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Greene: Babu In Africa

After 14 months, villagers in his Tanzanian town of 7500 now call Newfane’s Dan Saynor Babu, which means grandfather. The locals revere elders, and at 62, Saynor is currently the only Peace Corps volunteer in his area over 30.

Saynor is back in the US for a two-week midterm break halfway through his Peace Corps stint. He’s grateful - for clean water coming out of a tap, for the unimaginable luxury of hot water, and for the delicious meals his wife Elizabeth is cooking up. He’s already gained back five of the 30 pounds he lost over the previous year.

Most of Saynor’s work has been in healthcare. He has no medical training, so his first job was weighing babies and toddlers in the village clinic. At first, the little ones were terrified to see this very tall, very white man. No more: now they’re relaxed, even cheeky.

Generally, Saynor does health education on topics like sanitation, malaria prevention and HIV education. But he’s also completed other projects: making the outhouses more functional with doors and new concrete floors, building desks and finishing floors for the secondary school, and pest proofing the storage huts.

Often, Saynor acts as a contractor overseeing work. The Peace Corps requires the village to provide 25% of the cost of a project, but usually the locals give labor instead, hauling water or sand for concrete.

Chronic lack of water impacts everything. His area is still recovering from a two year drought. Crops yields are 40% of normal. There’s a charge per bucket for water drawn at the local well. Time keepers oversee the taps. And the diesel pumps often break down.

Basic tasks are time consuming: doing his laundry by hand takes three gallons of water and most of a day. Saynor reuses that water to wash the floor of his hut and then, to clean the floor of the outhouse.

Saynor was pleased to find that Tanzanians hold the US in high esteem. The Bush administration started a number of electrification projects, the Obama administration has prioritized HIV education, and Michelle Obama has worked on gender empowerment.

Education is Tanzania’s top economic priority and Saynor is impressed by the grasp students have of geography. They’re informed and very curious about the world. But one thing that has them stumped is the Trump candidacy. So while he’s back here at home, Saynor is busily researching answers.

Stephanie Greene is a free-lance writer now living with her husband and sons on the family farm in Windham County.
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