes.

I can’t quite bring myself to be here, not completely. Even as I coax his brother onto my lap as well, double-decker cats purring noncommittally, my mind inexorably drifts elsewhere: the church at the beach that we always walk by on our way to town; the cafe near Swarthmore where we occasionally went for lunch; the loveseat in our sunroom at home, which in my mind is still occupied by the two cats who are now buried in our backyard.

Naenda; Narudi; Nakosa amani

I get on the coaster around 8 A.M.; we leave Njombe city limits around 8.45. A coaster isn’t the quickest way to travel, stopping as they do at every middle-of-nowhere bus stand to pick up and drop off passengers, but I’m in no hurry. I love this drive.

To my left are the Kibena tea fields, regimented rectangles of the greenest green I’ve seen, the color of the young wheat back in Makete, practically glowing with life. On the right, the forests of a lumber company, rows of trees ruler-straight. As we drive by I catch flipbook glimpses of the landscape beyond. The flipbook shows me a silver cyclops sun staring out over rolling green hills and a grey sky, both stretching as far as the eye can see.

On the way from Dar to Iringa, I can barely keep my eyes open. My bus seat is too small (five people across instead of the expected four) and I doze discontentedly, head resting on the back of the seat in front of me, wishing it wasn’t so hot. I like to break the trip up into two nine-hour days when I can, Dar-Iringa and then Iringa-Makete, instead of doing the twelve- or thirteen-hour ride to Njombe all in one day.

The road between Njombe and Makete isn’t bad now that the rains have stopped and the huge pot-holes that the mud caused have been smoothed away. The bus’s brakes squeal like a scared baby pig whenever the driver uses them, air escaping somewhere. I try to ignore the noise and focus on the view out the window. Everyone near the road stops what they’re doing to look–half watch the bus; half watch me.

I get home, exhausted. Four of the past five days have been spent traveling nine hours, to get to Dar so I could fix my glasses and resolve the headaches I’ve been having (turns out my left eye improved, including ditching its astigmatism, and that was the problem). With a new lens in my glasses I walk in my kitchen door, greet the cats who are clamoring for attention, and start to unpack. I pull out my Kindle, which I’d packed in the backpack because I thought it would be safer there, and turn it on to check my e-mail.

The top inch of the screen is blank. I refresh it; it stays blank. In my head I run the gamut of English swear words but conclude that they won’t improve the situation at all. I wish I could curse in Swahili–that might help.


I wake up cold. I put on three layers of clothing, cold; eat breakfast, cold. I miss my morning class because I can’t bring myself to leave the nest of blankets I’ve made, wrapped around myself, still shivering at the core of them. Hands wrapped around a cup of tea.

I think I’m sick. I hope I’m sick. It isn’t even June yet; we have not yet begun to freeze. If I can’t handle May temperatures I’m going to be in serious trouble when real winter comes.

Mvua inaendelea

It’s 3 PM, a time that would normally find the mountains illuminated with glowing afternoon sun, the brightest part of the day. It looks like twilight. A huge clap of thunder shuts off the lights.

The rains are running a little late this year.

Down in the valley I can see the silver wall of rain, completely hiding the mountains beyond. I can also see what look like vertical pinstripes of cloud, stretching from the high clouds overhead down to the low-lying clouds just above the ground. I wrap a blanket around my shoulders and walk out to the porch, sure that the stripes are just a side-effect of looking out my dirty window. They’re not.

From the porch I can see a dozen crows freewheeling above the tall pine near my house. They’re swimming in three dimensions, unconstrained by their bodies’ buoyancy or weight. They seem unwilling to land, deriving too much joy from the pre-storm drafts, the winds that make them weightless.

The haze of rain moves closer; the birds eventually take shelter in the tree. I go inside as the first drops begin to pound on the roof. Soon after, it begins to rain in earnest.


Back from town, break is like an unbroken string of Saturdays, leisurely and pleasant and at times dauntingly empty. It’s early afternoon on Friday and I’m back in bed, sitting up and reading. A cat curls up by my feet adorably, and I obligingly adore him. I’m a fool for my cats: they wake me at six, demanding breakfast; they wake me at eight, demanding attention; they whine and fuss and make messes and destroy things, but I still love them unreservedly because I know that without them, I would have gone home long ago.

Sijachelewa sana

My phone’s alarm woke me from a strange dream at 4.40. I dressed and left quietly, carrying a flashlight in one hand and an umbrella, doing double duty as a walking stick, in the other. Out of the house I stopped and turned off the flashlight, awed by the stars. I always manage to forget how bright they are here, and I’m invariably dazzled when the evidence of my eyes reminds me.

I manage to achieve the roadside without slipping and falling on the muddy ground, but see no headlights in the town where cars usually start, visible a few mountains over. Resignedly, I start down the slick hill towards the junction. I arrived and the few electric lights cut out suddenly, leaving me alone with the stars and a staticky, battery-operated radio that must have been on all night.

At 5.30 a car came; I heaved myself and my bags into the back. On the bumpy road I put my arm around the man sitting next to me, a maneuver that in America would have been fraught with confusion and awkwardness, but here he knows as well as I do that I do it not out of a desire to be closer to him but rather as a part of my master plan for not dying in the near future.

Ten minutes into the drive the car goes through a particularly slippery patch of loose mud and the engine dies in a cloud of rubber-smelling smoke. It takes all the men to push-start it once the hasty repair is complete. A few hours later we run out of gas on an isolated mountainside and I read a book by the road for an hour as we wait for the conductor who’s gone to fetch the fuel.

Still, we get to town at 11.00, a reasonable time. Five and a half hours. Bret made the trip a few days after I did and it took him nine and a half, which for us is a record.

Mapenzi mabaya

We hummed, sang, and whistled “Bad Romance” all weekend: a friend of Jess’s (well, a friend of all of ours, but particularly of Jess’s) came to visit, and brought with her a “Popular in America” mix. I’ve really grown to like pop, American and otherwise, while I’ve been here. Not sure why.

I caught the minibus to Bulongwa on Thursday, keeping our guest company, and we had a wonderful weekend. Good food, as always; slightly belated green beer (for the others) and green milk-and-Kaluha (for me); general merriment. She was the first real PCV guest we’ve had here, the only others being the folks who spent the night here before we hiked down to Matema last summer. Everyone who makes the trek out here says that they now completely understand why we don’t leave much: the beauty of the environment (and the agreeability of the company) and the price, duration, and scariness of the journey combine to keep us in Makete most of the time.

Coming home, I got a ride from the local teachers’ union representative, a guy who speaks great English. I was enjoying talking to him until he turned the conversation to immigration policies for foreigners who marry Americans, my marital status, and American polygamy laws. There’s a reason all my Tanzanian friends are women. To retaliate, I asked him questions about his wife and his six children (the oldest of whom is my age) and tried to stay absorbed in the gorgeous, sunset-lit landscape. As we drove into town, all the buildings were glowing.

Msimu wa mvua

We’re sitting inside Mama Ismael’s booth at the market. The rain is solid but not devastating. I wouldn’t want to walk in it in my thin cotton shirt, but it wouldn’t drench me immediately.

She’s telling me about how she had strange dreams, how she overslept. She dreamt that thieves stole into her house and took her clothes (“‘My God,’ I thought, ‘They didn’t even leave me clothes for church!'”) and woke up at 6.45, if you can believe it. She still had to do her morning chores: fetch firewood, cook, clean. She didn’t get to work until 10. I don’t teach Fridays and I lazed in bed with the cats until 9.30. I keep my mouth shut and watch the rain.

“Wait until March,” Mama Ismael kept telling me. “Then the rains will really come.” I mocked her gently, asking if the rain knew what month it was, but when the first of March came the rain came with it, much to my surprise. For the first week the power cut out every day and I couldn’t teach about half my periods. The children called out my name as I walked by their classrooms. This week I only missed one period, a class I’d managed to teach last week, and one class actually applauded when I went into the classroom to teach. The power hasn’t cut out since Tuesday. It’s unclear what changed.

Last night I lay in bed, a cat on either side of me, and listened to the quiet rushing of the rain on the roof. I didn’t feel tired, but didn’t feel like doing anything either, a state that’s been more and more common lately. I closed my eyes, sang a sea song. The cats’ paws twitched against me as they killed dream-mice.