Friday, September 6, 2013


Zawadi in Kiswahili translates to gifts, and this morning I woke up to learn that the students of Mtanga Secondary School finally received our zawadi! Better than coffee or any old alarm clock, this email from the former District Director jolted me awake, or alive I should say. He specifically recounted in his email the system they created for distributing the school supplies to the students. I am relived, hopeful, and ecstatic at the effort the administrators made in order to be fair with the students.

With this email, I uncovered some disheartening news as well. Of the 70 students I said goodbye to in mid-March, only 46 still remain in Form One. I understand in Tanzanian culture, school costs money, time, effort. Many students walk miles every day when they could be working and helping their family financially. Despite recognizing these cultural struggles, I still have a hard time fathoming the lack of encouragement in these students. I sincerely hope that these supplies encourage the 46 other students to return for their first day of Form Two come January, as the end of the school year is soon approaching.

A brief timeline of 6 September 2013 at Mtanga Secondary School:

The boxes arrived at Mtanga via Mr. Colins Kajisi, the former District Director. As you can see, the condition of these packages was one of the biggest factors I worried about through this project.

The students and administration were gathered and debriefed on the supplies, their origin, their purpose. 

The school supplies were arranged on desks and numbered. 

In lottery fashion, each student then picked a covered number and selected the supplies that matched his/her number.

Bibia with her new folder and backpack!

Despite my effort to ship equal amounts of "boy" and "girl" supplies, I was reminded that it matters very little to this culture. A gift is a gift, as it should be. 

During the duration of collecting the school supplies, raising the money, shipping the supplies, I feel as though I mostly focused on the needs of these students. In my own mind, my entire focus was centered on their life that lacked so much. However, these pictures remind me of some of my own earlier revelations, despite what these children lack, they make up for in their exuberant personalities. Thank you, Mtanga, for reminding me why I loved you so much to start this project in the first place. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Off they go!

Early this afternoon, a three month project finally came to a close. Well, a year long project, if we start back at the very beginning. Either way, I was gifted with a concluding sense of success this early afternoon when I finally shipped over 100 pounds of school supplies to Mtanga Secondary School in Tanzania! 

Why the long wait? After I raised the money I needed during my July 21st fundraiser, I contacted my friends in Tanzania. Unfortunately, many Tanzanian systems are still in need of major developments, the postal service being one. The field director was very persistent in trying to open a PO Box for the organization, however the Post Office was out of registration forms, which are needed to open the box. It took a few weeks for the forms to come in, but alas, they did! My friend sent me her address right away, and finally I made it to my own local Post Office with three large boxes. 

Even as my project was down to its final minutes standing in the post office, I happened to strike up conversation with a wonderful woman waiting to meet with the postmaster. She was so intrigued with my cause she asked to take my picture and send it to the newspaper. This small, yet substantial run-in is just another reminder that these types of experiences never come to a close. There is ample opportunity in this world to inspire others through goodwill and determination. 

As I've mentioned a few times already, my Educakes fundraiser was an even bigger success than I had planned! Many people were curious as to what I would do with the extra money. Well, after so much stress, a spa day was really feeling deserved...... just kidding! I headed over to Five Below's Back-to-School sale and purchased 30 backpacks! Of course, I received a few expected crazy stares and a joke about needing a different bag for everyday of the month, however, I walked out of Five Below feeling excited for 30 Tanzanian students. 

My Tanzanian adventure will never fully come to a close, but I do feel as though this chapter is at a rest, which is why I've started researching for the next part of my life story. A new adventure is slightly in the works, and I'll post more later when details become concrete :) 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Sweet Success!

So, today was the big day. After starting my morning with a two hour Praxis exam, I had to quickly transition into my role as teacher/baker/fundraiser chairperson for my anticipated Educakes sale. Despite my nerves, I have to say, the day couldn't have been a greater success. The thunderstorm predictions proved false, and with the beautiful weather brought many beautiful hearts that helped support my cause throughout the afternoon. During our five hour sale, we sold about 150 cupcakes and raised enough money to ship the school supplies to my students in Tanzania!

Not only do I hope these school supplies help the students' educations, but I also hope it shows them that even though we are continents apart, they are still very much apart of who I am.

As for the next Educakes sale, as was asked by many today, I think we definitely need to give it a few months! However, I'm definitely open to suggestions as to what we can raise some more money for!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Educake yourself!

The flyer is finished and word will hopefully start to spread throughout the area! I have already received so many generous donations, not just monetary, but in cupcakes as well! If you believe your time and money would be better spent by donating a treat for us to sell on the big day, please feel free to contact me at 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013


Wow, I can't believe it has been almost four months since I've been home in the states! As is too often true, time has slipped away so easily. However, the chaos of every day life has not imposed on my thoughts and memories of my time in Tanzania.

As I mentioned to so many of my friends and family, I never expected to be so "Tanzania sick" when I returned home. For the past few months, I have struggled with feeling a lack of closure on the experience. Like, its unfair of me to hop on a plane and leave this culture, these wonderful people behind. So instead I have decided to take on a project, the next phase in this cultural experience.

I headed back to my big-hearted seventh graders who wrote letters to my Mtanga Secondary School students back before the bulk of this journey began. I recruited them to help, and they more than willingly obliged. As a collective, during one of the last days of school, we spent some time cleaning out yucky lockers. Students sorted through crumpled papers, moldy snacks, long lost winter scarfs, and best of all, gently used school supplies. Any supplies deemed valuable yet unwanted, students donated to large brown boxes. I took these boxes home, filtered out any un-useable item, and neatly packed the rest into two large boxes. All together, thanks to my generous soon-to-be-eighth graders, we collected over fifty gently used binders, 15 folders, 8 notebooks, bags full of pens and pencils, various sticky notes, and a large pile of loose leaf paper, all of which will be sent to my students at Mtanga Secondary School. While I did have to toss out some of the donations (I don't think Mtanga students need the wool caps), I love that my students acknowledge that there are others that need these things more than they do.

Unfortunately, as I went to research my shipping options, I came across a semi costly hurdle. I understand that overseas shipping is pricey, but I wasn't quite expecting $900.

At about this time, I started wishing that I had found closure after my trip, saving myself from this oncoming headache. That lasted a few deep breaths and one reminder that I am doing good in the world, specifically for people I have come to love. Instead of giving up, I went back to the drawing board and redrafted a new plan, this time for fundraising our project.

Educakes, delicious cupcakes for education, also known as my new project, will be sold to earn money to ship our school supplies to Tanzania. As of right now, I will be selling these treats on July 20th in New Hope, PA. Over the next couple weeks, I will be posting updated information about the Educakes plan, hoping many of my followers and supporters will make it out for this little event. Please stay posted and contact me if you have any questions!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Full Circle

This post is a little later than I would have liked, but an essential one. Back in December, I had my students from Pennsylvania write to my future Tanzanian students. At that point, I was still blind as to what my timeline in Tanzania would be like. I had no idea whether I would even be able to deliver the letters let alone get a response from my Tanzanian students. However, I was ecstatic to find the time at the end of our program to have the students complete the task. Two months ago, I blogged about my Tanzanian students excitement about writing to American students.

Well, last week I was finally able to bring the lesson full circle. I delivered the American students their letters, making them equally as excited as the Tanzanian students were. Kids dwelled over their letters, reading them multiple times over. I've also noticed the letters and hand drawn pictures decorating the front of their binders and notebooks. Again, this lesson reminds me of the similarities between all children across the globe. I am blessed that I was able to give students in both America and Tanzania the tools and ability to reach out across the world and make a new friend.

While visiting my past students, I was able to share something else with them as well. When leaving them in December, they gifted me with a farewell video. In return, I created them a video about my time in Tanzania. Now that they have seen it, I'm happy to share it with everyone!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Kwaheri Tanzania

For about nine weeks I've waited for this day to come. In about twelve hours I will leave Tanzania behind as my plane departs the Dar airport. I am so excited to be heading back to America and reuniting with my family and friends. However, I'm also surprised about how hard it is to say goodbye to so many amazing people.

Last night, our Kilwa roommates met us in Dar for one last dinner together. The few days apart already felt like too many. For the first time I realized we were no longer 4 strangers from around the world. Over the past couple months we've created a family dynamic, helping each other when needed and laughing together daily. The boys constantly killed bugs and hunted for mice, while us girls kept the house tidy and nagged them to help. The little moments that drove me crazy are in the end the moments that defined us as roommates and friends. Last night after dinner, we faced the dreaded goodbyes. There was an awkward minute of not knowing how to start the inevitable, then the first of the hugs, and with them, the first of the tears. It took about fifteen minutes and a few rounds of hugs and tears for the boys to leave us in the lobby. I truly hope the four of us have a chance to be together again someday, but I am also thankful for modern technology that will give our long distant friendship a chance.

The boys also brought some inspirational news on their visit. After our stay at Sultan's, they went back to our Kilwa house for a night. As their bajaj pulled up to the house, they said kids came running yelling, "Jamie and Morgan are back!" I feel so sorry for their disappointment, because I know I wish we could have one more play date, also. However, I'm so glad to hear they really prize our short time together. Said also said he heard them doing the hokey pokey in our yard, which really touches my heart. I know it's only been nine days, but hearing these stories gives me hope that the village kids will hold onto our memories for a long time. I know I will.

And one final note for anyone that has ever donated clothes to the Goodwill, or any similar organization. Please keep donating! In Africa, you see the benefits of such donations. Most clothes are either second hand or personally made at the tailor. Countries like Tanzania aren't developed enough yet to mass produce clothing for their citizens. Many depend on the clothes we are giving away. One t-shirt we saw on a man was for a Caribbean wedding last summer, so donated clothes can actually travel here fairly quick! Today, as we packed up our hotel room, we gave the maid some clothes and sandals that we no longer wanted to hang on to. She jumped and shouted her appreciation, even started hugging us. The quality of life here is lower, but doesn't need to be ignored by those of us more fortunate.

Well, see you tomorrow, America!!!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Habari za safari?

How was your journey? Well, I can say my safari was worth every penny and all the effort! The lodging and food were beyond our expectations. And of course, the safari itself was the experience of a lifetime!

We arrived at the Mikumi National Park around 2 in the afternoon after a five hour car drive from Dar. The manager gave us the rundown of Vuma Hills, the resort we stayed out. The only rules were 1) no animals in the tent, 2) call if animals are found in the tent, and 3) stay in your tent after 10:30. These rules were a little unnerving but easy enough! We were then showed the bar and restaurant area, and a nearby swimming pool that was under renovations. Actually, an elephant tried using it as a watering hole and collapsed the side of it.

We were showed to our "luxury tent," which lives up to its title very well. Equipped with hardwood floors, western plumbing, and safari decor, this wasn't what I considered to be traditional camping. Our tent had a balcony that looked over the entire park, a breathtaking view. We were then served a delicious lunch of quiche, potato salad, and fruit. Despite stuffing our faces, we still managed to fit in two more elegant meals, complimentary of ours resort. As we sat for dinner, we were served warm bread rolls with butter, a concept we had given up on in Tanzania. We also ate a delicious, but traditional meal of rice with meat and potatoes. Dessert, a lemon sorbet, was the perfect way to end the day on top of the mountain.

The meals were delicious, but obviously we didn't travel five hours to eat. Our package allowed us two game drives throughout the course of our stay. We first went out after lunch, at 4pm. Our vehicle was a massive Land Rover, entirely open. We saw tons of wart hogs, antelope, zebras, giraffes, elephants, and baboons. We visited a hippo pool and watched them swim. Towards the end of our trip, we even saw some resting lions in the distance. We wished to get closer, but the tour guide explained it would only take 15 minutes before not even a shred of clothing would be discoverable. The best part of the evening trip was watching the sunset behind the Tanzanian mountains, an incredible landscape.

The following morning, at 6:30am we all met again for our second safari. We visited all the same animals, catching some amazing shots! The animals are definitely more lively in the morning. The most amazing (and terrifying) part of our morning excursion was finding the lionesses. Our tour guide spotted a couple in the distance as we rode along the trail. Him and the driver exchanged a few grief Swahili sentences, and then looked at us. They proposed we get our cameras ready and we were going to quick drive off trail, which is forbidden, and get up close to the lionesses. Well, when they said close,
I hadn't expected to get within six feet of them! Even more frightening was learning that female lions are actually the hungers, and at that moment they were thought to be observing the land for prey. Talk about an adrenaline rush!

At 8:30 we returned to Vuma Hills, greeted by yet another wonderful meal. We are yogurt with granola, cereal and milk (a rarity in Africa, sausage, bacon, beans, fruit, and eggs cooked to order. We ate until we could hardly sit up! Not just to be pigs, but also out of strategy. We had another long day of traveling ahead of us!

Anyone who is ever offered the opportunity to go on a safari should absolutely take it! I've always loved the zoo, but it's a different experience all together observing the animals in their natural habitat.

Some facts I've learned over the past couple days:

1. Baby baboons hide by clinging to their mother's belly.

2. Zebras' stripes are like fingerprints, unique to each zebra.

3. Zebras and wildebeest are actually considered "friends."

4. Wildebeest can prolong giving birth until its considered safe, and then all pregnant females will give birth together.

5. Giraffes are about six feet tall when they are born.

6. Giraffes can sleep standing up or laying down, but their necks have to be up either way because of high blood pressure.

7. A male lion sleeps 18 hours a day, while
the female hunts and trains the cubs.

8. The color of a lion's mane tells his she; the darker it is, the older he is.

9. Antelope are polygamous; one male can have 30 to 40 female partners.

10. Jackels (dog like creatures) are scavengers, not hunters. They will eat from carcasses that others have killed.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

On our own

Well, the bus did indeed pick us up yesterday morning. It was a 6 hour ride from Kilwa to Dar. The ride was an incredibly bumpy, off road experience at times, due to road work. However, despite all the thrashing, I somehow managed to sleep most of the way. Later, I was told you could hear my head slamming into the window all throughout the bus. Today, I have a little sore spot, but it's worth sleeping through that miserable trip.

Once we arrived in Dar, our assistant field director met us at the bus station and transported us to a nearby hotel. She dropped us off with a quick goodbye and a slight "glad to have you out of my hair" attitude. So at that point, we were on our own. At first, we all felt a little overwhelmed by the chaos of an African city, but we've managed quite nicely. After a short rest, we found a small Indian cafe where we got some fried rice and curry. We then found a nearby supermarket, where we actually found some ice cream to enjoy! We also picked up some yogurt and granola for dinner.

Now, it's a bit past 8 in the morning and five of us girls are waiting in the hotel lobby. On our own, we arranged a private car to pick us up and drive us the three hours to Mikumi National Park. There, we have booked a one night stay and two safari game drives.

The feeling of being of overwhelmed has subsided a bit, and has been replaced by excitement. While we still have two more days to find our own way in Dar es Salaam, we feel accomplished for what we've managed so far!

Simba, here I come!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

On the move... Hopefully.

It's currently 5:08 am in Tanzania and still dark enough to be the middle of the night. Five of us girls are posted by the side of the road with all of our luggage, hoping to be picked up by the bus heading to Dar. It's a trip that is more than dreaded, considering our experience with it last time, and this time could be worse.

Tanzanian transportation is unreliable at best, even more so when there's bad weather. Over the weekend we were hopeful because it hadn't rained all week. Well, we certainly jinxed ourselves with Murphy's Law. For the past few days it has rained quite often, even all throughout last night. This means most buses will get stuck in mud or possibly break down all together. The rain could delay our trip by a few hours or could be postponed into the night.

Even now, we can see the lightening in the distance, setting a bad omen for the day.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Pitching Tents

Friday evening we bumped along the only road in Kilwa Masoko on the way to Sultani's Place. The four of us were quiet, after hard goodbyes with our students. However, we were excited to kick back in our air conditioned bungalows and throw on some cable TV. Well, this soon turned out to be wishful thinking.

We pulled into the resort's drive, noticing big tents being constructed on the lawn. We were curious, but not overly concerned since the tents didn't have anything to do with us.. Or so we thought. As our field director greeted us, she quickly threw in the words, "Go ahead and put your bags near a tent," and walk off. Uhhh, what!!! And so our dreams of isolated relaxation were thrashed. Instead of cooling off in my personal bungalow, I lugged my suitcase over to a tent, which I had to share with five other girls. Rather than having a running water shower and western toilet, I'd be using a Tanzanian outhouse.

Fortunately, we've gotten used to making the best of such surprises, so the first night wasn't so bad. We were all exhausted after a long day, and stuffed from a delicious Sultani meal. The six of us easily dozed off in the dark tent.

The deep sleep helped prepare our group for the long day that awaited on us on Saturday. Like our mid conference weekend, we had meetings throughout the entire day. After breakfast, we attended our conferences in a small, stuffy kindergarten building. Normally, we work in a different space, but Sultani needed it for another event. Throughout the day, we participated in lectures, group work, and questionnaires. We met with the District Commissioner of Kilwa who applauded our group and announced that after a successful first year, they will be welcoming back our orientation course next year.

The day was concluded with an end of service party at Sultani's nearby beach resort, Kumbilio. International volunteers, Tanzanian volunteers, local teachers, and some administration had the chance to let loose after a stressful 7 weeks. There was drinking, eating, and some dancing. We learned Tanzanian line dances and I even watched our District Officer break it down to Chris Brown! Afterwards, some of us traveled to Masoko by Night, the local nightclub. Obviously, we didn't expect much, but more so just wanted to go for the experience.

Eventually, we drifted back to our resort, almost too tired to care about another night in a tent. However, a little surprise upon our arrival quickly changed this passive attitude. A grande wedding was being held in the venue where we normally have our conferences, which happens to be right outside our tents. The DJ speakers were set up so close, I could feel my bed vibrate. Wedding guests flooded our outhouse, while we all yearned to shower and get ready for bed. Needless to say, we didn't achieve the easy rest we had the night before.

Luckily, and finally, Sunday was the day we could move into the bungalows. We were still met with the surprise that we would have to share the room, but it was better than staying another night in the tents. Now we have the space and mental capacity for all of the post-program work we need to complete over the next few days.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Moving Day

Well Friday was the big day, the beginning of the end of this amazing journey. I am thrilled to be one step closer to my flight home to America, but the tone of the day was mostly bittersweet.

In the morning, we went to school for our typical Friday half day. My one student, Juma, actually wrote a farewell song for Said and me. He sang it in front of all of form one, but not before he taught students the best to drum on their desks. While I couldn't understand most of the lyrics, I was heart-warmed by his sincere gesture. The school day concluded with a short speech from our headmaster and one of the local teachers, thanking the volunteers (Said and me) for the efforts over these past 7 weeks. I will miss these friends very much!

After school, it was a mad dash to get totally packed up. We had about two hours until our car came, and we still needed to eat lunch. The nice thing about living a life of simplicity is that it makes packing quite easy. Anything extra that we didn't care to keep (clothes, shoes, containers, a hamper, a lawn chair, etc) we gave to Dada, our cook. She's recently married and has a few kids, so she appreciated the gifts.

Finally, just minutes before the car was supposed to pull up, some students came over for another goodbye. First, two of my best girls came by. I gave them a pair of never worn sandals and my very worn watch. The girls loved both presents and gifted me back with some yummy kashata. Then, one of our young boy students stopped by, as well. At first, he seemed angry, he wouldn't speak, even when we tried starting a conversation with him. As the car pulled up, he continued to sit silent and stone faced on our couch. We packed up the car, we're ready to get in, and Athumani still sat unmoving. I thought maybe he was goofily protesting, but I was unfortunately wrong. We peeked back in the house, only to find our student fighting back tears. I tried to give him a hug, but it only made the tears break through and run down his face.

I felt so sad for the little boy sitting on our couch. He was obviously stone faced as a means of trying to fight his tears. Again, if made me thing of Tanzanian's gender laws. Athumani, a small, upset boy, wouldn't even let himself give hugs, because society tells him he shouldn't show emotions. I felt so sorry leaving him on our couch, but the journey had to be continued.

We were all a bit downhearted to leave our students and our friends. However, the stay at Sultani's had us excited for real showers and some refreshing air conditioning. Well, that expectation was a bit misconstrued, but, for another post....

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

It's what's underneath that counts

For anyone that has seen Sex and the City 2, there is a pivotal moment that embellishes a bit of Muslim culture. The Arabian women are shown lifting their niqabs to reveal fashionable and glamorous threads underneath. On the whole, the film caused a bit of a media stir for its satirical spin on Muslim culture. However, today I learned there is some truth to the scene.

After testing today, students had some free time to play organized games outside. The boys all ran off to the soccer field, while the girls played a game called Ready. As they ran around, I saw my students constantly lifting their skirts out of the way of their energetic legs. This is when I also noticed that most students actually wear a layer underneath their skirts. This is first and foremost a shocking to me, as the Mzungu, because I can't imagine anyone wanting to wear another layer in this heat! More so, though, it's charming that young Tanzanian girls are able to find ways to express themselves despite the constant uniformity.

Below, two of my students show off their decorated leggings. I find it important to note that Zuhura, on the right, is one of my sassiest students, so it's only suiting that she wears snakeskin leggings under such a monotone outfit.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


"Jift" is the common Tanzanian pronunciation of the American word gift. During my time here, I've tried repeatedly to correct this phonetic muddle, especially over the past few days. Unfortunately, since its one of the few common English words in Tanzania, people have been saying "Jift" for quite some time.

As I mentioned, gifts have been very present this week. On Monday, my last day teaching, I gave each of my students a blowpop. Even though these candies were purchased in Masoko, my students were delighted to find "Americandy" written across the wrapper. I've also received some gifts in return. During porridge one day, a student insisted on buying me a kachori, which is a potato wrapped in a donut, dyed bright red. Delicious and greasy! Today, a student brought a small bunch of fresh bananas, after learning that I liked them. Moments later, another student brought me some kashata, my new favorite Tanzanian treat! It's a mixture of sugar, nuts, and coconut (or so I guess), hardened to a crunchy square.

These "jifts" from my students are small, yet deeply cherished. Life in Tanzania is hard, and most students come from families who struggle for money. Seeing them go out of their way to share their appreciation is humbling and heartwarming.

Monday, February 25, 2013


Two weeks from today, I will be touching down in America after 65 days away.
these final fourteen days of my trip are crammed with activity, so I know my flight will be here in the blink of an eye. This Friday, we move from our quaint village to Sultani's place, where we met the other Kilwa volunteers. We will stay at Sultani's until the following Wednesday. During this time, we have a debrief with our sponsors and help with program data entry. On Wednesday, some of us will leave for the city of Dar es Salaam. We will spend one night at a nearby safari, and the remainder of the time in the city itself. On the evening of Sunday, March 10th, after nine weeks in Tanzania, our group will head home.

Since talk of home has been more present in our conversations, my roommate and I have created a game of making silly countdowns. Rather than just make the days count, we've taken into consideration our common foods and activities. We've made a schedule to eat all our favorite foods this last week in or house. For example over dinner tonight, we said, "This is the last time we'll eat Dada's porridge with donuts." Some others from our list are: we only have to wash our hair once more by bucket, there's only 21 hours left of school, we'll only sleep in these beds four more times.

Hopefully, this countdown doesn't seem like we're rushing the next two weeks by, because I know that will happen on it's own. It's simply just a way for us to keep sane in the tougher moments of our final days. I'm grateful for the experiences I've had an all that I've learned, but I'm also excited to be reunited with my friends and family in America.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Putting on the pants

Being bossy isn't a character trait that is always warmly welcomed, especially in a culture as traditional as Tanzania's, especially when it's a woman. However, during my time here, I often find myself assuming the position in command, which has always come natural to me. In high school, I hated group work because I always knew I would volunteer to take most of it. In college, I was nicknamed "Fidel" for my dictatorship during rush season (but really, I did get us the best girls). I guess I've always figured, I'd rather get something done myself, than risk someone else doing a less than superior job. I'm the first to acknowledge that my bossy demeanor isn't always my most likable trait, but hey, everybody has unlikable traits sometimes, and I'm pretty content with this one being mine.

Coming into this trip, it never crossed my mind that this bossy trait would clash with Tanzanian customs. In hindsight, of course, it should been obvious. In a culture where women aren't supposed to wear the pants literally, they most likely aren't supposed to figuratively. Well, the American in me kept the pants on, not despite, but rather in spite of this cultural oppression. My first day at Mtanga, my colleagues and I discussed our 50-something students and how we should conduct lessons. It was proposed that we teach one large class and each teacher leads a quarter of the day. I countered that we should split them into two classes and co-teach. The three colleagues met my suggestion with a burst of laughter. I could practically hear, "Tsk tsk, silly girl!" For the first time, I realized I was the lone female at the school, something that hadn't occurred to me because of the equal dynamics I'm used to at home.

It was this initial moment, this outright ridicule, that has pushed me to keep up with my Bossy American Girl character. Were there times I should have censored my demands? Of course, I am a guest after all! But, as if turns out, bossy people are usually pretty stubborn, as well. Needless to say, we split Form 1 into two reasonably sized classes. For the past six weeks, I have planned and implemented all of my own lessons, while whoever I co-teach with that day takes the dormant role. I can't complain about doing more work than all of my colleagues combined, because my work has created excitement among my students that is so rare in the education system. I've created a student centered classroom, I praise them, I reward them, and most importantly, I do not humiliate them.

It may have taken some cultural adjustment, but the local teachers have definitely come to respect my perseverance. I've seen our conversations develop from two parties fighting for command, to two equals discussing possibilities. I can't always condone my bossy, stubborn attitude, but when it's to ensure gender equality and promote better education, I won't be apologetic for it, either. My Tanzanian skirts can't keep me from wearing the pants!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Mpwenda rafiki

On December 11th, my second to last day student teaching, I decided to give my American students a Tanzania mini lesson. I was eager to share my upcoming adventure with the 7th graders, hoping it would encourage them to someday embark on big endeavors. Their excitement and willingness easily surpassed my expectations; many students actually asked for more information than my lesson intended to cover. To conclude the class, I asked students to write letters to my future Tanzanian students, which actually included key Swahili phrases!

Now, those "future Tanzanian students" are about to conclude their English orientation course. As a way of celebrating (and reviewing), I gifted my students with their letters from America. First, I had them underline all the phrases they understood, so that I could help them with rest. Next, we reviewed types of information that should go in a letter. Finally, the students were put to the task of writing a letter entirely in English to a new friend across the globe. Of course, I caught some sentences like, "My mother is a computer" and "I like fisherman," but these are expected from any language learner. My students have gone great lengths to be able to write these letters after just a few short weeks, and I am proud beyond words!

One of the reasons I decided to teach abroad is to be able to integrate cross-cultural learning moments into my classroom. My KV students helped me take my first step towards this goal, and for that I am infinitely grateful. Their letters were genuine and heartfelt, and I felt that they truly absorbed the cultural insight. Now, I am also humbled by the hard work of my Tanzanian students! Their effort has helped me come full circle with my cross-cultural mission. I feel that both American and Tanzanian children have proved that a teacher is powerless without the support of all the amazing students.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Lead by Example

As I mentioned in my last post, students are as familiar with the concept of "lead by example" as they are with a New York style pizza (something I'm currently craving). It's not Tanzanian tradition to give respect to get it. Rather, authority figures demand respect and give very little; it's simply the way of the social food chain.

The most prominent display of the oppressor/ minion dynamics is within the school setting. A student's role is first and foremost to serve the teachers, regardless of inconvenience or injustice. For example, students are given a 30 minute break, during which they are given free porridge, provided by the WorldTeach sponsors. This is a gift to students in order to improve their physical and mental capability of academic excellence. However, as students break for porridge, many are intercepted by demanding requests. Teachers, people with jobs and incomes, feel that their free porridge fill is a priority. Not only is the porridge site a five minute walk from school, but some students are trapped making multiple trips. After returning with a teacher's porridge, another teacher may decide he needs some also. While the student's away, teachers decide they need snacks to go with their porridge. It's a routine of "if you give a mouse a cookie..." and it happens every single day.

Not only do the demands distinguish one's authority level, but the communication does, as well. Typically when a teacher asks for porridge or food, he expects a "yes, sir" or "yes, teacher" response. Anything less will not be tolerated. I've seen students respectfully meet their teachers' relentless demands, only to be scolded for the way they silently nod. Today, I watched a teacher ask a Form 1 student an English question, and he mimicked her for stumbling over her English response. Despite the freshness of the foreign language, the teacher felt the right to tease her for her hesitation.

Unfortunately these are dynamics that I have to accept as cultural. Very few students actually make their way through the education system. During their time, they are treated like minions, but the promise of respect awaits them at the end. Sadly, this means most students that transition to authority will too become the insensitive leader. I've seen it happen with my roommate. Every Saturday at 8 am, he hosts a class for Form 4 students. Sometimes he's almost on time, but usually it's reaching 9 when he gets out the door. When calling attention to this visible issue, he responded, "Students wait on teachers, not the other way around," as he moseyed out the door. My roommate, like the Mtanga teachers, is no cruel, villainous soul. These actions speak of the oppression that the teachers once faced, as well. Tanzanians are conditioned to believe that in order to have respect, you must be a dominating presence. It's the culture, not the person... Or so I continually try to believe.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


The breaking point. The "that's it!" moment. The time-out. In any classroom, this intervention is inevitable. You can be mid-lesson and you just stop and ask, "Am I not speaking your language?" While I've had this moment before, today was the first time I had to say, "No... The problem is I'm not speaking your language."

Teenagers are energetic; they are talkative, high strung, antsy. Teens are children by nature, adults by societal standard. Despite years of unsparing discipline, Tanzanian students are no exception to this observation. The more students sit, the more likely a spontaneous outburst. The more I talk, the more hushed conversations I hear. Luckily, I've prepared for such textbook teenagerness from the start. Our first lesson, Classroom Instructions, included phrases like "quiet, please" and "listen carefully." Over the past month, students have proved their thorough comprehension of such phrases by always refocusing attention when needed. However, today, they also proved their natural teenage spirit through an irrepressible energy... And by pushing their teacher to the "that's it!" mentality.

As we completed a class activity, I called on numerous volunteers to stand and give answers. During this lesson, I had to pause frequently and use my go-to one liners to redirect attention. Finally, in the midst of one student's response (I'm sorry, Mwanaisha), I put down my chalk and said "I will not teach." There was an aftermath silence, the kind that is always paired with shock, followed by a small "please, madam" from one student. This encouraged many more "please, madam" and "teach us!"

After achieving their attentive surprise, I decided to try a brief mini lesson. In big letters, I wrote REPECT on our dusty black board. Given the context, it only took students a few minutes to understand and translate the idea of respect, or heshima. We then used our Swahilish (Swahili-English) dialect to discuss who we gave respect to. Tanzanian students are taught, or more like trained, to give respect to teachers. However, the commandment to give respect to their peers is a foreign concept, one we had to take time to dissect.

Our post-peptalk afternoon went mostly glitch free. I sensed that students appreciated that I didn't just demand their respect as an authority figure, but rather stressed the need for consideration as an equal. I assume for the first time in their school career, a teacher actually respected the students as a way of leading by example.

Of course, I will love if my students suddenly gift me with robot-like attentiveness, but I also hope their energy and personality continue to drive our class in a positive direction!

Sunday, February 17, 2013


In Masoko (the town in which I live), visiting with neighbors is a daily pastime. On any given afternoon, you can find clusters of friends relaxing on porches and in backyards. These visits are rarely pre-arranged, rather people depend on the traditional system of take a chance and show up, a system only familiar to American culture via classic family sitcoms. However, at some Tanzanian homes, friends can't march up and knock on the door, like Sean so often does in "Boy Meets World." The reason behind this is, unfortunately, not all homes have doors here. Instead, Tanzanians use a traditional verbal exchange to establish a visit."Hodi!" is the greeting to announce the visitor's presence, its also a way of asking, "Are you home?" or "Can I come in?" Which is typically returned with a "Karibu!" 

Since I'm assuming none of my friends and family have tentative plans to show up at my door, I figure I'll use some photos to share my home. 

Our humble abode

Dining area

Living room/ Home office

Dada, our cook, grinding coconut in the kitchen.

Our "walk-in closet"
The hallway
The room I share with Morgan.
My wall of encouragement <3

Our deluxe shower/ bathroom.

The backyard

Friday, February 15, 2013

Happy Heart(break) Day

Valentine's Day in Tanzania is not the heartfelt, sugar coated day that is celebrated in America. The small population of people here that do recognize the holiday, use it to honor their love for America, rather than their significant other. It's an excuse to go to a club, a concert, or a local beach party. In other words, Tanzanians have a holiday dedicated to "partying like an American." While it's far from the genuine intent of Cupid's arrow, Americans can't get too offended. Just look at how we emblematize St. Patty's Day and Cinco de Mayo. I'm sure our pop-culture perception is far from the traditional purpose of those holidays. In my opinion, Tanzanians are actually pretty Americanized in their V-day voyeurism, just maybe not in the intended sense.

Unfortunately, I didn't spend my Valentine's day in any of the exciting ways my colleagues did. Instead, I spent most of the day in bed bearing physical pain and mental exhaustion.

I woke up Thursday morning feeling the onset of two terrible toothaches, one on either side of my jaw. I wish I could say they were the aftermath of too many conversation heart candies, but a girl can only get so lucky in Tanzania. Within a few hours, my mysterious mouth pain had spread into multiple lobes of my head. Being the sissy that I'm known to be, I was becoming overtly overwhelmed. On top of some earlier frustration and dire homesickness, I knew the dam holding my composure was about to burst. When my roommate/ colleague, Said, sensed my breaking point, he took immediate action to get me home.

Normally, I wouldn't let a toothache send me home, especially not from school. But all things considered, I'm not beating myself up over it. Six weeks into my trip, I've finally emotionally caved, six weeks later than I secretly expected. Of course, of all days, I wouldn't have chosen the day of love for my unloving mood. On the bright side, though, I'm in the homestretch of my trip. Knowing that I'm just a few weeks away from being reunited with the people I love, and maybe some belated V-day candy, helps bring me out of any homesick funk. Ibuprofen and long naps happen to help, as well.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Clearer Skies

This morning I woke up at 5:30 and couldn't go back to sleep, even though my alarm is set for 6. After begrudgingly opening my eyes, I noticed the heavy poking of rain on our tin roof. Our driver arrived late to take us to school. I had to dodge puddles of mud as I quickly floundered toward the car. Arriving at school, I was greeted with the realization that I was the only Form 1 teacher who was prepared for our observation by the assistant field director.

I quickly emailed a much needed vent to my boyfriend, "Its 7:30am and I'm already so annoyed."

However, I'm starting to wonder if there's some magical Mzungu godmother in Tanzania. Soon after my email, the murky clouds began to part ways, both literally and figuratively. I started my first lesson of the day, Describing Objects. Students quickly caught on to the meaning of adjectives and the nouns they describe. We've hit rough waters before when discussing parts of speech, so I breathed a sigh of relief when I sensed their understanding. They were even able to tie the lesson back to our previous lessons on Measurements and Colors. Our second lesson was surprisingly just as smooth! We discussed different modes of transportation and were able to build them into sentences that included when, where, and how the subject was traveling. I caught some students including phrases we hadn't even discussed!

Just as I was showering my students with much deserved praise, the Assistant Firld Director popped in for her visit. I was eager to show her the smooth progress my students had made in the day's time. She seemed pleased with the positive classroom aura. To make her visit even better, she brought two jars of Nutella for our house (we're addicted)!!

Only towards the end of the day, did I notice the students' eagerness begin to decline. The phonics portion of our day requires loud voices and a lot of movement, so I can understand why students were feeling tired, especially after an already long day. However, after reminding the same students multiple times to keep doing their gestures, I could hear the twang of frustration in my voice. Finally, I reasoned, I've had a long day, too!

No, I didn't just cancel school for the day. Instead, I called on one of my more resistant students (typically a boisterous clown) to come to the front. The look on his face showed that he expected a far worse punishment, but I simply handed him the pointer and said, "Teach phonics." After a few minutes of timid instruction, Shabani finally embraced his role of teacher. He even began yelling at students to pay attention and speak louder! The lesson worked so well, I actually let other students conduct the following three sounds. My earlier spark of irritation had been totally vanquished, and back to replace it was my peace of mind.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Honk Honk!

This weekend we traveled to the Ilulu Boarding School for Girls, where three of our fellow volunteers live. In order to travel to there from Masoko it takes anywhere between 1 and 3 hours, as well as multiple vehicle changes. We arrived shortly before lunch on Saturday and enjoyed a delicious meal prepared by their professional chef, who has a history in Mzungu cooking. Later, we were joined by two more fellow volunteers.

Originally, my housemates and I planned on heading back before dinner. However, since we arrived later than expected, the unpredictable journey home was looking less appealing. Morgan and I decided to stay the night after all, and the seven of us stayed up chatting like a middle school slumber party. Unfortunately, Said had plans for early Sunday morning so he headed back alone Saturday evening. For Morgan and me, this meant a serious test: two American girls trying to get back home via Tanzanian transportation. I'm proud to say we successfully boarded the dala dala, transferred to a teksi, and directed a bajaj right up to our front door!

Over the past month, and especially this weekend, I've realized that the transportation system has taught me a lot about Tanzanian culture. After riding in so many different types of vehicles, I've been able to observe key social interactions between people. Even more interestingly, I've come to pick up on a highway hierarchy. The faster the vehicle, the more rule it has. There are no such things as passing zones in Tanzania, rather if you hear a honk, get over! Trucks honk at daladalas, cars honk at pedestrians, bajajes honk at bikers. The honk is a way of saying "I'm bigger than you, so move over!"

Highway Ecosystem:

Bus: Similar to size and shape of American coach buses, Tanzanian buses are for long term trips. During our six hour trip from Dar to Kilwa, I sat in the cramped window seat of a bus, squished next to a Tanzanian man. Other passengers who purchased late tickets sat on buckets in the aisle. Buses typically stop about 10 times throughout the trip, only for roadside vendors to come to the windows to try and sell nuts, fruit, eggs, etc. The most surprising attribute of this vehicle is its ability to off-road. Rather than wait in traffic for construction, our bus traveled alongside the road on a dirt plowed, bump path. Luckily we made it back onto the paved road, considering we spotted another bus not so lucky!

Daladala: This is a vehicle for shorter journeys. Typically daladalas run on specific routes throughout the course of a day, like a local bus. From the outside, they look like minivans or small school buses, on the inside you can find make shift seats and people packed like sardines! It's very rare to get a comfortable accommodation, so people rarely give up seats. However, if a lady boards with a child, strangers will typically offer to hold him or her. In some places, like Kilwa, daladalas won't leave a stop until the vehicle is totally packed. The driver will usually wait until seats are filled and at least a couple people are standing. This could take over an hour, so unfortunately the other passengers are stuck waiting in a crammed seat, usually overheating from the sun.

Teksi (taxi): A teksi is really just somebody's beat up old car they use to make an income. Since there's no commonality between teksi vehicles, you have to look for the right stickers. Today, we drove back go Masoko in a rotting, squeaky Toyota sedan. Again, we had to wait for the car to fill up, which took about a half hour. Finally the driver managed to recruit six customers, in a car that holds five. In the backseat, Morgan and I had to share with two grown men. I was jimmied up to the door, so for piece of mind I locked it, only to find out later that the locks didn't actually work. At least I didn't realize until we were back in Masoko!

Bajaj: Best described as a three-wheeled golf cart, a bajaj is a small vehicle built for short distances. We usually use the bajaj to get to either the main town or the beach, both of which take about five to ten minutes. Typically, a bajaj fits three people comfortably, but of course there's always room for one more, so one can sit in the driver's one person seat. Since my roommates and I use a bajaj quite often, we've actually developed a monogamous partnership with one particular driver. He answers all our calls, regardless of time or day. He will also bring us requested items from the market to save us the trip! In my opinion, bajajes are the most personally accommodating vehicle on the road!

Piki piki (motorcycle): These vehicles are great for traveling as an individual. It is cheaper than a bajaj, but obviously a little more disconcerting. To my initial shock, the district actually arranged two piki pikis to transport my roommate and I to and from Mtanga. I didn't want to be a complainer right off the bat, so I gave it a chance! I felt a bit wind blown after each ride, but more importantly, I felt pretty safe! I was even able to take up the traditional side saddle position like most Tanzanian ladies. Just as I was getting really comfortable, the district actually decided to cut the funding and personally drive us to school. Those first two weeks were definitely an experience to remember!

Friday, February 8, 2013

A Devil's Diagnosis

In America, healthcare is an issue that consumes a lot of money, time, and attention. Nearly everybody knows somebody with a serious health condition, personally I've known many. Health issues range from cancer, to seizures, to severe anxiety attacks. However, here in Tanzania, not all of these conditions qualify as a health issue, but rather as a spiritual infliction.

Last week, Morgan came home one day very anxious about a student of hers. In the midst of a lesson, the girl set off into a hysterical outburst. She held her head rocking, sobbing, sporadically yelling. She was escorted from class by a friend who explained he must wait with her. Usually after such an outburst, the girl tries running away. Morgan, very confused and upset, tried seeking advice from other teachers. She was told there was nothing for her to do, since it was the devil's work. Well, that certainly wasn't the expected response! As most Americans would do, Morgan continued to seek a more plausible diagnosis. Instead, she was given very abstract explanations.

In Tanzania, it is believed that devils live in trees and underground. There are good devils and bad devils, but both will possess the human body, most commonly females. Devils are pretty dormant most of the time, but activity can be triggered when witchcraft is nearby. So, the girl's meltdown was more so a warning for those around her. It's believed that a victim can only be helped through spiritual intervention by a religious leader. Now, I use the world "believe," but the explanation constantly included the word "know." Our roommates even supported that hospitals "know" they can't help these victims, and will turn them away. They argued that there are American healers that come to Tanzania to help because they too know these troubles are caused by the devils. Being the skeptic, I replied that the American healers have to come here because they can't find anyone to believe them in America. The boys continued to push that our medical science doesn't apply to their similar issues. And at that, the issue was finally dropped.

Until, just a few days later, I had my own brush with the devil at Mtanga. One of my students, a smaller girl with a sweet smile, visibly didn't feel well during our morning session. Even when the class was moving and standing, I saw her needing support from a nearby desk. I wasn't sure the issue, so I didn't tell her to pep up, as I normally would have down. Looking back, I feel guilty for my passive acceptance rather than encouraging her to sit down or take fresh air.

Students are given a half hour break which is a time for snacking and relaxing outside. During this break, I watched three of my girl students carry in one of their peers and lay her on my office floor. Rather than the expected frenzy, only one teacher got up to talk to the students and look at the girl. Although I felt helpless, I wanted to check on the student also. As I peeked in, I was upset to see it was the same small girl from my class. She was unconscious, shaking, and breathing rapidly and unevenly. I've never seen a seizure, but if I had to guess, this looked frighteningly similar. One student sat fanning her, as the teachers finished their break. I realized it was up to me to implement some action in the situation.

I asked a local teacher what we could do. Despite her unconscious state, all I could think is maybe she needs water, air, space, anything! He calmly explained that even though some issues seem medical, they're really spiritual. Despite this girl's obvious need for medical attention, she will only ever be encouraged to seek religious guidance. I stared at the poor girl, shaking on the concrete ground, wanting to scream for her. Again, the victims of this nation are silenced. Innocent children are forced to believe they are religiously blemished, putting their health and lives in danger.

Fortunately, the student returned to school after a couple days. Her sunshine personality was back to shining bright, as if this week was as ordinary as any. Which is what scares me, that these severe issues are considered ordinary.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

One month ago...

One month ago, I took my first step on Tanzania ground. The plane landed around 10pm, it took about an hour to go through customs and retrieve our luggage. Finally, we departed the small airport around 11 feeling invigorated and slightly exhausted. Since then, I have resided in three different places, visited multiple districts, and learned many different customs.

However, despite all the excitement over the last month, it seems that I have finally fell into a somewhat mundane routine. While it makes my days hard to distinguish from one another, I think my routine has also helped me adjust to my very foreign home.

6:00 My alarm goes off.
6:05 I complete a benign morning workout, just to burn off all the carbs and fried calories!
7:15 The District Education Officer (similar to a superintendent) arrives to pick me up.
8:00 Class begins.
9:30 Classes break for porridge, where students can also purchase donuts, chapati, sambusa, fish, or nice pops from local vendors.
10:00 Classes resume.
1:00 School ends and shortly after the DEO picks me up to bring me home.
2:00 We eat lunch, which is usually rice with some sort of sauce.
3:00 Morgan and I usually settle in to the porch's shade to read. Some days the village children come, so I break to play with them.
7:00 Morgan and I usually eat dinner, but the boys tend to eat later, but we all sit together and usually analyze cultural contrasts.
7:30 We take turns in our outhouse for bucket showers.
8:00 When possible, we take turns showing movies on our laptops. We've enjoyed both American and popular Tanzanian films.
9:30-10: Time for bed!

Typically, we try to use the weekends to break up our prosaic routine. We have visited historic ruins, spent days on the beach, and are currently planning a day trip to visit some of the other district volunteers.

While I've noted that my days mimic each other in routine, my experience so far has emphasized how distinctive the small moments are. Each day brings minor struggles, minute successes, and brief learning opportunities. Together, these moments are building the foundation to my unforgettable endeavor in Tanzania.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

History's Scars

During orientation, our field directors emphasized and stressed the presence of corporal punishment in Tanzanian schools. They wanted us to be prepared for the profound culture shock that we would inevitably face within the education system. However, no words or precautions could prepare us for the experiences that laid ahead.

On the first day of school, I was relieved and grateful to learn my school is rare in that it does not implement corporal punishment. However, my roommate, Morgan was not nearly as fortunate. Not only did she bear witness to students being whipped, she was actually pointed to as a source of blame. One of her new colleagues explained that the cycle of physical abuse began centuries ago when white men raided the land. The whites, who whipped and tormented their African victims, are held accountable for validating physical punishment. The teacher continued to push blame on the white race until he concluded with a question to Morgan, "Don't you feel it's your responsibility to end it?"

I can understand the teacher's fury with the white race. Actually, I expected to face more hostility for the actions of my ancestors. However, that's the point the teacher failed to understand. It was our ancestors who created the turmoil in Africa, not us. And if it were me who the man subjected to such aggression, I would have pointed out that his question was hardly necessary. Us being here, trying to make a difference in the schools, in the culture, should be answer enough.

Morgan isn't alone in facing the daily whipping ceremony. Aside from me, every volunteer in the area regularly witnesses physical and mental abuse. Often times, teachers and administrators implement beyond the 3 legal strikes on children, and with more force than necessary. Additionally, there are teachers who emotionally ridicule their students within the classroom. Students who answer incorrectly or get stuck must endure the rest of their peers pointing and chanting "loser." In Tanzania, public shame is seen as a way of enforcing people to do and say the right things. As an American, I perceive this as a way of discouraging students from ever trying. It explains why even at Mtanga, students are hesitant to raise their hand.

While Mtanga does not implement corporal punishment, students are unfortunately not entirely free from the abuse. I learned last week that certain Form 4 students were whipping my Form 1 students after school hours. It wasn't an issue I planned to let go, so I brought it to my headmaster's attention. I hoped that the student would be dealt appropriate repercussions. I expected additional labor around the school, or possibly contact with parents. The last thing I expected was what came to be.

The student, in his last year of secondary school, has been suspended for three months. In a culture where motivation to learn is terrifyingly low, I don't see this as a productive course of action. However, I shouldn't have expected much more. Rather than making an effort to approach the issue, the school has simply scraped it off their property. Now, there's a chance the student may lose any ambition to return to school, even after the three month sentence. I wallow in guilt accepting that I was the determined force behind this student's separation from potential success.

I've come to realize there is no corner in this country that is safe from its harsh realities. In America, we learn that energy can never die, only be transformed. In Tanzania, the same is true for abuse. If its not physical, it's mental. If its not the administrators, it's your peers. And if you think you're being spared, it probably means you're the one dishing it out.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Sultani's Place

After a relaxing weekend away, my roommates and I are settled back into the place we call home. The resort we stayed at, locally known as Sultani's Place, spoiled us to say the least. The weekend, which started out a bit tense and definitely interesting, wound down to the peaceful getaway we hoped for.

Friday evening we arrived at Sultani's Place around 4pm. At 5pm, our coordinator asked all the volunteers and local teachers to come together for some personal assessment. Each individual was asked to record the number hours they taught each day, which caused friction between some co-teachers. We were also asked to anonymously share our "rants" and "raves" on a few different issues. Since some people had rants about others, there was definitely some tension in the air, not to mention we were trying to write anonymously while surrounded by colleagues. It seemed that for many people involved, the weekend was kicking off with some friction.

Next, we were assigned to small groups to assess common issues that should be addressed in Saturday's conference. Again, this caused some heated conversations. Many local teachers see the volunteers as an infringement on their teaching routine. Some also view the volunteers as being spoiled, considering we have people that cook and clean for us. However, many of the teachers didn't realize the steep price the international volunteers paid to have such accommodations. Lucky for me, my local teachers have never showed any of these judgements. I hope for the other volunteers that the conference helped clear some of the tensions.

To help our steaming minds and rumbling bellies, we were served a delicious buffet. We chose from garlic macaroni, steamed veggies, beef stew, and juicy fruit salad. It's amazing how simple these foods are, yet how rare they are allowed into our diet. After devouring our meals, the international girl volunteers wandered to Tara's room to catch up and vent about our struggles. Much needed!

Saturday morning we woke up to another delicious buffet. Only one item was a little curious to me. I wasn't aware that any culture considers hot dogs a breakfast item! After breakfast, we immediately picked up with our conference. The day went smoothly, clearing up confusion on some issues and breaking into teams to troubleshoot others. At the end of the day, I think everybody felt significantly more relieved than the day before. Again, we were treated to a delicious Americanized buffet for lunch, which then also called for a follow up nap. Typically our weekend days do consist of a nap at some point, but this weekend the nap was even harder to resist. At Sultani's Place, we are each given our own personal bungalow, equipped with running water, AC, and even cable TV. After flipping on Bicentennial Man, sleep was inevitable!

After our naps, we ventured into the market to browse before heading to another nearby resort for dinner. The resort, Kumbilio, is a beautiful waterfront resort, also recently owned by Sultani. Again, the property consists of many personal bungalows, some right on the sand. I was bummed to be missing the deluxe buffet, however Kumbilio surpassed my expectations by far! For our first course, we were served pumpkin soup with toasted bread. Next, beef and mushrooms doused in gravy. Our third course, a small Greek salad and roasted potatoes. This course was also accompanied by a three foot fish, garnished with spices, tomatoes, and onions. While I'm typically hesitant to eat any course I feel staring at me, this one looked too good to turn down! At the end of the three courses, we could all hardly breathe we were so stuffed! However, no one dared to turn down the crepe desert!

The day had been long and productive. While much of our time was dedicated to work, the moments of relaxation were well worth it. Catching up with the other volunteers and indulging in the westernized delicacies made Tanzania feel more like a vacation destination for once. However, more than all the added luxuries, I have to say the best part of Saturday was my few minutes to call home. Based on time and money, I have only been able to touch base with my aunt briefly a couple times. Finally, I was able to fill her in on specific details of my journey. What a perfect way to end the day!

After another restful, and cool, night's sleep, everyone woke up on Sunday feeling fully rejuvenated. Again we were met with extravagant breakfast and lunch buffets. In between, we took advantage of our final hours of luxury by showering, napping, and even catching up with the Kardashians. Luckily, we departed with news that we will again return to Sultani's in four weeks. I for one, will be counting down the days!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Ration the Responsibility

This weekend marks week four of nine, indicating we are just about halfway through. If that weren't reason for celebration, program administers also planned a weekend getaway for all the Kilwa volunteers. While the resort is within walking distance of my home, the AC, cable tv, and running water make me feel closer to America. One purpose of this trip is to give volunteers a chance to relax after a month of rigorous work. I for one, couldn't be more due for a couple days of quiet in my own personal bungalow.

During the past week especially, I have had numerous unsettling brushes with culture shock. The issue that most sticks out to me has to do with one of my sweetest Form 1 students. Her mother arrived on bicycle during one of our lessons and asked to take her daughter with her. I was at first told that it was a problem at home, but out of curiosity, I asked if there was a more specific explanation. My request was met, but not without a violent blow to my heart and gut. My colleague filled me in that the night before, a man had broken into my student's window and attempted to rape her. It's believed he was unsuccessful in his attempt, which I desperately hope is true. That day in school, she had to leave early in order to file her police report. I was promised this is an isolated incident in Kilwa culture. I was assured the man would be caught and immediately mandated to 30 years in prison. But, I can't be guaranteed that this bright student won't be permanently tarnished.

Among this tragedy, I was also faced with the harsh realities of education. Students who don't pass their primary school exams aren't allowed to attend public secondary schools. Usually, they can't afford private schools. Which means they are forced into the working world just around the age of 13 or so. Some of these unfortunate children actually travel to other schools during their short break to sell treats such as donuts, ice pops, and fish (yes, fish for morning snack). These children travel by foot and bike to make money from people who should be their peers, not customers.

And finally, my third major brush in with culture shock. On my way home from school one afternoon, I rode home in a government vehicle packed with officials and even some Form 1 female students. As we traveled along the one main road in Kilwa, we passed one peculiar man who decided to jog in his birthday suit, proud as can be. My eyes got wide with disbelief as I expected to head the car break out in chaotic reactions. However, even my bulging eyes were more of a response than many in the car.

These vastly different experiences have all boiled into one major struggle I have with Tanzanian culture. In all three instances, the responses have mostly been nonchalant. I keep hearing "it will be taken care of" but I'm not actually seeing anyone take care of the issues. I understand and respect I'm living in a different culture, a third world even. But, the way I see it, a society should always be seeking to improve itself, and in order for that to happen, responsibilities need to be assumed, by both authorities and citizens. This mindset may not be shared by all, but I'm appreciative that America has instilled it in me.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Do the Hokey Pokey

As I come to the close of our second week of lessons, I'm sensing one striking resemblance between Tanzanian and American classrooms. In both cultures, songs and games are a fun and effective source of learning. While most of our time is reserved for the strenuous amount of lessons we have to get through, an occasional opportunity to be silly is greatly appreciated by both students and teachers.

One song I recently taught my students is the age old tune, the Hokey Pokey. It was an excuse to get out of the classroom while encouraging students to review all the body parts they had learned during the day's lesson. The students enjoyed being exposed to a traditional piece of American culture, in addition to showing off their newly gained knowledge. As we sang the song and followed the dance, I was able to sense my students' excitement for their developing English and the promise it brings their futures.

However, I also realized the Hokey Pokey reflects my own experience in Tanzania. I often feel like I'm throwing myself into a ring of chaos. Whether it be brushes with culture shock, struggles at school, or resistance to change, I seem to always find myself being shaken all about. But, when I'm faced with the hardest times, I have to remember to turn myself around, or at least my attitude! I lose track of the fact that I'm not just here to give, but to learn and accept, also. Despite the confusion and frustration, I am here to grow as a person, not to become more narrow. I hope to leave here in five weeks feeling like I let the people of Tanzania help me, not solely the other way around.

Because, hey, that's what it's all about! :)

Monday, January 28, 2013

Victims to the Virus

This past weekend, the Kilwa volunteers from three different placements decided to come together to reconnect. We relaxed by the beach, sharing stories, experiences, highlights, and humorous lowlights. Most importantly, we were able to share on how we've been dealing with our run ins with culture shock. One story shared by another American volunteer breached even my farthest expectations of culture shock. She ran into an issue that doesn't just cross cultural boundaries, but one that stampedes the rights of mankind.

Before divulging the issues she came across, I want to backtrack to a conversation I had with one of my Tanzanian roommates. He asked me about the presence of HIV/AIDs in America. I tried to explain to the best of my knowledge, that it was present in pockets around the nation and it was something we worked toward vanquishing. He explained that the virus is very much so an epidemic in Africa. So, he wanted to know how it was that America could keep it at bay, for lack of better terms. His first assumption was that we had found a cure. Of course, I explained we didn't have a cure. Rather, our society focused heavily on preventing people from contracting the virus. Safe sex is a topic that most reasonably aged students are aware of, whether it be from home or school, starting at a fairly young age. While I tried my best to describe America's grasp on HIV/AIDs, I couldn't answer for him why the virus was still sweeping his nation.

One of my fellow American volunteers, however, did find some evidence for the big mystery. Apparently, in rural villages throughout Tanzania, there is a rumored misconception that having sex with a virgin will cure a person with HIV/AIDs. Therefor, people sentenced to the fatal virus subject others to their condition, in hopes he or she will be cured. This belief is disturbing, but unfortunately isn't the only piece to a grotesque puzzle. As is happening all over the world, children are starting to practice sexual activity younger and younger. In some rural Tanzanian villages, 10 years old is the average age a child loses his or her virginity. It is common for some students to have children in their early teens. While parents and mentors don't typically encourage the practice, there are exceptions. Men may come and offer money to a family who desperately needs it. In which case, the child is pushed towards accepting the man's proposal. That man, who may be one of many looking for a virgin to cure his virus, buys his perfect victim.

While I sat on the beach, spending a rare day to vacation while away, I was aghast with the culture I had began warming up to. My friend revealed this story along with other pieces of the culture she struggled with. Her information was from a direct source of someone who grew up in the Tanzanian villages. Her inquiries were confirmed by colleagues. Of course, I also wanted to seek validation, or more so, denial that this was true. I brought the issue to light with my two Tanzanian roommates, who both grew up in the city. They admitted that because of their urban roots, they knew less about these issues than they should. However, they seemed assured the if these practices are still ongoing, they are very rare.

I can't say my horror or nausea is at ease over this issue. I mourn for the children of the rural villages who have suffered the loss of their childhood. However, I promised my Tanzanian friends I wouldn't pass judgement on their culture as a whole, for the monstrous actions of some individuals.

Sunday, January 27, 2013


'Mzungu,' which translates to someone who walks in circles, is the term most commonly used to label white people. I've been called Mzungu many times, by people of all ages. I have even seen souvenir t-shirts with the term branded on it. While the translation carries a somewhat negative connotation, the term really just labels how different we are to this country. And as is true everywhere, being different is welcomed by some and rejected by others.

There have been times I smiled at a stranger, only to be met with a steady blank face. Unluckier times, my smile is returned with a look of disgust. There have been times when I greeted someone, and they simply turned their back to me. My Tanzanian friends explained that people feel inferior to English speakers, so they try to hide that by not replying. However, I think my friends were just being nice.

Yesterday, I heard a young man approach saying something to the neighbor about mzungu. He then proceeded to come speak to me in English. Since the conversation seemed friendly, I was going to tell him I know what 'mzungu' means. However, I was caught off guard when the conversation quickly took a turn. The man, a representative from a Christian church, began challenging a lot of American political issues. He brought up equality between men and women, and homosexual rights. I explained to him that many people in America have different opinions on our various matters, however he kept challenging what I was sayings. He pulled numerous other matters into the conversation, ones I wasn't even clear on. I began to realize a few things: 1. His initial use of 'mzungu' wasn't intended to be friendly; 2. He assumed all Americans knew everything about every issue; 3. He was determined to make me feel inferior in front of our neighbors. Luckily, my Tanzanian roommates intervened.

However, not all uses of 'mzungu' are meant to be disrespectful. Many children, even as young as two years old, have called me Mzungu, out of sheer fascination. The local children who are still unable to say my name will come to the door looking for Mzungu. Yesterday, I heard the children shouting, and my roommate translated that they were planning to bring the Mzungu something. When I opened my door, they had freshly picked flowers waiting to hand me.

Anyone who has ever been labeled as "different" should now that for every person that judges you, there is a person who appreciates you! :)