The Village

What’s an African village like? You’re about to find out.

On the dirt path at the edge of my school’s property lies a large log. This barrier designates the start of the village, Magulilwa .

Unlike what I had envisioned before getting here, the school property butts right up against the village, and with a section of school buildings—dining hall, classroom building, and school store for snacks and toiletries—clustered near the border, it forced me to ask ten paces after walking over the log, “Wait, are we in the village now?”

Nonetheless, even just a few steps in, I started to feel the change in the air from academic to domestic.

Besides the abrupt transition, another aspect of the village that surprised me was the buildings. My expectation for thin, wooden or mudpack-walled structures for home and business was impressed by the sight of red brick.

Their aesthetic clashed with the rough dirt & grass streets grooved and bumpy from human/animal traffic and rainwater runoff from recent downpour. They also clashed with the pig pen with three muddy hogs within and small patches of corn nearby and between buildings. These crops and livestock also surprised me, as I went in with the idea that the town would be situated with buildings and businesses in town and farming outside.

Surprises of expectations foiled, I got my shoes muddy, walked about the village streets dodging cow poop, and saw the residents—who, I will add, did match the ideas I came to Africa with: friendly, worn clothing, kids heads’ turning with voices yelling at me, some following me and then running when I turn to face them.

This is a village in Tanzania.


These first steps, I was pulled to photograph everything that I saw. “A real African village!” is what you think when seeing something only previously heard of and seen on media, always so far away and different from your own world, and so considered almost other-worldly.

With the rain subsided, I wasn’t the only one coming out. Residents returned to their daily business.

Most people seemed pleasantly surprised to have a “mizungu” around. (Mizungu refers to foreigner—mainly white foreigner. Though I was told by one person that East Asians are included in the term as well.) I could hear them say “mizungu” in their conversation.

Some were disinterested in my camera; some responded uncomfortably. Others posed.

The children offered their own varied reactions.

People here–especially children–love to see their images and reliably huddle around when I flip through them on my camera.

Humans weren’t the only ones walking about.

As I recalled from China, I was again struck by the lack of containment for the chickens. Known in Swahili–the national language–as “kuku”, they run about wherever they like–the roosters, hens, and chicks bobbing and scampering and pecking at the ground.

“What’s to keep them from running/flying away for good?” I thought and asked a colleague later.

“And do they belong to any one person?”

“Is this village a collective rather than a system of private property?”

The chickens do belong to people, I was told by my colleague.

“But what’s to keep another person from ringing a chicken around the neck to take home for dinner?”

People just don’t do that. There’s “trust”, the same teacher me told me.  People trust one another not to take their property even when the property might find its way into another’s yard. And the chickens, my colleague added, know their way back and always return at night to their shelter.

Cows and pigs are looked after a little closer with fence or tied up.

I walked back to the school after buying some eggs from a small store. I’ve since returned several times for specific purposes and also just to visit.

Here’s some footage of this first look:


The following day, one such purposeful visit was Brandon and Leah (my American co-teacher) going down the hill to fetch a pail of water from the village well.

I headed east to enter the village the day before. This time we headed south down a slow slope to the well.

Down and to the left, a brick stronghold surrounds the pump.

It is a hardy, solidly-built metal pump that makes the classic, rotating handle, bucket-on-string contraption look cartoonish and the skinny, metal water fountain-like pumps that are featured in Minnesotan parks look cute.

Rather than the trickle I was used to seeing in the woodsy water pumps back home, a generous stream of water poured from the nozzle.

As far as manual wells go, I assume this one to be high-tech, though maybe future visits to other villages will prove otherwise. What I do know is that some villages—one of our teacher’s home village, for example—remain without a well and rely on river and rain water for survival.

Like the water cooler hot spot for white collar, office conservation, so too, was this location revealed as a center for village conviviality and activity. Beyond the well, a boy led some donkeys.

Meanwhile, other children nearby were returning home from their public school dressed in their red and blue uniforms.

Contrasting the technical accomplishment of the well, kids also played soccer with a “ball” of the likes I had previously only read about.

Plastic bags tightly wrapped in string makes for a surprisingly taut, bouncy ball.

While boys slapped the makeshift sphere with the tops of their bare feet, mothers with babies tied snugly within their backpack straps arrived with a five gallon bucket to fill.

I gestured to take the pump to help provide a young mother a bucket of water.

I’m pumping.

With adults, children, and animals about, there was a strong community feel. Not only was this the case because everyone needs water, but I believe because both in spirit, and perhaps not coincidentally, in development—this is the kind of place where one has less to protect from others; where no windows or doors on your home means an increased closeness with others; where there are less definitive divisions between work and home, public and private, each running together like the chickens that scamper from one person’s yard to the next; where kids who are playing are next to those leading donkeys are next to those going to school.

Once the pumping was done, the ladies hoisted the filled five gallon buckets atop their heads and returned home.

I left soon thereafter.

Here’s some video:


Any questions/comments about village life? Please ask below. Next time, I’ll dig a little deeper into life in this village–the plowing, the village soccer field, the businesses, the market.

In the meantime, I’ve started offering smaller, midweek pieces. Last Wednesday was a special on the computer lab opening at our school. This week is going to be about an encounter with African army ants.

’til Wednesday, Sunday, or beyond, I look forward to entertaining and teaching you next time you decide to come check out my articles from Africa.


9 Responses

  1. Lindsey

    You are clearly having amazing experiences in your travels, but I cringed when I saw your subheading for this post: “What’s an African village like?” Phrases like this perpetuate the myth that Africa is homogenous. As you state in the body of your post, these photos are of a Tanzanian village, but that does not mean they reflect village life in all African countries. In fact, they do not even reflect village life in all villages in Tanzania–just as a visit to Chicago would not accurately represent life in all cities in North American or even in Illinois. I do not mean this criticism too harshly, as I respect your decision to expand your understanding of the world through travel; however, you have an opportunity to open the eyes of readers back home, so it’s important to do so accurately.

    1. Hi Lindsey. I appreciate the concern. I remember a specific instance before coming to Tanzania where I found a newssite’s headline troubling for mentioning “war in Africa”, but didn’t state the country.

      My choice to say “…African village” came after some consideration. There are a few reasons why I did so. First, some people don’t know where Tanzania is. But they’ll learn by reading my articles, and headlining a piece with a less interesting sentence will reduce the number of people who read. How many people would be interested in a piece stating “an Equatorial Guinean village”? This is another country in Africa, but there would be a distinct lack of connection because few would know what part of the world I’m even talking about. Similarly, if a Tanzanian writer came to the U.S., he would be better off headlining his article with “What’s an American city like?” rather than “What’s an Illinois city like?”

      This is because most American know Africa as a unit. Yes, there’s misguidance in this lumping, but what I’ve also learned since being here is that it’s not without merit. As I stated in a previous piece “My Tanzanian Village School (part one)”, the national anthem of Tanzania honors Africa as a whole as much as Tanzania as an individual nation. And while there are significant differences between villages even with Tanzania, it’s also true that villages across the continent are similar in living standards and lifestyles.

      I hope you know that my choice came not from ignorance or disrespect, but in how to be the most effective is showing others what this part of the world is like.

      Thanks for caring and commenting.

  2. Bob Donnelly

    The photos are especially appreciated, as they bring back memories! Visited with Evaristo yesterday. He is delighted that you are there to kick off the computer lab project. Keep up the good work, even as the dietary simplicity starts to wear on you and the slow pace of change burdens your heart.

    1. Hi Nathan. I actually eat by myself. The foreign teachers have a cook, Mama Diana, and she makes us food. I assume I could buy a chicken. Chicken I’ve eaten has come fresh–still alive–and then Mama Diana butchers and cook sit on the spot. No refrigeration means you can’t keep meat too long. The cows? I don’t know. I would guess beef. Thanks for the questions!

  3. Bev Klein

    Hi Brandon
    I really appreciate the way you write and share your stories with us. The pictures are AWRESOME. What great colors. All we see here in Mn is white, and lots of it.
    Everyone looks so happy in all of the pictures.
    Can’t wait until we meet again in person and you can tell us more.
    Take care.

  4. Lindsey

    Great point, Brandon, and I knew it wasn’t from ignorance or disrespect. I just wasn’t sure you’d thought it through, but you clearly have, and I can see where you’re coming from. Thanks for clarifying, and enjoy beautiful Tanzania!

  5. Margaret Getz

    Hi Brandon,
    What an experience my friend. Your information reminds me of a business trip in 2006 to Capetown. They truly are wonderful people. Do the best you can, and learn from this adventure. Regards, Margaret

What say you?