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.