The Gustafson Girls Abroad: Abigail Gustafson extended her Peace Corps commitment and is the PCV Leader, Education, stationed in Dar es Salaam, supervising PCV teachers in Tanzania.
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The Gustafson Girls Abroad: Abigail Gustafson extended her Peace Corps commitment and is the PCV Leader, Education, stationed in Dar es Salaam, supervising PCV teachers in Tanzania.
- Hi Abby Saturday, March 20, 2004 - 10:22 am 
Abby Gustafson in Tanzania
Read these three letters from Peace Corps Volunteer Abby Gustafson about her service in Tanzania. More letters are available on her web site at:
Abby in Tanzania*
* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.
Abby in Tanzania
Abigail Gustafson served in the Peace Corps in Tanzania for three-and-half years, 1998-2002: teaching "maths" in Dodoma and serving as PCV Leader, Education, and working as Associate Peace Corps Director, Education, in Dar es Salaam. A 1998 graduate of Boston College, Abby now works as a paralegal.
October 1998 Letters
Well, I have arrived safe at the training site in Arusha. We got into Kenya yesterday at 6:30 am and set off for a 6 hour bus ride from Nairobi to Arusha. Along the way we saw giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, antelope, gazelles, ostrich, cows, donkeys and chickens -- a regular safari. At the training site there were about 20+ trainers all super excited to have us there. As soon as I stepped off the bus, Brazilia grabbed me and dashed me off for a tour of the site. I'll be taking probably my last shower at the hotel today -- I'm going to miss it. We train today.
I miss you and Love you, Abby
Well, I have been here about a week now and everything has been pretty smooth. I'm at the Peace Corps Training Centre in Arusha right now. We have about 10 minutes left of our lunch break. We have classes here from 8-5 and are here 1/2 hour early and an hour late. We get 2 1/2-hour breaks and 1 hour break. The days are pretty long -- but good humor gets us through a lot of the long hours of classes.
Each day we have lectures or classes in community development, Kiswahili, culture, health, safety and Tanzanian education. The trainers here are awesome. There's about 25 Tanzanians who train us in language, culture, etc. They are all high-energy, friendly, kind, helpful and excellent dynamic teachers. The boring stuff is the 2 hours of health each day. yesterday it was diarrhea. 2 HOURS OF DIARRHEA!! I was dying. I am very careful who I sit next to during the health sessions. I must have comic relief. Consequently, I was snorting and shaking (trying not to burst out laughing) during most of the diarrhea dialogue.
My Kiswahili is coming along very gradually. Tanzanians put great importance on greetings. So that was the first order of business. hence, I can carry on for 2 minutes with any Tanzanian since all the greetings are essentially the same.
-- There are 48 of us.
-- About 29 educators and 17 environmentalists.
Today is Fri. On Monday we will start our 4 week internship at a local high school. We'll be with our mentor teacher all day M-Thurs with 3 hrs of language training at the end of each day. Such long days!
--I'm tired of teacher education. Yesterday and today we have 11/2 hrs of "How to Lesson Plan"!
My Tanzanian Family:
On October 3, all us PCT -- Peace Corps Trainees -- met our homestay families. These are the fams that we are going to stay with for the 8 weeks of training. There are 50 PCT's. We met our fams at the Peace Corps Training Centres. Our fams danced and sang on the front lawn while we slowly trickled out of the building, nametags on.
We were identified by our tags and our mamas would grab their PCT by the hand and bring them into the dance. As I wandered through the dancers, I heard a loud shriek and I was immediately hugged by a very young-looking, blue-jean clad, cell phone toting mama.
My mama was the only one in jeans. Her name is Naema, but she goes by Mama Pai (Pai is the name of her first born son -- as is the common way to be called here). I call her simply Mama.
I have one dada (sister) named Susan. Susan is 20 and beautiful. Unfortunately, she works every day from 7-7 at her uncle's restaurant, so we don't see much of each other. My family is wonderful. They are very kind, intelligent, conscientious and loving. They also speak perfect English. I am very lucky.
My house has 3 bedrooms, a choo (toilet) room, a shower room, living room and kitchen. All the rooms are very small. There is a shower -- cold water only. You must squat to use the toilet. The electricity here is totally reliable; unfortunately, the soap operas rare on non-stop when I'm home. I'm not a fan. I don't look forward to that at all because I'd like to sit and visit with the fam when I get home, but I know that they'd like to watch the TV uninterrupted. But I don't want to be anti-social and go to my room. And, actually, now is the first time that I skipped sitting in the TV room and just came straight to my room.
Oh! I must tell you about the Muslims. How they love to pray! Five times a day, yelling as loud as their immense lungs allow them. They pray before and after sunset, before and after sunrise and then sometime midday. Fortunately for me, there is a mosque right outside my window -- beautiful? No?
Hence, every morning at 5 am -- sharp -- I am jolted out of dreams to the sounds of Muslims screaming to their apparently deaf God. This goes on for the better part of a half hour. The first time, I thought, "What a wonderful reminder for me to pray." I took the time to do so. The next 2 mornings I thought, "What a wonderful opportunity to get some letter writing in." (Mind you, the SCREAMING begins at 5 am, and I can't fall back asleep afterwards. My alarm goes at 6:40). Yet my optimist prevailed. The fourth morning I thought, "What a wonderful opportunity to be grateful to still be in bed," and I fell right back asleep. The past 2 mornings I awoke thinking, "Those. . . Muslims. . . .!" How wonderful! Consequently, I got to bed around 8:30 and still nimechoka (I'm tired) every day. What's new?
I live about 3 miles from the site and I live in a neighborhood with 4 other PCV's. We have bonded like 5 year olds with our first friends. The first day of school our mamas had all gotten together and decided that we would take a taxi, to be safe (rather than public transportation). However, our mamas didn't tell us this. This is how it went.
I woke up and got ready in the morning. When mama said, she and I left the house. She walked me about 10 meters to the corner at 7:"20. Shortly thereafter my friends slowly emerged from their respective wanyumbani (homes) with their mamas. We all stood there on the corner with our mamas ready for the first day of school. A teksi (taxi) pulled up at 7:30 and our mamas went and talked to the driver. Then they instructed us to pile in and Martha's kaka (brother) chaperoned us there. After school, the teksi was there waiting to pick us up.
If school goes a few minutes late, we all rush home -- knowing that our mamas will worry about us. If we want to go out with our friends, we have to tell our mamas a day in advance. Quite often at the site, you'll hear, "Wanna grab a beer after school today?" "No, I can't. I didn't get permission from my mama." Hence, the five of us in the Ngarenaro neighborhood do everything together to keep our mamas from worrying.
We are 5-year-olds. It's not, "We're like 5-year-olds." Let's face it -- we are. We talk like them, are treated like them and probably have as much Tanzanian common sense as them. I try to learn Kiswahili well to make my mama proud. My kaka, Susan, even laughs and fixes my clothes for me when I wrap my kanga around me incorrectly. Yesterday, she gave me a lesson on how to eat benas and rice with my hands. I stared at her as she ate and did everything exactly the same. Mama and Susan laughed, but I needed the guidance. Okay, then, I was perhaps 3 yrs. old, not 5.
I love you. I wish I had echinacea and baby powder. My dada, Susan, sends her greetings and says that they're very happy to have me.
This was Abby's second letter to her family from Tanzania. She will finish her Peace Corps training period in Arusha at the end of November; then, she'll be moving to her new job position in another part of the country.
I am in class right now: Form 3C. Form is the equivalent of high school, 3 is 3rd year and C is as in there are 3 classes of form 3: A, B, C -- no particular order. I'm mentoring the Form 3 math teacher, so this is my 3rd time observing his lesson, hence I feel it more important to write you this letter than to observe the "Symmetry of Circles" again.
Oh! I just remembered, today is my birthday. This is the first year that I forgot. Am I becoming less self-occupied? I hope so. This morning at breakfast (I eat alone b/c I wake up so early) I was eating an egg that I prepared -- my first here -- I had it "over medium") when my mama emerged from her room to wish me a "Happy Birthday." I hesitated for a moment -- not understanding what she was talking about -- then it hit me -- it WAS my birthday. I said, "Asante sana. Shikamoo mama." (Thank you. I respect you, Mama.)
Shikamoo (sheek-a-mow) is the correct way to greet an elder. Their response is "Marahaba." The direct translation [of shikamoo] is : "I hold your feet, elder." Greetings here are also very important. All conversations begin something like this:
"Habari" (response ) "Nzuri"
"Habari, za lea" (response" "Nzuri sana"
"Mama na baba Hawajambo" (response) "Hawajambo"
"Habari za nyumbani" (response) "Nzuri"
Habari (How's the news?) aymbani (home) nzuri (fine)
jambo (How is it?) mama na baba (mom and dad)
Greetings are not the appropriate time to be honest. Things are always fine (nzuri), very fine (nzuri sana), completely fine (nzuri kabisa), or a little fine (nzuri tu). This is a little difficult for me since I like variety and being different but hamnashida (Ham na shéed a; no problem). My mama is very proud of my Kiswahili; she likes to tell everybody how wonderfully I speak it -- which directly corresponds to the number of misunderstandings I have with the people she tells -- but hamnashida. She thinks this because I seem to have an unmatched skill of being able to tell how to answer someone's questions without knowing a single word he/she's said. It's kind of fun. I like to test myself and answer confidently. "No, I don't like it." (Hapana, sipendi) or I'll be the first one to start laughing when I think someone's said something funny. Of course, my Mama sometimes looks at me funny and asks, "Umeelewa? (You understand?) Then I cannot lie and I must answer, "NO" -- and put on an ashamed face which makes everyone laugh. Oh -- I definitely have fun with it all.
At Ngarenaro Secondary School -- where I'm student teaching -- there are 3 other PC volunteers. We all live about a 5 min. walk from school. There is also another volunteer who lives in our neighborhood but is at a different school. Tonight the 5 of us are going out for my birthday. We're going out for dinner, drinks and a little disco at "Rooster's Garden." I also think they got me a kanga -- a cloth wrap that women wear -- because on our way to school today we were talking about after-school plans and I said that I wanted to buy a kanga after school. Katie blurted. "No," then she turned beet red and said, "Maybe you should wait on that." So I'm looking forward to tonight. Instead of buying a kanga after school, I'm going to take a nap. (or "take an abby" as Maggie likes to say). I'm still me.
Yesterday my mentor teacher did not show up for school. I guess this is common. No lesson plans, no substitute, no call-in-sick, yet hamnashida. The students just sit in class without a teacher. At many schools there aren't enough teachers, but students must have every class required by the gov't regardless, so if the school doesn't have a math teacher for Form 1, 2, 3, the students will go for 3 years of just sitting in math class without a teacher (as is the case at one school in which a volunteer is teaching. She is the only math teacher and she teaches Form 4.) Interesting, huh? So yesterday, when the students were just hanging out in class without a math teacher, I thought, "Why not?" and just went right in. I made up a game to review vocab. terms and had a lot of fun. Hamnashida! One thing for sure, I feel like this is a worthwhile thing that the Peace Corps is doing here. I mean, my God, the gov't doesn't have the $ to pay teachers, so the students go to schools without teachers. Crazy! huh? Oh -- at school, the teachers change classes, not the students. There's also real camaraderie among the teachers. Since they're not segregated in their individual classrooms, teachers see each other often. All the teacher's desks are in one room. So everybody sits together and lesson plans and grades papers. Everybody helps each other. It's a great atmosphere. Also, the teachers here make the equivalent of 40¢ an hour. Also, at school each day, teachers only have about 2-4 hours of classes (school's 8-2:30), so the other time is spent in the teachers' room doing work and socializing. Unfortunately, the math syllabus reads like a college one -- it's all theorems, corollaries and proofs. The students are learning theory rather than arithmetic and calculations. It's so dry. I feel sorry for them.
Oh! My family has a telephone! Call me! I believe there's a 10 hour time difference and I'm usually home from 6-11 at night -- except Sat. I'll be here until the end of Nov. and won't be there the 2nd week of Nov.. I would LOVE to talk with you. [number deleted]
I just wanted to write to you the description from a guide book of the place we're going to dinner tonight. "It's a large place with three bars, a restaurant and a nyama choma grill as well as several open-air, makuti-roofed structures set in spacious gardens. It does a range of dishes such as sausage and chips, omelette and chips (1500 shillings) and nyama choma (2000 shillings), but its main function is as a watering hole, especially in the evenings, and there's a disco on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights which runs till late. They have an excellent range of beers and spirits (both local and imported) at reasonable prices." Sounds lovely, huh? I thought Dad would really enjoy the full description. I just talked to our language teacher and he, as wells as some of the other trainers, is going to join us tonight. All the trainers are in their 20's, speak perfect English and are Tanzanian.
Today, the Form 5 teacher asked if I would come talk to his class during 3rd and 4th periods. Well, I show up, and the class is there, but he isn't. He just wanted me to show up and TALK. How funny is that?! So I introduce myself and ask if they have any questions. "Tell us about America." "Yes, tell us about California." What was I supposed to say? I didn't want to generalize nor did I want to be vague, nor specific, wrong and misleading. It was interesting. I talked for an hour about my family, home, Ojai, crime, discrimination and negroes in America. I spoke about Harlem, about the US school system, about becoming a teacher, about my hobbies. I really don't know what I said. Oh! they also asked me about pregnancy and boyfriends. The teacher showed up the last 20 minutes and facilitated a little, but not much. Afterwards he told me that he just wanted them to hear an American speak.
I feel like I packed very well. Old PC volunteers say, "You won't use half of what you brought." But that's not true for me. I think I packed the most modestly of all the PC volunteers. People gasp when they hear that I didn't bring music. When we were leaving DC, every single person was nervous about the luggage weight limit except for me. I think it's humorous to think that of such a group as the Peace Corps, I would be the person planning on living most modestly. And I'm fine.
Did you know that since we are on the equator, the sun rises and sets at exactly the same time every single day: 6 am and 6 pm. It's funny -- I am so scheduled by the sun. I can't be out past dark -- too dangerous unless I'm traveling with others in a taxi. So, I am learning not to nap during daylight hours -- they are too precious -- I wait till 6 and 7 pm. It's very confining b/c you can't leave the house AND there's no telephone -- I'm locked in beginning about 7 pm.
Did you know that they also tell time differently? 12 am is not at midnight, it is at sunrise. The sun rises at 112 am and sets at 12 pm. I awake each day at 12:30, leave for school at 1:15 am and return home at 10 am. Confusing, huh? What's even weirder is that clocks and watches read the same as ours, but you say them differently. So, a Tanzanian looks down at his watch and sees 2:30, but he says *:30. Get it?
So far, I have not received a letter from you. I hope one is en route and I know that I'll probably have received one before you receive this. When I got here, there were already 2 letters waiting here for me from 2 friends from school: Liz (roomie) and Karina (friend).
I hope all is well at home. The people here take better care of me than I do myself. My sister makes me take off my clothes so she can iron them when I try to leave in wrinkled clothes. Last night Susan (my sister) polished my leather shoes. And I am overfed. Their two biggest worries are: are you tired? and are you hungry?
Let your worries be less, my blessings are many.
I love you! See if you can call
P.S. If I don't get a phone call, don't worry b/c I know that perhaps the # I've given you isn't enough.
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i am a graduate at the college of business education.i wish to volunteer