Sunday, May 11, 2014

Stuck in the Rinse Cycle

     Two or three rains per year I think qualifies as a drought. Yep, I just looked it up, it's a drought, and that's what it's been for the past three years since I arrived in what was once a too sunny Berega. There are two maize crops each year, and for the past three years every crop has failed. It's been very hard, and Ruth said that it was like this even before I came. So I guess it wasn't my fault. Either way, it was with joy and excitement that we greeted the rainy season this year. 
Dry season.

     Berega has greened up and become a lush tropical paradise: everywhere you look there is growth, and greenery. When Asa was here he was shocked at how beautiful the countryside is. The media likes to focus on the dry, dusty parts, kids with flies in their eyes, all that crap. They don't focus on the stunning beauty, but it is here.

Even drier season.


      The good news is everyone has enough water for drinking, cooking and washing. There's so much water that we've become wasteful, and that's kind of fun. There's no place to store it anyway, so we just use as much as we want. A far cry from when my friend Janet was here and we had to flush the toilet with the water we used to wash the dishes.

       Having said my asante Mungus for the rain, I need to tell you that enough is enough. And let me tell you why:

1. Our clothes, which are washed by Hassani's bibi 2 or 3 times a week, have been on the line now for 3 days. They probably won't be dry before the next time she comes, at which point the kids will have to go to school naked. During the dry season, she is thrifty with the rinse water, and the clothes come off the line still stiff with soap. So when it started to rain, I just laughed and counted it as an extra rinse cycle. So now our clothes have finished their eighth rinse (not counting the rinse at night while I sleep). It's no longer funny.

2. Things are molding, and starting to smell moldy. My towel smells like it's been at the bottom of the hamper for three weeks, but all the others are getting their ninth rinse outside. I'm drying myself with my clothes, which will be finished very soon if it doesn't stop. One of the poorer kids came to school the other day smelling very strongly of urine. She has only one uniform, so I asked her to wear a regular dress till her mother could wash it. Well she's in class now in a dress that smells of urine, dried urine, but urine nonetheless. I guess all their clothes are draped over a bush somewhere, rinsing.

Rainy season at Mikumi Park.

3. Monday Market is all but a sweet memory. The roving market comes to Berega each Monday, but with all the rain, and no bridge, and crossing the river on foot, nobody is coming.  We have only whatever's in Berega, which is what we always had. Tomatoes and onions.  Or onions and tomatoes. I'm fortunate to be able to go to Morogoro to buy food, but the locals can't.

4. The roads are A MESS. Any road past Berega is impassible. Which means folks can't get to the hospital, or bring things to town to sell. Going to school every day is a hazard, and I'm old enough to fall and break a hip. It takes me about ten minutes to walk to class. The road is full of potholes, slick areas, and small rivers running here and there. I am so thankful I had the school courtyard cemented in. It's pretty wet every morning in the classrooms, but at least it's not muddy.

5. We lose our electricity when it rains hard, so we've been out for a few days. We do have solar lights, but as that requires actual sun, we get about as much light as a birthday candle. The internet is off and on, mostly off. This is the first time in 3 days we've been able to send, and most likely by the time I finish this, it will be gone. Same with the phones. 
We have festooned our house with wet clothes. Kinda smells like a locker room after the big game.

6. During all this time, we've at least been happy about the rain because it promised a good harvest. Maize is the main crop, it's ground and dried and made into ugali. Folks here eat it every day, two times a day if they have enough. The farms near the river are losing their crops from too much water, and if this continues, even more will be lost. Seems this place just can't catch a break. But hope springs eternal, and we are praying it will end soon. Isaac said the rains usually stop in May, so here's hoping. Crops need water, but they need sun too. 

7. Some of our kids live far away and walk to school, so we are missing students every day. We came back from Dar on Monday, after taking Asa to the airport, and as we approached the river we saw a parent walking a bike in the rain. On that bike was one of our preschoolers, who was being taken over the river to school. This was a poignant moment for me, to see what some parents will do to get their kids a decent education. So we put him in the car, plus another, and dropped them off at school. One of the kids we picked up had no sweater, and was so cold. 

Huge hairy caterpillar from Berega.

8. When it rains too hard, the classrooms get dark, too dark to read, or see the blackboard. It would be good if we had electricity, but it doesn't work in the rain anyway, so what difference does it make? Well, the generator just ran out of fuel, so I won't be sending this any time soon.

9. Mud huts can, and do, melt.  

     Enough of my complaints. On to the news. The kids are doing fine, loving school, learning fast. Asa had a great time, and the kids loved him. He's a big, bearded guy, a real gentle giant, and they had fun together. He is missed. Sarah and the kids are still here, so I have help. She can actually type, so there are plans afoot to make supplies and more supplies. Gotta love a ten fingered typist. She's enjoying teaching, but what's not to like? These kids are easy to teach, and they do what you ask them. Sweet, sweet kids.

     The tree swing is still the most popular place in the village, and the area under the tree is completely denuded of grass. They've started piling on 3 or 4 at a time, and we're trying to stop that before the rope snaps and somebody breaks something.

A song from the kid’s Std 2 science book. Gotta love it.

     I have a couch cat. There is a sofa out on the porch and a skinny, mangy cat sleeps there every night. She also benefits from whatever leftovers we have. Currently she is in heat and running around the village screaming for sex. Literally screaming. And now that she has a couch she can take on the entire male feline population in relative comfort. I can sleep through it at night, but Sarah can't, plus the bush babies can get pretty loud. 

     Grandkids are adjusting to school, and it's not easy. They've gone from one end of the spectrum to the other. Jovie likes all the bugs, and today I found a foot long worm and had one of the kids bring it up for him, as he was sick at home. Ayla has decided she likes ugali and beans, and went back for seconds today. They're learning some Kiswahili, and have lots of friends. It's still hard for them, but it's still hard for me sometimes. 

     Sion is leaving on Sunday, forever, and this is very sad, for me and for Berega. He's been here one year, and been in charge of the pediatric ward. He's done some amazing things, and it's tragic that he's leaving. There is literally a busload of kids who would be dead if not for him. He will be talking to the WHO people in Dar next week about malnutrition feeds, and hopefully what he has started will continue. 

Ayla and her new BFF on the way to school.

     There is an American couple coming in June. The male half is an engineer who will work on the farm, and Charlene is going to take over for me. In July I plan to go on a three month vacation to Cambodia and hopefully Laos and Vietnam. Charlene will be here for a year, so when I come back in October we can work together getting the kids ready for finals. I'm so happy to have someone here so I can go in peace. The irony is that July, August and September is the Cambodian monsoon season. I need to get my Karma cleaned.

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