Day-to-Day Life in a Small African Village
- Africa, Tanzania
Habari za jioni! Good evening! I have been sitting at my desk and typing into my laptop about all the things that happened to me today. I keep a journal of all my experiences in the Peace Corps so I can remember them when I go home.
My name is Richard Lupinsky and I'm a biology teacher and a school health educator in a small village in Tanzania. There are about 7,000 people in my village. Our secondary school campus, where I live, is next to a big highway. From my house, I can hear big trucks driving up and down the road. The village is in the center of Tanzania between the capital city, Dodoma, and another big town, called Morogoro. Let me tell you all about my day today.
The day started very early in the morning when it was still dark outside. I was sound asleep, nestled warmly in my bed with my sleeping bag tight around me. A student came out of his dormitory just before 6 o'clock and walked across the school campus. He stood looking at a large tree. The rusty rim from a truck wheel hung from a limb. Suddenly I heard a metallic clang-clang-clang echo loudly in my ear. The boy was striking the rim with a metal bolt, telling the students and teachers it was time to wake up. After the bell, I tried to go back to sleep for a few minutes, but the roosters wouldn't let me. They kept crowing cock-a-doodle-doo over and over, right outside my window. Well, there was no going back to sleep for me. I opened my eyes and found myself inside a big chandalua, a large square net that acts like a big fort. At night, it keeps me from being bitten by mosquitoes, called mbu, and other bugs, called wadudu. I climbed through the opening of my chandalua and went outside to open up my chicken coop. Three of my kuku, whom I named Larry, Flo, and Shirley, raced out and hungrily pecked the ground for seeds and wadudu. The morning air was fresh and cold as the sun's rays broke through the banana trees behind my house.
All the students and teachers here must attend a morning assembly every day. Students who don't live at school ride bicycles from their homes. The older students wear green-and-white uniforms. Younger students wear maroon-and-white uniforms. They sing Tanzania's national anthem on Monday mornings. It is nice to hear all 250 beautiful voices sing as their black, blue, green, and yellow flag goes up the flagpole. After the singing, Mr. Hassan, the school principal, whom we call the headmaster, made his morning announcement. Today he told the students they must study hard for their upcoming exams.
After the assembly, I walked to the staff room where all the teachers work when they are not teaching classes. In Tanzania, the students stay in one classroom throughout the day. The teachers move around to teach different classes. In the staff room, I greet all the teachers by saying, "Habari za asubuh." That means "Good morning." It is important here to greet other people when you meet them, because it shows you respect them.
In Tanzania, high school is called secondary school. I am a secondary school biology teacher. I don't speak Kiswahili well enough to communicate all the complex ideas about biology. Thankfully, I do not have to teach everything in Kiswahili. Tanzania requires all secondary school students to learn in English, because it is the language of science and business throughout the world.
Tanzanian students get to select what types of subjects they want to study. I teach two different classes. My students are about 16 years old. One class has 50 students, who want to study mainly science and math. The other has 20 business students. I must speak slowly and use simple English so they can understand me. When I am making up my lesson notes, I translate the important words into Kiswahili so the students can learn more easily. Most Tanzanian students have never spoken English before coming to secondary school. Imagine trying to learn all your subjects when the teacher is speaking another language, like French or Chinese! I would have had a very difficult time with my studies.
Today I taught my students about the brain. The Tanzanian students were eager to learn. They took beautiful notes in booklets called daftaries. After school I met with the student-led health club and we talked about the importance of making good decisions about health. Other days I coach basketball and volleyball. On Fridays I teach the teachers about health issues.
The other part of my job as a Peace Corps Volunteer is to be a school health educator. I act as a teacher and a facilitator. A health facilitator is someone who tries to organize resources—like people and money—to deliver health education to local villagers. In Tanzania, HIV/AIDS is a big problem because many people have the sickness. Many Tanzanians are not familiar with science and modern medicine. They believe evil spirits or curses placed on them by their ancestors are some causes of HIV/AIDS. Sometimes, they believe they can be cured by witch doctors, but there is no known cure yet for HIV/AIDS. So my job is to tell people the scientific facts about their health and teach them how to take good care of themselves. I feel good when I see young children learn why they should eat balanced and nutritious foods. I'm happy when villagers learn the importance of treating their water with chlorine to kill germs.
Sometimes I work at the local dispensary. This is a place where people can get medicine and see a nurse. I weigh small babies to make sure they are getting enough to eat. I smile when I see the face of a young mother light up after I tell her, "Your baby has gained two kilograms this month. Congratulations!" (Two kilograms is roughly the weight of half a gallon of milk.)
After health club, I visited the students near their dormitories and we practiced Kiswahili and English. I have found that the best way to learn a language is by speaking it every day with friends.
When the sun went down over the mountain behind my school, I went into my house and ate my dinner. It was beans and rice with a vegetable called mchicha, which resembles spinach. After dinner, I took a bucket bath. I don't have indoor plumbing, so I had to fetch the water from a big plastic bin on my back porch. Then I heated the water in an electric tea kettle. I added the hot water to some cold water in a basin and poured it over my head with a coffee mug. This is how some Peace Corps Volunteers bathe because we have no showers or tubs.
After my bath, I sat on my back porch and watched all the constellations shining in the night sky. I wish you could have been here to see them. Many of them can't be seen from the United States because the United States is in the Northern Hemisphere. Living in Tanzania, I'm in the Southern Hemisphere. The stars are so bright because there is little light from the village that would make them seem less dazzling. When I sit quietly listening to the nighttime creatures and happen to see a shooting star blaze across the sky, I feel so lucky to be living in Tanzania.