Looking at the date, I realize that it is officially the coldest time of the year. And that means cold where I live. Yes, I do live very close to the equator, but also a bit closer to the stars than the rest of TZ. I’m feelin’ it. If the sun isn’t out, it’s cold. At night, I see my breath as I sit inside my house. I need to actually measure the temperature, but I’d guess it’s in the low 40s most nights. It is also very windy these days, and without any rain, quite dusty. I still prefer this to the rainy season – travel is easy, no flooded house or moldy tables, no mud… I just bundle up, enjoy the sun when it’s out, and bask in the glory of dryness while it lasts.
I do have to pump and carry water every day now, but that’s just good exercise. And plus the primary school students love to help me with that anyway. I don’t use much water on my own for cooking, washing clothes, and bathing (maybe 100-150 liters of water a week for myself), BUT I have a garden that needs watering every day. And I’m planting more.
I recently planted a little bed of flowers that should start popping up in the next few weeks – it’s cold though, so we’ll see how they do. I also plan to plant another small flowerbed, and then a little pumpkin patch. I’m hoping to be able to carve a pumpkin, roast seeds, and make pumpkin bread with my Mamas group come October. Give them a little taste of American Autumn culture (even though it will be “Spring” here).
I also need to replant my bag garden and my vertical bottle garden – they are empty and dry at the moment. Speaking of home gardens, this coming week I will head to the secondary school and the primary school to do some lessons on bag gardens. I think the students will enjoy… Hopefully it’s not a huge test of my patience to get the necessary materials on time.
In other news, I recently returned from a lovely trip down South to visit a few other PCVs and to go to Liuli, a village on Lake Nyasa, for some time of relaxation in a beach paradise. On the 4th of July, four PCV friends and I gathered to drink gluten free beer, make gluten free pizza, and roast a gluten free pig on a spit (his name was Orville) (and yes, pig is naturally gluten free, I just wanted to emphasize the freeness that we embraced on America’s Day of Independence).
The following day we hiked through the mountains to reach Liuli. While we didn’t quite make it all the way and had to get some help from the locals for the last few miles (it was getting dark and we were tired), we ended up hiking about 20 miles through some beautiful country.
We spent a day and a half camping on the beach, enjoying bon fires, great swimming, and spectacular sunsets and stars. And also recovering from our 20 miles hike.
After this lovely retreat with friends, and upon my return to my banking town, I continued working on the grant for my big project – gardens and water. I’ll write another entry soon explaining the project in detail, but it’s pretty exciting. The community supports it, and is very thankful, and I think they’ll actually pull their weight. I’m pretty pumped.
Now, to get a bit more serious. This past month has been quite stressful and emotional. I wrote last about the death of my good friend, the mwenyekiti of my village. That was tragic. His wife is doing better now, though the shock and grief is still obviously weighing her down. The kids are fine, continuing on with school and play. They love when I come and visit because it means they get to color, or to read a storybook, or to watch Planet Earth… Happy children mean a happy Mother – I hope.
A week after this death, another incident occurred, this one rather… strange. A man in the village, who has always been such a kind and calm and generous person, turned a little crazy on us all. He was stealing clothing, farm tools, notebooks, jewelry, etc. from all over the village. From me he took my shovel and hoe, and my shampoo and soap from my bathing room (hopped the fence, which is more like a ladder than a fence anyway).
One evening, as I talked with my neighbor in my courtyard upon discovering my things missing, the man came to my fence door. We were of course shocked that he just appeared as we discussed his recent endeavors… Then he ran around my house to the other side of the fence, leaned over to peer through one of the gaps between the wood, thrust the shovel he was carrying at us through that gap, and then smiled in the creepiest of ways (it was really quite creepy..). After my neighbor and I exchanged a look, he bounded off down the hill into the pori (the bush).
After reporting that specific incident to the head of the village guard and the village executive officer, the evening was spent in search of the kichaa – the “crazy man.” He was not found until the next afternoon. They brought him to the village government office, where I watched him through my window screaming and shoving any who came within reach. His clothes were in tatters from running through the bush. The police were called from town and they came to take him away for a few days… They sedated him and sent him back to the village. He seems a bit more stable now, though thoroughly enjoys making speeches to some imaginary masses in the middle of the night as if he were the village chairperson. Not the best thing to frequently wake up to these days.
Now a bit of a sidenote about the medical system here in TZ in relation to the mentally ill: Based on discussions with others in my village about this man’s actions, and on my own observations, it is pretty clear that he has schizophrenia. There are a few places in this country that I have heard about that provide care for the mentally ill. One is in Mbeya, and that is most likely where this man will go (by his and his family’s own will, or by force). And if he does not improve there, he will go to a hospital in Dodoma. I have never visited these places, so I do not know how they compare with mental hospitals in the US. Mental illness is often associated at the village level with witchcraft, which can also be dangerous for the family, or whoever may be blamed for causing the illness.
I have heard that, while treatment (drugs) are available in country for various mental illnesses, they are too expensive for anyone from a village to be able to afford. So in all likelihood, this man from my village will just go on living with schizophrenia, in and out of a lucid state. Mental illness is most often left untreated. There are “crazies” in the village, and people just accept that. Although, when the “crazies” get dangerous or start stealing, then they have to be dealt with, often treated just as a criminal that needs to be put away. In a case of mental illness that involves going back and forth from apparently normal to crazy, witchcraft can then be pointed to, and that’s no good for anyone. (There have been three murders in my village in just this past year due to the accusation of being a witch – not something to joke about. Witchcraft is a topic for another time, however.)
Anyway, as mentioned, this man has returned to my village, giving his nighttime speeches, but I believe the village government will act soon to send him away to Mbeya. It’s sad to see someone usually so kind and welcoming turn into an unpredictable character from a scary movie. Here in the village it’s something I try to distance myself from, something that just needs to be handled by the community in the way the community sees fit.
It was not long after the creepy meeting with this man at my fence that I received bad news from home. A friend (classmate from high school) passed away. Another tragedy: he was swimming with friends that Saturday afternoon, disappeared, and then was found dead the next day, drowned – some really shocking and terrible news. My friends from home all gathered the next week for the funeral. They said it was a really beautiful service, my best friend since second grade spoke and had the honor of being a pallbearer, and they were able to share many great memories. I wish I could’ve been there.
Unfortunately, later that same day (the day of the funeral), my friends received some other tragic news: another death. My friend’s now ex-boyfriend had died the previous day. I won’t go into any details on this because it’s rather personal and intense, and I feel like this is not the proper place to share.
One, two, three, with a crazy in between – it’s enough to get to you. Luckily I’ve had a lot to keep me busy with my project in the works. I know, though, it’ll still take time for things to settle within myself. While I feel very far away from home, I’ve been able to seek some solace in my friends here in TZ, and will continue to do so. It has been a lot of ups and downs – a roller coaster within the roller coaster that they say is Peace Corps service. I’m at the point, though, when I’ve stopped holding on to the bar keeping me locked in, knuckles white, muscles tensed. I’ve come to accept where I am, whatever happens – it’s as if nothing can really shock me anymore, I’ll just take it as it comes. And so I’m ridin’ free – hands up, eyes open, awaiting the next hill, the inevitable fall. I know it may never end, but I’m okay with that. The coasters of life – if you ever get off one, you just climb onto another.