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 Visit a Witch Doctor

Today the peace corps volunteers of the Morogoro region took an educational field trip up the mountain to consult a witch doctor, since according to an old Rough Guide to Tanzania there is a lady witch doctor who does divinations.  Getting there involved hiking straight up the Uluguru mountains on a muddy, slick path that we could only walk up barefoot and even then tended to fall down a lot.  

our destination: a village just under this peak

the view of town from this elevation

agroforestry: a circle of trees with crops in the center.  Cuts down on erosion

a more passable part of the path

the aftermath of the trail

When we finally reached the village (named a village, but seemingly a small collection of houses in the middle of nowhere and a pain to get there, so why they are there, I don't know) it turned out that the lady witch doctor had died several years ago, but her daughter sold traditional medicines sans divinations or anything.

the current lady witchdoctor (on the far right) and her family

the awesome feathery witch doctory hat

A collection of gourds containing oil based medicines.  These can be taken home on paper and brewed into teas.  Note the disgustingness of the feet in the picture.

Having gotten so far, we decided we should actually ask what medicines are available.  There are medicines to heal stomach aches, headaches, malaria ndegendege*, having too many children, having not enough children, and generally everything except HIV/AIDS.  I asked for a love potion, just, you know, why not, but apparently it takes some time to prepare those, so one of my sitemates bought a magical root for stomachaches and some oil based goo to increase his fertility that he is now having second thoughts about taking.

*childhood seizures.   Ndege means bird or airplane, and the idea is a child is looking up at a bird as the eyes roll up.  Commonly thought to be just a form of malaria, but this lady insisted it is different.

In Which Tanzanians Say Things About Themselves that Make me Happy

This isn't normal, really.  Typically the Tanzanians will complain that the reason Tanzania is a developing country still is because they are lazy, which bugs me and I blame colonialism.  I realize as much as the next person who pays attention to the US Republican party in its current  incarnation, that anyone who doesn't have enough to live on is a lazy conniving twit who dreams of stealing the money for free healthcare from the mouths of the Hardworking Honest (white) Americans who never got any help from anyone (honest!) and therefore everyone who isn't them can go die.*   And it really, really bugs me that Tanzanians believe of themselves, and despite all evidence, that they don't work hard.  The internet even has a meme for this.

But recently in my brand new university job to which I am driven and whereat I get free lunches, my new colleagues tell me that one of the good things about Tanzania is that the people, while poor, are happy, and manage to live and be happy despite extreme poverty.  Coming from a nation famous for having people jump out of buildings when a stock market crashed this is a perfectly lovely quality to have.

* I might have a liberal bias.

In Which I Seem to have Acquired a Second Job

At the teachers' college, I teach six periods a week, and the rest of the time I am either making sure the labs work, trying to avoid the entitled people who shove their personal laptops at me and demand I fix them, or just reading Russian novels on my computer.  Ebooks are the best thing ever for killing time at work.  Also, for some reason, the men of the department who don't do their own cooking and cleaning don't understand why I don't want to be at the office for more than 8 hours a day.   After I complained to Peace Corps, I was put in touch with some people from Ohio State University who are working at the nearby agricultural university.  As it turns out, this university could really use some computer people around because they are currently trying to improve their computer infrastructure.   I have no firm schedule or idea of what all they want me to do as yet, but for the nonce I have been asked to show up at a meeting to consult on writing a proposal for a new computer lab, for the which they are getting $1 million from USAID as soon as they can come up with a coherent plan.  I have more to do, and a convenient excuse for not spending all my time at the office.  I'm not seeing a downside.  Also,   I am being asked to help spend $1 million.  I will not advise gambling, booze, and a racehorse.  Really.

Through a Scanner. Darkly.

I am normally a fan of electronic record keeping.   Electronic data is space efficient, can be easily copied, and doesn't grow fuzzy things.  I'm not so much a fan of the headmaster of my school announcing one day that the following day all teachers must bring their diplomas and certificates and whatnot and have them scanned into a computer for the college's records.  I'm annoyed about this for several reasons, one of which being the day that all 100 odd teachers are supposed to do this is a Friday, which is a half day, and I count on that half day to clean my house, do some laundry, read a book and go to bed early.  Mine is the exciting night life.  Also, had the headmaster bothered to check with the ICT department, he would have discovered that we have exactly one scanner.  It's an HP 3500c scanjet, and it does not work with any computer except those running an unservicepackified version of Windows XP.  I have spent several frustrating hours of my life trying to get it to work with something newer, and failed.  Apparently I am the only one who remembers ever using this thing before, so I get to have a delightful conversation with the department head that goes very much like this:

"But it must work with Ubuntu!"

"Umm, well, it's not going to."

Thrilled as I am that I have gotten many people to convert to the wonderful world of ethical and free software, it doesn't help a lot when no one and nothing has drivers for an old HP scanner.  

Stories of Magic: Witches! Burning Schools! Part 4: the Aftermath


2 girls believed to be the arsonists have been apprehended. They claim that someone either on the school staff or in the village (the story keeps changing) told them to do it. The official response has been to transfer the entire school staff minus the headmaster, to other schools. On the off chance that the girls were truthful when they said someone on the staff told them to do it, it is now some other school's problem Of course, if it was someone in the village, oh well, because the village cannot be relocated in its entirety. Also, if the girls were lying, or, you know , not actually the arsonists, oh well.
This is why society needs some sort of marginally effective police force. Also fire departments.

In Which I Make my Life Easier by Deciding the Variance of Names is Not my Problem

My students came back a week early.  I am shocked.  Really.  Things never happen early, and now I am completely unprepared.  I did, however, manage to do some much needed maintenance on my lab, including deleting the varied mess that had become all the student accounts over the years and starting over with new ones that can be easily sorted (and cleaned out) by year of graduation.  This is when I realized that many Tanzanians never spell their names the same way twice.  Really.  L's and R's are interchangeable, ending vowels can be added or deleted at will, and consonants can be doubled for no obvious reason.  After a young man with the surname Pwele complained he was entered into the system as Pwere and a young man with the surname Addam complained he was in the system as Adamu, I decided on a rule.  I created the accounts based on a list I got from the registrar.  The name on that official list is the name that must be used.  If students believe their names are misspelled, it is their responsibility to get it changed on the official list.

I am the inflexible bureaucrat forcing previously flexible things into a format.  I feel somewhat like a tool, but as the system admin, I am not keeping track of the alternate spellings of 1000 different names.