Well, I've been back here in Tanzania for almost a month, and all I've written about is my transportation woes! Here's a little sketch of my life in Shirati:
Office/Compound - Shirati was the first place Mennonite missionaries settled in Tanzania, something like 60 years ago, so there's this large compound of Mennonite facilities. There's the local church and their offices and nursery school and a huge playing field and playground equipment for the kids, which makes me jealous on behalf of the kids at Iringa Road Mennonite Church and their tiny dirt patch playing field/driveway/parking lot. There's a hospital and a nursing school and a home for people with leprosy, and a ton of houses, some built by the diocese or church, and others left behind by former missionaries. The diocesan offices are a pretty big one-story building with all the offices facing an inner courtyard and a guest house operating in the outward facing rooms at one end of the "community center". This is where Fred works, and they've given me the outer part of his office to use as my office. The first thing I did was put up something bright and colorful...it wouldn't be my office without some art by Spencer Reynolds on the wall! My outer office location basically means that I'm like Fred's receptionist, but I'm grateful for an office so close to my husband's office. He is the Planning Officer for the diocese, and a lot of his projects have to do with agriculture, so he's out of the office often working on his farm or garden or test garden. There are so many new people in the offices that I'm having a difficult time sorting out who is who, let alone their names and jobs. I do know David in the kitchen, though, because he is like Mama Neema Chiboni in Dodoma: the source of all that is good and edible.
Home - One of the perks of working for the diocese is rent-free housing on the compound, so we have a house not far from the office. It's been passed over by a number of doctors and other administrators who wanted nicer houses, so they're just really happy that we're okay with living there. When Fred first came and they put him in that house, it was no problem because he was a single man and insisted that he didn't mind that it was pretty old and run-down. When they heard he was bringing a wife back with him (and a white woman, no less), they started worrying that I would refuse to live in that house. I have to admit that it needs a fair bit of work, but it's got great potential. It's large (10 rooms plus entryway and back porch), and it was designed by some former missionaries (which accounts for the size). It is like the house I lived in in Dodoma in that it has electricity and water whenever the city permits them to be on, and in that there is only one working water tap at present, so we use a lot of buckets. It is unlike the house in Dodoma in that it was not furnished, so we have a twin-sized bed that we share and a couple of tables for cooking surfaces and some chairs, all on loan from the diocese. We can't have guests over, because we have no where for them to sit, which is not such a bad thing, since I'm the object of broad curiosity, and would have chai demanded of me on a regular basis if we had anywhere for people to sit while they demaded the chai. We're trying to plan for furniture purchasing, but I have a lot of traveling to do in the next few months, so a sofa will have to wait a bit. The thing I miss the most that we had in Dodoma is a toaster. What I wouldn't give for a toaster!
Sounds good, right? So why so sad?
A big part of my current ennui is just being physically tired and sick-ish. I have been suffering from allergies which medicine does little to help, and it's keeping me awake at night sniffling and sneezing, leaving me weary all day. I took a day and a half off work last week, but I can't seem to get my energy back. As my sister-in-law advised, I probably just need to drink a bunch more water, so I'll work on that.
Another part of my general gloom is feeling kind of lonely. I'm starting over, and knew only my husband when we arrived here, but it's becoming clear that people have already formed opinions about me. Probably due to my weariness, this seems a much bigger deal to me than it would ordinarily, but some of the nursing students who maybe were trying to make a play for Fred before I came along, are making comments about me and just generally always watching me. It makes me really self-conscious, whether at work or at home, it seems like I'm always on stage, so I end up spending a lot of time locked into the two rooms of our house that are occupiable. There's one person who has made it clear that he's delighted with me, and that's a friend of Fred's named Sam. He's an older man living with leprosy, and I'll write a whole post about him soon, but he's wonderful.
One difficulty has been that my Swahili has gotten rusty a bit, although it wouldn't matter too much, because the people I love talking to, the watchmen and cleaning ladies and little kids, mostly speak Luo, their tribal language. I've tried learning a few greetings in Luo, but I need to put some work into both my Swahili and my Luo. This was very apparent when I went on a home visit with a bunch of visitors from the States, and I couldn't even greet the palliative care patient we were visiting because he and his wife and son and mother only spoke Luo. I felt pretty inept that I couldn't encourage them or pray with them or even thank them without translation, which is like stepping back to my first days in Tanzania. This particular home visit was difficult because the man is dying of AIDS, the family is starving, and they didn't even have a home until the local volunteer social worker mobilized some neighbors to build them a simple house. They're sleeping in the dirt, and we had brought nothing to give them. Mennonite Central Committee had just sent hundreds of HIV care kits with things that would help this family, but due to reasons I can't get into without being disrespectful, this family is not receiving that aid. I encouraged the American visitors we were with to contribute some money to buy food for the family, which they did. A short term fix, but better than nothing.
Finally, my closing downer is this: I'm feeling pretty isolated from people in the States. It's always hardest right after I've been there, just as it was hardest for me to be away from my friends in Tanzania right after I arrived in the States. I could use some bolstering and frivolity, if anyone has the time to lift my spirits a bit. Thanks for reading all this etcetera, but please don't feel too sorry for me. I get to eat fresh-picked watermelon grown on Fred's farm in a few minutes, which will be great.