Project: Homestead

The environment is similar enough and different enough to know that it’ll make a good home here. The nights are chilly, around fifty degrees. The mornings are rainy. There are wailing children, crowing roosters, bleating goats. There is a giant mountain as the backdrop to it all.

In April I finished up two years of service with the Peace Corps here in Tanzania. I was in the Dodoma region, which is a dry and central area which boasts lots of baobabs, ancient rock art, and the best milk chai in all of Tanzania (in my humble opinion). I was an agriculture volunteer, the first ever placed in my village. I don’t think I was very successful at implementing change, but I think that the community is finally getting momentum, enough to work successfully with the volunteer who has replaced me.

I have moved north. Mount Meru towers over Arusha town, obscured by clouds more than half the time. Not always visible but always perceived. She towers over our house, over the chicken coop, over the corn. She towers over the low and crowded town of Arusha. She even towers under the rainbows that grace the rainy evening sky.

During my service, I met the man who in May became my husband, and we decided to buy two acres outside of Arusha, build a house, and try to make a go of it here in northern Tanzania, which is Masai territory, unlike the village where I served with Peace Corps. Omari is Mrangi, a tribe which has historical ties with the Masai. Warangi are traditionally crop farmers, whereas Masai are traditionally semi-nomadic pastoralists who raise cattle, goats, and sheep. The pastoral lifestyle, however, is rapidly becoming impractical and difficult, and many Masai also now own land and farm and don’t move with their herds.

And as for me: I’m 26 years old, a girl born, raised, and educated in suburban New Jersey. The closest I have ever come to growing my own food was watering my mother’s porch tomato plants during hot and humid New Jersey summers. I studied animal science in college, but my track record of keeping animals healthy hasn’t been flawless: my chickens have taught me more about infectious disease, parasites, and nutrient deficiencies than I ever learned in school. I was never great with languages; I didn’t even get a score worth anything on my AP French exam in high school.

So why am I now trying to homestead, grow my own food, and raise my own livestock, surrounded by non-English speakers, you might wonder?

In the Peace Corps, agriculture volunteers advocate simple and inexpensive means of improving farming and animal husbandry techniques. After two years of learning about how to do Tanzanian agriculture better, I figured, you know, why not put my money where my mouth is? You spend two years living in a community of people of whom most are subsistence farmers. If they can do it through thick and thin, I think I could try too. I may not be farm-smart, but I’m pretty book-smart, and hey, people have even taught themselves to swim before, just by reading a book.

So with a little help from God, Omari my husband and man-helper, and perhaps some friendly and concerned intervention by our new neighbors who know better than I do:

I think I can learn how to homestead.

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