Saturday, September 06, 2008

to fast for me!

So, the semester is half way over already!!! I feel like it has just begun, but here I find myself in the middle of proctoring exams, marking exams and seeing my Form 4 students about to embark on life(as soon as they have taken their exams) This semester has had its usual problems and frusterations, but I’d say either 1) I’m becoming more and more accustomed to them or 2) I am now a Tanzanian and they don’t faze me. J On the up side of things, the headmaster and I have teamed up together and thigns around school have changed a little! 40 desks and chairs were provided by donors(and finished JUST IN TIME to take exams!), the 6 new classrooms are ALMOST ready….they just need glass in the windows and a chalkboard, and we have had 3 teachers that went away for further studies, come back on their breaks to help us teach. The form 2 students are now taking their “mock” national exams(the real exam starts in November) while form 1 and 3 are taking their mid term exams….I stole an idea from a private school nearby-because we have a lack of desks and chairs and teachers to invigilate the exam, 2 teachers and I organized 9 classrooms, each with about 50 students in it, that combined both the from 1 and 3 students…so everyother desk(form 1, form 3, form 1, form 3…). This(we are hoping) will help to reduce the cheating that regularly happens during exams. Who will they cheat form? WE hauled in huge wodden tables from the cafeteria along with benches so those without a desk could sit all along the bench to take their exams…and if I do say so, its working SO WELL! I’m so happy that my teachers tried something new and different(and I think they really liked the idea-maybe enough to do it again next year!) We printed out the exams of form three, but because there wasn’t enough paper at school, we had to write the form 1 exam on the board…but I’m still over joyed at the progress we have made from last midterm test to this one!!!! I’ve just now counted-I have about 20 teaching days left! We finish exams on Tuesday, I teach wed thursday and Friday(the other students will be “doing cleanliness” around the school…why? Not sure.That’s what we do when we finish exams these days? Then we have a one week break(in which I’m FORCING my students to stay to I can finish the syllabus before the end of my service) then we spend one week preparing for Form 4 graduation….then 3 weeks left, then, if all goes well, I will take my students to climb Kili!!!

We are holding this competition to choose the top 12 students that we will take with us up the mountainJ first, I asked all the teachers to contribute the names of all the students they thought demonstrated good leadership, positive and respectful attitudes, as well as respected by their peers….The list gave me 45ish names to start from. I then told all of them that if they were interested in climbing, they would have to write an essay in English on their goals of climbing and how they would support their peers(which some were VERY cute, and others really bad!) one reads: “ I hear that if you climb from down to up that you will get a blood from your nose. I want to climb Kili to see if this is true”. Then, on Saturday morning, we met at 6am for what I like to call the “Death March”…where we walked 2.5 hours around the area. I guess I forgot that most of my students live fairly far away, so this didn’t faze them one bit. So THIS Saturday, we ran 5 minutes, walked 5 minutes, ran 5 minutes walked 5 minutes for TWO HOURS along the highlands(meaning there were a LOT of hills!). We met at 6am, all with little backpacks and bottles of waters in the bags, formed to colums and plodded along, practicing drinking water every 30 minutes. My dogs ran righ along side us-and the converstation was great! All the kids asking funny and weird questions like “Are there Forests in America?” “I heard(pronounced Heerd) about a snake called Anaconda. Is this a really snake? “ I had a blanst(although it really seemed that we ran UP every hill and walked down the hill…) Got back toschool and led the students to do pushups and situps, which I think has to be my favorite form of entertainment these days. I don’t think that any student here has EVER done a situp in their life. Their legs are flailing, their coordination is completely off…..BUT, they are trying SO hard!!! Its crazy to me to think that these kids, who are amazingly great and hard workers, can work magic with a hoe, can’t do a sit up!!! I’ll try to post a picture next time…. Each Saturday, the students that didn’t show up were crossed of the list, so now, I’m down to 26 students to choose from…and they are ALL such great candidates! I have no idea how I am to choose! Maybe I’ll have to think of some 2nd prize…..

Hope all is well, from the Fontline, we send our love!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

No Mans Land

A vacation needed, and adventure gotten! I have just returned from one of the world'nt forgotten paradises. Kigoma, the hardest to get to city in TZ on the coast of one of the largest lakes in the world-the longest in the world and the one with the most volume(as I'm told)-Lake Tanganyika....may be one of the nicest towns I've been to. Set among the rolling hills, next to a lake that keeps the temperature down with breeze, we were privledged to gorgeous sunsets, good company and an adventreu I can't wait to share! AFter a seminar held in Dar, my 2 friends, my fiance and I all started our adventure by baording the train to Kigoma. We brought a lot of water, some PB&J fixings, some cereal and posdered mild, candies books and a sense of adventure. We had heard horror stories and stories that weren't so bad about the train, so we decided to go for it. Unlucky for us, a theif stole 2 of our 4 train tickets before we got on the train-and Geoff and I had to spend the morning we were leaving in the police station making a report-we had NO desire to have to spend another $50 for EACH ticket...on our meager salaries that was a painful thought. However, luck stayed with us, and when we showed the police report to the conductor, he said no problem, and we all boarded the train hassle free-not having to spend that extra $100:) We took first class, having heard that third class was a bit of a nightmare-like a daladala(think 20 seats, 80 people, sweat, stink, elbow in the face, no sleeping, thirst, big butts, theives....)-there were 2 small compartments connected by a door-a top and bottom bunk/seat in each compartment as well as a small sink with water actually in it! The windows open with a breeze coming in, it wasn't bad at all! It may be because the train was so novel to me, but it was my favorite way to travel long distances in this country-we were comfortable, bedding was provided, great views of large land expanses...the ability to buy just about anything out of the train friend even brought a portable DVD player, so in the evening we watched a movie on the train! The only time I felt the most nervous(which wasn't a lot) was a night-we were told that thieves like to slip through the windows from the top of the train and steal stuff..the conductor told us to leave our door open to the hallway and shut our windows...I thought to myself-there is NO WAY I will do that. I would't be able to sleep knowing that all those people passing on the aisles were able to look at me sleeping...but if we shut the windows, we would suffer the stuffy small space and feel totally clausterphobic. so we left the door locked, and the window opn and had absolutely no problems. It took us 43 hours total to get to Kigoma from Dar and the second day many of the thrid class passangers and travellers from villages in teh middle fo nowhere had boarded our train car and were blocking the hallway completley. You have to think that thrid class was bad-if those passengers were coming to the first class car to stand 5 people in the toilet ...which looked as though someone had a rectal explosion all over the floor. It took courage to leave our compartment of peace to enter the crammed hallway to work your way to the bathroom, ask all the people in the bathroom to scoot over all the sleeping bodies ont he floor so you could pee....however, our compartment was great. We arrived into town at about 12 in the afternoon and went directly to buy tickets out of igoma and back to Dar. To our shock and dismay, the only tickets that were available were third class tickets...and not until the end of July! So that left 2 options...a killer bus ride home or selling our soul and first born child and buying the most ridiculously expensive plane tickets home. We chose the plane-$250 per person for a 2.5 hour trip back home. ouch. So, off to buy the plane tickets then to find a place tos tay. our taxi driver droe us to a hotel, but stopped onthe road first and talked to a man, Brother Dirk who is from Belgium working at the brothers of Charity in Kigoma. He directed us to a safe and quiet little guesti and then told us he'd meet us later. What a great man! We met up with him that night at the pub and he told us he'd help us get into Gombe National Park-in fact, this great guy helped us get a lifti with Tacare(pronounced Ta-car-eh) for free AND told us Jane Goodall was in Kigoma the same day. He took us under his wing and if he ever reads this-here is a shout out to him-THANK YOU!!! We ended up MEETING the world famous Jane goodall-classy and kind would be the first words that come to mind. I got to shake her hand, but my dear friend Cynthia, in her attempt to be cool, attcked this woman with a HUGE HUG! we got a few pics, and then got on her boat and headed into the national park. We satyed in a little rest house on the lake(recommendation-stay at the second house, not the first set of houses...more isolated and nice), enjoying PB&J sammy's watching the sunset after a crazy and refreshing swim in the lake. Bright and early the next morning, we boated over to the entrance gate, near to the first set of rest houses and started our jungle adventure. We hiked with our guide about 2 hours before we stumbled upon a family of 5 chimpanzees..the 'F' family. Every family of monkeys has a letter designated to them-and every child of the mother is given a name by Jane starting with the same letter. The mother was carrying a 7 month old baby with the cutest face I've ever seen...almost looking plastic! There were two older kids and then a male named Titan(not in the same family) Titan is apparently the most aggresive of the chimps and likes to throw rocks at the humans. We all got to sit about 10 feet away and watch the chinmps for about 2 hours. They are so human like its weird-they groomed eachother, tickeled eachother-do you know that chimps can laugh?!-sneezed, and my favorite was the little baby would peek over the little mound of dirt and stare right back at us, try his hardest to come closer, then his mom would grab him by the arm and pull him back to her, trying to make him take a nap. but the little guy wouldn't have any of that napping, he jsut kept tring to get closer to us ovr and over again...Titan however, was the guy we talked about the most. Apparetnly, chimps don't like to have their pics taken when they are tired...when they put their hands over their face of turn their back, it means that they don't want pics taken...and Geoff DID take a picture. Titanl first threw a stone at Geoff and then charged him....THEN, after sunbathing on the path, he comes rushing at our little group of 6! The guides were great and told us just to stand and be calm...Titan just was trying to scare us. He successfully made us all nervous. Titan-with that perfect name for him- headed deeper into the jungle. After our period of time wathcing these beautiful creatures, we headed to a waterfall where we had a little bit of a snack, then headed back to camp. Had a good swim in the lake, ate some tuna salad for dinner, then called it a night. We took the water ferry back to the camp-which was fun for public transport minus the whiffs of vomit you would get ever 3 seconds. We applied layers and layers of bug spray to our hands and every time a whiff of puke was carried our way, we woudl start sniffing our hands-not a great soltion, but better bug spray than me puking over the side due to the nasty smell. the ferry took about 3 hours to get back to we spent our afternoon relaxing, eating ice cream and fruit and reading. OUr last day in Kigoma, we went to an NGO/orphanage near to town to check out the work they are doing-brother Dirk took us there- and then to the small village of Ujiji to see Dr David Livingstone's memorial-which is just a rock falling apart a little. It was under 2 giant mango trees which were said to be the offspring of the original mango tree...this is the place where DL and Mr Stanly had the famous lines "Dr Linginstone I presume?". It was ok-but there wasn't much to the memorial-and we didn't even go in the museum because it was $3(which if I was REALLY into history I would have seen...)we visited the lake, then packed up our bags and spent the rest of the day at the beach. We finished out evening at the same pub we met Bro Dirk and celbrated G's birthday with some cake and ice cream. It was a great ending to a great trip. I'm excited to go back to the village and to get working again. this vacation has relaxed me, helped my mental health and prepared me for my last semester teaching. I'll put up pictures when I can of our great chimp adventure! Love J

Thursday, June 19, 2008


From when I started working at my site, I was told abou the HIVAIDS pandemic and how reactions in a rural place might be....Here in TZ many people in rural areas are stigmatized for being sick...noone talks about it, if someone dies from it, obviously it was malaria, not AIDS(even if there is no malaria in the area). 3-4months of living in the village brought many people to my house, openly discussing their lives, the trials they have gone through... each one with a more horrifying story than the next... from then until now, I have gone from my first four 'friends' to close to 150 friends, spreading out from as far as 3 hour walks away. I was overwhelmed with 30 people all coming to my house, asking how I could possibly assist them...I had no clue! I am just a volunteer! I can offer hugs and a listening ear, but not much more than that! I took a proactive stance, and went to talk to the NGO's nearby which I had heard were doing a lot of work with the HIVAIDS community. I specifically worked along side one of them, referring all my friends to their NGO to get assistance-anything ranging from temporary food releif for those that were starving, those that were freezing in the cold nights of the southern highlands winters, those that needed milk powder for the infants that lost their mothers.....and most importnatly, helping ALL the people in the ward I live in receive transport to the CTC, the closest being 50 KM away. Transport vehicles were found, and provided for by the Catholic Mission nearby-we didn't have to rent the car, but just pay for the fuel. It was taking 20 people every week in a car designed for 15(and by American standards you would be miserable.....)and after a few months, starting going two times a week. There were just SO many people wanting to go and get treated! They started bonding with eachother, talking about the problems they were facing, giving eachother was a truly beautiful thing to see. Going from a hush-hush topic to something that is openly discussed.....and I was privledged enough to have my villagers share their experiences with me! We cried together, laughed together....dreamt together about a CTC opening in our village togheter.....and now, that dream looks like it will come true! The NGO that I had been working for, received a very generous donation from the US and was able to start plans to build a CTC,as half of the funds to build the whole CTC is now accounted for! Right now, Doctors from the town 50+KM away come twice a month to have a "CTC" day... checking old patients, testing new ones, enrolling others.... There are already near to 200 people registered at Mdabulo, and more being tested every day. This is a phenomenal breakthrough, and somthing that I am extremely grateful for. Lives are being saved, improved and assisted by just having this one service offered twice a month. I can not congratulate the NGO and all of those that donated, enough. You guys are doing something tremendous and inspiring....and all of my friends that I have met over the way had these amazing smiles on their faces as they were sitting in the waiting area in their own village....being able to go home the SAME DAY as their treatments as opposed to sleeping in a guest house or outside or not eating b/c they didnt' have money to spare. Their lives are changing- those that have it hardest and suffer the most in this world are having something done for them, something made easier and I am eternally grateful for all those that have contributed. This is my big shout out and THANK YOU for everyone that cared! I am going to attatch some pics (we are waiting for the funds for the other half of the CTC, and then this can be a full-time service to 1000s of people) and show you the beauty of the people that have shared their stories, lives, potatoes and laughter with me. This is the real reason I love my community so much. It is the everyday people that rock the village and my world.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


Thursday, June 12, 2008

The silver lining

The semester is over! Hooray! Although this cold weather makes it feel more like a winter vacation back home:) The end of the semester ended fairly smoothly and calmly. We held an end of the semester running race from the village offices to the mission, both boys and girls-of the 78+ girls that started, about 37 finished(the winner this awesome girl in form 2) and of the 60+ boys that started, about 20 finished(the winner the hardest working form 1 students I know) It was really fun to watch-I was at the finish line...we set up some teachers at the start with a piki piki in the front to lead the way and clear out any "traffic" and at then end, we set up a string barrier, and conviently, the primary school students were just ending their day during the race, so they all waited anxiously for the runers to arrive near the finish line. I thought it was erally funny-I remember when I was in cross country, the finish ilne was always the loudest place..cheering, yelling, trying your hardest and sprinting to the was the complete opposite! They arrived up a big hill-the last stretch was a big flat lane leading to the finish line. As soon as they got up the hill and onto the flat stretch and saw the finish line, they just sort of jogged their way to it...and no cheering from all the kids! so there is the crazy mzungu yelling at the top of her lungs(along with 2 other students) RUN! KIMBIA! YOU FINISH HERE!!!! and instead of watching the runners-all the kids look our way:) I was REALLY proud of the girls! We didn't time the race so I can't tell you how long it took them to run it, but it was about 1.5-2 miles? My guess would be about 10 minutes. we plan on doing another race next semester, hopefully to tie into our world aids day program!
Did a marathon grading session this week! I think yesterday I put in 16 hours straight of marking, compiling grades and writing up report cards....but I'm finished and the break has started! My students faired better than expected in some areas, and worse in others....My favorite answer to a statistics math problem: what is the probability that a female mathematics degree holder at Dar university is over the age of 40? ANSWER: 169 degrees. :) The way I compiled the grades is a little different than the way we have to write the report cards...I put equal emphasis on the midterm, final, HW and that the students work hard ALL semester, however, on the report cards, we have to give half the points for the final and half the points for everything else. So, grades were a littel different then I expected...some students did WAY better on their final grade, and others(the ones the diligently did the HW and came to class, did group work, but aren't the best at taking exams....) did a lot worse on their end grade b/c of this little difference in compiling. It made me reemmber college finals...
We had a great staff meeting a week or so before final exam started.(and I am actually being serious here!) not too long, in ENGLISH, talking about important topics... Previously, I talked with my second headmistress about all the issues that were bothering me-teachers sleeping with students, teachers asking students to write exams, coming to school intoxicated...beating of students for little things...and she provided me with a lot of insight. I wouldn't consider myself a guest, but I wouldn't consider myself understanding this culture by any there were certain things that I didn't know how to handle. For example, teachers sleeping with students: do you go right up to a teacher and say " hey pal, rumors have it you are shagging some students, how about it? is it true?" or, do you do what the teachers are doing right now? keep your mouth shut, its none of your business, and it will keep happening, but the peace is kept? On this particular topic, she confirmed all the rumors I heard-she heard them too from other sources(including students themselves having reported it) adn said that it was time we had a meeting with all the teachers to discuss it openly....and it was discussed, not as openly as I had thought, but it was great to hear/see all the teachers reactions. The other women teachers looked as disgusted as I felt...the ones that there were rumors floating around about...didn't really look up from the hands. AND one of the male teachers, one that I think has the best english...said "It pains my heart to hear this, and I don't know, maybe I'm one fo the teachers suspected, but this makes me sick and....." and went on and on! He even wanted to set a trap for the "bad guys" to catch them in the act! Proactive, that's a start! the headmaster talked about beating the students, and praised teachers to doing laternative punishments...and emphasized the rule of writing the names in the book.....and I noticed an improvement in the school the following week(granted, it was the last week of school..I hope it continues!) and we talked about the teaching load of teachers. I left feeling good about it. It is our culture, or at least in my opinion, to talk about problems and work towards a positive goal. Change takes time and I think the things that are really bothering me were all talked about, discussed until noone had anything else to say....and we'll just have to wait and see if people are just using words, or if they also use their actions....I went from a really bad month-frusterated, cranky, lonely, irritable(as I'm sure came across in my previous blogs) to now, where I have a feeling of releif, positivity and hope...I just need to remind myself that I am doing the best that I can, as are the other teachers. so thanks for the encouragement that you sent...and the phone calls! It helped me through that rough month. BUT, now onto brighter times, right?

Friday, May 16, 2008

I am SO angry!!!

So, the dirt is coming out on all my teachers at school. I have no idea if every other school in TZ is like this, or if its just my lucky fortune to be put into a school like this. Currently there are 12?(10 on a regular basis) teachers at my school of almost 800 students. Only 2 TZ there teach science, and the village alcoholic(and the highest paid teacher at my school) is the only math teacher....than there is me. I have the most periods of any teacher at my school at the moment, which is going ok(not super bad, not by any means super great). I'm mainly teaching the form 4's, so after this semester, my work load will be a LOT less.....There however, has been a lot of trouble at my school.....and I feel so isolated, standing up for things that I feel are right and just: some perfect examples

1) Last year, there was a lot of students pregnancy, and rumors flying around that there were a couple of teachers in particular(one for sure, but NO hard evidence)that were having sex with the of them was one of my favorite teachers. Apparently, the headmaster knew about this problem, but has done NOTHING about it-not even talking to the entire staff...because our school already has a lack of science teachers.

2) It is ILLEGAL for a teachers to 'cheat' on exams-change grades, etc. HOWEVER, I caught 3 of eh brightest form 3 students writing the Form2 exams for ALL the science classes..and the teachers told them that it was a "secret" they shouldn't tell anyone. Of course, we had to talk about what a good secret and a bad secret was....i i reported it right away to the headmistress and master....they say that it is b/c they are too overloaded! My butt! I have way more periods than they do, and I do ALL my own work! And they worst part is, that b/c we have a lack of science teachers, the punishment(up to 20 years in jail) won't be adhered to. They'll get a talking to(maybe) and that's it.

3) Everyone works on Africa time. I don't. this causes a LOT of conflict. Teachers taking the key and showing up an hour late to the office so that I can't et my materials.....and I yell at my students for being late. AND punish them. What a hypocrite I look like.....

That's all the time I have. More to come on why I'm angry:)

Saturday, May 03, 2008

why Africa is frustrating

I have just completed one of the most frusterating weeks at school...and I'm not sure if its my amount of time in the village without a break or actual real anger boiling up...but I thought I'd punch most teachers at my school right in the face! I've come up with a short list of reasons the TZ school system will NEVER work:

1) a teacher will not teach a class because the class does not greet her appropriately...instead of being week and humble when they cower and say "shikamoo" they look out the window....bad bad students....

2) teachers go to town "just for fun" instead of teaching classes for 2 weeks

3) we can't make over 100 copies in 1 day on our brand new photocopier because it "is bad for the machine"

4) teachers beat students with sticks for not picking up their exam in a timely fashion...

5) Although its been pouring rain for the past week, and no "cleanliness activities" have been done all week...students are beaten with sticks because they didn't do a good job on their morning janitorial duties and must whack the grass and sweep the dirt instead of attending class to make up for the misbehavior

6) students are late to class(specifically MY class) because they were finding sticks for the teachers to whack them with...and the first 2 flexible sticks were too small and flimsy...they had to find the really sturdy branchlike sticks deep within the forest....

7) meeting are held during school hours in KISWAHILI about really important issues so ALL teachers can understand(except the english speaking one...)and let me remind you...all students are beaten severly for not speaking english at school...and this is a room full of TEACHERS! and let me also emphasize: DURING SCHOOL HOURS...which means no teachers are teaching!

8) I have 80 students in one room. 60 desks. 55 chairs. 12 books. gaah.

9)do I really need to go on?

I have stormed out of the staff room in fury, in tears and in jubilation all within a 5 day workday. I needed a break, so I came to the city today....after helping videotape the slughter of a certain "mchusi" the chicken and eating the best burritos ever last night. I'm ready to treat myslef to a night of eating American food,watching movies and sleeping in without people knocking on my door at 7am...

I sound SO pessimistic. Its really not that bad. Its wonderful in teh village-but some weeks are more agrivating than others...and the only way to survive is to look back on it and laugh. If you can't laugh, you'll lose it here....

Thats all I got for now.