So I’m now back in the States, sitting in my room sipping a green smoothie and trying to wrap my head around the fact that I’m no longer in Tanzania. I’m just now finding the time to write my blog post about my homestay in Mufindi, which I wanted to give some thought to since it was such a life-changing experience. Although no words can describe the experience, I’ll try my best to do an adequate job and include pictures since they sometimes capture a lot more than words do.
I’ll start by saying how this smoothie sucks. The greens are from a bag in my fridge, the strawberries were frozen, and the bananas are tasteless. Food in the village is treated so differently than it is here, the first difference being that people actually know where their food comes from because they pick it themselves. Our staple food was ugali, which is corn flour and water cooked to form a playdough-like consistency. Once it cools down to be almost bearable to touch (emphasis on almost), you roll it into a ball, press into it with your thumb, and use that to scoop up the side dish (right hand only!). My goal of the homestay was to get involved as much as possible, so I helped Mama cook any chance I got. Since it’s so hard to mix, she usually took full control of the ugali-making and let me help with everything else. We typically ate ugali with beans and greens. Mama would bring home the bean pods from the farm and lay them out to dry in the sun, then we would shell them all by hand to cook. She also brought the fresh-picked greens, which we just peeled the outer layer off of the stem to cook. The food is really as fresh as it gets. Since they don’t have the means for storage, what they pick is what they eat that same day, from farm to table. It’s a lot of work and so much goes into preparing a single meal that most of us Americans are not used to. Imagine if you had no fridge, pantry, or freezer, no microwave and could only cook your meals (using the ingredients you pick yourself) over a campfire, which you need to collect and chop the firewood for. That’s a small glimpse at the food aspect of village life.
It’s worth mentioning that before eating any meal, we prayed. Despite how little they have, my family is so appreciative of everything they do have. They’re grateful for what we would probably consider to be “the little things,” but I’m realizing that those are actually the big things: having enough food to eat, being with friends and family, being healthy. I’ll always remember one Saturday morning when I was doing wash with my dada (sister), her name is Matty and she’s eleven years old. Matty was showing me how to rub the fabric together properly to get out the dirt, which is actually a lot more difficult than it sounds. During the hour that it took me to successfully wash about four shirts, Matty was happily singing to herself. I couldn’t help but compare this girl to the majority of kids in America her age. Getting kids to do chores is sometimes like pulling teeth, which is rarely done without some form of a complaint, at least from my experience. And here Matty was, not just washing clothes by hand voluntarily, but having a good time doing it.
My house was in Ikaning’ombe village, which was the furthest from Foxes NGO, where we stayed in volunteer houses after the homestays to volunteer and finish up research. Ikaning’ombe sort of felt like the middle of nowhere, probably due to the fact that there was little to no cell service or internet, which turned out to be very rewarding. My days were spent never on my phone or computer or watching TV, but being active in life. I learned to weave baskets, pick and eat sugar cane, and carry water on my head. Fetching water, when needed (if it hasn’t rained in a while), is another chore young kids do that they seem to really enjoy. When Matty took me to the stream, she called her friends around the village along the way to join us. We all walked down these steep hills together, my eyes glued to the ground to avoid face-planting on the slippery dirt path. After filling these buckets to their maximum capacity, Matty had me kneel down
as she placed one on my head. I was pretty hesitant to walk, especially up the steep dirt path, but I figured if these six year olds around me could do it, how hard could it be? The first time was pretty terrifying, especially when I almost wiped out, but… no I would say every time was pretty terrifying, but I always somehow made it back.
The house I lived in was a simple brick house with a tin roof, and the kitchen was the same only smaller and separated from the house. My room was also very simple, with just a bed and nothing else. There were four rooms total, the other three also bedrooms where Mama and Baba (dad) slept with all the kids. As far as the toilet situation goes, it was all outside next to the house behind some corn stalks. There were two wooden stalls, a toilet stall (with a dirt hole) and a
shower stall (with some wooden planks on the ground). I took bucket showers, but they were nice and warm because they always boiled the water first.
It’s funny the different things that made my day in Tanzania, and how they compare to here in the US. In Tanzania, I was grateful for a sunny day because that meant my clothes would dry on the line. I was grateful for having small bills in my wallet because change is nearly impossible to find. Having potatoes for dinner was like a special treat, and eggs only on very special occasions. These are all things that I not only take for granted here, but have barely ever crossed my mind before experiencing life without them. Think about how easy it is to throw clothes into the washer or to do a last minute run to the grocery store to buy dinner. Not only am I going to appreciate these things more, but realizing how much time they save me really motivates me to make the most of that spared time. Think about it!
No matter how much I write on here, my experience living with a Tanzanian family for two weeks was pretty indescribable.
They get by with so little, yet are seriously some of the happiest people I’ve spent an extended period of time with. The only complaint I heard came from me, when I thought I’d burn the ugali if I tried stirring it. The homestay was by far the highlight of my trip to Tanzania because it gave me everything I wanted to get out of the program. My perspective is changed and broadened drastically, which I think is the most valuable aspect of travel. Furthermore, the experience doesn’t end when the trip ends, but it continues as you return home and look around and notice more differences and sip disappointing green smoothies.