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Peace Corps Volunteers, Colleen and Christian Hiner work in Tanzania
Peace Corps Volunteers, Colleen and Christian Hiner work in Tanzania
Amador’s Tanzania Peace Corps volunteers
Friday, January 16, 2004
By Leslie McLaughlin
Cation: Courtesy to the Ledger Dispatch Peace Corps Volunteers, Colleen and Christian Hiner on Mt. Hanang in the Hanang District of Tanzania.
The daughter of longtime Raley’s employee, Laura Rogers of Pine Grove, Colleen was at one time a waitress at the Upstairs Restaurant on Jackson’s Main Street and spent many college vacations in Amador County with her mother.
Colleen and Christian were classmates at Sonoma State University (SSU). She graduated cum laude with a double major in liberal studies and political science. Her junior year was spent as an exchange student in Copenhagen.
Christian also graduated from SSU with a degree in music and the couple were married on the SSU campus.
Upon graduation they decided to do something with their education and to them that meant joining the Peace Corps.
In their beginning e-mails back home, they noted the first impressions of Tanzania were wonderful, exciting and the food was good. In the town of Arusha, they met with their host family which consisted of a mama and baba (mother and father) and three children ages 12, 7 and 5. Their accommodations were nice but quickly seen as a drawback.
The running water, shower and flush toilet were comforting but the village they would eventually be assigned to would not have electricity, running water or toilets and these amenities were not forcing them to learn new bathroom skills. By choice they began learning to bathe from a bucket and to use “squat toilets.”
By Oct. 19 they departed Arusha for Machame for more technical training and to learn the language, called Kiswahili. In two weeks they had covered two to three semesters in learning to speak Kiswahili.
At one time they visited a local farmer and were impressed only to learn that this was the type of farmer using “integrated” practices and did not need their help. He was, instead, a model for teaching other farmers. His most profitable crop was rice, but was involved in fish farming, vegetable gardening, fruit growing, raising rabbits, chickens, ducks which include Chinese ducks that weed the rice paddies, guinea fowl, a few goats and two cows for milk. The farm was fully sustainable and all plant and animal waste products were used for other purposes.
Internet cafes are not readily available nor are they cheap. However, e-mail is much cheaper than mailing a regular letter which costs the same as an hour of Internet usage. They also purchased a cell phone on the chance they would be in an area with reception. Calls to the U.S. are extremely expensive and charged by the second on outgoing calls.
The couple spent a week in a tent in Machame, right at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro and actually hiked up about 10 kilometers, but the hike was scheduled for an afternoon and not a week and they had to turn back.
The training they are undergoing teaches such useful things as the maintenance of fuel efficient stoves (most locals use wood or charcoal,) water harvesting, storage jars, non-fired bricks, solar food drying boxes, bee keeping, mushroom farming and latrine building, called a ventilated improved pit (VIP).
One evening their group of eight environmental volunteers had a get-together at the environmental program director’s home with wine and fresh roasted coffee. This coincided with Colleen and Christian’s second wedding anniversary so it was a real occasion.
The next week they moved to the village of Bacho, to take on soil conservation, agroforestry, drought-resistant crops, tree nurseries and composting.
At last the couple learned they would be assigned to the village of Lambo, a small cluster of mud huts with thatched roofs in rural Tanzania where they will live for the next two years. They arrived to learn that their house was not finished. It had to be built because Lambo never had a volunteer before. The village is off the main road about an hour’s walk to catch a bus. No one in Lambo has a phone or car and cell phone service is not yet available. Emergencies are handled with a bike or on foot to neighboring villages for help.
“We have learned that while building a chicken banda (coop), preparing a garden bed or working with cement, we might be concerned about wearing gloves or the right shoes, while those working next to us had no shoes or malapas (native flip-flops) and definitely didn’t have gloves. There are babies with no diapers of any kind, school children wear tattered uniforms and often seen are weird first-world hand-me-downs such as soccer cleats and pink Keds,” Colleen reported.
Then came good news. “Hongera (congratulations) for us. We made it through training and the language proficiency interviews. We both passed.” Christian received an Intermediate Low and Colleen, an Intermediate High on their language scores.
Thanksgiving was spent with other Peace Corps Volunteers and three chickens they butchered themselves. A treat was a little bit of shopping in the town of Katesh and getting a “lifti” (free ride) from one of the Americans who works at the Canadian Governmental Organization in Katesh. The 42 kilometer “lifti” was because they adopted one of his cats, a big, black male, about two years old, who they have called Paka (cat).
By the middle of December they moved into their incomplete house which was bereft of furniture. A mattress went on the concrete floor and meals were eaten off bucket-tables. No more work was done on the house which left them with no bafu (bathing room) and no choo (toilet hole), which will eventually be in a room with a cement shoot to the pit choo outside. But they happily said, “The inside of our home is finished. We have cement walls, floor and a tin roof. There are no ceiling boards. It is a vaulted ceiling and when it rains the sound is quite overpowering. If it rains at just the right angle, the inside gets wet.”
The ndoo (bucket) is paramount in daily life for cleaning, bathing, eating/cooking and all manner of things.
“The word ‘kesho’ does not necessarily mean ‘tomorrow’ as it would literally be translated. Tanzanians live every day as it comes. So kesho can turn into a week or more before you know it,” said Colleen. “Tanzanians have learned to deal with having nothing or next to nothing so have an amazing ability to use and reuse what we in the states would just throw away. Such as the knack for using/running something until it just can not be used/run anymore, such as a car/bus/daladala. In the US we might consider checking the engine at the first sign of overheating. Here you might keep pouring water into the running engine until it absolutely will not move the vehicle another inch. At that point, you may try repairing it enough to get it moving again.”
The couple’s bikes, much to their joy, arrived unassembled the middle of December. The locals and the children like the bikes and seem to think they look like pikipiki (motorcycles) and Colleen and Christian get a lot of stares riding the mountain bikes, wearing helmets and being white.
Their house won’t be finished until the middle of February so the priority now is getting a bustani (garden) started and building a banda ya kuku (chicken coop).
Colleen closes with, “As the Peace Corps told us, our job for the first three months is to figure out how to live, learn Kiswahili and get settled in. We didn’t realize how challenging those things could be. Kwaheri (goodbye) until we write again.”