Kelly Stenhoff in the Peace Corps, Tanzania, Africa
Between 2001 and† 2004, Kelly Stenhoff, daughter of Dorothy (Dahlheimer) and Odell Schultz, served in the Peace Corps in Tanzania.† Here are some of her early letters which she sent to family members, sharing her thoughts and experiences of this new culture.
Subject: Nov 1, 2001
My Dear Rafikis in the First World,
Well, I have spent my first week in Tanzania & have finally settled in with my host family, Agnes & Eben Kiweha. In the last week I have experienced many firsts: my 1st bucket bath since I was an infant, my first dala-dala ride (the TZ bus system- minivans sort of vehicles actually, first bite of cow in 15 years (it was disgusting!!), first time sleeping under a mosquito net & my first time ever being utterly terrified of mosquitoes (at least for the next week till my Mefloquine kicks in). I have been experiencing quite a bit of culture shock (to say the least), esp in attempted communication with Mama Agnes & the housegirl. It is typical that the man of the house will speak English well, but the women are much less educated so conversation is still strained & I am not expecting to become especially fluent anytime soon. I am not surprised to find myself frustrated & overwhelmed from time. Baba Kiweha has been to the US a couple of times- he has been to Waverly, IA, if you can believe that, helping a friend at Wartburg with a foreign exchange program in TZ. He has also been to Vegas, the Grand Canyon, AZ, Texas, Indiana. So my family consists of mama & baba (all families have adopted their volunteers as a part of their families & insist on being called by these titles), two nieces of Baba who are probably in their late teens, & a house girl who lives with them & is essentially a servant who has been adopted into the family. They have two daughters who are away at boarding school & who I have not yet met. We have no electricity or running water so I study by kerosene lamp light at night, it takes Mama about 3 hours to prepare a meal, we do our business in an outhouse with just a hole in the ground. My living conditions are more sparse than those of most other volunteers, but I am expecting that to be an advantage in preparing me to get by in the long run. The people here are wonderful- Tanzanians are very forgiving when it comes to the slaughtering of their language. I have been told they are very good at reading people's hearts and their good intentions. The food- well, there is a lot to be desired in that respect. You see, in cultures which have famine in their history, in times of prosperity or general well-being, people still tend to hoard food & eat like they won't have enough tomorrow. So, mama Agnes keeps on piling it on my protests. Another complaint I have is that everything is smothered in vegetable oil. For Example fish is first fried and then mixed with vegetables which have been sautťed in about an inch of oil. The fry their peanuts. It is really quite hard to take. I am expecting to have gained a lot of weight in this next month, but hopefully when I get to my sight, I'll be cooking for myself. Another hard thing to adapt to is that people do not exercise here- when you do you tend to get lots of people saying wazungu (foreigner & white person) or sisssssing at you or other types of unwanted attention. Don't get me wrong- it's very safe to run (except for the smog & dust), you just have to get good at ignoring & get used to being stared at. Besides that, the landscape is very beautiful- behind my house we have a banana tree grove, there are flowers of every shape & color popping up everywhere, the weather is supurb (70's/80's). I'm just lovin it & am so glad I do not have to endure a MN winter this year. I apologize to everyone about my lack of communication so far- I have been super busy with training all day & I have to be back at home by 7 pm cause when it gets dark the dogs become wild (a dog which is friendly during the day takes on a pack mentality at night here. TZ's do not treat their dogs very well to say the least & they are allowed to roam free at night. I have been told that all you have to do is pick up a rock & they will cower & hide but I'm trying my best to avoid the situation altogether). Everyone who is worried- STOP RIGHT THIS MINUTE- I am very safe. I have two male Peace Corps trainees who live in my neighborhood & with whom I travel everywhere & always am in groups (even when I run).
Well, I'm going to wrap it up. Anyone who has the inclination or time, I'd love to hear from you though I can guarantee you won't get a lengthy response. It took me three internet separate internet sessions just to fit this letter in, but I will keep everyone updated from time to time.
Subject: Nov 17, 2001
Asante sana to everyone for writing me back- You guys make me feel so inspired for what I am doing here. Your letters really help me to refocus & see that what I am doing from the outside- that, although it is a great struggle from time to time (OK, more often than that- daily really), that what I am doing is really worthwhile. I am truely fortunate to have such great friends & such support. Feelin' the love...
I have exciting news for y'all- on Thursday I found out where I will be living for the next two years. Drumrollllll. I will be in the Hanang region teaching at Nangwa Secondary School, a small girls' boarding school (240 students, 160 girl boarders, 80 boys who walk in). Other PCV's who have been here for some time rave about the area. I guess it is what you would think of as the epitomal peace corps site- rural, rustic, gloriously beautiful (I heard rainforest from one person- I'll tell you more when I actually see it). I actually will be right at the base of Mt Hanang, a mountain which is just the right height for all-day excursions up & back down. 4th highest mountain in TZ I was told. I also am by a large salt lake. For American company, I am really close by a group of about 5 environmental volunteer & 1 other teacher, all who I trained with & are really cool, & I have also heard there is a large settlement of expats in the area. I am not quite sure what my living situation will be yet- one document says I will have a Tanzanian teacher housemate & the other says I am living alone. Whichever way, I'm sure it will be fine. I am thrilled to report however, that I have running water AND electricity. Woohoo!!! No western toilet, but no complaining here... Also, one form says that the school needs a biology teacher & makes it seem as though that's what I will be teaching (yeah right...me, teach biology?), but others put math as the top priority. I am glad that I am visiting the site for the next 4 days to get all these details ironed out & clear up any miscommunications between peace corps & the school. I'll report back after I have more information.
Contact info: If you are so inclined, I would absolutely love letters (& care packages- CD's are always good). My new address is Kelly Stenhoff P.O. Box 34, Katesh-Hanang, TZ. Swearing in will be on December 15th, after which time I will be moving to Nangwa for good. If anyone gets hold of a good phone card rate & would like to give me a call at the training center within the next month, send me an email & I can schedule a time to receive it... Stay tuned- I'll tell you after my site visit whether I will have email access at my school.
As for my current situation... After clearing a little tension in the air, my home stay family & I came to an bit of a cultural understanding & everything is salama (peaceful). I'll explain...You see, I hadn't expected to encounter as much religion as I have here. In TZ Life, Religion is very very impt. When you meet someone the 1st 2 things you get are, "What is your name?" & "What religion are you?" Not that religious differences are any issue here- interreligious marriages (Christian/Muslim) are very common & everyone gets along very harmoniously in this very collectivist society in which most everyone is part of a big extended family . TZ's are amazingly tolerant people. Religion's importance is that it brings people together helps you feel kinship & establish a rapport with one another.
Anyway, my problem was that the Kiwehas turn out to be born-again Christians (Baba had a stroke about 9 months ago & pulled through). They pray & do a bible study for about 15-20 minutes before dinner & again in the morning for 5-10 minutes, all in Kiswahili. Not being particularly religious (not at all really), I would sit through these sessions finding them unbearable & would be envious of my PCT colleagues who did only a short prayer before dinner. As an example of how religious they are, the first time I asked mama if I could go to the disco with the other volunteers one Saturday night, she referred me to baba, not wanting to be accountable for this decision & then baba's niece, who lives with us, asked me very guardedly whether I believed I had been saved by Jesus & whether he had cleansed me of my sins. So, then I took it that the disco is a very scandalous thing tin their eyes. They eventually let me go with quite a bit of contemplation & bellyaching about how I would get home, etc. The thing is that I am the Kiweha's first non-religious guest (they had had american missionaries in the past) & so, although they had been warned by peace corps that most americans do not take religion really seriously, i think they were a bit surprised when the (Tanzanian) Peace Corps homestay coordinator tactfully brought it up with them. she stretched the truth a little & explained to them that I come from a culture where people don't pray as much & asked them if it would be alright if I prayed a short prayer in my room while they did their long prayer at the table. Then, afterwards, they would come & knock on my door & summon me to eat with them. This solution was sofi sana (very cool) with them & now I feel there is greater understanding between us & everyone is happy. Case closed. my greatest concern over the situation had been that in removing myself from these prayer sessions that I would be sending a signal that I did not want to spend time with them. It felt very touchy; Often, I feel like I am walking on eggshells here, trying to interpret & navigate my way through the culture.
One thing about this culture is that it is very reassuring is how friendly & caring & tolerant everyone is here. Everyone in your neighborhood & on the street greets one another. Relationships are the top priority in this culture, taking precedence over time & obligations & work. tz's have a very hierarchical social system & age is all important. "shikamoo" is a greeting that tz's use to show respect 7 & the reply is "marahaba." so, everyday on my way to training with lauge & joe (my neighbor PCT's), we shikamoo the older people we pass, say mambo (what's up) or habari za asubuhi (how is the news this morning?) to our peers, & are shikamooed by the children we pass or who come running up behind us. it is so sweet when they say it because they are so timid that all you usually hear is a whispered "shik." the culture is so personable- everyone in our neighborhood greets everyone. this greeting custom keeps the harmony of the community & raises accountability & awareness of who is around you. it really leaves you with a wonderful sense of wellbeing. i think it will be very strange (somewhat depressing) coming back to america where two people who pass another day after day in the halls at work, will be so busy & preoccupied that they don't even say "hi."
ok, i'm going to send this off. sorry about the typos, inconsistencies, etc. but i think more frequent, shorter, albeit imperfect emails will be much more informative & interesting for y'all. if i don't send this one off today, it will never get off cause i will have so much more to talk about after i return from my site visit next friday. gotta get home & pack for my early morning busride to Hanang- the sun's starting to set. more later... salameni, kelly
Subject: Nov 28, 2001
Sorry this turned out so long- I would suggest taking it in small dosesÖ
Back from site and the report is excellent.† Although I got to spend very little time actually in Nangwa, I stayed 5 days in the region (it turns out that my school got a new headmistress a couple of weeks ago and when she moved to nangwa, she moved into the house that peace corps had approved for me.) My new house did not yet have locks installed, proper bars on the windows, or the electricity hooked up, so I stayed with a pcv in a neighboring village for a couple of days and in a hotel for a couple more.† But, I think my visit spurred them to task & Iím sure it will be up to standard by the time I arrive for good in December.
So, Iíll tell you a bit about the place.† First of all, Nangwa is right at the base of Mt Hanang, 9217 ft high- the third highest mtn in TZ (please note correction from my last post.)† To do it in one day takes 12 hours/18 miles.† Some other volunteers in the region and I plan to hike it on new years.† One thing about Nangwa is that it is renowned throughout the area for its trees.†† You see, the area is very dusty, dry, and windy,† (at least during this time of year- I think I will have a different view in march through may during the rainy season when transportation becomes all but impossible) and people have cut down most of the trees due to because there is a shortage wood for fuel and housing.† BUT nangwa has an irish catholic priest who has run a mission on the hill for the last 40 years and has some tree planting initiative going.† Therefore nangwa is much more pleasant than neighboring villages.†
Other attractions in the area- the kolo rock paintings are about a two hour bike ride away; some are believed to be over 3000 years old. There is also a huge salt lake (my map says lake balangida but it is just known in the area as maziwa chumvi- salt lake) w/ tons of flamingos.† Also, there are two tribes I will be living amongst.† The barbaig, a nomadic tribe who sleep next to their cattle at night for warmth and the stationary wairaq, who are appalled that the barbaig would snuggle up w/ their cows.† According to them wairaq, the goats that stay w/ them in their huts are sooo much cleaner.† Funny thing is that cats and dogs are vermin to them and they would be appalled that many americans let their dogs sleep in their bedroom or on their beds.† . My company throughout the next two years will be interesting to say the least.† The wairaq trace their roots as far back as the country of iraq and over time they migrated south through Ethiopia, Kenya, and into TZ and they have a very spitty throaty language. I guess the barbaig culture so revole\ves around their cattle that when a man dies, he is buried inside of one.† They are much like another better-known tribe, the maasai (survivor fans may remember that they were featured on episode 2- you know, where they drank the cow blood)- they lean on the same wook stick and fling the same checkered banket over their shoulders.
A comical story I heard from this region: a fellow peace corps trainee went to a town meeting during his site visit- can you believe that the voting procedure was heads down, thumbs up (like in elementary school)?† I think that is just hysterical.† From the PCTís vantage point at the head table they could see people peeking left and right.† Other items on the agenda included one lost donkey with his ear clipped in a particular way, a lost goat, and a monster that ripped a guyís arm off on a bridge.†† The monster guy was getting all wacked out† about it and when no one else expressed much interest, he yelled out ďSo WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO ABOUT THIS MONSTERĒ† People booed and hissed and told him to sit down.† I guess it was everything the volunteers could do to keep from busting out laughing.†† (it has been theorized that the monster may have been a hyena.)
Letís see, my houseÖ two bedrooms including a guest bedroom for anyone who wants to come visit, a main room for dining table, a couch and some chairs.† It is rather spacious cf. the housing I have seen of other volunteers in the region.† The kitchen is in a building outside and I have a built-in jiko (charcoal stovetop)† which is essentially a concrete countertop w/ two holes which resemble burners in theory.† You put charcoal or wood underneath the holes and viola! you have a stovetop.† Iíve heard that they can be very smoky and can take a long time to light so Iíll buy some kerosene burners for convenience.† Who knows, with the electricity, maybe I can find some inexpensive electric burners but I will have to see how reliable it is first.†† I have a small courtyard that leads out to a Turkish toilet and a little room for taking bucket baths.† It turns out that I wonít have running water but, hamna shida, not a problem- the tap is just a few strides from my door and carrying water is no foreign concept for me- my country upbringing will pay off in a few ways, Iím sure.† Itís a concrete house on the school grounds right below the Form 1 (first level of secondary school) dorms.† There is ivy growing up some of the outside walls & plenty of space to plant flowers & a small plot to have a garden.†
I have some very very good news- computers are being installed at the school just in time for my arrival.† A Canadian organization called HPDF (Hanang Participatory Development Fund) is supplying many schools in the region w/ satellite tv AND computers so hopefully I will have access to them come January- this makes everything sooo much easier.† It will be very interesting to witness how the students react to such contraptions.† Oh yeah, I have a new personal po box # for yíall (the other address I gave last time was the schoolís address- if yu already sent me something, donít worry, Iíll still get it.)† New Address:† Ms. Kelly Stenhoff, P.O. Box 43, Katesh-Hanang, Tanzania.
So, now I am back in Arusha- itís very difficult to be back in the stinky city (there are no car exhaust regulations here and the air is awful) where the people are not friendly because their attitude towards foreigners has been spoiled by the tourist industry here.† It will be tough to get through the next three weeks of Swahili training, technical training, & my host familyís oily food. I felt I learned an exponentially greater amount of Swahili while I was on site, when I was actually using it in real-life situations.† The pcvís that I visited in hanang made normal food- pasta w/ real tomato basil sauce, biscuits in a makeshift oven (take a pot, put 3 stones inside, set the baking sheet on the stones, turn another pot upside down over this apparatus, set it on some coals and put some coals on top, and viola- you have an oven), pancakes, lentils & rice all made with minimal oil.† Iím thinking that if I find the time I will cook some Italian food for my family some night and give them a taste of some healthy, light food- maybe some tomato basil pasta, some garlic toast w/ mozzarella cheese- mmmm.† The cheese will be expensive, but I think it would be a real treat for them.† I canít wai for the day when I can cook for myself again.†
†Some of you have asked for care package ideas- if you have a cd burner, the best gift in the world would be new r&b/hiphop that has recently come out (or if you donít, regular cdís would be fine- I think most of you know my taste in music or know someone who might have suggestions.)† Photos of any recent big (or small) events that I have been missing out on, luxury items such as good smelling soaps, lotions, perfumesÖ, chocolate chip cookies, coffee.† Itís strange because one of TZís main export crops is coffee, but TZís donít seem to like it.† They like their chai tea (different from Indian spice chai- this is basically black tea, milk and lots of sugar)).†
Thatís all for now for now folks.† If any of you have any ? about TZ or life here that youíd like me to address, please bring them on.† Iíll try to get to them somewhere down the line.† I hope everyone had a fantastic Thanksgiving.† Peace Corps threw us a dinner at a little restaurant/coffee shop, but it wasnít near the same.†
Subject: Dec 11, 2001
What's new ? Me, I'm starting to prepare to leave Arusha for good. The Peace Corps held a dinner for us volunteers a few nights ago to say goodbye to our homestay families. We put on quite a program for them. Our group is very talented; there were musical acts and some gymnastic stunts. I joined some other musically inclined volunteers & we put together a little ditty in Kiswahili called the "Kuandoka Homestay Blues (the Leaving Our Homestay Blues) complete w/ 3 acoustic guitar players, 4 singers, and a harmonica player. Working with this group gave me nostalgia for my popsinger days- it was so much fun. We even have a bagpipe player among our ranks, but he did not fit in... he's did a solo own performance. for the stunt show, one volunteer ate fire, 3 juggled, and others (me included) did gymnastics stunts. I have developed the reputation for being the singer of the group and am summoned just about every morning to lead the national anthem at training and lead it for the dinner as well. I am terribly afraid they will ask me to do a solo at swearing in, which would be ok if i was given advanced notice, but i have found it to be very common here to be put on the spot- events are not planned much in advance, but many times they just seem to erupt out of thin air.
In about a week, we depart for Das es Salaam for our swearing in at which we will promoted to full-fledged Peace Corps Volunteers. Woohoo!! Then we will celebrate and hang out in Dar for a couple of days before we all disperse to different parts of the country and start our new lives at our sites. Woohoo! A change of location and routine will be good for our presently low group moral. We have had 7 people ET (early terminate) already, which is an abnormally high number. We've gone from 56 to 49 and each one is sorely missed. Two of the ET's were unavoidable- one was administrative (the assignment he was brought to do was discontinued and his skills were specialized such that he could not be placed in a different one (or at least that was the story we were given) & one a medical separation (PC had initially believed that they would be able to meet his medical need but it turned out the medical facilities were not up to par to accommodate him even though he was placed in an somewhat urban area) The others 5, well... some decided that it was not the right time in their lives- I think the reality of how huge of a chunk of time 2 years actually is in the scheme of your life does not really hit home until you arrive here- at least it didn't for me. Others visited their sites & found them substandard or did not like them for whatever reason. A third contributing factor: our country director hypothesized that, due to our month long delay because of The Attack, some of us had generated other job options, just in case we were canceled, &, when you have something to go back to, the decision to return home is just all the easier.
Last weekend I became a tourist in Africa for the 1st time. I did a fantastic safari to Ngorongoro crater. After training last Saturday most of the trainee group piled into Landrovers and headed westward for about a 4 hour drive. About half of the distance (1/3 of the time) was easygoing over tarmac (paved) roads, but the further you get out of an urban area, the more torturous the roads become-you are continually swerving to one side of the road or the other to avoid potholes or potcraters in the road and the four tires are never on an even plane. It is difficult to even read a book on such a trip because you are always apprehending that bump that will propel you head into the window or will pop you out of your seat entirely. We proceeded down one wall of the Great Rift Valley, alongside Lake Manyara, and up the other side to our campsite. The view from our campsite was simply breathtaking- we were right on the edge of the wall of the valley & could see across the distance we'd traveled that day to the other wall of the valley. The sunrise and sunset were unbelievable.
Bright and early the next morning we took off for Ngorongoro. The crater is about 600 m deep and about 12 miles in diameter. We drove down into the crater and just drove around all day and looked at animals through our binoculars and took tons of pictures. We saw so many animals- many more than I thought we would be able to see. Zebras, water buffalo, wildebeest, hyena, warthogs. about 30 hippos soaking themselves in a pool. 4 elephants passed us by about 50 ft from the landrover (a very humbling experience). We spotted two rhinos just over a rise in the land, but didn't get too close cause they are very aggressive. The real highlight of the day was a mama cheetah and her 2 cubs. The passed the road directly in front of us and the mother actually went full throttle for a herd of wildebeest and zebra. She made quite a dent in the herd, but she didn't get anything. She didn't seem to try too hard. When they really make an effort, they can reach speeds up to 60 mph but don't have much endurance. I think she was either just playing and was not hungry enough yet to really put some effort into it. Then in the afternoon, coated with layers of dust and travel weary but excited about all the incredible photo ops we had gotten, we headed back to Arusha. I think a one day safari is just about the right amount of time, because driving around in the hot sun all day gets very tiring & it's safaris are not cheap...
OK, well I have so much more to write about recent events, but this email has taken me more than a week to write already (power outages always seem to happen just as i log on to my email account) and the events are outdated- so i'll send this one off. Next letter will be all about swearing-in in Dar. I'm really not quite sure when y'all will hear from me again (sorry!)- i was told they would be installing computers at my school in Mid-december, but i've learned that in africa, you never really know (especially where time is concerned). In africa, there is always more time and nothing/nobody is ever really late. I'll explain myself better in later emails- i'm sure this issue will arise many more times in the future.
Salama and merry xmas and happy new year, Kelly