Parker in Africa - September 22, 2006
Dear friends and family,
I wanted to write you all a beautiful letter telling you about my vacation in Dar-e4s-salaam last week, and I still plan to do so, but the excitement of my trip has been somewhat eclipsed by the immense pain and fatigue I feel in my body right now. Every muscle in my body hurts, my face is burnt, and I have scratches and rashes all over my legs, arms, and hands. For the past three days we have been harvesting maize.
The week before our holiday we had gone down to the farm and cut down all of the stalks of corn and carried them to collect them in big piles. This certainly was not easy work - carrying bundle after bundle of maize from one end of the field to the other while other students were hacking down the stalks with machetes. But I thought that was the worst of it, and it only took two days with only Form 1,2,3, and 4 working. But I was very wrong. The maize then has to be left in these piles where they can dry up and be protected from villagers and monkeys more easily. They want the corn to be as dry as possibly so that they can make flour out of it.
Tuesday, the day after everyone had returned to classes, we all woke up at 6 am to a drizzly sky and walked down to the farm to start the work. I was in charge of form 6, which is kind of a joke because I am their age. To my great delight, the other teachers that were supposed to help me guide these 'kids' hardly showed up. I had to lead my age mates in something I had not the slightest clue about. Anyways, we all positioned ourselves around the big piles of maize and started to shuck corn. Just to give you an idea of how massive some of these piles were, it took about 80 people working non stop to shuck all of the corn in over 3 hours. And there were 12 piles. We would take a stalk of corn, shuck the corn, throw the maize in a bag and the stalk in a pile behind us, doing the same thing hour after hour feeling that the pile isn't getting any smaller.
The bags of maize were then hauled from the field to a machine set on the football field. This machine, which is connected to a tractor, takes the kernels off of the cob. Since they are dry they come off easily. The older boys took bag after bag, pouring them into the machine, while others were colleting the kernels into new bags and sewing them up. This is hard labor, and it went on for hours. (Thank goodness for the machine though, because once when I was in the village I was helping an old grandma take the kernels off of all her harvest by hand. It sure made my hands stronger, but she told me it would take her about a month, with different neighbors popping in to help her every once in a while.)
At about 3pm, having stopped only one for a tea break, most of the students went up to eat lunch and rest. You can imagine how big these fields are with over 400 people working non stop. A few of us teachers remained through, helping finish up with the machine and then waiting for the tractor to get a trailer to haul the bags of maize up to the school where then can be put in the mill. The school is about 1 km, up a very steep hill form our fields. We waited with the form 5 boys the first night and for form 4 boys the second. We helped them haul the sacks into the trailer, then waited with them until it returned for another trip. Each bag weighed about 100kg and over the two days we worked we collected more than 300 bags. This work lasted until 8 or 9pm for me two nights in a row. The second night I could hardly sleep because my back hurt so much.
Unfortunately we had to continue the work for a third day. We thought it would take only a few hours, but it took until 4pm. We had to take all of the remains down to the shed for the cows to eat, and so the villagers wouldn't steal it. This was yesterday, and exhaustion really set in. We had to collect all of this into big bundles, wrap them up with cords that dug into your hands and carry them on your head down to the shed. What was worse was that these grasses had dried up, so they cut your skin and have you rashes. The field was teeming with all types of insects, which crawl all over your body when you put the grass on your head, and huge rats, which are probably my biggest fear. The form 6 boys found it pretty funny when I would scream and run away like a little girl whenever I saw a rat, or even a field mouse.
The kids worked hard though, and finally the shamba (farm) work is finished. We have more than doubly the amount of maize this year as last year, because of the drought, which is great because it will save the school a lot of money as the students will be able to eat it all year. Although, I asked them if they washed it all before it became flour and they just laughed at me.
I'm not complaining at all. I'm glad I had this experience, and it feels good to work hard, but my body definitely hurts. I can't imagine how the poor form 1 kids feel! I suppose I will appreciate my ugali a lot more now! (Ugali is a stiff porridge-the staple food in East Africa.)
For my vacation, I had a nice time. I stayed with a student and her family, who has become my very good friend. It was great to see how some of my students truly live. It is quite different than the life they find at school. Most of them are a part of what I would call the Bongo Elite-In someway, the rich and famous of Dar. Their parents have important jobs, have more than one car, and live in nice houses. They know Tanzanian celebrities(I met some of them!), politicians, and even the President.
There are a lot of diplomats in Dar and I went to the US Embassy, thinking maybe some day I could find an internship with them. I went to the theater, beaches, ate good food, went to a wedding, and talked to interesting people. I made a lot of friends in a short time. There is much more to do in the city than the village. I think if I come back to TZ ever, I will stay in Dar-Es-Salaam.
I think these next couple months will fly by. The form 4s are going to graduate in a month. I can hardly believe it! There are my favorites and my friends and I will be sad to see them god, especially since that will mean I will leave soon also. It's strange to think I will be leaving soon! Well, I love you all!
Lynch Rocket Lab