About a week after my swearing-in ceremony, fellow PCV Susan Gibson and I traveled to my site. It was nearing Christmas, but, being on the equator, it was very hot.
We dumped all of my belongings in the house, took stock of what was there from the PCV I replaced, then went to the village to get essentials. We began soaking beans upon our return and began to get the house in order.
We started up the charcoal jiko and put the beans on to cook, outside, of course, as it was so nice (except for the mosquitoes). We sat there drinking our bottled water and cold sodas (thank goodness my village market had cold sodas!), talking about the day and wondering what our service would be like.
Just before the beans were ready, we heard the chanting of masses of people in the distance. Being new to the area and unfamiliar with anyone or any of the customs (and it being dark), we began to get a little worried. We decided to move the cooking inside. The chanting got nearer, and we began to be afraid. The voices, the masses, kept coming closer and closer. And our hearts began to beat faster and faster.
We closed all the windows, doors, and curtains. We moved the jiko into an interior room, doused the candles, and sat huddled inside the house, as quietly as possible. It was completely dark out now (what we later called 'Africa dark'), we were sweltering in the interior room, and I'm sure we were light-headed from the fumes. The mass of people and voices were just outside the gate to my school compound, which were adjacent to my house, and we looked at each other, worried and troubled. We didn't know what to do other than keep still and quiet.
The school guard eventually came and, we supposed, asked the crowd to leave. There were raised voices and lots of shouting in Dhu'Luo, the local language, of which I knew only greetings (we were trained to speak KiSwahili, but I had learned a few local greetings after learning of my placement). We remained tense, but the crowd eventually moved away, we breathed a sigh of relief, had our dinner and went to bed--though not to sleep.
The next day, the school secretary came to welcome me to the school. She asked if I'd slept well and I told her that we hadn't because of the noise and the worry. I told her we'd been afraid, what we'd done, and she looked astonished. Then she laughed and laughed, finally telling us that the 'masses' was a group of children had come by to welcome me with Christmas carols! The raised voices were from the children insisting that we come to greet them, and the guard had moved them on their way, insisting that I must not be in as there were no lights visible and the house was locked up.
This was my introduction to my village, my school, and my new students. I realized that I needed to learn as much about my new home as I could. I never learned much Dhu'Luo, but I did learn a lot about myself--about how living in a new culture takes patience and perseverance. Being the foreigner takes courage; it takes trusting others; it takes letting go of preconceived notions; and it takes both humor and humility. This first experience was both powerful and unforgettable becase it was an introduction not just to my new home, but to a new me.