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Experiences in Tanzania enrich life of volunteer in Peace Corps
By Jan Lee Buxengard
Kelly visiting the family of Agricola, the girl who helped her in her house. Agricola is directly to the right of Kelly. As is custom, the guest of honor, Kelly, is wearing a tinsel garland around her neck.
During her two-year stay in Tanzania as a volunteer with the U.S. Peace Corps, Kelly Stenhoff used a short-wave radio to keep in touch with world news. In her home every morning from six to seven o’clock, she listened to VOA (Voice of America) and BBC (British Broadcasting Corp.). She communicated by mail with family and friends and every two to three months went to the larger city to do e-mailing.
Some elementary students from Spring Grove School, Stenhoff’s hometown in Minnesota, USA, were writing and exchanging letters with Stenhoff and her students at Nangwa. Stenhoff would have to help students with some of the English words such as stairs. Also, the Africans could not understand why Americans would have a dog or cat in their home. In Africa, these animals are considered varmint.
Stenhoff explained that a television was donated to the Nangwa School, and the students and staff could watch the Discovery Channel. People who live in the big cities have televisions, and bars have televisions, she added.
In the rural areas, men keep up with what is going on and get information by radio. On the other hand, women know only what goes on in the home.
“Roads were awful,” she stated. “They were gravel, not maintained, and were like a washboard. During the rainy season, roads were very muddy and impassable.”
Stenhoff recalls they packed so many people in the larger buses that went into the big city. Members of a tribe from way back in the bush would ride the big crowded bus. These people wore clothing made of goatskin that was preserved with cow or goat urine and dung. Other riders told these stinky people to get off the bus.
A smaller bus was used for transportation in the nearby area, but one day it burned up when someone struck a match while fuel was being put into the tank from a container in the back of the bus.
“The community is an extended family. I was close to the family of the school principal whose daughter, Flora, was my best friend,” Stenhoff said.
It is customary for guests of honor in your home to wear a tinsel garland around their neck.
Exercise and fun
Stenhoff likes to run, but the students considered it strange and could not understand why a woman did running. She informed them about the benefits of exercise, and soon they wanted to do what the white person was doing.
Students have to have a staff member with them, so Stenhoff was appointed to be in charge of the group. They would all wake up at 5:30 a.m. and run around the school grounds, chanting and waking up the teachers.
Flora started running because she wanted to train to be able to climb the mountain with Stenhoff.
Stenhoff also bought herself a bicycle to get exercise and to get around.
“They really like soccer,” Stenhoff said about the students. “Thursday was sports day. The boys play soccer, but we Americans call it football.” Sometimes we would have a game where the students play the teachers, and the students would win.
Girls play net ball, which is like basketball, except you don’t dribble the ball, just pass it. Fouling doesn’t matter, Stenhoff noted. Girls and boys play volleyball, which is like we know it.
A game called BAO can be played as a board game, or on the ground. Eight holes are dug in the ground and small rocks are used to play the game.
Students love to devise different dances for celebrations. Each class would put together songs and dances in native tribal custom.
There were several celebrations throughout the year, including the school Welcome for Form I (7th grade), Harvest Day in August or September, and Graduation in November.
The main religions in Tanzania are Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Pentecostal, and Muslim.
Their celebration of Christmas is not like in America. They go to Mass at midnight, have dinner on Christmas Day, and then the next day have “Boxing Day,” when gifts are opened.
Bottled beers and soft drinks are popular. All pop is in glass, returnable bottles. There are several beers made in Tanzania. A brewery Stenhoff visited was mechanized and a very big operation.
“I made pizza and banana bread in the village to show them American food cooking.”
Stenhoff has a very light complexion and long red hair, a big contrast to the Tanzanian’s dark skin and hair. Students liked to touch her hair, and would often hold out her hair to show it when being photographed.
Agricola, the girl who worked for Stenhoff, had finished primary school, but her father was away to school, and the mother was taking care of their farm. Agricola worked four days a week when Stenhoff was teaching. She would do cooking, laundry, sweep the floors, fetch water, etc. Stenhoff paid her about $10.
Many of the men had big holes pierced in their ears and wore a lot of jewelry in their ears and around their neck.
The Barbaig and Wairaqw tribes lived in the area near the school. The men were metal workers. Men of the Barbaig tribe were known to take brass locks, melt them down over a wood fire, and then form the brass into bracelets. The women worked the bellows at the fire.
“We didn’t do art at the school. It’s too expensive to buy supplies for, so is not taught at school,” Stenhoff stated.
Home away from home
Stenhoff’s home on the school compound was constructed of baked red clay bricks and concrete with a concrete floor and tin roof. In the yard were four banana trees that produced two bunches of bananas per tree per year. She bought a burner to cook on, and she had a charcoal stove.
Mice were a problem in the house. They had easy access under the door. Also, they would get into the back of her dressing cabinet, so she duct taped across the hole in the back and they chewed through the tape. “I was afraid of the mice in my living quarters and trying to sleep at night, so I asked if anybody had a cat. I got a cat and it took care of the problem.”
Bees had gotten under the tin roof and into the attic of the house. “I had honey in my roof,” she reported. “The school took the honey, but I was told it was against the law (tribal rule) to kill bees because they are a source of income.”
Bees were gathering around the light and stinging her, so she had someone come at night when the bees weren’t active and sprayed them. “The fumes were hard on my contact lenses and I should have vacated the house a few days to let it air out.”
About six years ago, a German male nurse came to a very underdeveloped area to set up a dispensary in the bush. He collected money from Germany to build the clinic. A midwife came along with him and they were doing this project on their own, spending their own money with no organizational help. They would give women classes about family planning and its benefits.
Stenhoff recalls that at an event while visiting the Germans, they heard a ruckus in the chicken house nearby. One fellow went to investigate and found a big black cobra snake inside. He grabbed a piece of wood and killed the poisonous intruder.
Stenhoff had Josepher Muru (10th grade) for a student the first year she taught at the Nangwa Secondary School. Josepher, who was also involved in the girls’ empowerment group, was number one in her class and passed 10th grade. “It’s a big step to go to grade 11. She was an amazing student.”
Josepher’s father is a teacher and was going to school, taking administrative classes. When her father was placed at Nangwa, he built a house there. Josepher lived in the house while attending school at Nangwa Secondary. The mother was on the farm, the homestead. The family had two locations and houses. “They had so many children and it was hard to make ends meet,” Stenhoff explained.
Josepher went to high school at Mkwawa and has taken the national examination and passed it. She is boarding at the school, so she has no distraction from home life to interfere with studying and getting an education.
Stenhoff’s parents, Roger and Karen, are helping sponsor Josepher financially by giving her $150 per year for school fees and uniforms. Josepher continues to write letters to Stenhoff and her family and is so appreciative of the support they provide.
Seeing the country
Stenhoff climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa and tallest freestanding mountain in the world at 19,340 feet. Of a group of five who attempted the feat, Stenhoff was one of the three that made it to the summit.
“The first four days were easy. In the daytime, the sun was hot and the weather can be bad, so we’d climb at night in the dark because it was cooler and calmer.” It was hard to get footing because the surface was like walking in sand. As they climbed up, the lack of oxygen made it difficult to breathe. “We ascended the morning of the fourth day and descended on the sixth day.”
Abundant wildlife live in Tanzania on land set aside by the government as game reserves. Stenhoff enjoyed traveling in a land rover to view the vast beauty of the countryside and its national parks, lakes and mountains, and the animals. She saw lions, elephants, leopards, giraffes, hippopotamus, hyenas, wildebeests, monkeys, cheetahs, flamingos, and more.
In June 2002, Stenhoff’s younger sisters, Andrea and Emily, came to visit for a month. The trio climbed Mt. Meru, the second highest in Tanzania, 14,977 feet. Also, they enjoyed the sites and animals at Arusha National Park and a visit to Zanzibar Island, a stone town that the Arabs had inhabited and from which they conducted slave trade to the Middle East. They came back to the school site and spent time together at Stenhoff’s house.
In the summer of 2003, Stenhoff was among a group of eight who went to Uganda for two weeks during school break. They crossed Lake Victoria in a cargo ship that was carrying jet fuel to Uganda. The lake, Africa’s largest, extends into northern Tanzania.
Of the 60 Peace Corps volunteers in the group who were placed throughout the country, except in the west area where it was a dangerous situation with refugees, there were 39 remaining at the end of their two-year service. Twenty-one had taken an early discharge because they wanted to go home, were having a difficult time there, or because of the Sept. 11 attack on the United States.
Stenhoff returned to her parent’s home Dec. 20, 2003.
Future plans for Stenhoff are to go to graduate school to study international development and relations or public policy and eventually join the foreign service and continue to work and live overseas.
She will decide on what school to attend after she gets the results of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) she took on Jan. 30.
About her experiences, Stenhoff states: “Living in Tanzania for two years has been a significant experience for me and has enriched my life in countless ways. I learned so much about myself and developed skills to persevere in difficult foreign and challenging settings.
“What I value most, though, are the relationships I forged with my Tanzanian colleagues at Nangwa Secondary, the villagers of Nangwa, my students, and other Peace Corps volunteers and the memories of good times we shared together.
“The world seems a much smaller and friendlier place with friends scattered on different parts of the globe.
“If you have a yearning for adventure and trying new things and the desire to help others as well, I would highly recommend the Peace Corps as a means to achieving these aspirations.”
i would like to help in the school for 2weeks.
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3/6/2004 4:22:00 PM
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Two transportation proposals are being debated in Minnesota. The Republicans favor using General Fund dollars and borrowing to increase spending by $2 billion. DFLers favor raising the gas tax, saying it would provide a more sustainable, long-term source of funds. Which do you favor?
Using General Fund/debt
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