The content of this blog does not reflect the positions of the Peace Corps and is solely the responsibility of the author.

In Which I Inquire about Aspects of the US Food Infrastructure that I Never Thought About Before

In the US, why:

  • Are there never dead bees in the honey?

  • Are there no rocks in the rice?

  • Are the eggs never covered in fecal material?

Stories of Magic: Popo Baa the One-Eyed One-Winged Batman

I've heard several versions of this story, all of which are short on details but all agree that it's a raping batman.

There is a man with one bat wing and one eye, and his name is Popo Baa, which means Disastrous/Calamitous Bat.  He is a rapist.   He only (or usually only?) rapes small boys.  If Popo Baa comes to rape you he may move into your house.  The only way to protect yourself or get rid of Popo Baa is to tell everyone you know about Popo Baa and possibly to invite everyone you know over to your house while Popo Baa is there, and eventually Popo Baa will move on to his next victim, which (I think) is usually either someone you've told or someone you invited to your house.

From the Emotional Cookbook: Baba Ghanouj of Optimism Served on the Chapatis of Inadequacy

(recipes taken from the Peace Corps cookbook, which is awesome).

Boil an eggplant into submission, then mash into a pulp while thinking of the children who yell 'give me money' when you pass.

Add some amount of salt that you think may be around a teaspoon.  Add the juice of however many lemons you happen to have around and as much garlic as possible.   If you have such a thing, add tahini paste, otherwise peanut butter is just ducky.  Mix until it looks and tastes the way you like your baba ghanouj, which is a personal matter.

Prepare the chapati.  Mix together flour, oil, and water with a little bit of salt, until it is a rollable dough, which you should roll into circles.

This is better with white flour, but I was out.

some people have actual rolling pins.  

spread oil over the top, roll up into little balls and then out into flat circles again.  Fry in butter substitute.

My frying skills are terrible.
 Spoon large amounts of baba ghanouj onto the chapatis.  Eat piggishly.

The School Term is Almost Over, and I Have Yet to Teach

I have, however, contributed to the writing of the terminal exam, and advised a student on a topic for his final project.  Other than that, the last month has been entirely taken up with students grading the national exams for the nations primary schools, tomorrow they start exams, and the days in between they were cleaning the college and I guess studying on their own.

I have discovered I think it is somewhat unethical to not teach students for a month and then demand they take an important test.

Today's important event was that the students had to pass an inspection in which they were told to show teachers that they had all the books required for the subject in which they specialize.  I have mixed feelings about this.  Yes, these are teachers.  They may be going to teach in rural areas in which their personal books may be the only textbooks around.  For the teachers to have these books is important.  It bothers me the infantilizing way the college goes about ensuring that these future teachers do have books.  It really bothers me that the college teachers will spend time humiliating a student who didn't have books--a student in clothes that didn't fit, and a jacket that was stained and had buttons close to falling off.  (Tanzanians take a lot of care in their appearance, so that's unusual.) I realize I have no useful contextual data, like the cost of the textbooks this student was supposed to purchase, I don't know what tuition fees for this college are like, I have no idea what this student is like as a student or a person, or his name even, but the episode still bothered me.

At least the other day one of my pressing job responsibilities was to chase an owl out of the computer lab.  An owl!  A very pretty barn owl (I think) with a lovely cute heart-shaped face.

Butterflies Flapping their Wings in Africa


I expect a tsunami back in Georgia, sasa hivi.

Kanga Line

One of my favorite aspects of Tanzanian clothing is the kanga, which is just a piece of cloth used as a woman's wrap.  Or curtain.  Or towel.  Or strainer.  Or baby sling.  Whatever a big piece of cloth can be conveniently used for.  They come in sets of two which must be cut apart and hemmed (there are many shops around featuring people with sewing machines more than happy to do this for you), and then you have two big convenient pretty pieces of cloth.  They all have a nice border and an inspirational saying in Kiswahili on them.  Thus far I have four:

Tunaomba salama/We ask for peace

Wema wako malipo utayakuta kwa Mungu/Your goodness pays for you will meet God. [-ish.  This one confuses me grammatically.  What's with the ya infix in utakuta?] I have just been informed that this means "the payment for your good deeds you will find in God."

Wema na ubaya upo lakini tusameheane/Goodness and badness are here but we forgive.  

Kila jambo jema hupangwa na Mungu/Every good thing is arranged by God. 

Stories of Magic Continued: Demon Possession

It is not uncommon for girls at secondary schools, particularly all-girl schools, to be afflicted with what is euphemistically dubbed the falling down sickness.  In this sickness, a girl will become possessed by a demon, and fall down dramatically, which prompts a flurry of hysterical praying and similar possession from other girls around.  Sometimes boys, who do not seem to have the falling down sickness, are called upon to forcibly remove the possessed girls.

On a lighter note, a 19-year-old girl told me that at her all-girls school they had a laughing sickness in which sometimes girls who hadn't seen men for a long time would start laughing uncontrollably at the sight of the male teachers and be unable to learn anything.  In order to prevent this, the school headmaster allows the girls to have a disco with the nearby all-boys school once a month.

Stories of Magic I Have Heard

Officially from everything I've heard Tanzania is 1/3 Christian, 1/3 Muslim, and 1/3 traditional beliefs.  The last 1/3 won't admit to it, and the Tanzanians I've asked have insisted the country is only Christian and Muslim, however, the topic of witches and witch doctors is there, and I recently had a student I don't know ask me how Europeans view witch doctors (they all think I'm from Europe).  Some things I've hear about witches are as follows. 

Things that are fairly well-known:

Loliondo--some healerman there has a magic cup that cures all sorts of things if you drink from it, which is all well and good until you stop taking your medication after the magic cup.  Trust but verify, yo.

Albino bits--getting a witch doctor to prepare you some special meal from some organ of an albino (the liver, I think?) will give you power.  Predictably enough, this has led sometimes to albinos being gruesomely murdered.  The government told the media to stop reporting dramatically on this phenomenon, which spawns all sorts of conspiracy theories.

Things I've personally heard and mostly second-hand, quoted as well as I can remember:

From a VSO couple:
There was an old woman found naked in a rice basket in the street of Dar-es-Salaam.   A crowd beat her to death because they assumed she must have been flying through the air in the rice basket, because how else would she have gotten there? 
From a PCV stationed in Lufinga:
Wizards have these magic beanstalks, you know, like F***ing Jack, and plant them in the ground beside a church and climb up to the roof.   In the morning, people see them on the church roof and know they are wizards.  People also say women with red eyes are witches and not, you know the result of bending over the jiko [stove] too long.

By the way, Kiswahili doesn't make a gender distinction between witch and wizard, the word you will hear translated both ways is mchawi.

From my brother in my homestay family, when I saw a man being beaten to death on tv and asked why, because this was a wee itty bit disturbing, and the explanation made it worse:
Because that man is a witch.  That's what we have to do to witches.  Witches can make a giant leap over a building.  They can come through walls and into your home.  Sometimes they sit on you while you are asleep.  If they sit on your head you wake up with headache, because they are doing this to your head all night [demonstrates mauling a pillow].  Sometimes, while you are sleeping they take your body and force you to dig on their farm all night, even though you are asleep, and then you wake up and you slept but you are so tired!  Can you imagine?  [Me: if they are so powerful, how can people hurt them?] Witches have rules.  They only have power between midnight and 4am.  If they are jumping over buildings and stay out too late, people can see them and know they are witches.  Also, there are people, witch doctors, and they know about witches.  They point to the people who are witches and then the witches are killed.   [Me: what if the witch doctors are wrong?]   The witch-doctors know how to find witches, I heard one witch doctor entered a man's house and told people to dig one part of the floor.  The people dug up the floor and found bones and knew the man was a witch.  Can you imagine?  Look there on the tv [where the image of the man being dragged bloody across the ground is being repeated], that man did not make a sound while they were beating him, can you imagine?   I can see by your eyes you are scared, you scientists, you think magic doesn't exist, but how do you explain this?  Once, with my own eyes, I saw magic.  I was at a graduation for a friend, it was outside and there was a storm coming.  An old man there in the audience stood up, faced the rain, and held out his hand.  The rain stopped, like it had hit a wall, and there was a clear line between the wet ground and the dry ground.  How do you explain that?