Thursday, April 21, 2011

My Most Personal Dilemmas and Triumphs Throughout My Teaching Experience in Tanzania

Yesterday at Morogoro Secondary I handed back my students’ weekly tests. Overall I was really pleased with their marks. Out of my 200+ students from my four classes, at least 15 students scored 100% on the exam! I’m really ecstatic about that because it’s incredibly unusual here for students to score even above 80%. In one of my classes alone more than 1/3 of the students scored in the highest marking bracket (82-100). Although coming from America an 82 is a B-, here it’s a great score. In fact, on average most students score between high 50s and high 70s on their exams, which are considered acceptable (although not the greatest) scores.

The ways the system works at my secondary school in Tanzania is that students go to class to learn the material, but they’re hardly ever tested on how much they know the material during the school week. Seldom is class work or homework ever assigned to students here. The assumption is that students wouldn’t complete the extra work anyway (perhaps because they’re doing a lot of work at home washing, cooking, helping take care of younger siblings, etc. or they do not have materials at home to complete the assignments properly). Therefore most teachers don’t assign practice work for their subjects. But teachers must evaluate students somehow, right? Thus every week the students take weekly tests, each of which is 1-1.5 hours long, on three to four of their subjects on Saturdays. That’s right…students here must go to school on Saturdays for at least half a day. If in America you’re used to saying “TGIF” just imagine what a privilege it is to have two whole days off from school every week. Here, students are more likely to say “TGIS – Thank God It’s Saturday…afternoon!” Haha.

What’s more, students in secondary schools in Tanzania must study a plethora of subjects. In all, students study the following subjects every week: Civics, Home Economics, Commerce, Economics, Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Math, Geography, History, Swahili, and English. That’s twelve subjects total! I remember only having to study between four and six subjects each semester during high school in the U.S. Hence, students here are expected to learn about almost double the number of subjects American students are responsible for learning about within the same amount of time. They study at least five subjects a day (there are 12 periods in a day, each 40 minutes long, although most subjects occupy double periods like my English classes do). It’s no wonder that being a student here is challenging, let alone being a successful student. Every teacher expects students to be experts and perform well in his or her subject each week. Expectations are so high that if students perform poorly on their weekly tests (scoring below 50 usually) then their teachers will cane (hit them on the hands with sticks taken from the woods) as punishment.

In all my time at Moro Sec and in Tanzania in general, caning has been the most difficult cultural custom for me to stomach. In America if a teacher hits a student he/she could go to jail! It could be considered as child abuse and serious measures would be taken to ensure the student’s future safety so that such an event would not happen again. For sure, if you think back to what American classrooms were like fifty years ago it was normalized back then for teachers to hit students to whip them into shape. They used rulers rather than sticks, but they still beat students harshly for misbehaving. But that was fifty years ago and we’ve come a long way since then. It’s no longer okay to hit a student for misbehaving. Instead we mandate bad students to serve detention to complete their homework individually in silence under the watchful and attentive eye of a teacher. What’s more, the punishment happens after school hours so that the students studies are not interrupted as a consequence of their misconduct.

In Tanzania, things are very different. At any given moment while I’m teaching a class it is highly probable that a colleague of mine will come to my class, interrupt my lesson and beckon several students to leave class to be punished. They can be punished in several ways. They could be caned by a teacher; forced to clean the school grounds by sweeping up petals and leaves that fall from trees outside or washing the concrete floors of the school with old rags and buckets of water; or told to slash (use machete-like clubs to manually cut grass – there’s no such thing as lawn mowers here…) the overgrown grass on campus. Since the school does not have employees whose jobs are to attend to these cleaning and maintenance tasks, the school – in a way – is dependent on students misbehaving in order to keep up its aesthetic appeal. I find this outrageously frustrating! How can a school be dependent on students misbehaving in order to maintain a good appearance? Then again, maybe it’s not so much a dependent relationship as it is a causal reality – there will always be some students that will misbehave, so perhaps the school is putting two and two together and figuring that it might as well use students for free labor that will consistently get done.

I’ve gone over this in my head so many times that I don’t even know what I really think anymore. All I can say is that in all my time in Tanzania I haven’t likened to the fact that students are taken out of class to be punished. Sure, I might not agree with the methods Tanzanians use for punishing students, but taking students out of class and forcing them to miss valuable class time (during which time they would be learning information that they would be tested on in the future) to serve their punishments is hugely detrimental to their performance. Sure, threatening to take students out of class to miss their lessons is an incentive for students to not misbehave (especially since they’ll get caned if they perform poorly on their weekly tests), but in an educational environment shouldn’t students’ learning take priority over all the other bullshit, like proving a point that students shouldn’t show up late for class?

That’s another thing; students who show up even five minutes late to school are held at the front gate and caned for being late. Most of the time, however, they’re put to work for as long as an hour to clean the outdoor school grounds to make the campus look more appealing. If the intention of a school is to help students learn and grow, then why are students forced to miss up to an hour of valuable class time cleaning when they would’ve only missed the first five minutes when they arrived late in the first place? To be honest, does much happen in the first five minutes of class anyway…anywhere in the world? In my experience at schools in America, Tanzania, and South Africa, the first five minutes is always fluff time for teachers to prepare themselves for their lessons, take attendance, and get organized and for students to get out their notebooks and prepare themselves for class. So then is it such a big deal that students miss the first five minutes, or even ten minutes, of class? Isn’t it preferable to allow students to go to class immediately after they arrive to school, even if they’re late, so that they’re able to perform well? Shouldn’t a school’s top priority be that it ensures that its students are able to learn as much as they can and perform as well as they can? In my ideal world, schools would function around that goal. For, what is a school if its main goal isn’t to educate its students?

What’s ironic to me, also, is that teachers rarely take their jobs seriously here and often treat their duties as teachers superfluously, as if they’re not worth their time. Since there’s a huge frustration here among teachers of government schools (like my school) that they do not get paid enough for their work, teachers willingly show up exceedingly late to class or do not show up to class at all, often leaving their students to fend for themselves and teach themselves the information they will need to know on their national exams. I know this kind of apathy is common among employees of any profession who feel they don’t earn as much money as they think they deserve, but when one’s job performance completely determines the success of others (like students in the case of teachers), apathy among employees should be remedied at all costs – otherwise many people will negatively be affected at no fault of their own (such as students who cannot control their teachers’ salaries).

Nevertheless, teachers can afford to be inconsiderate of their students’ success because they are hardly ever monitored, nor are they ever punished, for their apathetic behavior. If a teacher shows up late to school or doesn’t show up at all it’s treated as no big deal – it’s damn near normalized and expected of them, which is really awful; the other teachers and students don’t make a fuss about it and just assume something worthwhile must’ve kept the teacher from teaching so his or her absence is just. For sure, I agree it’s appropriate for a teacher to miss class for certain things like being sick, when he/she has a baby, when a close friend or relative is very sick or dies, but not showing up to your job just because you know you can get away with it is shocking to me. Or, it’s not shocking; it’s just disappointing and disheartening. Especially since many teachers sometimes don’t teach because they just don’t feel like it.

Teachers also compulsively lie about when they arrive to school in order to avoid being confronted by the Headmaster or the Second Headmistress of the school. Many a time I’ve come to school following the footsteps of another teacher who has just arrived before me around 8:50am (just before the third period of the day when my classes start on Mondays) and when I look in the teacher daily logbook later on to sign in I’ll see that the teacher before me lied and said he/she arrived just after (or even sometimes at the same time) as the teacher before him/her on the list. So, a teacher who arrived at 8:50 could lie and say he/she arrived at 7:30 just like all the other teachers. If he/she lies, it’s not like anyone will care…yet we still punish students at school for lying and cheating. It’s just a funny system to me.

What’s more is that the teachers not only don’t care much about doing their jobs well, but they feel entitled to feel that way on a level that’s almost dangerous to students. Or perhaps not almost, but that is dangerous and which jeopardizes students’ success. Since most of the teachers at my school were beaten in school like they beat their current students, they feel entitled to serve their students a dose of the medicine they had to endure when they were pupils. I swear some of the teachers carry around sticks ready to cane students at any second and they walk around as if they’re looking for an excuse to smack a student in order to get their personal frustrations out. For example, while I was teaching my class yesterday an older teacher interrupted my class and walked around caning students who did not have proper uniforms. Why it’s important whether a student is wearing a tie or whether his/her top button is buttoned on his/her shirt is beyond me – especially in how the dress code pertains to how well the student will be able to learn in class. Also, since it had been raining yesterday the whole morning one of my students had taken his shoes off to hang them up in class so they could dry. He’d soaked them while walking to school through heavy rain after trying to show up on time. Since he was barefoot, the teacher caned him because he wasn’t properly dressed. In his defense, if I had been him I would’ve also hung up my shoes to let them dry! In fact, he should’ve been rewarded for making such an effort to show up to school on time for our first period class because he was willing to walk in the rain before school. - - - Believe me, walking to school on heinously muddy roads is NOT an easy task. You have to walk extremely slow to avoid slipping and ruining your clothes for the day while also trying to avoid getting sprayed by mud-filled puddles that cars and motorcycles go rushing through beside you. No matter how fast, slow, or delicately you walk to school on a dirt road when it’s raining, your shoes are likely, if not guaranteed, to get incredibly soaked and muddy. Hence it’s the logical thing to do to hang up your shoes and let them dry once you’ve arrived inside the dry comfort of your classroom. - - - However, this teacher could not be swayed. She had a look of serious determination in her eyes to hit the students. It was as if she were craving to hit them. Now it might sound a little blown out of proportion, but seriously some of the teachers look so satisfied when they’re hitting or have just hit students. They laugh in a cocky way and act like they’re hot shit as if they’re untouchable and completely in the right. Maybe according to their cultural standards they are and maybe they are indeed entitled to hit students when they’ve done something bad – but boy it’s been disturbing and unsettling for me to observe their habits.

Now, I’ve been over the issue of punishment with teachers here time and time again. Even though I’ve tried to hide my distaste, or perhaps more accurate, my disgust, for caning, there’s no denying that I haven’t been able to hide my anxious facial expressions and nervous body language when a student around me gets caned. The teachers especially use the Staff Room to hit students, which, being the only available space on campus to work, is unavoidable for me. When the other teachers watch me as they cane their students they can read me like a book and they see that it bothers me, hence they always inquire me about how I feel about it. To be honest, I’ve been very blunt with the teachers about how I feel, but I’ve been guarded and careful about coming off as judgmental. I usually state in a matter-of-fact way that in America we don’t cane students and that such behavior would be considered very inappropriate and punishable for the teacher, even illegal. It’s almost considered along the lines of child abuse these days. I refrain from putting in my own two cents about how I think it’s wrong and immoral and awful and just gruesome and unnecessary. After all, I’m a guest in their culture and who am I to walk in here with my outside cultural perspectives and impose my own cultural views and values on their ways of life? (For sure when it comes to hurting other people I feel like there should be some universal cultural standards for what is okay and what is not, but it’s a delicate issue to try to share my opinions without sounding like a self-righteous American who’s come to Tanzania to tell Tanzanians what’s the right way to live. That’s a struggle almost all volunteers from other countries undergo when working in another country. Basically, it’s a superiority complex and it’s been really hard to negotiate – a learning experience for sure).

After expressing the unaccepted nature of caning students in America, teachers then ask me whether we punish students and how we do so. After explaining the concept of detention to them, the teachers just shake their heads and say that such a method would never be effective here for deterring students to misbehave. For one thing, since there are so many students on campus (easily 800+) and there are so few teachers and staff (approximately 30), it’s impossible to expect teachers to force students to stay after school. It’s too easy for them to escape and avoid the watchful eyes of teachers. What’s more, the teachers argue that Tanzanian students wouldn’t consider staying after school to study and do their work as punishment – they would consider it as normal. Many students stay after school every day on their own initiatives in order to study and get work done. Furthermore, the teachers at school are simply unwilling to stay after school to monitor students who need to be punished. They perceive it as a waste of their time and would rather use time during the school day, during which time they’re expected to be at school, in order to punish students so that they can return home at the end of the school day to spend time with their families. Finally, they insist that African children are different than American children and that they need to be caned in order to become proper people. They agree that detention might work for American students, but that nothing else is more effective for African students than caning and putting them to work as punishment. I’ve heard this shpeel from almost every teacher at Moro Sec who’s questioned me about punishment. My argument for them to consider is that if caning is such an effective punishment then why do the same students continue to misbehave. For sure, most of the students who get punished are repeat offenders who clearly haven’t learned their lessons no matter how many times they’ve been caned. Also, being able to resist the temptation to cry out when getting caned and to just “suck it up” is regarded as a status-worthy quality among students. Students almost compete with each other to try not to make caning seem like a big deal, especially the boys. While girls might cry (because it really does hurt like crazy!), boys hold back their tears and try to act like tough guys. They earn respect among their peers by doing so. Hence, if they can tough out a quick beating like a “man” then they don’t care very much about having to face the same punishment again in the future. Hence, they continue to misbehave.

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I want to add a disclaimer here that even though I’ve been critical of teachers’ behaviors at my school that their particular behaviors, attitudes, and ways of teaching that I’ve critiqued do not represent every Tanzanian teacher’s ways. For sure I’ve come across teachers at Moro Sec who are incredibly dedicated to teaching, in fact some of whom love teaching, and who I would consider to be very good teachers. They care about their students’ success and really want what’s best for their students. They strive to be the best teachers they can be because they know how important getting an education in Tanzania is. It’s a rare privilege to even reach secondary school in Tanzania and many teachers recognize and honor this fact. Hence, in defense of my criticism about some of their behaviors, I’ve simply chosen to be honest and forthright about the dilemmas that I’ve faced being an American teacher coming from such a different teaching atmosphere compared to the Tanzanian teaching climate.

I come from a privileged educational background in America that has shaped the way I perceive the world and the way I think teaching should be. I grew up in an educational environment in which students were treated like special gems, nurtured and pumped up with information by caring teachers in hopes that they would use their knowledge as power to contribute to the American economy someday. Educating students in America is seen as a worthwhile cultural investment of time and energy for the good of America’s future. Americans value education so highly because it goes hand-in-hand with the American creed that if you work hard you will succeed – namely, it is an essential piece in the model of meritocracy that fuels the American dream. Many Americans think that if you work hard in school and achieve good grades then you will be successful in the future and hence have a good life. That is perhaps what motivates so many high school graduates to fight tooth-and-nail to get into colleges or universities that will help them achieve higher education.

Growing up in a country that puts such a high value on delivering the highest quality education to students has not only been a privilege, but it has forced me to interpret my experience teaching in Tanzania through certain cultural lenses that I cannot rid myself of. While I cannot prevent myself from forming perceptions of Tanzanian education that my own experience has informed, I can be completely humble in admitting that my views here are not right or wrong, but merely a perspective I’ve been willing to share about what it’s been like for me to come from one culture and integrate into another culture’s ways of doing things. Furthermore, in no way do my views represent every American teacher’s experiences working at schools in Tanzania, nor can I say with certainty that they properly reflect the opinions of my fellow WorldTeach colleagues. Every person who goes abroad (no matter one’s country of origin or destination) to serve, work, volunteer, study, or conduct research is likely to undergo deeply reflective moments like this when he/she questions what he/she has always known as normal and what he or she has been confronted with in another culture. In fact, I encourage travelers to push themselves to be incredibly self-reflective and provocative of their roots that have formed their opinions about the world as I have tried to be here. It is only when we question ourselves that we have the greatest potential for growth.

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As if a student’s life at school isn’t challenging enough, as I’ve already revealed, the schedule at the secondary school also demands a lot of students. School starts at 7:30am and lasts until 2:30pm. Within that amount of time students only get a short break between classes. Students attend classes until 11:30am and then they get a 20-minute break during which time they usually buy snacks. There is no cafeteria on campus similar to the likes of American high school cafeterias that serve different kinds of food each day. The only food available on campus every day is always the same every day and it’s also largely unhealthy and not the best energy-boosting food to enhance students’ learning capacities inside the classroom. The main choices of food on campus include fried cassava (a root vegetable similar to the potato or yam) and fried chapatti (flour mixed with oil and then fried again like an oily tortilla). One piece of fried cassava is only 50 Tanzanian shillings, so most students buy little baggies of 6-8 pieces. One chapatti is 200 shillings and students usually buy two of them. Other less popular options include samosas (minced meat, spices and cooked vegetables inside triangular-shaped fried dough), maandazi (fried sweet doughnuts), kitumbua (fried sweet rice cakes), “ice cream” (homemade frozen popsicles inside tubular plastic bags that’re filled with frozen sodas and juices), and peanuts (perhaps the healthiest option).

By 11:30am the part of the campus right near the staff room (where the other teachers and I usually are when we’re not in class) floods with students. That is the area where the foods are sold. Students compete to get chapatti or cassava as fast as they can. To avoid crowding since the area is so small, friend groups usually send one person to buy food for all of the members of the group. Since they only have 20 minutes, which is more like 15 minutes when you factor in the time it takes them to walk to and from their classrooms to the area where they sell food, they try to be as efficient with their time as they can be. I would too if I only had fifteen minutes to refuel.

Since most of these students have to walk to school from even as far as 1-2 hours away (and hence they must leave their homes between 5:30am and 6:00am), they may go as many as six hours without eating before break (assuming they have something for breakfast before they leave for school)– and even the food they ingest isn’t the most fibrous or filling! I usually have hearty oatmeal mixed with sliced bananas for breakfast every morning around 6:30am and by 11:30 I am really jiving for some food! Since I don’t prefer the fried foods offered at school, I usually try to bring fresh fruit from home or that I buy from the small Madizini (meaning “Many Bananas”) market I always pass by on my way to school.

It’s shocking to me that no one comes to campus to sell fruit because I feel like if the option were available then at least some students would buy fruit. But then again I’m a foreigner from New England – a land totally lacking of fresh fruits and vegetables of its own for at least half the year due to long and harsh winters – so of course I can’t get enough of the fresh produce here. Tanzanians are able to take for granted their plentiful quantities of fruits and veggies all year round, hence when they’re at school it’s preferable for them to get something cooked that took time for someone else to prepare. Tanzanians also greatly favor eating almost anything over fruits and vegetables, I’ve observed. In fact, if you are Tanzanian and you go to the market to just buy fruits and vegetables and you do not buy rice, ugali flour (made from dried corn), and/or beans, other Tanzanians will assume you are lower class. Since fruits and vegetables are so cheap here (usually only 100 shillings per item – at least for me as a foreigner…I’m sure they’re even cheaper for local Tanzanians), it’s assumed that people who only buy them cannot afford the starchy staples, like rice and ugali flour, that compose the heart of the Tanzanian diet. It’s funny how status can be powerful enough to deter people here from trying to eat healthily! In America, it’s the total opposite; fruits, vegetables, and other healthy products are much more expensive and usually associated with cuisine for people in the higher classes than the unhealthier products like chips, cakes, and other starchy/fatty foods that are highly valued in Tanzania. It could have something to do with the scarcity factor of it all, too, in that if fruits and vegetables are plentiful here they are less desirable, whereas when they must be shipped from other parts of the world to New England during the cold months they are coveted and greatly valued.

No matter the cultural mores of Tanzanian food, I’ve tried to maintain a healthy diet since I’ve arrived, eating mostly fresh produce from the market and brown rice, brown bread, and oatmeal – all of which I can buy at the supermarket. That’s another thing – most Tanzanians I’ve met have never even stepped foot inside of the two main supermarkets (Murad’s and Pira’s in downtown Morogoro) where I go to purchase Westernized food products that I can’t get at any local shop or at the market; nor do most Tanzanians known where the supermarkets even are! Not only are these shops more expensive (duh) than most other places that sell food, they sell food that’s mostly foreign, unknown, and hence undesirable to the majority of Tanzanian people. For example, when my students asked me what I eat for breakfast and I told them I eat oatmeal they asked me, “Madam, what is oatmeal?” Even if you wouldn’t expect it, trying to explain oatmeal to people who aren’t even familiar with what oats are in the first place is extremely difficult, haha. I’m not sure if I succeeded in describing it. Oatmeal might be one of those foods you can only know by seeing it once.

Yet, Tanzanians are just fine without purchasing anything from the fancy food selections that the town supermarkets boast. They take a lot of pride in cooking traditional Tanzanian dishes for their families instead that often take a couple hours to prepare. Girls as young as four-years-old start learning from other women in the kitchen about how to prepare Tanzanian food from scratch so that by the time they’re even ten-years-old they know all the recipes by heart and can whip them up with ease. As I’ve said before, a Tanzanian woman who does not offer to help cook in the kitchen, even when she is a guest somewhere (like my friend Correta who recently came to my house for brunch), is sorely looked upon by other Tanzanians – men and women alike. Even a very young woman who does not at least offer to help in the kitchen is considered lazy and hence more undesirable as a future wife, for a proper Tanzanian wife is expected to have a complete knowledge of Tanzanian cooking so that she can make food for her family.

I really admire Tanzanians’ commitment to maintaining their cultural traditions in these ways, even if they might be a little sexist (but who’s to say Americans’ norms of mothers doing the majority of the cooking isn’t also sexist?). Coming from a melting pot culture, I’ve found it extremely difficult to describe the quintessential elements of American cuisine, especially. We have a lot of Italian food, sure, but we also love our adopted courses from other countries ranging as far as Mexico and China. When my students ask me what are typical American foods, all I can really think of listing is pizza, boxed cereals, hotdogs, hamburgers, spaghetti and other pastas. It’s hard to think of something that’s completely American when the nature of America is to borrow and adopt from so many other countries! O ann incredibly humorous side-note, recently I tried to explain what Mexican food is to my students – they had first asked me if I missed any foods that I could get in America but not in Tanzania and I had mentioned Mexican food. As an example I tried to explain to my students that I like to eat “tacos”. As soon as I mentioned the word “taco” all of my students roared in outrageous, uncontrollable laughter and they totally lost it. After the laughing dissipated after five minutes they clarified that “taco” in Kiswahili means “buttocks.” HAHA! So essentially I had said that I like to eat butts, haha. Gross! When they told me that I couldn’t stop laughing along with them. It really was one of my favorite moments of teaching in which something is so beautifully ironic between two languages that you cannot help but laugh yourself into the ground!

On the topic of Mexican food and tacos, I’ve been keeping up my Spanish club at school. I always look forward to the club meeting every week because only my best and brightest (and let’s face it…my favorite) students attend the meeting. It’s a real privilege to work with a small group of 15 or so students who are really dedicated to learning and eager to know so much about the world when they’re only 14-15 years old! Their high energy motivates me to keep up my own! Yesterday I hosted the club meeting and taught my students vocabulary for family members in Spanish. Somehow we got a little off topic and soon I was teaching my students how to dance the tango and how to sing “Besame Mucho” (“Kiss Me A Lot”) in Spanish. I had a hell of a time. I’ll never forget it!

As I was about to leave to go home to tutor some women in English after the Spanish club meeting, some of my students stopped me at the door. One student gave me a special Tanzanian-style handshake which I’ve gotten down pat since I arrive ten months ago. As soon as I proved myself by doing the handshake properly, six other students lined up in a row so I would give them handshakes as well. The last student, Francis, held my hand in his after we shook and wouldn’t let it go. He looked me right in the eyes and said, “Madam, don’t go. You can’t go.” By now all of my students are well aware of the fact that I only have three more weeks left in Morogoro and two more weeks of teaching left at Moro Sec before I have to go back to the U.S. As soon as Francis spoke, all the other students started nodding and bouncing up and down in agreement, protesting my having to leave Tanzania so soon. As Francis looked into my eyes with such a sad face I almost couldn’t help but well up in tears. I managed to keep it together, but damn, that was a really special moment. Seeing the expression on his face and feeling how tightly he was gripping my hand really made me experience fully in one GIGANTIC moment what my time here has meant to him as one of my students. It was clear that I’d made an impression on him that he’ll never forget. Maybe that sounds egotistical, but the truth of the matter is that no matter how much of an impression I’ve made on any of my students in the past months, they’ll never be able to grasp how much I’ve gotten out of this experience myself just through knowing them.

Getting to know my students has been a privilege of a lifetime that really is beyond words. Their ability to welcome me into their classrooms every day; hearing them say “Good Morning/Afternoon Madam!” enthusiastically as they stand up to greet me as I enter the room; and answering their hundreds of questions about English, America, how I find Tanzania, what I like about this and that, and about me has been deeply touching. Even if other teachers aren’t so gung-ho about teaching for the wholesome benefit of their students, my experience has been all about the students. My students have made my experience.

That’s my favorite thing about my whole time here – that it’s been a mutual exchange in which everyone I’ve gotten to know has learned/gained something from me and I’ve learned/gained something from them. Too often study exchange opportunities that have the potential to be incredibly enriching and mutually-beneficial cross-cultural experiences become very one sided; sometimes the visitor gains more from the hosts, offering little in exchange for all the cultural insights they’ve offered, or the visitor is disinterested in learning anything about the hosts and is instead more preoccupied with dumping his or her (perceivably superior) own foreign knowledge on the hosts than to bother him/herself with getting to know anything about the actual people he/she is working with. That’s not the case for me. I can say with utmost certainly and satisfaction that this experience has been all it could be because my students and I made it as good as it could have been. I’m so proud and, most of all, so thankful of all the people who ever motivated me or supported me to pursue my goal to teach in Tanzania. I’ve become a better person because of it and I want you to know that you’re better people too for helping aid me throughout this whole journey.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Morogoro Mountaineer

Three weeks ago I finally made an ascent into the Uluguru Mountains, which have been looming behind my house ever since I moved to Morogoro in September of last year. A group of friends from Belgium, Holland, and Germany who are currently living in Dar-es-Salaam met my housemate and I in Morogoro on Saturday morning around 8:30. We went to the tourist office in Morogoro together and met the three Tanzanian guides that would be joining us on our hike for the day. Our guides were Pamfrius (Pam for short), Samuel, and Immanuel (Imma for short).

We were scheduled for two hikes that day: Choma and then Morningside. We would hike the Choma tour first, a four-hour hike on its own, then break for lunch on top of the mountain. After lunch those of us who wanted to continue would then proceed to the second hike to Morningside, another four-hour hike, and those of us who were tired of climbing would descend the mountain.

We took off from the tourist office by 9:00am after we’d bought several liters of water for the hike. We began the tour by walking down a long paved road away from town to the foot of the Uluguru Mountains. As we passed along the road we saw a small group of men and women in a choir from Dar-es-Salaam who were filming a music video together. All of the men were in black dress pants and lime green button up shirts. The eight of them were in a row dancing synched choreography together. They looked like they were having a hell of a time. The women who were also intending to appear in the music video stood around behind the camera chatting and watching the men as they waited for their turn to go on film. As the group of us walked past we decided to pay a short visit to the dancers to greet and observe them. They were so enthusiastic to have our company that they got the two guys in our group to dance off camera with one of the directors along to the music the men were dancing to. It was such a hoot watching the guys try to keep up with the dancing. African choreography, no matter for men or women, usually involves a lot of fast hip and waist movement, which the guys, coming from Belgium and Holland, were not used to. Even so, they tried their best and we all enjoyed the experience a lot. After ten minutes we said our goodbyes and continued our attempt to scale the Uluguru Mountains.

Half an hour later we finally veered off the paved road to a dirt road at the base of the mountains. Since I walk at least an hour every day going to and from school and I often run in the evenings I’m in pretty good shape so I didn’t have trouble going up the mountain. I was often leading the group. I’m so used to walking fast that it just seemed natural. I even ran up the mountain at one point with another girl in the group. It was pretty fun.

About an hour into the hike we reached a rest area that has a small restaurant and places for climbers to sleep. As soon as we approached it I saw that there was a swing set. I immediately rushed down the labyrinth that led to it and hopped onto a swing. I pumped my legs so I was soaring high above the ground in no time. It felt incredibly liberating to be floating above the ground. Each time I reached as high as the swing would take me I could see all of Morogoro below me. All of the buildings in the town looked like the tiny white flecks inside a snow globe, scattered around and moving beneath my eyes as I swung above them. After a short rest on the swing we were on our way again.

Along our hike our three guides were having a friendly competition amongst each other naming as many plants as they could by their scientific names. To my surprise, they were able to name off the scientific names for pretty much everything we saw. Throughout our journey we spotted a ton of edible plant life ranging from banana, mango, passion fruit, and avocado trees to pineapple, carrot, corn, and cabbage plants emerging from the earth. Although some of the plants were wild, most of them had been cultivated by the Luguru people who live in the mountains.

It’s reported that more than 3.5 million Luguru people live in the Uluguru mountains …hence how the mountains got their name. All throughout our hike we saw whole societies of people living on the mountains. They all seemed like thriving and very self-sufficient communities. Being at least a four-hour hike from the main town of Morogoro requires nothing less of the Luguru people. There’s no electricity, but there’s a plentiful supply of really clean running water – some of which flows from waterfalls. The guides told us that the Luguru people come to town usually just once a week to get rice and other things that they cannot provide for themselves on the mountains. Since cars and motorbikes can only make it partially up the mountain, the Luguru people have to carry everything they get from town up to their home places by hand. In fact, we passed by dozens of women with all sorts of heavy loads balanced on top of their heads as we walked. Many of the women walk so much through the mountains that the heels of their sandals are completely worn through. As you might assume based on all the daily work it takes to get around the steep mountains and get between town and home, the Luguru people are some of the healthiest and longest living people in all of Tanzania.

Although it seems like really hard work living on the mountainside (and it is), the hard work pays off… One of the greatest rewards for living on the mountain is having access to plentiful sources of crystal clear and disease free water flowing from the tops of waterfalls. Another perk is being able to gaze at some of the nicest views I’ve ever seen in my life. Many people’s back yards look like the real versions of some of the most coveted and majestic post card images the world has ever seen. I’m not exaggerating. It was absolutely gorgeous from the mountainside. I felt privileged to be able to share the sights with the Luguru people, even just for a day.

What I was wondering as we climbed was what it must be like to live all your life on the mountains and then have to come down to the populous flatland of the Morogoro town center. Since I grew up in a very rural town myself I know what it’s like to live far away from town, but I wasn’t this isolated and I did grow up with luxuries like electricity, internet, cable television, etc. Also it only took a thirty-minute drive to reach a semi-dense city. Even with that experience, I find it hard to believe what the transition between the mountains and the towns and city centers of Tanzania and beyond must be like for the Luguru. I’m sure that with the number of people in the Uluguru mountains only surging, it means that most of the Luguru people must prefer remaining at home in the mountains. I really don’t blame them.

What’s really ridiculous is how many Luguru people make such an effort to maintain what we would consider normal lives of going to school and working. Our guides told us that kids who live hours up the mountains must descend and scale the mountains every day for hours just to make it to and from schools in the town center of Morogoro where they study. Perhaps some of my students at the Morogoro Secondary School are among those children. What’s more, many of the Luguru adults who live on the mountains have jobs in the Morogoro town and must spend hours traveling between work and home. I cannot imagine what it must be like to have to spend three h ours walking alongside steep mountains just to get to and from home and school.

Furthermore, our guides told us that 90% of the Luguru people are Muslim. On our way up the mountain about two hours into our hike we passed by one of the two mosques on that side of the mountain where the Luguru come from all over to worship. The sound of the Call to Prayer must echo across the entire landscape. I bet it sounds beautiful.

We also saw a couple of animals on the mountainside. My friend and I who were leading the trek up front saw and heard some rustling in the bushes about 5 feet away from our path. Spooked, we stood back, cautious and anxious to see what was causing all the noise. It turns out that a goat was behind the bushes munching on some grass. Thank God it was a goat. Just before that I’d asked about whether or not the guides had ever seen snakes along their hikes, so I was fearful that the creature had been a snake before I could see it was a goat. One of the guides, Imma, confirmed that he had seen a huge snake digesting a dog once (an entire dog!!) off a hiking trail somewhere in Tanzania, but far enough away from Morogoro where we wouldn’t have to worry about seeing it for ourselves. He also said that since the rainy season was starting there weren’t too many snakes around so we shouldn’t have to worry. There are many more of them out on the hillsides during the dry season. So…you can imagine how relieved I was when I saw a goat rather than a snake! Although I don’t have much of a fear of snakes back home in the U.S., my phobia of them has intensified greatly since I’ve lived in Tanzania for nine months because if you get bitten by a poisonous snake here then that’s pretty much the end of your life right there. Since there’s really no concept here of emergency medical care (e.g. being able to call 911 or having an ambulance rush you to the nearest hospital), I know that I’ll be done for if a venomous snake bites me. Hence, my increasing fear is rather legitimate.

Not only did we see goats on the hike, but we also saw cows grazing the hillside and cats and dogs roaming around outside people’s houses. At one point I heard a weird sound resembling a cow mooing, but I couldn’t see a cow so I originally wondered why someone ahead of me in our hiking group was making such a weird sound, haha. It wasn’t until I saw that there was a cow way up on the hillside that I realized it had been an actual cow mooing instead of someone in our group crying out in agony.

The hike proceeded fairly smoothly all the way up to the top of Choma. We took frequent water breaks because it was a really hot day even in the mountains. By the time we reached the peak of Choma we could hear the rumbling of water gushing from waterfalls. We climbed down a super steep and narrow pathway to rest at the base of one of the waterfalls. It was absolutely breathtaking! We shed our shoes and crawled like true primates, using our hands and feet to grip slimy rocks and catch our balance as we crouched down to make it across several larger rocks into the big pool of water at the base of the waterfall. The mist caused from the power of the waterfall sprayed our bodies as we stood knee-deep in the small pool. Standing there I felt an overwhelming sense of peace. There was absolutely no one else around. The only sound you could hear was the crashing and booming of the water as it dumped itself into the hole at the bottom. All I could do was smile and appreciate the fact that I was there. To make the experience even sweeter, a local Luguru man climbed down to meet us and offered to sell us passion fruit, raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries. Like true tourists, we were happy to help out a local Luguru man, so we gleefully all chipped in and bought an assortment of the natural treats. Since it had been months since I’ve tasted those kind of berries, I was especially excited to taste them.

After basking at the base of the waterfall for half an hour we put on our shoes and readied ourselves to climb back up the steep hill to the main path we’d been walking on. By that point it had started drizzling a little bit so the compact dirt path to the waterfall was pretty slick. As if like a leapfrog effect, as each person made his or her ascent up the path the person behind him/her became his/her spotter until we all made it safely back to the main path.

By that point it was already 1:00pm and our stomachs were grumbling and readying themselves for the local Tanzanian food that awaited us in a Luguru house just ten minutes away. Once we reached the house we all relaxed in cushioned chairs and chatted about our satisfaction with the hike so far. Meanwhile, a Luguru woman who had prepared the food for us was busy bringing out the various finished dishes to the table in the sitting room. As each dish took its place on the table the aromas of the food danced around the room and swirled around in our noses.

Finally it was time to eat! We gorged our taste buds on rice, ugali (boiled corn flour that becomes a stiff porridge when cooked, which is especially useful for soaking up the soupy flavors of other foods), boiled cassava leaves resembling a mushy multi-colored green mess resembling cooked spinach (it was extremely delicious…and my favorite!), and fish stew with a smooth coconut broth. It was all delicious and satisfying. As soon as we replenished our food energy we all instantly went into mini food comas. The conversation died down a little as we all relaxed and really soaked it in that we were on top of a huge mountain in Tanzania. It was such a great realization.

During lunch a few local craftsmen and craftswomen came with their artwork (bracelets, necklaces, paintings, and small sculptures) and set out a small display of them outside the house where we ate. Inside the house the woman who cooked the food for us advertised the local handmade pottery made with clay taken from the mountain. She was selling small clay bowls for only 1,000 Tanzanian shillings ($1 = 1500 TZ Shillings). As a lover of pottery she sucked me right in and I bought one of the bowls. I’m happy to report it even made it down the mountain with me unshattered and even unchipped. To be able to bring home such a unique and special product of the Luguru people and the Uluguru Mountains as a physical token of my hike up the mountain is a really amazing thing for me. While it might just be a bowl, it represents the mountains that have been a part of my life every day since I’ve been living in Morogoro.

As we snapped out of our food comas we settled on who would continue to Morningside and who would leave the mountain through a repeat of the Choma route. I decided to stick it out and make it to Morningside along with four other people from the group. Two of the guides accompanied us while the other guide went with the four others who were heading home.

It only took an hour for us to get to the Morningside site after lunch, but it was probably my most favorite part of the whole day hike. By the time we were trekking to Morningside we were already on the top of the mountain so we could literally see all of Morogoro below us on our way. Every time we could get a clear glimpse of the land below we stopped to take photos to just take it all in. Arguably more breathtaking was all the land that surrounded us at that height on the mountain. Huge forests of trees from the rainforest beyond spanned the countryside. I felt like I was living inside an imagined landscape created by a famous artist’s brushstrokes. It was almost too pretty to believe it was all real.

While we were at Morningside we explored the old building the Germans had built at the site in 1911. The whole building smelled like rotting mildew and didn’t look very well kept. Graffiti that had been chipped into the walls identified previous visitors. It plastered every inch of the walls. Going from room to room, the whole building felt like a really dark and eerie maze. Every room inside had two doors, each of which led to another neighboring room. It would have easy to get lost in there had it not been for one of our guides who was leading us around. In one of the rooms there was even an ancient looking bathtub along with an old stove for cooking. There were a few disheveled-looking bed frames in some of the bedrooms with musty thin foam mattresses where hikers are welcome to use when they reached the site. It was only a couple thousand shillings to stay overnight since the offerings were meager. Still, the building provides a safe place to stay as it has a nice roof overhead for when it rains and a small fireplace to warm yourself up in front of after hiking for a long way. Although it was obvious that the place’s heyday had since passed long ago, it was still intriguing to explore such an important building to the history of colonialism in Tanzania. Even though I wouldn’t be tempted to recommend an overnight stay there (it really did feel like a spooky haunted old mansion), its sense of history was very interesting and definitely worth a visit.

After our short visit at Morningside we continued down the mountain. It started sprinkling as we started to walk again, but luckily we avoided any downpours. Since most of the sky was bright blue with only a few clouds and it was sunny as all get out, I was really hoping to see a rainbow, but it never materialized. The landscape changed dramatically as we scaled off the mountain. The paths we had used earlier on during our hike that had been so narrow and rough morphed into smoother paths wide enough for cars and motorcycles to pass on them.

We passed by a few thriving communities on our way down the mountain, one of which I was told has a reputation for taking advantage of na├»ve travelers and trying to steal their things if they aren’t with a guide. I was definitely happy to have two guides with the five of us hiking at that point – since all of us who chose to continue on to Morningside are White and hence look clearly foreign, we would’ve been likely victims of thievery had we been alone. Fortunately we didn’t run into any problems and the people at the first sight even seemed really friendly. With the sheer number of them, though, I could see how it would have been easy to overtake a lone traveler and steal his or her things.

We finally exited the foot of the mountain around 6:00pm, just in time for dusk to set in. By that point the bottoms of all our feet were pretty sore from stomping down the steep parts of the mountain on our way down. We followed our guides back to the tourist office, thanked them for their kindness and superb guidance and then took off back home. After getting out of our hiking gear and washing off the mud that covered our bodies, we freshened up and met the whole hiking group in town at the New Green Indian-cuisine restaurant and shared a meal together in celebration of our hike earlier on in the day. Surrounded by good food, good company, and buzzing with excitement from summiting the Uluguru Mountains, I really couldn’t have been happier. Reflecting on it now, it feels good to have explored the mountains that have been making shadows in my backyard since I moved to Morogoro in September.

Monday, March 21, 2011

My Triple Near-Death Experience...in 5 hours

I don’t think I’ve ever feared for my life as much as I did last night when I was coming back to Morogoro from Dar-es-Salaam! I’d gone to Dar on Friday to spend the weekend with friends and experience a change of scenery from Morogoro. I wanted to milk my weekend in Dar for all it was worth, so I decided not to leave Dar to go back to Morgoro until late Sunday night. After all, all that was waiting for me in Morogoro to rush home to last night was just a good night’s sleep. Usually when I head back to Morogoro I don’t arrive at the Ubungo bus station in Dar any later than 5:30pm, especially since Sunday nights in particular are really hectic at the station with everyone trying to head back to Morogoro at the end of the weekend. Last night, however, I wasn’t able to make it to the bus station until almost 6:30pm. By the time I arrived there with my friend Nora (also from Morogoro), we were disappointed to find that the most reliable bus services that I’ve always used to go back and forth to Dar were completely filled. Since Nora is fairly new to Tanzania and it was her first time at the bus station in Dar, I decided to take charge.

A man approached us and suggested that we take an Islam Express bus back to Morogoro. Although we were pretty desperate for a ride back, I couldn’t help but scoff in the guy’s face…the last and only time I took an Islam bus it sat idly in Morogoro for three hours (during which time all the other bus companies’ buses were zooming towards Dar one after the other) and then it took four an a half hours to travel to Dar. The bus was so worn down that it could barely make it up the hills. We even had giant lorries weighing a couple of tons passing us even on the smallest inclines. Hence, I declined the man’s sales pitch to take the Isalm Express bus last night. Hence, we were left with one option.

To the right of the lines of parked buses that had just arrived from Morogoro sat a small minibus whose khonda was yelling for passengers wishing to go to Morogoro. It looked fairly empty, but the khonda insisted that the bus was leaving “sasa hivi” (soon). If there’s anything I’ve learned since being in Tanzania for nine months now, it’s to not take someone’s promise of “soon” too seriously. Soon could usually mean even 8 hours from now! Although Nora and I felt pretty skeptical about the reliability of the transport, we hopped on the bus anyway and hoped for the best. That was at 6:30. An hour later we still found ourselves sitting on the bus waiting in the parking lot. By that point a few other people had joined us on the bus. By the time it hit 7:30 I joked with Nora that we’d be lucky to even leave by 8:00. Sure enough, somehow we managed to start moving at 7:57. That felt like a real confidence boost…until we got rammed in the rear end literally two minutes later by a bus behind us just as we were pulling out of the parking lot! Luckily no one was hurt, but our nerves went through the roof. The driver and khonda freaked out and stopped the bus mid-intersection in front of a long queue of angry drivers going in the opposite direction who were impatient to make it out of the congested traffic. I don’t think I’ve ever heard so many horns hopelessly beeping at once before! It was almost deafening. By the time the men got out of the vehicle the bus that had hit us had already taken off at warp speed, trying to avoid accountability for the accident.

Nora and I couldn’t help but laugh anxiously as we wondered what would happen next. It was already 8:30 and it would still be a lengthy three-hour’s drive back to Morogoro once we officially got on the road. We were contemplating the wisdom of our decision to take this bus after all and were seriously considering hopping off in the next 15 minutes and finding a place to stay for the night in Dar if we didn’t go anywhere anytime soon. Just as we were talking about that option, the driver and khonda climbed onto the bus again and started up the engine. Just as our nerves were beginning to settle down, we randomly stopped on the side of the road to pick up more passengers apparently hoping to make it to Morogoro that night as well. Our bus acted more like a local daladala for quick transport than a bus going three hours away. As the people came onto the bus they really caused a racket, unapologetically pushing and shoving each other to win a spot to stand in the bus aisle. Fortunately Nora and I were towards the back of the bus so we didn’t feel the immediate effect of the jostling. As soon as we took off again Nora and I let out another sigh of relief, but our attempts to stay calm were interrupted by all of the passengers who starting yelling at this one lady who’d just gotten on. As the argument escalated, Nora and I sat back googley-eyed trying to figure out what the hell was going on. Before we could register the turn of events, the driver stopped and the khonda opened the door and shoved the woman out of the bus and onto the street. Yelps and whoops of satisfaction echoed from end to end of the bus as we drove onward.

At this point Nora and I were seriously considering getting off the next time the bus stopped, if and when that was. But by about 10 minutes later we’d conceded to just stay on the bus, as we were heading out of town at a hefty speed and away from any place to stay in the city center for the night. Yet, it was literally impossible to settle into our seats and get comfortable for the hours ahead. For one, the driver had deliriously decided to play traditional Tanzanian bongo flava music at an incredible volume…it was so high that the bus was literally vibrating to the base beat of the tracks. Everyone around us began to get restless and tried to yell at the driver to turn the music down. Nora and I couldn’t even hear what each other was saying and we were sitting right next to each other! (Rather) fortunately, because Tanzanian roads aren’t the best and the tracks were being played off of a CD, the music would skip every time we went over the bumps. Aware of this, the whole bus teamed up against the driver to play a verbal version of whack-a-mole. Every time the CD would skip everyone would yell out at once, “Punguza sauti!” (Reduce the volume!). Eventually everyone’s complaining took its toll on the driver and he agreed to turn the music down. So things started to look like they were getting better, again…until the man next to me perked up and started trying to talk to me.

Although I never caught his name, he tried to make sure that I would pay attention to him for the whole night. He looked fairly young, like he was just out of college like me. Although he appeared rather normal, clad in jeans and a button up shirt, he was holding a plastic packet filled with two shots of Konyagi – the local spirit (or gin) available in Tanzania. That’s right…you can get shots of alcohol in little tiny plastic packets here when you’re on the go! The guy had an opened one in his hand that he was sipping from and another unopened one on deck resting in his lap for when he ran out of the first (or that might’ve even been his third by the rate way he was talking). Although it’s common to see men drinking at bars and pubs with their buddies here in Tanzania, I’ve never seen a man so openly drinking alcohol during something as anticlimactic as a bus ride back to Morogoro. Haha. I guess everyone has his or her coping mechanisms for long bus rides. They are rather boring, so I can’t really blame the guy. I wouldn’t have minded him drinking so much if his behavior hadn’t been so disruptive. When it reached past 9:00pm, most of the bus was visibly and audibly exhausted. There were barely any people talking and mostly everyone had his or her eyes shut trying to sleep…except for the guy next to me. He had the urge to call literally everyone he knew on his contact list and talk at an obscene volume. I’m sure he didn’t realize how loud he was talking because he was drunk, but there’s no reason why he needed to be yelling when the whole bus was quiet.

That’s a funny trend here…I’ve observed that there’s very little phone etiquette in Tanzania, at least compared to the American standards I’m used to. In America people make sure to silent their phones during important meetings and they’re usually fairly quiet and considerate of others when they need to talk on the phone when other people are trying to sleep on a bus. But in Tanzania most people never silence their phones during meetings or at other times (like at night on a bus) when it should be quiet. Even some of my colleagues pick up their phones mid-teaching instead of silencing their phones or waiting to call back later. What’s more is that people insist on yelling into their phones here, no matter what, as if the people on the other end of the line can’t hear them hardly at all. In America if someone screamed into his or her phone everyone would look at him/her like she was crazy!

Anyway, back to this guy. Not only did he call his entire phone book and scream into his phone, he also insisted on chatting me up for about an hour into the bus ride. His balance was off so I got a horrible whiff of his konyagi-breath too many times to feel comfortable about. Haha. It really was bad though. And at the speed at which he was talking, it took forever for him to get out what he was trying to say. On a positive note, he did speak very good English so at least he was slurring words in my native language so I had a 50% higher chance of trying to translate them than if he’d been slurring words in Swahili. Haha. But if I were to add up the entirety of the words he spoke to me in that hour, another – sober – person speaking at a normal rate could’ve managed to say all of them in less than ten minutes. As annoying as it was, it was also incredibly, fantastically, absurdly and wildly hilarious. Nora and I could barely hold ourselves together from laughing at this guy. At one point I tried to go to sleep, or at least pretend to, by resting my head on the back of the seat in front of me. Really I was just trying to avoid having to talk to the guy next to me. While I was “resting” the guy tried to talk to me, so Nora, awake and semi-alert, insisted to the guy that he needed to be quiet and not disturb me because I was sleeping. I couldn’t help but start laughing. I tried my best to do it as unnoticeably as possible, but Nora could see that I was laughing and started laughing too…which only triggered the guy to ask her why she was laughing at him...and as he proceeded to get angry I only started laughing more. It was a great cycle…and probably the best increment of the trip. Eventually the guy drank himself into a stooper and ended up falling asleep on the other lady next to him who was in a deep slumber herself.

Just as I actually started to doze off, I was jolted awake suddenly to the sounds of horns and the swerving movement of our minibus as we avoided a near-crash with an oncoming car. Throughout the whole trip our driver had actually chosen to drive at an incredible dangerous high speed. We could have easily been going up to 90 mph at some points and I’m definitely not exaggerating. The driver wanted to get us to Morogoro fast, albeit the total trip took us a whopping 5 hours by the time we arrived…2 hours more than it usually takes! Surely he had no worries about putting everyone in the car in severe danger while he was driving. At the moment of the near crash everyone bolted into alertness and cursed out the driver for nearly killing us all. For as far as he was driving, we would’ve all surely have died in an instant. Nora and I could only exhale out of panic and thank God that we’d chosen to move seats before the trip started. When we’d initially gotten seats on the bus we were seated right behind the driver. I can’t even imagine having more fear than I had when we were sitting right in front of the last row of seats where we ended up sitting for the journey, but I bet it was 10X scarier for everyone up front.

After that near-death experience, the driver ignored everyone’s requests to slow down and still insisted on driving like a mad man. He drove at menacing speeds all the way to Morogoro. By the time we reached the bus station in town I swear I almost collapsed from happiness…and exhaustion from being so tense the whole trip…but we still had a ways to go before we got home. A few other women, Nora, and I decided to stay on the bus a little bit longer because it was heading into town. We figured we could save a few bucks on a taxi back to the house by getting a ride out of town rather than all the way from the bus station. Clearly we weren’t thinking properly, because after getting rammed in the back by another bus, then barely missing hitting an oncoming car, we had another near-death experience shortly after we took off from the bus station. As we rode through town and the familiar images of town started to make me feel all warm and gooey inside about being home again, we ended up approaching a train that was just crossing at the intersection we were heading toward. Since the driver had seen the train from at least a half a kilometer away I figured we wouldn’t have to worry. Well, that’s not true. The driver kept pumping his brakes (just for fun or out of boredom?) until we were literally centimeters away from the speeding train passing in front of us. Nora and I actually leapt out of our seats slightly from fear. The front of out bus seriously seemed like it was about to get creamed by the train! Fortunately that didn’t happen, but just because it didn’t materialize doesn’t mean it made us any more satisfied.

As soon as we made it off the bus with all of our limbs attached a few minutes later, be both looked at each other with unexplainable degrees of relief plastering our faces. Even though we didn’t say anything, we knew just what each other was thinking – thank God we’re alive!! Fortunately we didn’t even have to walk four feet to get a taxi back to our house. As we rode up the hill to our house we were both spooked into silence from the crazy ride we’d just had. When we got into the house we couldn’t help but shake our heads in misbelief about how many times we’d barely escaped the clutches of death. I may sound overly dramatic, but we really were in danger. Too many people die in Tanzania every year because of poor driving…and all of those people’s deaths could be avoided if only people were a little more careful on the roads.

Perhaps the funniest kick to my story is that when I went to school today and told my colleagues that I got home from Dar-es-Salaam at 12:00 last night they all asked me how I got home at that time. After I told them I took a taxi they shook their heads and scolded me about how dangerous it is to take a taxi at that time of night. It took all of my energy to keep from laughing, since the moments during the taxi ride back to my house were perhaps the most calming, satisfying, and peaceful moments of my entire trip back to Morogoro! On the safer side I just nodded my head and said that it was a foolish idea and decided to keep the more dangerous aspects of my trip back from Dar to myself!

All in all, I’m happy to be alive and breathing – normally – today!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Spanish Club!

Yesterday I led the first ever Spanish Club meeting at Morogoro Sec. after school. I founded the club after some students asked me if I knew any Spanish. After taking Spanish from 8th grade through my first year of college, I know quite a lot of Spanish...or at least I did. After a 5 year drought in studying, my brain is almost vacant of any knowledge of Spanish anymore. However, I still thought I would give it a shot. Besides, it's usually easy to relearn a language you knew when you were younger.

Before the meeting I had to look up beginning Spanish, just to reorient my brain into Spanish mode instead of Kiswahili mode. It's quite funny because when I initially arrived in Tanzania in June of last year, I couldn't help but think in Spanish. I think it's common for people who go to a country with a new language to default to trying to speak a second language that they know. Somehow thinking in Spanish when I got to Tanzania made me feel like I fit in more, even though Spanish has no use here. Since June 2010, however, I've slowly been replacing my second language competency with Kiswahili instead of Spanish. I now think I know and can speak more Kiswahili than I can after all those years of taking Spanish, but being immersed in a place for as long as 8 months can have that effect sometimes.

About 20 students came to the meeting, in addition to two student teachers who are currently practicing teaching at school this month in order to get their teaching degrees from the Morogoro Teacher's College in a few months. All I can say is I had an absolute blast. It was such a role reversal - being the Spanish teacher rather than the Spanish pupil in the classroom. All of my exposure to Spanish thus far has been dominated by me being on the student side of the equation. I taught everyone the Spanish alphabet and put emphasis on the vowels and special consonants that sound different in Spanish than in English or Kiswahili.

It's actually really useful to know Kiswahili and English when teaching Spanish because you can make a lot of connections between Spanish and the two other languages to help students understand Spanish better. Spanish is like Kiswahili in that the vowels are pronounced in the same ways (except for "y") and the language is phonetic, meaning (*almost) everything is spelled the way it sounds. Spanish is also similar to English in that English differentiates between male and female subjects and many Spanish words look and sound very similar to English words. Whenever I would try to explain a concept or word in Spanish, I would try to have my already bilingual students draw on their knowledge of Kiswahili and English to understand the material better.

After explaining the alphabet I taught the students about words that have stressed syllables and accents. It was so fun to pronounce these words together. I would pronounce a word overenthusiastically in Spanish and the students would try to repeat it as best as they could. It was a hoot! I nearly laughed as much as I taught. They could tell how excited I was to be teaching Spanish and picked up on my energy as they responded just as eagerly. After that I taught them about the gendered nature of most Spanish nouns and adjectives. I finished the first lesson by teaching them useful greetings in Spanish that they can use to practice on each other for the next week until our next meeting on Tuesday.

Overall I'm really looking forward to my next Spanish Club Meeting. It's incredibly fun to teach something other than English here for once. I mean people can tell just by looking at me that I teach English. If you're White, everyone assumed you can only speak English and not Kiswahili. Also, there's such a weird power dynamic with teaching English here, as a White person esepcially, since English is the language of the colonizers. Although it's now almost a necessity to teach students English so they can function in a world that's technologically growing and undergoing globalization at exponential rates faster than any of us can really trace, I still feel weird about it sometimes. It never feels purely genuine to be a volunteer from American who teaches English here, since English has such a nasty historical background in Tanzania. That's why I looooove teaching Spanish here.

Teaching Spanish has no such unsettling effect. It's just super fun. And the purpose of teaching Spanish here is purely for fun and for the sake of learning and gaining knowledge, not so much for practical uses (like with English), since Spanish is not spoken at all in Tanzania. Nevertheless, I'm going to continue to teach Spanish every week on Tuesday and hopefully have a wildly fun and hilarious time with my students who really love to learn. As a teacher, there's nothing I would ever want more than to reward my students who have a pure passion for learning for the sake of learning by teaching, hence I'm more than happy to teach Spanish!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

My Tanzanian Life Lately

WRITTEN WEDNESDAY MARCH 3

On Sunday, February 27, I went to another teacher’s house for lunch with her family. Her name is Madam Maryam. She teaches Swahili at Moro Sec with me. She’s an incredibly sweet lady and I really like spending time with her. She has 9 kids – can you believe that!? She has two sets of twins, a group of triplets, and a couple single children as well. She is originally from Zanzibar. Two of her sons live in Zanzibar with her parents and the rest of her kids live in Morogoro with her and her husband. Her husband is also very nice. When I went over her kids were very shy. They all attend English-medium primary schools, hence they already know English quite well. Maryam was trying to encourage them to talk to me and ask me questions in English about where I’m from etc., but the kids were so shy that we barely got to converse. I can understand where they’re coming from though. It’s very unusual to see a White person where they live so I’m sure they’re not used to talking with an Mzungu. Maryam’s youngest kids are twin boys who are only nine months old. While I was over I spent most of my time playing with them in the living room.

I spent a lot of time cooking as well. Maryam and I prepared traditional Zanzibarian food. I made this stuff called Mandazi, which has a mixture of mashed potatoes, onions, green peppers, carrots, and spices inside. You mash everything together into small balls and then dip the balls in a flour/water mixture with another Zanzibarian spice and then fry them in oil. They were really tasty. Maryam also made Chapati (like flour tortillas but made with more oil); a stew with potatoes, beef, veggies and other great spices; and boiled bananas in coconut milk. Everything we ate was homemade. I even had to ground the spices by hand! It was really fun and rewarding to eat a genuinely home-cooked meal. Everything tasted great and by the end of the meal I was totally stuffed. We ate the meal on the floor in the living room, which is how Maryam’s family usually eats. We sat on straw mats that were placed over the carpet so we didn’t get the floor dirty.

After the meal Maryam invited me to go to the Muslim University of Morogoro (MUM) with her. Maryam is a part-time Swahili teacher at MUM and had to go to correct students’ grades before their final exams begun. Maryam is a strict Muslim, as is her entire family. In fact about 90% of the people from Zanzibar are Islamic, just like Maryam. In order to go to the MUM, all women must cover up by wearing hijabs. Maryam let me borrow a hijab. When we first walked out of the house I felt really uncomfortable because I’ve never worn a hijab before. I felt uncomfortable primarily because I felt like an imposter wearing the hijab. I am not Muslim and I felt like it was insulting the Islamic faith by wearing one and pretending to be Muslim. Yet once Maryam and I went through the University gates, I experienced a total shift in mentality. I had gone from feeling like I was completely sticking out in society like a sore thumb to feeling like I completely blended in and was anonymous. The shift in setting was really comforting. I mean, of course people could still see my face and could tell that I’m White – and I was the only White person I saw while I was at the MUM – but at a distance I looked like every other Muslim girl there. It was a really mind-boggling experience. I sat with Maryam at the University for a few hours as she helped her students. Afterwards she and her husband dropped me off in a taxi at the Oasis Hotel where I was supposed to meet up with a girl named Nora.

When I arrived at the Oasis Hotel I instantly felt uncomfortable again because I was still dressed in my hijab. I felt really self-conscious because I go to Oasis almost every day and I have never once worn a hijab there before. I actually met Nora wearing the hijab! She was sitting right by the entrance because her phone hadn’t been working and she figured she could just sit by the door and spot me when I came in. After we met I went upstairs to her room and changed back into my Western clothes and then met her for dinner on the lobby patio. I found out Nora was coming to Morogoro a few months ago when her friend, whom I met once in Dar es Salaam, told me that she was coming to Morogoro to work for 5 months. As soon as I met Nora we instantly clicked. Although she’s only been in Tanzania for five days, she’s very worldly (she’s spent time in South America and India) and we share a lot of the same thoughts and opinions about traveling, living, and working abroad. Nora and I had a really nice meal together and got to know each other quite well. In fact, I invited Nora over on Monday night for a home-cooked meal since she’d been eating out for five days straight.

On Monday I had three classes at Morogoro Secondary, I held my club meeting with my students after school, picked up my February stipend and did a bit of shopping in town, then I had Nora over for dinner. Overall it was a really good day and I felt really happy when I went to bed.

On Tuesday morning I discovered that my wallet was missing 50,000 shillings from the money I’d had left over form my stipend that I picked up on Monday – which is a sixth of my entire month’s stipend! :(! I recounted everything I bought on Monday and couldn’t figure out for the life of my why I was missing 50,000 shillings. I traced my actions from Monday and realized that the only people who could’ve had access to my wallet without my knowing were two neighbor boys who came over on Monday night to watch movies in the living room while I cooked dinner in the kitchen. I was really disappointed that they might’ve taken the money, especially since once of them comes over all the time and I’ve never had a problem with him taking anything from me – not even 2,000 shillings! When I walked to school Tuesday morning I felt really uneasy and messaged the boy’s mom asking her if I could talk to her in the evening and ask her a question (namely if her son took my money). She ended up inviting me over for dinner that night.

On Tuesday I taught all four of my classes and went to Oasis to use the Internet for a while after work to help Maryam make an excel chart of her students’ grades from the MUM. I got home just in time for dinner at my neighbor’s house. I went over there feeling worried about what she might say when I asked if her son had taken my money. When I asked her, she was very surprised and immediately called her son in to talk to me about it. He assured his mom and I over and over again that he had not taken the money. This kid is only 6 or 7 years old so he’s pretty young. He’s been nothing but sweet ever since I met him and he always comes to the house to color and watch movies. He’s always been well behaved so it seemed really out of character for him to take something. His mom was really serious with him and even made him cry.

Things got even worse, too. Here in Tanzania, being a thief is one of the worst things people be in society. Most Tanzanians pride themselves on being honest people who would never take things from each other without asking. Hence, if you are caught as a thief here, people punish you severely for it. It is not uncommon for people – especially good people – to turn extremely violent and beat the crap out of a thief. In their opinion, no matter how brutal their beating can be, it’s better that they beat the thief themselves than tell the police and send the thief to jail (according to them a thief would be treated even worse in a jail…). Some people here even condone burning thieves alive for their crimes. In fact, when I was on my way to Kibiti one time to visit one of the WorldTeach volunteers there, I saw a huge crowd of people gathered around a man on the side of the road in a small village we passed through. All of the man’s limbs had been tightly tied up in rope and he was left helpless on the ground. I suspected he was a thief and was going to be seriously punished for his actions – even burned alive. So you see, being a thief here is no light matter.

When I asked the boy if he’d taken the money and he insisted that he hadn’t and didn’t know anything about it his mom proceeded to beat the living daylights out of him, smacking him really hard with her arm to get him to confess something. I could tell even five seconds into the beating that he really was innocent. I felt so terrible. I can’t even describe to you what it’s like to see a little kid get beat when he’s screaming for his dear life. I’ve never heard a child scream like that and frankly I’m disgusted and disappointed with myself that I brought that beating upon him. What’s worse is that the boy and his mom went to go see the other little boy who had also been at the house on Monday and his mom. When we were there I sat passively on the couch while the two boys stood at attention, almost like they were in a military camp, while their mothers talked in nearly incomprehensible fast Swahili at them trying to get their sons to tell them where the money was. Both boys cried their eyes out saying they didn’t know anything. Instead of listening to them, their mothers thought they were lying. They took the two boys into the next room and got a stick from outside and proceeded to beat the two boys’ bottoms with the stick with their shorts down. I’ve never witnessed anything more horrible in my entire life and I swear to God I just wanted to throw up and tell them to stop. The mothers had this look of evil in their eyes as they beat their sons. It didn’t look like they had one ounce of remorse when they were finished. The boys were completely humiliated and in total shock. They’ve been beaten before, for sure, but that doesn’t make getting beat any easier – especially since they know what they’re in for. I cannot stand that beating people here is such a commonplace punishment. It’s just human abuse and human cruelty in my eyes. I think you can surely get someone to confess to something without beating the shit out of him or her. I’m still in shock myself at what I heard. I say heard because when they mothers took the boys to the other room to beat them I couldn’t even stand to watch it. I sat utterly terrified in the other room, paralyzed with fear and hating myself for what was going on. In Tanzanian society, 50,000 shillings is a ton of money and it’s even a fairly standard month’s salary for some Tanzanians. When I think about it, I should just forget about the money and make do with the 200,000 shillings I have remaining for this month. I should be grateful that whoever stole the money didn’t take all of it so I would at least be able to get by for the rest of the month. After all that happened and all the punishments that were doled out, I never even found out what happened to the money and now I frankly don’t care anymore. Finding out what happened to the money isn’t worth someone else getting beat up over, even if that person was guilty.

After the terrible fiasco on Tuesday night, I immediately went to bed when I got home because I just wanted to get all of the gut-wrenching sounds and sights out of my head. I woke up Wednesday morning feeling sick with the start of a cold. My throat was all itchy and scratchy and it was hard to talk. I decided instead of forcing myself to go to work that I would tell my supervisor that I wouldn’t be able to come into work on Wednesday. I took the day to relax at home and set my mind straight again. Maryam came over to visit me and I helped her start to apply for a job as a full time Swahili teacher at the MUM. We have arranged an agreement where I will help her improve her English (she’s nearly fluent) and she will help me improve my Swahili. She especially wants to learn how to write a research proposal and report. We came up with a schedule together of when we’ll meet to exchange ideas about our languages. A friend of hers, Swabra, who is also interested in learning English came over to pick her up. We arranged that she’ll also come three days a week to learn English. In addition, I have already been teaching another woman a couple days a week…so now I have three people to tutor in English! All of a sudden my life has gotten crazy busy. I’ll see how I can handle all the extra work. If it gets to be too much, I’ll just cut down my sessions.

WRITTEN WEDNESDAY, MARCH 10

I’m happy to report that by that Friday I felt well enough to return back to school. When I was at school that day another teacher told me that I would have to come into school on Saturday to invigilate three Form 3 exams during the morning session. It’s not like I had plans for the weekend, but still I was sort of bummed to have to come into work on a Saturday. On Saturday I arrived at work at 7:00 sharp (a teacher even made a comment about how weird it was that I was so punctual…what can I say…I’m American! Haha). I invigilated the three exams from 7:30 to 1:30. For each of the exams I had to hand out the tests and answer sheets, watch the students to make sure they were quiet and didn’t cheat, and also staple all of the students’ papers together when they were finished. Since there is a shortage of staplers at the school, it was sort of humorous trying to find a stapler for the end of the periods. Teachers would pop into each others’ classrooms trying to hunt down a stapler they could use. It seemed like a game of whack-a-mole with everyone chasing after staplers that kept disappearing. In addition, at one point during my second exam it started down-pouring like crazy outside. In between my second and third exams I had to return to the office to drop of the completed exams and pick up the new ones for my final session. I got totally soaked even from running in the rain for only 20 ft! Although I was rather cold and wet for the rest of the time at school, I actually found the rain really refreshing and calming. When I finished my last session I dropped off the papers at the office and to my surprised delight I received a payment of 5,000 shillings for helping invigilate. It’s not much, but 5,000 shillings can actually get me a ton of fresh fruits and vegetables from the local market, where mostly everything is between 100 and 200 shillings a piece.

After finishing up at school I went home to relax for a bit until I had a tutoring session at 4:00. My student, Veronica, came with her son, Junior (I seriously thought that was a name people only heard in movies these days! Haha), and I taught her for about two hours. While I was teaching her, her son, who can’t be more than 4 years old, insisted on begging for our attention the entire time. He kept banging on dining room table where we were seated with whatever he could grab in reach. He even started playing with a pair of light up bunny ears that my housemate had gotten for Halloween last year. He was using them to play with the kitten and also tried repeatedly to put them on him mom’s head, which he could barely reach even when she was sitting. It was sort of a crazy session. For as rambunctious as her son is, Veronica is insanely calm and a wonderful student. She did really well with the lessons, despite her son’s attempts to veer her attention towards him, and I’m looking forward to continuing to teach her. I just need to find a safe way to entertain her son while we’re trying to learn!

Saturday night Nora and I attempted to go out to dinner at a local Tanzanian restaurant called The New Classic (which is actually a humble hotel) that serves traditional Tanzanian food. At such local places, you usually have the choice of getting ugali, ndizi (bananas), wali (rice), or chips (french fries with nyama (meat – usually beef, which is ng’ombe), mboga mboga (vegetables), samaki (fish), or kuku (chicken). No matter what you order for your main dish, you’re almost always served a side dish of maharage (beans cooked in a yummy coconut sauce) and a scrumptious red sauce that you can pour over your meal. The funny thing is that even though all of those things are on the menu at these local eateries, that doesn’t guarantee that all of those options will be available all of the time. In fact, by the time Nora and I reached the restaurant at 8:00pm, most of the food was finished. When we arrived at the restaurant it was very crowded with local Tanzanians. As is common custom in Tanzania, our waitress sat us at a table that already had someone eating at it. Maximizing places to sit for customers ensures that restaurants will earn the most money they can. Nora and I sat down with an older man who was eating ndizi samaki (bananas and fish). When we both saw his meal we got the craving for the same meal, but when we ordered the waitress just said, “Meisha” and “Hamna” – meaning that the ndizi and the samaki was “finished,” or that they were out of them. Disappointed, Nora and I settled for rice (the only starch option) with the sides of maharage, sauce, and a little bit of spinach. As we ate our meager meals we sipped on fresh mango juice (delicious!). It was pretty funny because the way Nora and I were seated was such that Nora was facing one of the walls of the restaurant, which had a large mirror covering it, and I was sitting to her left side, also facing a mirror from the adjacent wall farther off. Although we maintained a great conversation throughout the meal, Nora couldn’t help but laughing at how awkward and hilarious it was to watch herself eating across from her as she tried to talk to me. I thought it was funny, too. While the restaurant had cleverly tried to make the small space seem larger with the mirrors, they had quite a weird effect on its customs, or at least on us. We finished out meal and grabbed a taxi home, reveling about funny quirks in Tanzania and how Nora felt she was getting along here so far, after her first week in Morogoro.

On Sunday I took it easy the whole day until I had another tutoring session at 4:00pm. This time I met with Swabra. Like Maryam, Swabra is a very strict Muslim and wears the full hijab whenever she is out in public so that only her eyes appear among a plethora of black robes. Even when she came inside the house, she only lifted her face veil so that I could just see her face. She also came with one of her kids named “Shakir,” whom she calls “Shakira” (which I totally love because it makes me think of the awesome pop star!). Unlike Junior, her boy (who is only 2 going on 3) was incredibly quiet throughout the whole session. He even ended up taking a nap right on the table where I was teaching Swabra at one point, haha. I’m sure the image of Swabra and I, with her kid face down on the table, would’ve looked pretty funny to other people if they’d been there. Swabra did really well her first day and I’m looking forward to tutoring her more in the future. I actually find it extremely empowering teaching her since many Islamic women do not usually get the opportunity to become educated as much as men. I’m more than happy to empower her with a basic knowledge of English!

This past week I’ve been teaching as usual at school. I’ve put a lot of focus on doing really interacting, engaging, and critical thinking exercises with my students. Too often they just sit in the classroom passively and listen to their teachers lecture. I want to show them that learning in school can be through many different means. I’ve had them complete several brain teasing activities this week. For one exercise I gave them a definition of different words that all had their first and last letters missing and they had to use the definitions to help them figure out what the full words were. I also taught them about anagrams and had them try to complete ten of those. For my last lesson of the week, I tried to incorporate a drawing activity into my lesson plan, since creative drawing skills are heinously underutilized in schools here. I drew a picture on the blackboard that only half of the students in each class were allowed to see. They had to copy the picture I drew and then describe it to their partners in English using a wide range of vocabulary. The goal was that the students would be able to describe their pictures so well that their partners would be able to draw similar (or exact) replicas. The activity went fairly well and I think the students really enjoyed the opportunity to use their English vocabulary in a creative way. As I continue to plan my lessons for the rest of my time with WorldTeach, I hope to incorporate more critical thinking exercises that encourage students to use a wide range of thinking, writing, drawing, reading, speaking, and listening skills.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Every Day Is a Roller Coaster When You Live in Tanzania

Written Thursday, February 10, 2011

I had a really up and down kind of day today. My day started off well. I drank coffee for the first time in ages and got a pretty good buzz off of it this morning. I taught my first class. Class went fairly well. Students participated a lot and really understood the lesson. I used colored chalk for the first time and it dyed my hands green and blue. I looked like a frog when I left class, haha. I washed off my hands and went to the staff room.

In the staff room I spent time with a fellow teacher of mine named Maryam. She is very nice. She taught me Swahili for about half an hour and schooled me on some really important stuff. Since I arrived in Tanzania, every time somebody told me a really high price for something, I would say “Chizi sana,” which I thought just meant, “That’s a ridiculous price.” I came to find out today that when you say “Chizi sana” to someone it’s actually a huge insult to that person and is taken to mean that you’re calling him or her mentally disabled. Oops…me saying that in the past might’ve caused some epic misunderstandings. I learned a more polite way to say that a price is absurd instead. I also get random men on the streets here calling me “Mchumba” a lot, which means “wife.” As a matter of principle, I always want to call back to them, “I’m not your wife.” Maryam taught me how to say that today too, which will surely come in handy. After my mini Swahili lesson I was in a good mood because I was making good connections with my colleagues and really felt like part of the staff. It’s nice to feel included in the staff here finally, especially since in the past I’ve often felt shut out from staff bonding by default because every speaks fluent Swahili faster than I can process. In the staff room I even shared basil tortilla chips I had made the previous night and brought for lunch with the other staff members, who seemed to enjoy them. After hanging around the staff room for a while I had some time to kill before my last class (the last periods of the day), so I walked to town with Maryam.

While in town I went to the Oasis Hotel where I use wireless Internet. I’ve been there every single day for the last week since I figured out how to connect to the free wireless server rather than having to pay for the one I’ve been using since I moved to Morogoro in September. While at Oasis I experienced a weird shift in mood. I got to talk to my sister online, which was comforting, but it also tugged on my heart strings a lot. I never realize how much I miss my family until I get to talk to them. I also felt a little anxious at Oasis after checking my email. Since I applied to a job on Monday, I’ve been anxiously awaiting an email reply from the employers about possibly getting an interview for the position. I know it’s only been about four days since I submitted my application, but I’m really excited to hear back. Adding to my anxiety was the fact that I finally got an email reply from a Career Counselor at my old college which I was expecting to receive on Monday instead, which gave me feedback on my resume and cover letter that I ended up submitting to the job on Monday. Even though I edited my resume and cover letter and had multiple people look over them, in retrospect I wish I had waited a few more days to get that feedback first. After seeing that feedback, I’m now more anxious about not hearing back from the employers. As I was stressing about that job opportunity, I also started wondering what it is I really want to do after WorldTeach ends. Do I really want to move back to America and work in Boston and live with my friends? Do I want to stay in Tanzania and explore opportunities to live in Dar es Salaam, where I’ve wanted to live for a while now? Do I want to get a job that will allow me to be moving around and traveling all the time? I really don’t know what I want. I feel like the different parts of who I am are telling me to go in different directions all at the same time and I can’t make up my mind about which direction I want to choose yet. I wish someone could almost make the choice for me, even though I know I ultimately have to make that decision on my own. For the hour and a half that I was at Oasis I browsed jobs in Dar es Salaam and tried to find information about different NGOs that operate in the area that I might be able to work for. I left Oasis feeling a bit overwhelmed and torn.

As I walked back to campus for my last class, I had a really unsettling confrontation with a Tanzanian man. As I was walking, he approached me from behind, walking faster and faster until he caught up with me. He was shoved up against me, almost close enough to brush shoulders with me, which made me really uncomfortable. Although I’m used to having men cat call me and try to get my attention here, especially wanting to talk to me, I felt a certain degree of uneasiness about this man in particular. He kept saying really quickly, “Salama?” as in “Are you peaceful?” I said yes and tried to ignore him so he would take the hint that I wasn’t interested in talking to him. Unfortunately he began getting more aggressive with me and almost pushing into me said over and over again, “I love you. I love you…” I felt like he was going to attack me based on his uneasy tone of voice. Since I had my computer with me, I wanted to avoid an attack as much as possible. It’s very rare that I ever feel threatened by men here. Most of the time I just feel annoyed, but this time, on high alert, I immediately turned around while this guy was mid-sentence and found comfort in the fact that there was another young Tanzanian guy walking behind us about 15 feet away. I stopped dead in my tracks, turned around, walked toward the guy and said, “Naomba msaada,” to him, which means, “I would like help.” I asked him if he would walk with me for the rest of my route to school. He could see how nervous I was and agreed. He walked alongside me for the last five minutes to school, while the man who’d tried to talk to me before followed right behind our heels continuing to get my attention until I reached school. As soon as I reached the campus I let out a huge sigh of relief that nothing had happened and thanked the guy who had escorted me.

When I returned to school I found some of my male students sitting outside the classroom. They noticed that I looked frazzled and asked if I was okay. I told them that some random man had been harassing and following me on my walk back to school from town. One of my students sweetly asked me if I wanted him to go find him and beat him up. Haha. Little kids are charming sometimes, even though that student is pint-sized compared to the man he would’ve been up against. I politely declined his offer with a slight laugh. Noticing that there weren’t any girls around, I asked the boys where they were. They told me that all of the girls in their class had gone to the main campus (I’ve been teaching at the other school campus this week where the older students usually study because they’re taking their national exams this week at the main campus where I usually teach my students). The boys told me that all of the girls were required to go to the main campus to get an annual pregnancy test that is required by the school. I was a bit taken aback because surely if the school makes the effort to invest in enough pregnancy tests for about 500 girls then there must be a rather high probably that at least some of them are pregnant. All of my students are definitely no older than 15 years old, so it was a bit devastating to hear this. I think it’s a positive thing that the school is trying to make sure the girls are tracking their pregnancy status, but the fact that the school offers no support or counseling for them after they receive their test results really frustrates me. I can’t imagine being that young and finding out that I’m pregnant at school, only to find out that the school won’t provide other resources for me to take care of myself. Not to say it’s the school’s responsibility per say to take more responsibility for girls’ pregnancies, but I would think that if the school was going to put in the initial effort to test the girls that it would also think about treatment options for the girls after they find out their results… It further irks me that there seems to be all this accountability forced on girls partaking in sexual behavior here by making them take pregnancy tests when half the reason any of them would end up pregnant in the first place would be because a guy got them pregnant. It seems unfair that the girls are rushed off for pregnancy tests, forced to face the results alone, while all of the guys on campus treat that amount of time as just another free period. It seems to me that if Tanzania wanted to decrease rates of teen pregnancy then it would address both parties involved in teen pregnancy – that is, girls and boys. Why not use the time in which it takes girls to get tested during school to have someone educate and talk to the boys about responsible sexual behavior and the risks of pregnancy and getting sexually transmitted infections/diseases? Even if the boys were mostly disenchanted about having a session like this, at least Tanzania could’ve said that it tried to educate its children to become more sexually responsible…

Anyway, while I was processing all of these thoughts in my head, my female students started turning back up onto campus, most of whom seemed to be acting normally so I was somewhat relieved. As they returned I entered my classroom and prepared to teach my lesson. My last class went well and picked up my mood quite a bit. As part of the lesson I chose students from the class to write sentences on the chalkboard that practiced the grammar I had just taught them. When they do that I usually have them read their sentences to the class and then I repeat them, louder, and make any necessary corrections. Knowing this, the students purposefully wrote Swahili names that are particularly hard for a non-native Swahili speaker, like myself, to pronounce. I swear one of the names had almost 10 syllables! It was fun trying to pronounce the names for the class though. I said them slowly and delicately, trying to pronounce them as accurately as possible. I was more than willing to try because it gave my students an opportunity to see me struggle with the language in which they’re most comfortable with, whereas it’s usually the opposite circumstances. I think it built up their confidence knowing that, even as their teacher, I also struggle to learn a new language, just as they sometimes struggle to learn and pronounce new English words. It taught me a degree of humility about teaching a second language, which I greatly appreciate. I believe it’s always good when your students can see you as just as much of a student as they are sometimes. It reminds them that the learning process never ends and that even adults whom that they look up to face similar challenges they experience when learning another language. The rest of the class went smoothly and I headed home after class ended.

On my way home I noticed that I couldn’t see clearly out of my left eye. When I got home I realized, unfortunately, that I just got my third case of pink eye since arriving in Tanzania eight months ago. For someone who’s never had pink eye in her life until coming to Tanzania this year, getting it three times in eight months is quite alarming, at least to me. I immediately took out my contacts and threw on my nerd gear (what I call my glasses), a bit discouraged. Although I absolutely enjoy running on my road almost every day after school, the incredibly dry and dusty road continuously gives me problems with my eyes. In a way, although it will be gloomy most of the time, I can’t wait for the rainy season to start so that the dust gets packed down and stays out of my eyes, especially when people driving dangerously fast who whoosh by me while I’m running. That’s the worst – when a torrential cloud of dust flies into my face at high speeds after a car’s just got zooming past me. May I just say, let it rain, let it rain, let it rain…

When I got home today I made heart-shaped sugar cookies in preparation for the up-and-coming Valentines Day party my housemate and I are hosting at our house this weekend for our fellow WorldTeach volunteers and some of our other friends. The last time we hosted a party for our WorldTeach pals was for Halloween. We made a bunch of crazy decorations, such as spiders made out of black trash bags and paper chain ghosts and pumpkins, and hung they up all over our living room walls. It’s been three months since that party and we still have those decorations up on the walls. In spirit of our Valentines Day festivities, my housemate and I are going to make V-Day-themed decorations to replace our old spooky ones. Hopefully we’re all feeling the love by the time the party rolls around this Saturday. Since there aren’t many things to do in Morogoro, it’s fun to have everyone come together once in a while to celebrate while we’re still all together in Tanzania. This could very well be our last holiday-themed party before we all live in either May or June.

For dinner tonight we made homemade pizza. I made the dough and we topped it off with a ton of veggies and lots of cheese. The pizza was absolutely delicious! After dinner we watched the movie from the 1990s called, “What About Bob?” starring Bill Murray. It was really funny and helped to keep my mood elevated for the rest of the night. While we were watching the movie the electricity went out, but it fortunately came back on when we were brushing out teeth before bed.

I’ve been having the worst time trying to fall asleep tonight, hence why I chose to write this now. My mind is racing with too many thoughts and I can’t process them all. I’m busy thinking about my future career and what I’m going to do after when I finish volunteering for WorldTeach. I can hear our neighbors outside rustling around filling buckets with the water from their outdoor tap. Since there’s a water shortage on our school campus, our school controls when water is available from our taps. For some ridiculous reason, someone decided to only make water available between midnight and 2am every few nights. Why they couldn’t make water available to us during normal daylight hours so we wouldn’t have to lose sleep over getting water is beyond me…perhaps they think we’re less likely to use up as much water as we please if water only flows in the wee hours of the night. It’s a clever way to try to conserve the water supply, but it doesn’t make it any easier for us to get by. Our house’s outdoor tap is usually quite fickle and even when water is literally rushing out of our neighbors’ taps ours only offers a weak trickle. I went outside a few minutes ago to turn our tap on and put a bucket under it to wait and listen for flowing water. It just came on now, but when I went outside to check the level of flow, there was only a weak stream of water coming out of the spout, which is disappointing to say the least. Since I’ve been writing this I’ve gone to check the water three more times and the bucket is still only about 3 inches full of water after all this time. Now that I’m tired, I decided to postpone my effort to get water. I just turned off the faucet and took the bucket inside. I suppose I’ll try again to collect water tomorrow night. For now, I’ll try again to sleep. Hopefully my thoughts will dissipate and my mind will be at peace enough to fall asleep.