Saturday, August 24, 2013

July 22, Iringa to Pommern/Pommerini/Pommerine/Pommerin.

(As written in my journal that day; grammar and minor edits only. Italicized portions are additions written after the trip.)

The road out of Iringa is, at last, this "real Africa" we keep being told about by Edward. Within minutes of turning off the main paved road, the huts change. They are still stick-framed and mud-walled. But unlike the slums of Dar, they look built to last. Heavy walls and decent window openings. Thick thatched roofs. And children, everywhere children - so many I get overwhelmed. I wondered if I'd want to adopt when I saw all these kids, but I don't feel that at all. That would save one of, what?, four million? And effective 0% savior rate while taking a child of Tanzania away, maybe considered a net loss to the people living here. It might, however, be pushing me toward adopting in my own city or country, but interestingly pushes me away from international adoption thoughts.

The sky really opens up once we leave Iringa; maybe it is the anticipation of life in the village, but the air feels cleaner and thinner at the elevation. It is so dry, and the red dirt we've heard about makes its first appearance. 

The 1.5 to 2 hour drive on dirt roads from Iringa to Pommern looks like this...
Buildings that have more substance:

Stick frames, that will be filled with mud and topped with thatch:

An enormous sky, and room to breathe for the first time:

Red dirt... which will be ground into our heels, between our toes, in our beds, our eyes, our teeth, soon enough:

And dried corn fields - where corn only has one ear per stalk, and it sounds like a Halloween sound track in the breeze, all the time we're there...

Then we arrive in Pommern! The reason I gave it three names in the title post here is that there is no agreed-upon pronunciation of the village name. Pommern, like Pom-urn, is a German name from the German East Africa Lutheran missionary days. But the local people call it Pommerini, also the demonym for residents. They sometimes also call it Pommerine - rhymes with tangerine. Or, some call it Pom-er-in. The sign posts spell it "Pommern" but even many people over in Iringa were not sure where this village is. There are 4,000 residents - and the census a couple years ago showed roughly 53% of that 4,000 are ages 0 to 18. 

How John would laugh at our bedding! Twin beds with a thin sheet stretched over the "mattress" and wood frame mosquito nets... and each one with a lumpy pillow and a thick, warm, polyester animal print blanket. 

The EXACT type of blanket that John once had... called the tiger blanket because of the print... that I despised. It always felt damp, and even though it was ridiculously warm, it just grossed me out. Having these exact same disgusting-but-warm blankets makes me laugh.

Living out of a suitcase, all my gear uber-neatly organized:

The dining room table; the only place to sit in the mission house other than our beds:

This gives a sense of the house; very worn, indeed. Cold cement floors that made us grateful each night for a fire in the fireplace, even if it made us smell like campground residents all the time! The yellow basket is the trash can (there are no plastic bags to be found, and nowhere to purchase any).

The beloved tea table... tea, instant coffee (Africafe), powdered milk, powdered hot cocoa, hot water, sugar (and hot sauce, margarine, peanut butter and jam)... out 24/7 for us to get a hot drink or little snack. And hot drinks we needed! We continue to be shocked how chilly it is when the sun goes down, and well into the morning, until 11 AM or noon.

The wall of water... bottled water for all drinking, tooth brushing, and it only took about three days before we busted out the little flavor packets (Crystal Light, Mio, etc.) that it was recommended we bring, to spice up the pathetic American palates that grow bored so quickly.

Dinner tonight is chunks of stewed beef or goat, with bone and tendon still attached, in a spicy sauce and served with white rice, toast, a few canned green beans, a few slices of watermelon and some boiled greens (much like frozen spinach). The greens are "local cabbage" we're later told; it looks like a kale growing in the backyard garden (the only thing in the garden), but with less flavor and less bulk - it even tastes thin and low in vitamins to me, though it's something green and that's warmly welcomed, even if we each only get about a quarter cup that first night. Later, more is cooked each night, as the cook realizes we all crave greens and pile our plates with them, all the drowning in cooking oil be damned!

Our cook is named Mamatony; Tony is her first born, and she's been known by this name for over 20 years. It's a little weird to know there will be a cook; but on the other hand, with no electricity or refrigeration in the village, cooking is done over open wood fires. Peeking into the kitchen, with just a couple pots and running water from a gravity-flow-tank system. I can't imagine ensuring everything gets boiled and sterilized and cooked safely, all while keeping the wood fire at the right heat - and making sure dinner for 14 is on the table at (roughly) the appointed time. The guilt of being cooked for is outweighed by the challenge it would present to any one of us (it would be our full time job). And, this is why there was a program fee, I think, and why our support network pitched in to help get us here. For us to be able to go out into the village, ok, yeah - we will need a cook. 

After a few days, I see that Mamatony has more variety of clothes than other people around us. She has earrings, she has a nice coat - so this is a lucrative gig, and it's interesting to know that her salary, which we pay, is probably supporting a family (and how odd here that a woman's salary supports others!).

Edward tells us what to expect tomorrow, our first full day in the village. It is touring and introduction day; no official work. Much like meeting the General Secretary today, we need to meet all the important people in the village tomorrow, to show respect and ask permission to begin working. We're reminded by Peg, the volunteer who was here last year, that no villagers are allowed in the house. 

Edward uses a pen on the table as an example to illustrate why. This pen, he says, is nothing to you. You'll set it down, and if it's not there when you come back, you might not even think about it. But that pen would mean so much to someone who has nothing, someone who works to save a few pennies, all month long, just to buy a small supply of salt. He extends this story, then, to iPods and phones and books and clothes - things we do value that someone who has nothing literally cannot resist taking, to use, or perhaps, to sell. By having the rule that villagers cannot enter the mission house when guests are residing there, we will be able to set anything down at any time, and expect it to be there when we return. On another day, Edward says that he and Mamatony and Mohammed only use their eyes, not their hands, in the house. This is true; no one ever loses a single item, nor do things even get moved more than a foot or two.

I feel for the first time today, a long emotional day with the ever-present poverty in my face, but now growing from urban filthy poverty to a drier, starker, thinner and more dangerous feeling rural poverty, that it is OK to be a wealthy Westerner who loves having baby wipes with me, my pretty pink hoodie, my headlamp, my earrings, my comforting gear. Edward's speech about the wide gulf between his people and us visitors makes me realize it's neither my fault nor theirs that this grinding poverty stands between us. That my unearned, unfair, imbalanced wealth exists, and that their desperate lack of any material items, much less wealth, exists. We're all in this system together - is it the system of reality? - and there may be ways we need to protect each other - but faulting each other (for wealth, for theft) is like faulting the dog for his spots. 

Tonight, my first Pommern sunset: 

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