Ben and Sara, PCVs in Tanzania

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January 16, 2003 - Personal Web Site: Ben and Sara, PCVs in Tanzania Ben and Sara, PCVs in Tanzania

Ben and Sara, PCVs in Tanzania

Dear Prospective Peace Corps Volunteers

I’m so happy that you have decided to make the “leap” and give some of your time to Tanzania’s development. I hope that is a good resource for you as you prepare for a new phase in your life. This letter is meant to answer many of the general “what should I pack/expect questions”. Peace Corps should also provide you with this type of info. They know what they are talking about so don’t disregard what they tell you. The information that they provide about adjusting to life in foreign culture rang true for me in many ways during my two years.

First and foremost, keep in mind that it is impossible to know what will happen to you and how you will feel about life in Tanzania until you are actually there living it. I often felt like the longer I was there the more I had to learn. The best things to bring are patience, a willingness to accept the fact that things usually won't go as you expect and a positive attitude.

As far as material things to bring? What I can tell you is based on what we had and what our fellow volunteers experienced.


Even though you will be a volunteer and will not be paid half as much a an "ex-pat" (a foreigner doing work with Non Government Organizations, etc) your "living allowance" from PC will allow you to live very comfortably, without any extra money from home. In fact you will be one of the richest people in your community. If you think that you will be doing a lot of “touristy” activities like safaris then you might want to bring a few hundred of your own dollars. We did bring some extra money and it got used for safaris and a SCUBA class. However, bringing a lot of extra money is really not critical and there is always the chance of losing it.

Laptop computer

This is a big topic. During our second year, we had a laptop computer (no printer). We were able to do non-web-based email using Outlook (no Yahoo or Hotmail) with a shaky connection that averaged 9600kbps (SLOW!). We also used it to write up reports that we printed at a nearby computer services office. We were very concerned about theft and kept the computer a secret from our neighbors (a little stressful) for most of the year and didn't have any problems.

A laptop can be a good thing, especially if you are somewhere more developed where there are more computer resources (such as reliable electricity). On the other hand, chances are high that you will be placed in an area where having a computer is not practical. Our site (Mtwara) was borderline. We had frequent problems with power outages and the phone line and only had one guy in town that knew anything about fixing computers. And we did have some mechanical and software issues that never got completely resolved.

Then there are some philosophical issues surrounding having a computer. You should consider how much you want to fit into your community. As I mentioned above, you are already going to be one of the richest people in town and are going to have people asking you for everything from clothes to English lessons to money. Having a computer will add to that "rich person" image. A computer can also tend to monopolize your time. You could spend a lot of time trying to fix it if it breaks. Also, it might keep you inside working alone when you might otherwise be out tutoring students, working on other small projects or just chatting with neighbors, improving your Swahili and your relationships (both of which are very important to you being an effective, happy volunteer). I would say that the more rural your location the more the cons are going to start outweighing the pros of having a computer (almost all of the environmental PCV sites are very rural). I was happy to have our computer because it gave us another means to communicate with our families. However, I do feel that it detracted from the quality of our time and I was glad that we only had it during our second year when we were already mostly established in our community.

So, what if you already have a computer that fits in your luggage and you can’t bear to be without it? You could go ahead and bring it. You will have time to consider the pros and cons of having it while you are in training. Then, after site placement, decide whether or not to use it at your site. If you choose not to use it at your site you could just leave it at the main PC office in Dar es Salaam to use when you are there. (By the way, all of the computers used by PC are Macintosh). If you don't want to bring it over at first and you have someone coming to visit you, they could potentially bring it over to you (that's what happened with us). As with everything else, it is a personal decision that depends on the circumstances but I don't think having the computer will enrich your time in Tanzania and could be a source of anxiety.


We brought a nice 35mm camera that we didn’t use much (we actually sent it home after the first year with some of our visitors) after the Nikon CoolPix 950 arrived at our door. I was hesitant to bring it but we insured it under the policy for PCVs and decided to expect it to disappear. We didn't have any problems but I know several people who lost one or even two cameras, most to theft. Tanzanians are poor and some, not all, steal things. A small inexpensive camera is probably your best bet. The rule of thumb to use when deciding whether or not to bring this valuable stuff: only bring what you can tolerate losing!

***I know that I'm mentioning theft often but please don't let that worry you excessively. It is a fact of life that people are capable of stealing. It happens in the U.S. as well as Tanzania. Most Tanzanians, like most Americans, are honest helpful people and will not be out to get you. You just need to be aware that theft can happen and do your best to avoid an upsetting situation.

Other things.

If you will be a teacher, bring a good supply of "professional" clothes (long skirts for women, collared shirts etc.) to wear during training. The environmental volunteers don't have to conform as much to the policy because they are out in the field a lot. However, at the training site in Arusha, professional dress is expected from everyone. This is mostly a cultural thing. To be taken seriously in Tanzania you should “look smart”. I wouldn’t arrive in Arusha (as some RPCVs told me would be fine) with one outfit and expect to go shopping right away. Once you get to your site you will have many opportunities to add to your wardrobe but things in Arusha will be hectic and disorienting and you won't want to worry about buying clothes.

When packing for life as a PCV in Tanzania think "advanced camping". These are some things we brought, or wish we had (remember we were teachers – for `mentals it might vary):

• Pressure cooker

• Thermarests (for those volunteer sleepovers and extra cushioning under a flat foam mattress)

• Tupperware containers (one of my favorite things!)

• Shirts with secret pockets or zipper pockets (we thought that money belts were a hassle)

• English dictionary

• Lots of music on cassettes

• For men, pants with zip off legs

• A good hat for blocking the sun from your face

• A non-stick frying pan

• School sized back pack with a double zipper so you can

lock the zippers together

• Playing cards

Actually most of this stuff (except the Thermarests and some music) can be purchased in Dar and other cities although the quality might not be up to what you can find in the States. Don't worry about money, you will be given a "settling-in allowance" to buy things for your site. For example, before we went to our site, we bought a Sony double deck stereo, an electric iron, and a very handy electric water boiler (we knew we would have electricity). Basic, everyday things like toiletries can be obtained in-country. It’s the little extras like a musical instrument (one of the volunteers that arrived in 2001 brought his bagpipes!) a favorite game, or a really good book that are worth the luggage space.


Try and learn as much as you can ASAP it will help relieve some of the tension of training to have a head start.

As far as when you will get all of the nitty gritty info about packing, etc. from Peace Corps it probably won't be until about a month before you leave. I can remember Ben and I drumming our fingers wondering when the stuff would show up.

Above all, make most of your time now at home and then do the same in Tanzania. Get on that plane with an open mind and no expectations and soak it all in. You are going to have a great experience! If you have any other questions please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Safari njema na wasalimie wote wa PCTZ!

Sara Davidson

Ask Sara a question about the Peace Corps here.

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RPCVs and Peace Corps 3rd Goal


Sara and two of the newest settlers to the Pacific Northwest visited a Portland, Oregon middle school to share their Tanzanian experiences. According to the 3rd goal of Peace Corps, volunteers should share their experiences with other Americans after returning to the U.S. This motivated Krista and Jake (who just moved to Portland, OR) and Sara to speak to some Portland 8th graders about Tanzanian food, language, schools, and, as you can see from the photo, clothing. The students were very interested in Tanzania and asked many good questions about many topics including gender roles and politics.

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What's Up With Our RPCVs

• Christina Greuel was teaching at Mtwara Girls (just up the hill from Ben and Sara's school, near the airport). [ More from Christina including tips for RPCVs. ]

• Patrick Vitarius took Christina's place at Mtwara Girls. He was working on Pemba Island but PC relocated him after all of the election trouble. He was raised in Virginia. [ News from Patrick. ]

• Sara Davidson, grew up in Seattle and Vashon Island. She and husband Ben spent two years in Mtwara, Tanzania teaching school. [ Sara reflects on what the first two weeks back were like. ]

• Amber Pewitt with husband Jonathan were teaching at Nangwanda Girls and Newala Day Secondary Schools (respectively) in Newala Town. [ This is a message written by Amber giving a little update about herself and Jonathan. ]

• Danielle Harlow and husband Lyle were teaching in Kisawre. They are now adjusting to life in San Deigo. [ Here is a message written by Danielle. ]

• Laurel Brown is from Bellevue, WA and was teaching in Mlalo. She is traveling in Africa and Europe after her PC duty. [ More in a message from Susan Brown. ]

• Ken Modde is back home in Chicago [ More from Ken. ]

• Jim Shelly is back home in Missouri doing stuff. [ Find out what here. ]

• Jonathan Pewitt, in Tennessee, is applying for med school. [ Read about his trip home. ]

• Ashley La Forge, an enviromental volunteer, is from Miami. [ Read about her adjusting to life back home. ]

• Clay Hogen back in Minnesota after teaching in Moshi . [ Read about his "adventures through the continent of Africa. " ]

• Tracy Eisenhard provides us with a little update on her travel adventures. She was an environmental volunteer in the central Mafinga region of Tanzania. She lives in Cashmere, WA.

• Janet Hufnagel lived on Pemba for around six months before being medically separated because of back problems. She returned to Aftrica to travel. Read about her adventures in Madagascar, South Africa, and Ethiopia.

• Amy Gilliland was teaching geography in Kigwe. Amy may be the last of 1999-2001 group to return home. Read about settling in at home..

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Christina Greuel

Christina was teaching at Mtwara Girls (just up the hill from Ben and Sara's school, near the airport). Her term ended in 2000. Here she gives some tips on readjusting to life in the States.

Christina's going away party

So i guess you guys are back now. welcome home! some things to keep in mind your first few weeks

1. Grocery Stores

You've heard the horror stories and they are true. don't go your first week. the first few times you go, make it short (about 10 minutes should do it). people here don't have time to cook for three hours or to sort rice, etc. everything is premade and more than likely NOT the way you want it. you will probably not find chipsi mayai and katchumbari and might not feel like making it yourself because you can't find any mafuta ya kupikia (specifically OKI). eat all of the things you missed while you were gone. (i am really bummed out that i can't find the kraft cheese in a can here)

2. Cars

Americans drive on the lef. . . no, i mean, right side of the street. this takes some getting used to. even after a year i have to think about which side really is the correct side to drive on. and your cars suspension probably won't take the small potholes like the land cruisers took the mammoth tz potholes. your car WILL bottom out. Also, you have to stop for pedestrians and bicycles, bummer, i know. you do get to enjoy a perfect driving record for the last two years. no tickets! they don't have to know you weren't even in the country. And cars use gasoline not petroli.

3. Cleaning

Much easier here. we LOVE washing machines. the driers are another story. clothes break down faster here. i still do my dishes by hand. it is not acceptable to use laundry soap to do your dishes (so just don't do it when you have guests) and there are specific cleaning agents for counters, toilets, sinks, floors, clothes. . . no OMO for you. People waste water. i try not to. the only way not to is to bathe in a bucket and showers are just too nice. i still have problems watching all of the water go down the drain while i wait for it to get warm.

4. People

I don't know about in seattle, but in san diego and san francisco, most people don't say hi to everyone on the street. i say hi to almost everyone at work, i think people think i am an airhead. in stores, you might feel rushed about talking to the checkout clerk, but really, who cares. they tend to respond positivly to "how are YOU doing?" the long line behind you can wait. it throws people off, but once they understand that you aren't an alien they tend to be pretty nice. you will probably be pretty sick of "tanzania, huh? how was that?" i actually wait for more specific, original questions from people "so what exactly did the palm wine smell like and how did they make it?" i think i might be suffering from the "you know, when i was in Yemen. . ." syndrome, but my friends are pretty understanding and my boss loves the stories. and something interesting i recently found out from a south african friend of mine. . . africans and african americans don't really like each other very much. haven't found out why.

5. clothes

people here don't wear the REALLY BRIGHT stuff we wore in tz. matching is a good thing. so maybe one really obnoxious piece and build around it with neutral colors. i am not sure if tevas will still smell bad, let me know if you find out. malapas are still slippery. and concrete hurts a lot more than hard packed dirt. no need to explain that one further. women here don't wear very much clothing. i still don't show my knees very often. shanga are worn as belts (that one really cracked me up when i got back).

6. Electricity

Doesn't just shut off in the middle of dinner. and doesn't stop during the cashew nut season when they run out of petroli.

7. Weather

you might be a better forecaster than the local weather man. some people here still don't know it is going to rain when the air feels wetter. however, it gets colder here before it rains. plants flower, not the trees. and there is no rainy season/dry season.

8. restaurants

Unfortunatly, the waitresses will not join you for a beer while they work(milanzi was such a hoot). you will, however, get your bill when you are ready to leave. prompt service is a good thing here. you can take a long time to eat. most people aren't used to that but like the idea when you really get down to it. and when you finish a rib or something of the sort, you can't just throw it for the dogs and cats, ala kwa limos. OOOHHH, and there is GOOD BEER and GOOD WINE!! not that we didn't love tz stuff, but come on. you will not find any konyagi (unless you brought some back) and no amarula or afrikoko (mmmmm, afrikoko and nido).

9. time

most people are on time here. they wear watches that work (i do miss asking my students what time it is because they are wearing a watch and having them tell me it doesn't work). meetings start when they say they will start and if they don't you can get a little angry. i think most parties will never start on time, that hasn't changed.

10. the stomach and bathrooms (the important stuff)

remember how sick you felt when you first got to tanzania? i felt that way for about my first four months in the states. you don't need to bring toilet paper everywhere you go. (unless you go to a really crowded night club around closing time). people don't want to hear if you had diarrhea, right up there in the too much information category.

So good luck, i hope this helps.

Tuesday, December 18, 2001

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Patrick Vitarius

Patrick was at Mtwara Girls (just up the hill from Ben and Sara's school, near the airport). He was working on Pemba Island but PC relocated him after all of the election trouble. He was raised in Virginia. Here the latest on his return to life in the States.

Patrick with a Mtwara corndog

I'm in Fredericksburg, VA. I have eaten at Taco Bell and last night had Chinese food delivered. I have rented two movies, Mission Impossible 2 and Oh Brother, Where Art Thou. The former was horrible (oh! it was only tom cruise in A Mask. Again.) but the latter was Wonderful. Then I wisened up and started getting my movies from the library where they are free. Ain't no patrick payin' ten bucks for three movies.

I'm really a tightwad now. I bought a SWEET bike (Trek 4300, all aluminum frame, front fork suspension, otherwise just like the ones we had in T-Zed) and am riding that instead of a car. We've got sprawl traffic here and I've already passed cars on the shoulder a few times. But it's a bitch trying to make a left turn onto or off of a road without a light. I was coming up a steep hill on a fourlane yesterday and didn't even try crossing both lanes to make my left. Luckily there was a light, so I made a right onto a little 2-lane, U-turned over the island and sat through a short light to cross in style. People look at me funny because it is COOLLLD on my little bike. I'm wearing jeans and three sweaters though (I bought most of my clothes at Salvation Army, the disadvantage being that they don't fit.)

It is COOLLLD here, although I imagine it's colder there. Thirties and forties, no snow but a beatch of a wind yesserdey. So long as the roads are clear and no ice, I'll stay on the bike. Should there be snow and ice, I'm not sure I want to be driving a car neither. My dad's got a Jeep Cherokee that he says I can have when I want it; I would just have to drop him off at work and pick him up at night.

I'm eating well, but I think the bike riding will keep my patented Patrick paunch from growing any more prominent. That was my downfall was the no bike riding in Arusha.

In other news, I've taken three of the best short stories from my typewriter years and keyed them into our ancient (no internet!) computer at the house. Waiting for manuscript submission guidelines from Asimov's and the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. I don't think they pay more than three or four hundred for a story, but they're the biggest markets around. Besides the preppy mags that run one story every two or three months and pay thousands of dolas for it (that's millions of shillings.)

I bought a little fold-up shovel, which is the start of my camping gear for this summer. Gotta start over cuz Dad had a 7000 dollar yard sale when he moved the house. That's cool cuz I'm trying to make it all fit on a bike this time. Me and Nellie (that's the tentative name for the 4300) can get on a Greyhound to wherever and bike from there to some little state park. Be cooler if I can find someone to go with me, though.

My friend Sam might be interested. I hadn't seen him for four years because he left on his two year mission (he's Mormon) to get back a few months after I'd left for Aferka. But he's got two Sweetbikes (one of them, his mom informs me, cost $1400) and should be able to keep up with my high-sittin' strides. He's shorter than the average man but healthily hyperactive. He's working at Pohanka Nissan-Olds-Cadillac-Hyundai changing oil in bay #4. I went to hang out with him juzi and we ended up staying out till 3am putting a low-rider suspension and undercarriage lights on his little sister's car. We were at another guy's (Sam's friend, I didn't know him) garage-where-he-works, but I guess the owner doesn't like people coming over to use it cuz he found a bottle of hootch in the fridge last time. There were about eight of us anyway. And They All Had Cell-Phones.

I'm still resisting on the cellphone thing. When I go, I'm going all the way: I want an implant. Four implants, actually: one in the inner ear for sound, a subvocal microphone in my trachea, a dual charged battery just off of my aorta (get a turbine right in a major artery to recharge it) and a processor which I can also use for supplementary storage space and mathematical calculations in my brain. There probably won't be anything like that for five or six years.

Y'all take care and I'll write more later. Ackshully, this was such a great letter than I think you should edit it and put it on the webpage.

My thoughts are, keep the webpage. Get info about us now and Tanzania. And invite the new guys. I guess they have a Yahoo Club. If you need a few bucks for server space, or someone who can code rudimentary HTML, I'm yer Man.

Take care and write me okay? I love you. Take care.


Friday, December 28, 2001

Dearest Davidsons,

As you can see, I went biking today. Without a helmet. On a one speed retro beach cruiser (how do you spell peugot? that's what it is). Jet black, chrome, leather handlegrips. The perfect compliment to my 4300. Working on shipping it down south somehow. Sometimes you just want a one speed. It's a little small tho.

We are all muddy because the bike path was very muddy. The parts of it that weren't covered in sheet ice. When you lose control on sheet ice, just try to keep the bike vertical. Riding through snow is just like riding through sand. Mud guards help with the mud.

At one point my fork was submerged in snow. But I kept going because I am tough.

Matt is tough too.

Kwa heri,


Wednesday, February 13, 2002

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Sara Davidson

Sara and Ben were teaching at Mtwara Tech for most of 2000 and 2001. They arrived home in Seattle on December 17, 2001.

Sara Christmas Day 2001

Has it already been two weeks since we've returned??

Wow! Part of me feels like we never left and another part of me feels like I don't quite fit in. Its funny wearing all of these different (and bulkier) clothes makes me feel like I'm wearing my "American costume" so that no one will know that I have been in Tanzania for 2 years...Its kind of fun walking around looking and talking like everyone else but knowing that you have this big secret!

I was wondering what the most asked question would be from people here about our experience. We have had a few of the expected "How was it?" not specific questions but most people are asking us about how our readjustmest process is going. Really I don't feel like I have gone through too much readjustment yet. Because we are still doing so much visiting and staying at parents' houses we still feel like we are on vacation. Somehow similar to how we felt when we went to Dar during school breaks. We are in a place that has much more ammenities than Mtwara and (so far) we don't have any big responsibilities. I'm thinking that the biggest leap toward readjustment will occur when we are back in the working or otherwise structured world, cooking our own food, cleaning house, grocery shopping etc. Thats when I think I will really feel odd.

Most everything else that strikes me centers around that fact that America is such a prosperous country. So many beautiful buildings and things to buy of every kind. I think that material things are less important to me now which make me feel even more like a spectator when we go into stores. Its better that I remain in a spectator role for now because there are too many choices! In the food department I have found that I really like Red Hook ESB but that bananas don't taste as good as they did in Tanzania. There are lots more American flags and signs of patriotism also.

Of course the weather is extremely different. The cold which makes it much easier to go jogging but more difficult to enjoy ice water! I think the darkness is whats really been throwing me off. In Mtwara we usually got up with the sun at around 6AM everyday. Here if you get up with the sun you might not ever get out of bed because it seems like the sun never comes out some days.

Dealing with people here has been entertaining. There are far less of the little formalities of greeting total strangers. Also people move and speak much faster, especially when they are working.

I am happy that PC gave us a some training about readjustment. I have found myself expecting all of these things so although they seem different they are not shocking.

One of my biggest questions is: Where did all of these white people come from???

Saturday, December 29, 2001

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Amber Pewitt

Amber and Jonathan Pewitt were the other married couple in the South. They were teaching at Nangwanda Girls and Newala Day Secondary Schools (respectively) in Newala Town

This is the necklace that Jonathan bought for Amber for Christmas at our favorite restaurant, Addis In Dar.

This is a message written by Amber Pewitt giving a little update about herself and Jonathan.

we are planning to move into our new house this wednesday (Jan3). j has gotten a job at the local hospital, and i will be at the coffee house starting 7 jan. we bought a honda accord, 5 speed, so i am learning to drive it polepole. we had good christmases. j stayed with his family for a week or so while i spent time helping my sis with the new baby (david lane counts). moshi bit me last week due to the fact that i picked her up, placing my hands on her newly stitched incision (she was spayed) to prevent her from scratching my mom's cat. i had to go to the er, get x-rays, wear a splint, take antibiotics... moshi and i are both well now, but i am dealing with figuring out health insurance policies now.

otherwise, we do not have much to report except that we agree with sara's statements about readjusting. we went to the mall yesterday to spend our gift certificates and felt confused and old. we did receive a card from alex who says that b and s are going back to school. also, a now has short hair. maybe when we move to sewanee we will have regular e-mail access.

Wednesday, January 02, 2002

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Danielle Harlow

Danielle Harlow and husband Lyle were teaching in Kisawre.

I don't feel any culture shock -- at least I'm not aware of it. I do find everything fascinating here and need to touch and play with everything in the shops. Like a little kid. I feel a bit inept at things sometimes like using all those automated faucets and dryers in the bathrooms. (I get funny looks when I figure it out and get excited by it). Lyle thinks there are too many people and too many cars and too much noise in San Diego. He attributes this to reentry but he had the same complaints before we ever applied to join Peace Corps. I am just happy that all the cars drive in their own lanes on their own sides of the road.

Wednesday, January 02, 2002

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Laurel Brown

Laurel Brown was teaching in Mlalo, a highland village between Arusha and Dar in the Tanga Region of Tanzania.

Laurel's mother Susan Brown writes:

We've had the luxury of hearing from Laurel (and her sister Heather) almost every day this past week via e-mail. They and Clay and Mike, made their way down Lake Tanganyika to Botswana where they visited a Game Park in Botswana. Somewhere in there they went river rafting and got horrific sunburns. Then on to Windhoek in Namibia, then a couple of days on the coast amid the dunes.

They parted in Johannesburg. The boys are I think making their way to Egypt. The girls were supposed to go to Athens for a week, but the airline messed up their tickets and so they ended up going to London. They'll be in Great Britain for a month. The boys will meet them there for the last week or so.

We are going to do another Christmas in February when the girls come home. I expect our tree will be a Charlie Brown tree by then, but somehow, I don't think we'll care!

All the best in 2002, everyone!

Tuesday, January 01, 2002

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Ken Modde

Ken lives in Chicago and spent his Tanzania time in the Tanga region.

Ken doing his bouncing ball trick at the COS conference.

I hope the holidays have been treating you nicely and you have been dodging the big Q? "Soo...what are going to do now?" Always a favorite of mine. I have had lots of practice answering it now. My holidays were great, I sortof tagged along and went where I was told. No descions make ken a happy camper. I hope seatle is sunny and warm and everything is peaceful. Till Later ciao papa


Wednesday, January 09, 2002

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Amy Gilliland

Amy Gilliland, originally from Austin Texas, was teaching Geography in Kigwe 30 kilometers west of Dodoma.

Hey all, just thought I'd drop a line to say I'm finally here. Its okay so far, not quite as cool as I thought it would be though. some observations:

1. People are REALLY BIG here, not just fat but TALL. Of course, everythings bigger in Texas...

2. Is it really necessary to have 40+ brands of maple syrup? How do these people all stay in business?

3. Make-up that couldn't be removed with a chisel, and really unsensible shoes... (I met a Dallas cheerleader the other night, good God.)

4. Why and how did I ever own so much SHIT?

5. I've been here for just under 6 seconds, and if another person asks me what I'm going to do with the rest of my life (this includes people I've JUST met), or when I'm going to get a job, or have I ever considered blah blah, I'm going to shoot them. THere, that's my disclaimer.

Anywho, I'll be at my mom's for a couple days, at least until the weekend probably. Her number is 210-xxx-xxxx. Karibuni. After that I'm going to Austin, I guess, and at this point I don't have a number there. Now I'm gonna go look for a car. Jamani.

love always, emmy g.

Tuesday, April 09, 2002

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Janet Hufnagel

Janet is from New York. She lived on Pemba for around six months before being medically separated because of back problems. She returned the end of 2001 to visit everyone and then travel around Africa.

Dear friends and family,

Please note the new official email address for me.

Two days ago I braved the stifling heat and dust and equatorial sun. Today I can't see across the road for the western New York snow!! And my tan is vanishing faster than Enron's financial records. But I am very very happy to be home and can't wait to talk to all of you. There are still many thoughts in my head I want to share with you, since it's been a while since my last e-mail update. So I will talk about Madagascar, South Africa, and Ethiopia. (Literally, because I'm using voice dictation software.)

First, words of wisdom:

"Don't praise your wife before a year" -- Malagasy proverb

"Do not boast about your wealth if you are a father" -- Malagasy proverb

"This is only half a pot of honey but my heart fills it up" -- Malagasy proverb

"All who live under the sky are woven together like one big mat" -- Malagasy proverb

"Y'all act like you never seen a white person before!" -- Eminem, The Real Slim Shady

Scientists call Madagascar a "living museum." It is known especially for lemurs: a group of primates that was replaced by monkeys everywhere else in the world about 35 million years ago. So on mainland Africa lemurs are just another part of the fossil record, but in Madagascar the original species has evolved into 51 varieties. It's not only the lemurs that make Madagascar special. 80% of the plant species are found nowhere else in the world, for example over 1000 species of orchid. There are many varieties of beautiful chameleon. And BIG cockroaches (dogs there have been known to get up to move out of their path). Madagascar is the fourth-largest island in the world (after Greenland, New Guinea, and Borneo) and is about the size of Texas.

The Malagasy people are very sweet, and welcoming, like the Tanzanians. On average they are pretty short, and I was hitting my head just about every day on something like the door jamb or signs overhead. On New Year's Eve I was dancing with this old guy at a small village party and I had full view of everyone else dancing because I was a whole head taller than he was.

The Malagasy are extremely superstitious and have some of the most bizarre tribal rituals anywhere. For example during their circumcision ceremonies, they don't just discard the foreskin. They may eat it! In any ceremony, whether wedding, circumcision, funeral, etc., they will invariably sacrifice a cow to the ancestors. There are large herds that are kept as "banks" of potential sacrificial offerings. I went to a cattle auction and my guide told me the black cattle with white faces fetch the highest price because the ancestors like them the best. I wanted to ask him if they ever tried painting them but I didn't think he would appreciate that. Almost every village has a shrine to their dead ancestors, next to which they often put money, food, etc. as offerings. Their tombs are extremely elaborate and usually cost more than the homes they live in, their theory being you'll spend a lot more time in the afterlife than you will on this earth. This is the best though -- in some tribes they dig up dead loved ones, actually exhume the bodies from the ground, and have big parties, singing, dancing, eating and getting the dead person all caught up on family events. It's quite the happy occasion apparently. Then they rewrap the body in new linens and bury it again. They call this party "famadihana" or "turning of the bones." Newly married women take pieces of the old burial shroud and put them under their mattresses to induce fertility.

In Madagascar their staple food is rice, and that's an understatement. One of their leaders declared one time that "rice and I are one." Their per capita consumption is something like one pound of rice per day. Unfortunately growing rice is about the worst thing you can do to piece of land, meaning the nutrients become depleted very quickly and after a couple years the land is useless. Consequently, "slash-and-burn" agriculture, where farmers are continually cutting and/or burning down the rainforest, is rampant there. I read in one book that on Madagascar only about 10 percent of the original forest is still standing. So much of the flora and fauna I mentioned before is on the brink of extinction. Of course you can hardly blame the Malagasy people. We're cutting down the rainforest to fill up our SUV tanks. They're subsistence farmers trying to put food on the table, using agricultural methods that are thousands of years old. There are over 100 Peace Corps volunteers there and many are working with farmers to introduce crop rotation, etc. Another major problem on the island is that once every couple of years a major cyclone hits and can wipe out a farmer's life savings in his farm. The Malagasy also eat the lemurs when they get desperate. Luckily there are several national parks and other protected areas.

In Madagascar they speak Malagasy, the native language, and French because they were colonized by France for a few decades. I think the French influence is the reason they are such "sensible" dressers -- what I mean is it's 80 or 90 degrees out and women wear tank tops and shorts and men walk around with no shirts and it's perfectly acceptable (as opposed to everywhere else in I've been in Africa where you'd never show shoulders or knees). I saw more sixpack abs than a whole year subscription of Men's Health, except no gyms here just good old-fashioned hard work (lots of carrying those rice sacks). When I got there I tried unsuccessfully to recall some high school French, but Swahili was the only thing that would come into my head.

I spent Christmas in Cape Town, South Africa, after having defected from my travel group in Malawi. (For those of you who didn't see my last e-mail, I stopped traveling with Dave and Amy G. after a screaming match with the former in a bar). It was certainly unlike any other Christmas. But I had fun. South Africa is sooo different from any other African country I've been in, because it's very developed and westernized, in the modern cities like Johannesburg and Cape Town, anyway. Christmas Eve we went to this huge casino that could have been in Vegas.

The most worthwhile thing I did in South Africa was to visit Robben island, which used to be a prison off the coast of South Africa on an island, Alcatraz-style. This is where Nelson Mandela served most of his 26 years in prison for his anti-apartheid political activities. Our guide was once a prisoner there himself. He had only served a couple of years because he was found merely to be a member of Mandela's organization. Others in positions of power had served 7 to 10 years. Mandela as the head honcho was serving a life sentence. Some guy on our tour asked the guide if all the prison guards were white. No, it was an equal opportunity prison. duh. I'm halfway through Mandela's autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, which is absolutely fascinating and I would highly recommend it. The humiliation and injustices that have been committed against black South Africans are just appalling. It's sobering reading.

I really loved Ethiopia. It's unfortunate that Ethiopia is still reminiscent of famine because of the drought in the mid '80s. It has some of the most fertile land in East Africa, and definitely the best food. Ethiopian Airlines, a highly-respected international carrier (I flew them all the way to New York via Rome), still fields tactful inquiries as to whether any food is served on their airplanes. duh!

In Ethiopia there are several churches that were carved out of solid rock from the top down. They are absolutely mind-boggling and should be one of the seven wonders of the world. They in the them building estimate it took about 40,000 people to complete the work. But legend has it they were carved with the help of Angels. Ethiopia boasts a long legacy of emperors, most famous among them Haile Selassie. There are many interesting castles, monuments and tombs.

Ethiopia is very important archeologically -- quite possibly the cradle of mankind. You may have heard of "Lucy", the skeleton which was discovered in 1974 and forced a complete rethink of human genealogy by proving that our ancestors were walking at least 2.5 million years earlier than previously thought. They nicknamed her Lucy because "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" was playing in the camp when she was discovered. She stood at 3.5 feet tall. The Ethiopians call her "dinknesh" which means "you are wonderful" in their native language. Lucy is the most complete skeleton of an ancient hominid yet discovered (we are also in the hominid family). Archeologists think that Lucy is probably not our direct ancestor. The Ethiopians call her their "grandmother".

I saw Lucy in the national museum in Addis Ababa, which is the capital of Ethiopia. There was another exhibit in the museum that really cracked me up and I wrote everything down off the wall. It was titled "difference between sexes" and it compared physical differences of baboons male vs. female. On one side it had a description of males: "Males have to fight other males in order to defend their "harem" therefore they are strong and have developed large canines." On the other side, under female characteristics, it read: "females are peaceful, grouped together in a "harem" under the domination of a male." At the bottom the exhibit concluded the following: "This sexual dimorphism is found among many primates, including humans, although it is reduced in the latter." REALLY? Let's hope so.

Ethiopians take their coffee VERY seriously and have a well-deserved reputation for growing some of the best coffee in the world. They buy the beans raw and roast them over charcoal (which I used to do in Tanzania) and the smell permeates the entire house/hotel/restaurant. Once the beans are roasted they carry them around and everyone is supposed to take a good whiff and kind of bless them. Then they pound the beans in a huge mortar and pestle while the water is heating and then they brew the coffee. This process is called the coffee ceremony and sometimes they repeat it three times. The coffee is really potent and so yummy, and I met with blank stares when I inquired about decaffeinated, so if it's evening and you're interested in sleep it's not a very good idea.

One rather sad thing I realized on my trip is that racism exists everywhere, even among Africans. Many times I heard Ethiopians make comments like, "we hate Somalis" or "those dirty Muslims." Of course I would always ask why do you hate Somalis? And they would say they are liars, cheats, etc. With regard to Muslims, there are towns in Ethiopia that won't even allow Muslims to build mosques. I never heard about such discrimination in Tanzania. When I asked about the Muslims in Ethiopia, I was once told "they are not clean in their habits." OK, and 95 percent of your population here in Ethiopia defecates on the side of the road!! Duh!

So here's my tentative schedule for the next couple months. Today's Wednesday February 6th. I'm in Lockport New York at 716-xxx-xxxx. That's my parents house. By early next week I should be in Denver and I'll either be at my friend Sarah's house at 303-xxx-xxxx or at Keystone with Whitney et al. at 970-xxx-xxxx. In early March I'm going to Washington D.C. with my brother Jim for a conference on population growth (he is active in Sierra Club and Zero Population Growth). End of March-beginning of April I'm back in Buffalo babysitting for nieces and nephews whose parents (my siblings) are taking vacations. Sometime during all of this, I will be hearing from Tufts which is where I applied for a master's program for the fall. If I get in I'll be moving to Boston and if I don't I'll be moving to Denver. Got all that?!

I will be in touch with all of you soon, e-mail or call if I don't get to you first. Lots of love, Janet

Wednesday, February 06, 2002

Front • Email

Tracy Eisenhard

Tracy was an environmental volunteer in the central Mafinga region of Tanzania. She lives in Cashmere, WA.

Okay, here's a summary of the last 6 weeks... Please bear with my lack of spelling abilities.

Kilimanjaro Mountain. It was beautiful and slightly gruelling. We went through many different ecosystems. From tropical rain forest to alpine desert to just plain cold in the glacier land. We had a gorgeous summit day and all eight in our group made it to the top. We got up at midnight to summit and made it there around 10am. The air is so thin that you are nausious, your head hurts, and you are sleepy. However, it wasn't too thin up their to smoke a ciggarette. Nummy. 3hours down. 2 hours rest. Then hike another 5 hours to the next camp. We hiked 18 out of 20 hours. Truely the longest day of our lives. But definately worth it.

Safari highlights. We went to lake Mnarya, Tangiri, and Ngorogoro National Parks. The rare animals we saw were a black rhino with child and the most gorgeous animal ever (the cheetah). Very cool. So....We stop to check out some predators. Hang out for about ten minutes watching them. Go to start up the land rover that doesn't have a roof. It doesn't start. Yes. It's true. A lion in a tree on the left and ............. a lion on the tree to the right. Shit!! Yes, yes... I know. Lions don't usually eat people, especially during the hot mid day. But it was still a little nerve racking. Carey and I are on top of the land rover, each with our binoculars, watching our designated lions for any movement. We are also holding the doors open with our feet in case the rest of the crew, who is outside pushing the car, needs to make a quick entry. Anyways, after an hour and some help from some passerbyers we got going again. Without donating our bodies to the food chain. All good.

Then we roamed in Zanzibar for awhile, jumped on a plane all teary eyed, hung out in Amstedam for a bit, and headed to Italy. We spent a week in Italy and three weeks in Sicily. We stayed with Gondolfo (He sends his greetings to all the Mafinga girls and Miguel and Clay). He has even more hair then when he was in Tanzania. We spent xmas at the Vatacan and saw the pope. It was cool. The ceremony was in at least 20 languages. But I just kept god he is old. Rome was a peice of art work in itself. The colloseum does not have a dirt floor (sorry Guru) and the sisteen chapel is as cool as they say. We went to Florence, Sienna, Naples, Pompeii, and almost all of Sicily. We saw ruins dating back to 750 B.C. and learned a lot about gods and appropriate tech. Did you know they had baby bottles made out of clay with a stone to regulate milk flow from 350bc. Wow. Needless to say the emmensity of the history made us remember how miniscule we are in the big pitchure and remotivated me (like I needed any more motivation) to enjoy every second of life. Are jobs really neccessary? Damn! Anyways, Leigh and I took the camper for a while and wandered around Sicily, mostly on the southern coast. We did hike around mount etna and it cleared up enough for us to see the last lava flow. That was cool.

New years was in Palermo. Sicilians are kind and sweet, yet absolutely crazy. Not only are they the worst drivers in the world (two lane road = four or five lanes, yeild means nothing and stop means yeild, and speed limit signs are legally just a suggestion) but they have NO laws regulating fireworks. It is a free for all down town. You leave not being able to hear and happy that you still have your toes. It was definately an exciting night (new years).

I got home on Sat and my uncle skip picked me up. The fam. had no idea when I was coming home. I hodied at my door and my mom about had a heart attack. Dad called shortly after I walked in the door and I answered the phone habari (Kiswahili for hello). Pops says "Habari! Is this.... Are you.... You got to be shitting me." It was halarious. We then proceded to Tequilas (a mexican restrant) to shock my bro and my sister in law. I walked into the resturant with an african spear and boy do people get out of your way. It was a hug and tear filled reunion.

Since then I have been trying to organize my old room. Peace Corps folks, do you feel that we have an insane amount of stuff? I've also been going through the finances, job planning, and TRYING to reduce the stack of papers on my desk. Other than that I have been enjoying the view (mountains and river and lake. Come visit) from our house, loving the beer selection, playing with my neice, and appreciating the wonders of central heating.

Okay, I think we are all caught up. Now call me or email me your digits so I can figure out what you've been up too. Can't wait to hear from ya and get my hugs.

Love ya all,


Monday, February 04, 2002

By Anonymous ( - on Wednesday, March 07, 2007 - 5:24 pm: Edit Post

In reply to Christina Greuel's December 18th, 2001 email in section #4: People----she said that a South African friend told her that Africans and African Americans do not like each other very much. She did not understand why. Well. Speaking as an African American man who has participated in many East and West African people's organizations here in the United States, and having been married to a Kenyan woman from Nairobi for 4 years, I think I can answer this. I knew this answer when I was a child in Detroit, MI USA. Subsequent experiences have reaffirmed my earlier knowledge. The essence of the answer is (simply put) that Africans and African Americans---among others in the diaspora---share a deep, ingrained guilt, shame and self-loathing for one another and themselves for the 400+ years of the European profiteer-sponsored TransAtlantic African Slave Trading venture. Even when it is not spoken of; even when it is avoided or forgotten; it still permeates all dealings between the 2 groups.
Some of us feel that of the 2 choices available to our captive ancestors---slavery or suicide---they should have been more "honorable" and chosen suicide in the manner of which many celebrated War stories depict valorous soldiers dying when all is lost. Some of us (especially African natives)have ancestors for whom the TransAtlantic Slave Trading was temporarily beneficial in some material or revenge way.
I have not and do not see these notions as important now. In Social Psychiatric Therapy, it is an accepted rule that unless the root-cause of emotional/mental/physical-trauma/torture (P.T.S.S.)is revealed and some kind of healing/forgiveness achieved at some point, then the psychosis will never end. It is important to now have an International "Truth and Reconciliation" or healing on this issue --- an event that could last for decades of hearings and meetings to talk and overcome this miserably horrific and damaging legacy.
The results of ignoring this are self-evident: the ridiculously populous Afican American prison numbers here in the USA; black infant mortality rates in Detroit, MI USA; secondary education graduation rates and literacy: and corruption along with lack of infrastructure and warring among African nations and groups. Can we say "self-hate" boys and girls!!!!!!!!????????
It is a tragedy, but it will end.

By Ken Creasey ( - on Thursday, May 03, 2007 - 4:50 am: Edit Post

Is that Janet Hufnagel from Lockport, NY? Looking for a Janet Hufnagel who graduated from Lockport Senior High School in 1987. How can I get in contact with her, if she is the person I am looking for. If she is not, I apologize for wasting your time.

Ken Creasey

By francis ( on Friday, October 30, 2009 - 7:32 am: Edit Post

Dear team,
may name is francis,i am a graduate engineer,before anything i would like to take this opportuinty to thanks mr Ben and His Wife Sara for their contibution on academic side in my life,Madam sara she was my mathematics teacher at mtwara Technical secondary School in 2000,Mr ben he was a nice enviromental keeper,i share alot of knowledge with them in environmental issues.When they left i was form three one year later i finish my stidies at that school,I real thanks them for everything,Now am a graduate Engineer,I woulid like to share the joy with them.
Please send to me mail adress , i need to know where are they right now,I will be happy to speak with them again after 9years passing.
Thanks very much



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