Village life has been absolutely surreal and has fulfilled every image I had of what being in Africa would be like. Villages welcome you with open arms and fully embody the saying “be free my daughter”. In the villages, resources are fewer but that does not necessarily mean that life is harder – at least not in all aspects. Of course, food supplies and options are less, getting water takes more effort because there is no infrastructure for indoor plumbing – people must travel to a central well for water, and going to school means traveling a great distance – that is if there is a school within walking distance and children aren’t obligated to stay home and tend cattle. However, the sense of community is greater than any other I have ever experienced. In the most rural villages, homes are set up in a way that reminds me of a “colonial wagon circle haram” or small sub “neighborhoods” that consist of multiple homes for one man and his many wives (each wife has her own house) and children (or sometimes a few men and their wives). Houses are usually made of mud and sticks and are surrounded by a fence made of large branches wrapped in dried vines and bushes with prickly nettles to keep intruders out. The phrase “it takes a village to raise a child” truly comes into play as the wives will all mother the children and share cooking and fetching water responsibilities. The men in turn work together to keep the cattle and provide meat for everyone. Although there is not always an official government system, everyone works together to enforce a system of fairness and there is usually a designated elder or “babu” who councils the groups of “subvillages”.
Village trainings are a completely different beast than teaching at the secondary school in town. In town, almost everyone has some information on HIV/AIDS and our trainings are focused on making sure that the information they have is correct and that they know how to protect themselves from infection, to provide human reproduction information to students in hopes of decreasing teen pregnancy rates, helping to give them communication, relationship, and goal setting skills for successful futures, and encouraging them to be active participants in creating behavioral changes in their communities to help reduce HIV infection rates. In villages, although everyone has heard of HIV, the communities know very little about the disease and almost no one knows their status. Our trainings focus on teaching how HIV/AIDS actually affects the body, disease progression, management, and prevention, how gender roles influence infection rates, and providing overall health information.
We spent our second week in a village in the middle of the Rift Valley. It was the most rural village we worked in. We pitched tents and camped in the middle of the “town”. There was no electricity, phone signal, or running water. To reach the group that we taught we then had to drive off-road through what seemed similar to desert terrain for 45 minutes away from our campsite, on the drive we passed wild zebras and giraffes grazing – someone pinch me, is this for real? We worked with a group of about 40 Maasai men and women. At first we met the men, who had to give the women permission to be part of the training, even though they had to train in a separate group. They did not speak Kiswahili, only the Maasai tribe language and when I taught, someone had to translate to Swahili and then to Maasai. Before training, the village elder gave a speech and then a religious leader prayed for the group. After the first day of training, the men roast us a goat to say thank you. After the last day of training, an elder invited us into one of his homes for chai (spiced tea and fresh milk). Being offered goat and chai was very special, to be invited to take part in such traditions was a major symbol of their appreciation.
Emily S. Tanzania Integrated Program
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(Photo Courtesy of Emily S.)