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! :)

Friday, January 25, 2013

It's a small world, after all!

I know it's cliché, but here I am halfway across the globe, being confronted with how small this world really is.

Yesterday afternoon, I sat on my front porch reading, when some of the village children excitedly ran over. They seemed to have kept gesturing to something on the side of my house, which I assumed to be more of their friends. However, I what I wasn't expecting was the gray haired white woman they brought around front. She said the children kept telling her more white people moved in nearby. They were even able to explain to her that we are teachers!

We shared our reasons for being in this little Kilwa village. Her and her husband have traveled and lived abroad for 27 years! This is just one of the many stops in their journey. They aren't working here, just experiencing the culture and lifestyle. The woman, locally known as "Mama Joshua" calls Texas home now, but said she grew up in Pennsylvania. Excited about the commonality, we kept narrowing in on where we are from, until we figured out we are both from Bucks County!

We shared a quick laugh over the irony. Never did either of us expect to meet someone from home while being halfway across the world in Tanzania. Additionally, it is definitely an added comfort to make an English speaking friend nearby!


Today, as I sat in my backyard, a little girl about six years old came through with some of her friends. They are all frequent visitors, so I figured they were coming over to play. The little girl shimmied over to our trash sack and started scrambling through it. At first confused, I assumed she didn't realize it was our garbage. I instinctually yelped "no, no!" as I shooed her away. Her face dropped serious and she stalked away from me. Only then did I notice the shred of carrot she had found and started chewing on. Meanwhile, the other children began begging for madji (water). I felt heartsick at turning them away, but even in our house, drinking water is limited.

This interaction acted as a slap of reality for me. My frustrations thus far have been so very self focused, causing me to be ignorant of the environment I'm living in. Even here, in my feeble home, with my stiff bed and musty walls, I live in the lap of luxury. I made a choice to come here, when many are born with no choice at all. I get hungry here when I eat less, never because I have less available. In a few weeks, I'll be filled with American sized portions of all my favorite foods. Most of these children will remain hungry for the rest of their lives.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

School of thought... Or not.

It's Sunday night, and as I'm used to doing, I'm planning out my lessons for our first full week of classes. Typically, I would have a very detailed outline of my objectives and how I expected to meet them. In the WorldTeach program, they actually give us numerous resources that pretty much outline our days for us. Although it seems restricting, I understand that not all volunteers come from a background in education. Plus, WorldTeach encourages us to branch out in anyway we find effective for the students. However, this is where my frustrations grow...

WorldTeach prepares international volunteers for the tribulations that will arrive at school. The differences in the American education system and the Tanzanian education system are vast, to say the least. Even after hearing this, I remained ignorant to the facts. I assumed Tanzanian schools would be open to advice and suggests that would push the schools towards "Americanization." Boy, was I wrong.

As of now, we have about 50 students enrolled in Form 1 (first year of middle school) and four Form 1 teachers. As the American, I suggested we split them into two classes and each co-teach a class. My idea was met with a couple chuckles and the rationalization that 50 students was way too small to split, and instead all four of us would divvy up class time. While aggravated, I tried to understand that Tanzanian schools have always conducted large classes, it was a part of their culture. However, my role as an American volunteer is not to teach 1/4 of the day by somebody else's rules. My job is to be a teacher, an innovator, at Mtanga Secondary School. Unfortunately, instead of breaking through the culture barrier, we pushed the class size issue off to the side, into shaded gray area.

So, now as I sit trying to plan my Monday lessons, my frustration bubbles up again. Even in the areas I could add creativity to my lesson, I'm still extremely restricted in my ability to plan. My class size, my classroom, even my role in the classroom all remain a mystery to me.

Hopefully tomorrow, a fresh day, a fresh week, we will again be able to confront the issue and work out a cultural compromise.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The power of community

In Tanzania, a community is more than just houses built near each other. It's an interconnected family where members work together, rely on one another, and help each other out. Last night, my housemates and I decided it was time to visit our neighboring homes to introduce ourselves. While I could only really sputter out the basic greetings, the neighbors clearly expressed their gratitude to us for teaching out. I had a two year old march up to me and shake my hand. We were even invited in for sodas by a retired school district officer, which is a pretty high position in Tanzania. We all agreed we more peacefully last night after meeting the people around us.

Today, we experienced one of the most rewarding effects of joining the community bond. The two year old that shook my hand last night, kept running by today with an old beat down tire. I invited him over to play, and despite the language barrier, we giggled together for a while. He then called a friend over, which attracted some of the other neighborhood kids. Morgan, my housemate joined in, and then even a few more kids! At one point, we had about 10 kids under the age of seven playing catch with us.

As it happens in Tanzania, an unexpected severe storm hit with only a few seconds warning. We hid under our awning until it proved to be no protection from the rain. Instead, we invited the kids in where some sprawled out for a nap, and others enjoyed a movie (Disney's "Up," courtesy of one of my American students!). The two year old laid his head in my lap, shaking every time the thunder bellowed.

This afternoon play date proves our acceptance into the community. Unfortunately, Americans aren't always welcome in Africa. However, the neighborhood parents were comfortable with their children playing with us, and even taking shelter with us during the storm. The kids, despite their curiosity and initial weariness of us, trusted us to keep them safe while they were scared.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

I prefer mystery meat

Here in Tanzania, there is no mystery to what you're having for dinner. So much so, that I've literally stared my dinner in the eye, both dead and alive.

The first encounter with this lack-of-mystery was back in Kunduchi. We arrived at our usual lunch spot, greeted with the news that we were having fish! After days of rice and sauce, this was exciting news for some of us. However, as the dish began to come out, some people became last minute, no-fish-vegetarians. The fish's eyes, still perfectly intact, glowered at me as I made a face back at it. The fin made me feel like my meal might swim away at any minute. To top it off, this delicacy was expected to be eaten by hand.

Now that I've moved to Kilwa, I don't have too many run ins with any fishy friends. Rather, my dinner pretty much lives in my front yard. All over our our community, chickens run free. I've assumed they are for laying eggs and what not. However, yesterday as our house cook prepared dinner, I found a chicken staring at me from the "pantry" (a small closet that stores coal... And chickens). It was shaking, hiding in its little basket as the house cook tried corning our two male housemates to be the temporary butchers. However, as it turns out, our Tanzanian roommates are city boys, and had to recruit a local teenager to do the dirty work. As I heard the chicken's final screech, I felt big time remorse for emphasizing that chicken was the only meat I would eat.

I'll have rice, please!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Karibu Kilwa... finally.

We left Kunduchi around 4am Sunday morning. It is now 10pm Tuesday night, and we have finally just arrived at the place we will call home for the next 8 weeks. Who knew it would take longer to travel along Tanzania's coast than it would to come from America to Africa!

Sunday morning, we waited at the central bus station in the out skirts of Tanzania's only true city, Dar es Salaam. The bus, which was supposed to depart at 6am promptly, still hadn't arrived at 8am. Finally we received word that the bus had broken down and we would have to wait n entire day before getting on a new bus. So, we had to shack up in what appeared to be a "love motel" that rented by the hour, in a not so comforting area of the city.

Luckily, I was amongst a group of people who wanted to make the best of the situation. After our morning naps, we traveled to the city center to visit some of the historical landmarks. We visited parks, the president's palace, and an American restaurant where we treated ourselves to milkshakes!

We made it back to our motel just as daylight faded and settled in for the night. Again, we woke up early to get to the bus station at 5am. This time, the bus arrived! We settled in to a cramped, over crowded bus for a six hour drive. Along the way, more passengers boarded, taking seats on buckets in the isle. We had obvious tire problems thought the entire trip. However, this did not stop the driver from off-roading at times. We were stopped at multiple police check points, but never questioned about any of the shady circumstances.

A bit surprisingly, we made it to Kilwa where we were met by our Tanzanian volunteer coordinator, who is "responsible" of us during our stay here. We were surprised to learn that we were staying at another hotel for the night. This hotel consisted of numerous individual bungalows, so we each stayed alone. The bungalows were equipped with TV, cable, running water, and air conditioning!! Unfortunately, we were faced with the bad news that all of Kilwa had been out of power for two days, so no AC for us. But we were fed delicious meals, got a good night sleep, and took our first warm showers.

Now that we have finally arrived to our official placement, we know why we were spoiled one last time. But, I will splurge more on my living arrangement after I give myself a little bit of time to adjust. All I can say is, I already appreciate home more than I ever have.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Kwaheri, Kunduchi!

Orientation is officially over, as is my stay in Kunduchi. This past week has been an amazing transition into the culture of Tanzania. I have been able to appreciate the unique way of life, and even more so, appreciate the people who have been here to experience it with me. Over the past week, I have made many new friends from both America and Tanzania, and it saddens me that we must now part ways. I will miss the small community I am leaving behind, but am excited for the adventure that lies ahead.

Tomorrow, I will head to the Kilwa district of Tanzania, where I will teach at the Mtanga secondary school. I will actually live in a neighboring village and commute to school every day with my new friend, Said. Said, a Tanzanian WorldTeach volunteer will be one of my roommates, along with Muhudini and Morgan, a fellow American volunteer. Over the next two months, the four of us will help each other breach cultural boundaries as we all work towards a common cause!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Home Sweet Temporary Home

Hi everyone!! I finally got my phone in sync so I can start blogging about my journey through Tanzania. We landed in Dar es Salaam late Sunday night and have been staying in Kinduchi at a resort called Maua Beach Rest House. We have running water, a western toilet, and a small pool. Here, this is luxury. Even though the shower only runs cold and I share a room with 4 other girls, I have already come to appreciate how lucky we are to be here.

My days mostly consist of WorldTeach training. We start sessions at 8:30 and go to 7 pm, with a couple hour break in the middle. We take Swahili lessons, review lesson plans, and discuss cultural boundaries.

Everyday when we walk through town, we are greeted excitedly by many of the local children. To them, all Americans are celebrity status. Feeling the excitement of the children helped warm me back up for my mission ahead, and ease my apprehension. The women are starting to warm up to us also, appreciating our attempt to converse in simple Swahili.

Today, our sessions didn't start until 4:30 because we traveled an hour to a bigger town. The town used to be used for slave trading and is filled with historical value. We walked further out of town to visit some of the natural beauty as well!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

En route!

Officially en route to Tanzania!

I departed Washington D.C. around 6pm and just landed in Amsterdam. It is currently 8 am here, and still very dark!! Not the view I would like to wake up to everyday. It's also very cold here, so luckily we don't have to leave the airport at all, since we're all dressed for our upcoming warm weather.

Our next flight departs at 10:05am (Amsterdam time) and we arrive in Dar Es Salaam at 10:50pm (Tanzania time). There is a time difference, so its about a ten hour flight. I plan on sleeping and brushing up on some Swahili.

No one in the group knows quite where we are staying for the first two weeks of orientation, but presumably it is near the city. Halfway through orientation, we will finally be given our placement. I can't wait!

As of now, I am most nervous about the insects in Tanzania. I've heard horror stories, but can only hope my situation will be different. I've come to terms with the showering situation and the simplified lifestyle, but bugs are still the peak of my discomfort level. On the other hand, I am most excited to meet my students!! Even though, that's still a couple weeks away.

So, here starts my adventure of a lifetime!!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Happy New Year!

I know I'm a few days late, but wow! What a busy week! 

As I celebrate the welcoming of 2013, I am also celebrating my upcoming departure for Tanzania. I feel that it is so appropriate that our flight takes off just days into the new year because it shows the promise that comes with a fresh start, not just for me, but for everyone. I hope that this experience pushes me towards new adventures during and even after my time in Tanzania. 

I hope my friends and family will have a safe and exciting year in 2013!