Monday, August 26, 2013

July 23, Pommern Intro Day.

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

Breakfast: oatmeal (already sugared and margarined), toast, jam, peanut butter, bananas, a thin delicious omelette with green onions in it.

We start with a tour of the secondary school, introduction to the entire staff and greetings from the headmaster. That is followed by a tour of the primary school, and introduction to the principal there. Then we visit Edward's home, the kindergarten/pre-primary school, and have lunch.

Primary school-age kids... after classes in the first pic, and in uniforms in the second:

Inside the secondary school classroom: the smell is the kind that you'd describe as knocking you over. I'm one of the first volunteers to walk in, so I get to watch all the other faces when the smell hits. How do you teach in this? Hormonal 10th graders in dirty shirts, sweaters, wool skirts or pants, socks, shoes - with unbrushed teeth and unwashed bodies. All the cliches are here today - rows of well-behaved, eager looking students. Primary children with snotty noses, ugali-smeared mouths and flies flitting in their eyes. Classrooms with crumbling walls, stained and incomplete books, old and uneven desks. The vat of ugali is hissing and steaming in the late morning, in the school kitchen (the secondary school is a co-ed boarding school, as all in Tanzania are by law). The porridge for the primary school (non boarding) looks like a thinner, watered-down version of the ugali to me. This brings it home - the food. I am intensely struggling with the guilt of being taken care of so well - we have more than enough food, bottled water, beds, clothes.

At the secondary school, we meet all the teachers during their teatime - mandazi and hot tea. Mandazi is  like a fritter, like a lump of fry bread, a doughnut - it is what you make the world over when you have flour, fat, sugar and oil. The headmaster, Haran, used to have Edward's job with Global Volunteers and   we are told he rules the school with a tough approach. Many of the teachers are in their first job, and all board here with the students; few are from the village. 

At the primary school, we only peek into a classroom but meet with the principal. We find out the wells have been turned off here because the handles have been broken off, again and again, but the students playing with them, or pushing on them, causing them to leak. When a leak is spotted, the water is turned off, but then they can't wash their faces or get a cup of water after lunch. 

At school, breakfast is porridge (corn, sugar, water). Lunch is porridge (corn, sugar, water). Teachers have no breakfast but have mandazi at 10:30 AM teatime. Dinner, if available at home for primary school kids, is ugali (corn, water, salt) and greens, or ugali and beans. (Secondary school kids get the same, and a piece of banana, at school.) At the secondary school, they get rice rather than corn on Sundays, and an orange rather than bananas with dinner, for a treat. Meat gets a passing mention to me, but I can't really tell if it served every Sunday, or less often than that. 

The drinkers take out a bottle of wine at lunch today. I find it fascinating; this is a sort of drug against the intensity of what we just saw. I didn't partake, per the pact with Meggie (neither did she), because I don't want to be relieved of the experience intensity at all. But then again, my struggle seems likely to be about allowing myself any relaxation with, or enjoyment from, the billion Western conveniences in my little suitcase pile.

Here's a building in the village... and some tough chickens. How tough? Tough enough that our 11-year old fellow volunteer, at one point, holds his drumstick up to his dad and says, "I can't find the meat!" I guess these chickens work hard to stay alive too and are not slaughtered until they're probably a couple years old. They largely run wild, but some folks keep them fenced in (if they can afford to build and maintain a fence).

Another building; no one living in the crumbling part on the right, but living in the part on the left.

The carpenters, using hand tools. Each night we scoop up some shavings to get our fire started.

Earlier this morning, four of the other ladies continue telling us how they never wear skirts at home and how unusual it would be to even OWN one (we've been hearing this since our first night dinner, as we discuss what we've packed to wear, and how well we hewed to the directions - which asked us to wear knee-length or longer skirts/dresses in the village). I am overcome with anger. This community agrees to host Global Volunteers all the time and they are a people deeply uncomfortable with a woman in pants - and you can't relent on that one single fucking point? You like pants, so you can't give at all? When the imbalance is so enormous, how can you not feel ashamed for your unwillingness?

After lunch, we tour the clinic, then the orphan center (see brief description below), and meet the Roman Catholic priests. I'll save the clinic description and photos to go along with the journal entries from the days I worked there (next week). 

In the village there are two churches - Roman Catholic and Lutheran. The Catholics include real friars - men in long burlap-like brown robes who go barefoot. The Roman Catholic church is also a whole lot nicer than the Lutheran one - as are their schools and centers, when we walk up there to say hello and later to share donations. Both churches divide all volunteer supplies - clothes, medications, school supplies and entertainment - with each other. 

The Roman Catholic volunteers are all Italian (as are many of the friars and priests). This explains what the little children have been yelling to us since we arrived, whenever we walk through the village... either "Hi!" or "Ciao!". They don't know if the mzungu are Italian or American, but one of those words will work! In fact, I find it easier to hear "Ciao" than I do "Goot Even Eng" - which is "Good evening". 

On the walk back, we pop into a small shop selling skirts, purses, baby carriers, aprons and hairbands. They are made in the back room on sewing machines by young women; we find out that single motherhood is a "growing problem" in Pommern, and this was started to give them a job and income. I speak with Edward about this on another day; he asks what Americans do about the same "growing problem" in our country. The sewing is beautiful and while there are only brief tourist-volunteers like us to shop there, they are clearly modeling the shop and process on something like Neema Craft and are starting to, with the help of energetic Italian Roman Catholics, sell in other villages and towns, and take special orders.

Nighttime. I'm exhausted. I moved today to the unused single room; no one else wanted it and Meggie assured me she didn't feel hurt or abandoned by the move.

The just-before-dinner visit to the center for orphans and disabled kids pretty much broke me for the day. (It's a day-only drop-in care center for those being raised by aunts or grandparents who can't afford to feed them all three meals, and for disabled kids who need attendance while family works in the fields.) Stop having babies! Stop for ten years and imagine how we could solve some problems! But the visceral experience of poverty is even more overwhelming that I thought. That's not even a fair assessment because I didn't think I was so blind to it - the totally decrepit conditions in which is almost feels like a joke to try and learn in.

What can one old Acer laptop teach a child about thriving in today's work world? And the schools are more highly attended by girls than boys - good. The people here are happy about this! But this one primary school of two in the village, and the lone secondary school, in a village of 4,000.

There are a billion other people living this way on this continent and all day I felt it was superficial to want a warm shower and to have clean hands before dinner, but tonight I'm understanding the puritanical roots of the American cleanliness obsession, and the best intentions behind all the bizarre cleaning products, douches and personal hygiene products - heck - even Febreeze! You can build someone a house here but it'll still get tracked with red dust and filled with cooking smoke because it's not like NW Natural is coming in to hook up the gas stove, or like they'll suddenly know how to cook well over a modern stove.

Watching the sunset. Again tonight, I think that Africa's wild beauty - and it is so beautiful and expansive and vibrant in all the natural wonders - mocks me. The beauty isn't doing a damn thing to save any children or protect their health. It seems to have only drawn in money that never reaches the people, and has brought in jerks who want a piece for themselves and to put up a wall so no one can see in. I can't even appreciate the beauty. It feels like a theft - I have all the medicine, all the clothes, all the education, water, footwear, health, money and opportunity - and I greedily want to soak this up too???

The rural beauty of Pommern, in the late afternoon light:

But is that, I realize, an us versus them model of thinking, perpetuated? Is that saying the pie of natural beauty is only so big and can only serve so many, and that if I take some to enjoy, it will leave others without? Will it be stealing a moment of contentment and relaxation from a Pommerini?

That's crazy, I know - and yet knowing it's crazy still doesn't stop it. I can't write anymore, I know this negative thinking will spiral. Off to bed.

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