Memoir #4: Robert M. Martin; African Safari, 1963; Part 1

(African Safari, Tanzania, et al.; December, 1963)

Peace Corps experiences

Where did those years go? It seemed like only yesterday that Sigurd and I were unpacking our private luggage and new Peace Corps housing equipment had just arrived after getting our housing assignments from our head master, Mr. Mwakasindili.

The Peace Corps bonus that we had heard about, but had yet to see, was the triptych fashioned mini library. It contained several scores of pocket books, some different in each series, when those handy pocket items were still much in vogue. That, added to my own steamer trunk, antediluvian luggage item by the 1990s, and its paperbacks, I had the promise of some pleasant rainy season evening reading activity.

It seemed that I had lived a career of experiences in that two-year contract period. It was a blend of my first job and great colleagues, the town up the hill, Tanzania, and southern Africa. Yes, even the name of our host nation had changed from Tanganyika to Tanzania in April 1964, when the Island of Zanzibar and mainland Tanganyika were politically united.

Not long after Sigurd and I were settled into our new post, our field representative brought a few months old baby elephant home. John had been out on safari and his party’s guide found the little fellow weaving back and forth along side of its dead mother, apparently killed by poachers.

John and Marilyn were thoughtful people and wanted to save tembo kidogo, "little elephant" in Swahili. They borrowed a calf for companionship, tied various formulas in place of its mother’s milk, but we could see little improvement.

Very early on, I asked and received permission to visit with some of my students

These students may have been Africans who lived throughout the local area but none had ever before seen a wild animal, except the very small sized mammals, birds, and snakes. When the students saw little tembo they were ecstatic. They had just memorized the poem, “The Blind Men and the Elephant". They knew the general anatomy well, and pointed out each memorized part to whomever stood closest to them.

To everyone’s dismay “Tembo Kidogo” died in a few weeks. With all of the tips and suggestions, various kinds of human baby milk formulas, served in a baby bottles by hand or in a bowl, nothing worked.

John didn’t give up, even when the elephant had died. He eventually found an expatriate woman in Rhodesia, who had success in rearing young elephants. Her shared information gave John the background to succeed the next time an orphaned elephant might be discovered.

The headmaster had assigned me to head the school dispensary

I found that most of my medical experience, most from the brief tropical medicine course we took during our three months of training program at Syracuse University.

I soon found that the senior class prefect who actually ran the dispensary had things well in hand and could inform me about the school medical situation. One of the few items I wanted to change was the habit of having students ill with headaches try to recover in the sun. I wanted them to take their medicine inside, lay on a cot not on the ground, and not to get heat exhaustion, and keep hydrated.

The prefect said that his major problem was with the dormitory bed wetters. They made the dormitory stink. I request that those students be given a section of the dormitory, enough removed from the others to minimize the smell factor. I told Sigurd about the problem and said that I had an idea. “Why not”, he said. I had been reading about the Franz Mesmer, 1734–1815, whom the term “mesmerize” is named.

I felt that a little suggestive therapy might work well with people from a culture much influenced by suggestion, magic, and para-scientific beliefs. We made appointments with all eleven bed wetters to come to my house, the last in the row of teachers’ houses abutting the great-reforested woods.

I had two chairs facing each other set up in my outer room. I would sit in fornt of one student at a time, not too close so as to make him feel uncomfortable. We only had boys in the dormitories since the girls were only day students.

Sigurd waited in the inner room where some of the students sat and over flowed into the dirt back yard with the giant weeds and chameleons. My charm was a small shiny coin with a hole in the center that I tied a string through, and used it as the end of my pendulum. I usually began by asking the student how he was feeling, how he was doing in school, and lead into the subject as to how it would be if he could stop bed wetting.

They all thought that was a good idea. So I continued, saying that I had some good medicine, as in white magic, as opposed to black magic, that might help him. I just wanted him to relax, watch the coin swing back and forth, and listen to me. I told the student that his shoulders were dropping back into a normal relaxed position, then he was a bit drowsy but still awake.

I would soon stop and give him a "magic tablet". He was instructed to take the tablet with a cup of water before he left, then go back to his dormitory and fall asleep in his regular bed, and when he woke up in the morning he would be cured. Each received the same treatment, each took the tablet, and each went back to his dormitory bed.

After two weeks, I asked the dormitory supervisor about the bed wetters. He said that eight of them had not wet their beds since they had been with Mr. Sigurd and myself. I requested that the eight cured students be rewarded by being allowed to move their beds back into the dormitory proper and leaving the last three in continued isolation.

Sigurd and I had a cup of freshly brewed Kilimanjaro coffee together in celebration. It was good to know that my One-A-Day multiple vitamin was suitable for another type of good healing, as well as being an anti noxious smell.

On the outskirts of Mbeya, going south on the Great North Road

Our location seemed to be ideal as a referral point for people to send new acquaintances or acquaintances looking for a night’s lodging and a meal.

Sigurd and I found that our visitors, coming on an infrequent basis made wonderful entertainment for us. As is the case with every profession, one eventually catches up on his/her assignments with a few lessons in reserve. When it's between events, and holidays, anyone wants some information about other parts of the world. This syndrome is probably a variation of “Cabin Fever”.

Sometimes it was a business person passing through, hoping to sell the Americans his wares, then the occasional missionary, and rarely, people of most unusual backgrounds. Take the onset of the rainy season visit of Ronny and Hilary. They were husband and wife South Africans, both with a price on their heads. They were educated, well informed, and dedicated to freedom for all South Africans.

We found them to be very enlightening. Both were academics, were well polished, if somewhat subdued, in their presentations against the Southern African “Apartheid” policies. What made the evening so enjoyable was the fact that neither Sigurd, nor I, made any judgmental critiques to them nor did they hint at any requests for agreements with them.

It reminded me of going to a university guest lecturer program during which a speaker presented his side of a controversial subject. I listened, maybe asked a question or two at the end of the presentation, then left, and felt that I had been informed, but not necessarily convinced.

Their story was one of gravitation to violence from nonviolence in opposition to the Afrikaner government’s racial policies. Now they were on the run, visiting some of the “Freedom Fighter” camps in the East African interior while just a few steps ahead of the South African authorities for blowing up a railway bridge. They stayed for dinner, we put them up overnight, and they were gone the following morning with their meager belongings.

Participating with the local men drinking "Pombe"

Being invited to a traditional night out with the African guys was a new experience for me in Tanzania. Mr. Kazi invited me over to his house for a ”Pombe” evening with him and a few of his friends, a mix of other tribes.

Pombe is a local, very low, alcoholic beverage, drunk by young and old alike, but generally not together. When the five of us had all arrived, one of Mr. Kazi’s lady friends brought out, but did not join us in the drinking party, the brew which filled perhaps the bottom third of the large five-gallon tin container in front of us.

That night it was a brew of fermented millet, though the same process can be made with other cereal grains and fruit. Mr. Kazi provided the straws, wide hollow bamboo straws. We didn’t begin drinking right away, not until his lady friend had brought out very warm, but not boiling hot water, filling the tin to just below the brim.

The fermented mix wasn’t at all bad to taste, and usually only two or three drank at a time. Our Pombe really was a pleasant activity, which helped further conversation, hour after hour. Whenever the Pombe ran low, the lady came in from the outer room and filled our “debbi” tin up again. I was amazed how quickly the evening passed among friends.

The brew had been filled-up twice, stirred each time. By the end of our evening no one had an alcoholic effect no more than perhaps a single can of beer; and by custom, no snacks, mini-sandwiches, or hors d’oeuvres are served at Pombe parties, making them easy on the pocketbook, more frequent than some once a year elaborate multi-beverage bar and a smorgasbord of eatables would.

Not long after our evening with Mr. Kazi, I was in Dar-Es-Salaam and passed a government run Pombe drinking establishment. I use that terminology because it had several concrete outdoor serving areas, with permanently placed tables and stools, and small serving cabins, sun roofed, but otherwise open air, and everything enclosed by a fence.

Men were talking; it looked like all were drinking, and there wasn’t a rowdy person among the crowd. Pombe has all the qualities of a good social beverage. It’s reasonably tasty, very low cost to purchase, and only needs warm water to mix into the brew, stimulates conversation, and is customarily drunk with friends.

African weddings and their varied customs

In cost over contrast, it is the typical African country wedding. After the bargaining, haggling, and protracted negotiations, then comes the wedding party. The ceremony, depends on the tribe and the religious elements which are involved, and the wealth of the groom. The old tradition was a party lasting several days, and under favorable conditions, a minimum of a week.

Whatever the other circumstances, the groom is expected to provide the guests with food and drink during the entire time, expending whatever he has managed to save in life up to the wedding. The guests literally eat him out of house and home; but all is not lost; the guests are expected to create a pool of wedding gifts that will put the newly wedded couple with goods that will enhance their solvent position.

One guest may bring a goat, another a sack of maze (corn), a third a dozen chickens, another a sack of rice, etc. By the end of the celebration, the young man and his shy bride are usually ready to begin their life on the farm with the basic necessities to begin their own “shamba”, farm.

African Safari, Part 2.

Copyright © R. M. Martin, Peace Corps, Tanganyika III, Traveling South, 1963.

Memoirs Directory for Robert M. Martin.