The homestay is an integral part of the School for Field Studies experience in Tanzania, though it is also one of the most nerve-wracking. The living situations of families here in Rhotia range so drastically- from mud huts shared with livestock to concrete homes with TV and internet- that the only guarantee going into the homestay is that the experience will not be as you expected.
Since the SFS program is quite fast-paced, the homestay is only one full day, from eight a.m. to five p.m. We were placed in pairs, and myself and my classmate David were placed with Mama Francis, a few minutes’ walk from Moyo Hill Camp. The family was made up of Mama Francis, George, Francis (women are called by the name of their firstborn child), three young children, and another mother. Families are different in Tanzania; you can forget about figuring out how everyone is related, because family is family, no matter how related (or not related) they are.
Mama Francis and her family live in a stick-and-mud hut, a third of which is home to four cattle and a number of sheep and goats. They also have a cat and four kittens, and a good many hens and chicks wandering about the hut. George, who is about our age, was our sort of “guardian” for the day. He showed us around and put us to work around the shambani (farm). We swept with mint leaves, we tied up the animals, we scraped the inside of the animal pen with metal sheets to remove the many foul-smelling layers of fresh manure, and we spent a good while pulling up invasive weeds in the garden.
But once the work was finished, it was time for tea. Tanzanians make their tea with a lot of sugar. Probably much more than you are currently picturing. We sat on wooden stools and heated water over a small fire inside the hut, then added loose leaf tea and sugar to the hot water. The leaves were strained out as the tea was poured into mugs. Once we were finished, George quizzed us on how to make tea the “Tanzanian way.”
The language barrier was a bit troublesome at times, and it resulted in a lot of time spent sitting in silence, whistling or watching the livestock graze outside. However, even in rural Tanzania, the children learn English in school. For most of them, it is their third language; they learn to speak their tribal language at home, Swahili in primary school, and English in secondary school.
George’s English was far better than my Swahili, but still our vocabularies left much to be desired. We cooked lunch together, and he showed us how to prepare meat, cook rice, and cut vegetables the Tanzanian way, all of which was quite different than in the States, where our meat comes without bone fragments, our rice comes without rocks, and we have real cutting boards and sharp knives. We cooked over the little fire once more, with the rice pot stacked on the stew pot, which I found quite ingenious.
The tiny hut got quite smoky while we were cooking, and my eyes were streaming as I sat next to the fire. The whole ceiling was black from the smoke and ash of years of lunches and dinners cooked in the corner of the bedroom.
The food was standard Tanzanian fare: stewed meat, rice (far better than ugali), and a spoonful of vegetables to top it off. I fed more pieces of meat to the cat than I would like to admit, but with the amount of food we were served, I knew there was no way I could clean my plate alone.
In the afternoon was time for mapumziko (rest), and we sat inside the hut for a while, digesting the food and the experience of the homestay. Later on, Francis saved the day by producing a frisbee, which we played with for a while, until it got too hot and we got too tired to continue. At that point, the stools under the shade of a tree sounded much more appealing. We talked about education here in Tanzania, and how hard it is for parents to send their children to college, or even secondary school (only primary is free here).
George said he wanted to learn about the animals and plants like we get to do; he wanted to become a tour guide in Arusha like his uncle. He asked us how much the program here cost us, and told us about how expensive higher education is in Tanzania. It was quite a sobering conversation.
The whole experience was a humbling one. It was a day that I will not forget. Even if at times it was awkward, it has been one of the most important and enlightening experiences of the program so far. I know that it will shape my outlook on this place and its people, just as it will shape my outlook on life back home and how I choose to live, for a long time to come.
Until next time,