Tuesday, September 11, 2007

I am somehow here

I have just finished furiously grading my students mid term tests, and I am sad to say, despite me efforts in my form one class, majority failed. HOWEVER, the class that normally fails EVERYTHING actually is improving, so my efforts are not futile...unless they all cheated, which is quite possible. Someday I wish that you all could just see an exam that I had to grade:

Questions: state Hooke's Law
Answer: Yes.

What?! or the exact same spelling mistakes and completely wrong answers that are on4 students exams? what do you do? On the other hand, my form three physics class got nothing below a C(although I started out with 75 physics students and am down to 20 that really really work hard). My math classes have been quite a struggle for me. I was given form three math this semester-HUGE daunting task in front of me. In TZ, or Africa, there is this stigma against math-it is 'hard' or 'impossible' and only the 'really smart kids' can pass math class. So, I enter my class, trying to play math games and do math puzzles...and throwing myself into this class but for what?! my students don't listen in class(or don't come at all) they don't come prepared.....and there are a total of 12 math books for about 120 students. Like I really can successfully teach, right? I believe I have just entered into a time period called the 'one year slump' in my contract. I may have cried at school at least 4 times in the last two weeks by being stressed out and overworked(partly my fault). My school is in the bush, and most of the people that go to my school are from the bush. Which means that discipline is SO hard to manage. For example: this school year, there have been 7 girls thrown out for becoming pregnant(they were sleeping with villagers...some for pleasure, others for school fees or cooking oil or pens!), this semester there have been 2 girls with chronic 'demon' problems-i have personally witnessed 2 exorcisms held on the floor of the staff room, and corporal punishment has stepped up a notch this semester. We have trouble with drinking and attendance everyday. there are a lot of students who don't want to go to school-but their parents are forcing them to go. 75 students in one classroom.....650+students, 20 teachers...and now we have lost 8 teachers to further studies, so starting after fall break, there will be 12 teachers total at my school. Gaah! If only I could talk with the minister of education! there would be so many things I would want to talk about! Great ideas...bad planning here in TZ. So, stressful school situation to start with...but when your students start misbehaving...what do you do? I came up with the shoe punishment-take a shoe when they misbehave, keep it all day and return it after the school day is over. Take another shoe if they act up again. In my math class if they don't come prepared to class(prepared means they bring a ruler, a pencil and something to make a circle)then they give me a shoe. Just recently we had a school assembly with students and teachers to discuss problems-and my punishment was brought up. They didn't like it....go figure....don't like a punishment, eh? isn't that the purpose?....well, my wily students, who LOVE to come late, decided that they would rather be truant than to give me their shoe. So now I have the small class sizes I want, but completely the wrong reasons. This drove me crazy and when I talked to the other teachers about it, some of them had the nerve to tell me I was causing more damage to the student by taking their shoe than to hit them with a stick! what?! Also, I was told to give names of students that didn't come to class to the class teacher, and the class teacher would talk to them...except he didn't. so I came across looking like this softie that doesn't know how to manage my classroom. SO FRUSTRATING! I flipped out at the other teachers in my department-this whole system is new to me, I am trying my level best to do what they want me to do, to teach the material and to go slow enough for the students to understand. I just need a little cooperation and guidance....not ridicule. One teacher finally helped explain a whole lot to me, then looked at me and said " I know you are trying very hard and must be so frustrated" to which I just broke down there in the staff room and cried-FINALLY, someone not in my culture realizes that living in a country halfway across the world, where you don't speak the language fluently, you don't understand the system, you are the only one of your kind and you feel like a 5 year old most days because you are incapable of doing the basic survival needs(making a fire, cooking...both I can do know but it takes time....washing your clothes and dishes, caring)...this person that finally realizes your life is frustrating is quite nice. I recently had a discussion with a white Canadian doctor who is working at a nearby NGO-I told him how there are some days, like when I am hodi'd(someone knocks on my door) at 630 in the morning, or a sick person comes to my school looking for me to tell me their problems, or someone comes to my house begging for food because they are sick and their husband left and they have small children-and can I also look at their abnormally shaped foot and diagnose them and give them medicine?, when I just want to open my door, scream GO AWAY and slam the door right in their face, stay safely in my house, my security blanket.....but instead, i suck it up, talk to this person who sought me out...and feel even more frustrated at my life. It was reassuring to find out he also had that period of his contract too. There comes a time that one must realize: this is not my culture, and it will never be fully mine. I can appreciate everything that Tanzania has given me, taught me and made me appreciate, but I grew up somewhere completely different. No matter how fluent I may be in a language, or how integrated I am in my village, I am still a guest. People will always look at the way I do things as 'different' just like I look at the way they do things as foreign. It has made me appreciate the 'land of plenty' for the melting pot effect....I have friends from all over the world, and generally, they seem very accepted....A wise friend of mine gave me a great piece of advise: It is better(but harder) to look for the commonalities you have with the other culture rather than the differences. I'm working on that one now.
So, aside from feeling a little depressed about my service and feeling frustrated, I have had the opportunity to also see the fruits of my labor. The two orphans that I helped(their mother died of AIDS) are doing SO wonderful right now-they are like the complete opposite side of the coin-clean, no scabies, no fleas, well fed, HAPPY...they sang us a song and gave us a dance when we arrived at the orphanage to visit. Too cute for words. They remembered me and gave me huge hugs....I think they were a little nervous to see me at first-maybe I'd bring them back to where they came from....but when they realized I just came to play things got better. Again, it made me cry to see how well they were doing. I'll post a before and after picture as soon as I get a chance to upload pics. Also, my garden looks fabulous. I've become queen of homemade zucchini bread in my village, and everyone of my neighbors has asked me to help them plant zucchini in their garden or to pick some of my veggies.....right now I am growing carrots, onions, strawberries, zucchini, lettuce, spinach and kale. soon...passion fruit. Also trying for papaya, but i think it might be too cold for that. Its always a great feeling to go directly to your garden to pick your veggies.....

We just threw a party to welcome all the 'newbies' to our area-showed them Iringa town for a night....all the newbies now are environment-some ed volunteers are on their way!!! I'm hoping to get some support out in my area......we need as much help in the bush as possible!

trying to stay motivated and optimistic...keep in touch. Your support means the world to me.