Back on track
I won't write much because it's been an emotionally draining day, but in case anyone does read this, Joseph is now back at school and in Gemma's house just a couple of yards away. It's hard to know what he is feeling. He's the kind of child that always smiles, no matter how he's feeling inside. But I think he's happy. He's probably become quite accustomed to being moved around since the tragic events of the last few years.
When I got to the house, he was dressed and ready to go with a small suitcase - one of those old-fashioned ones covered with tapestry. Inside he had his school uniform, a pair of shorts, two t-shirts and one fo those jackets that we wore in the eighties. And, in true Tanzanian style, a jar of vaseline to put on his skin every morning.
He went back into class and hopefully didn't get asked too many questions. After school, he came to the office and did his homework. Then, Gemma and I both did his spellings with him, not realising the other had done it. The poor kid must be stressed now living with teachers! Afterwards, we went out for a cycle into the village and then came back and played football.
So it's all fine, on the surface. I really have no idea WHAT the child is going through now and there is only so much I can do. All I can do is hope that we can lead him to a path that will give him choices and options in life, that he otherwise wouldn't get. Only time will tell! Sliding doors...
On another note, my beloved mother has been in hospital for a week now after a heart-scare. She didn't have a heart-attack but showed the symptoms of being very close to one. This afternoon, after they discovered that she had some blockages in her arteries, I was told that she would either need stents in her heart or by-pass surgery. I spent the night with bated breath waiting to hear. Thankfully, she needs neither - just tablets. Thank you St Jude!
I am VERY relieved tonight and just want to sleep.
A Mzungu in Africa
My life in St Judes School,Tanzania from January 2006
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Back on track
Monday, January 22, 2007
You may remember that I once wrote about a student in our school called Joseph. I have meant to update my blog about Joseph’s situation but it has been ongoing and as yet is unresolved. I have been waiting for my happy ending (ever the idealist) but I don’t know what will transpire, so instead, I’ll update you as often as possible on his situation.
Joseph was in my class last year. He is around eleven years old. He’s quite tall for his age though it’s entirely possible that he’s older than he admits to. He’s fairly quiet though after almost a year in the school, he was coming out of himself by around August, September and making a
All of the above may sound fairly ordinary but when you consider that Joseph had been lying in a bed beside his mother a couple of years ago and witnessed her murder, as thieves cut her to death. He then had to learn that his father had hung himself after discovering he was HIV positive only a few short months later.
Joseph and his elder sister were sent from Moinze (around ten hours away from Arusha) to live with their aunty a few miles away from our school. Somehow Joseph got through our rigorous exams and got a place in Standard 2 (most of the children we take are in Standard 1 – we only allow around 30 exceptional children into Standard 2 every year as their classmates have quite advanced English by then, so it’s hard for newcomers to catch up). Nonethless Joseph got one of the coveted places and was doing fine.
Near the end of the year, Joseph missed a week of school and then returned. Then, near the end of the term, in November, he missed another week. I noticed this fairly quickly, given his previous recent absence. I asked the Deputy Headmaster to go to his house to find out what was wrong but when Joseph saw Ben coming, he ran away and hid. His auntie promised that he would return to school the following day but he didn’t.
I decided that I would go to the house with another teacher and try to coax him back to school. Eventually and in spite of everything, we found Joseph and his house (remember, this is a country where there are no street names beyond the major arteries that run through the towns). Indeed, our only directions were “they live in the house near some cows in a field”. After a discussion with Joseph, who was petrified of his aunt because she said he didn’t deserve to come to school because he woke up late some morning, he agreed to return to school which he did two days later.
I felt that there was a distinct lack of love for Joseph in the home, so I asked our “Parents 'committee” to investigate. In this case, one or two parents of our students who have been elected to this committee, go out to a house and assess it from a local perspective. They often speak to neighbours, the village chief and do whatever else is necessary to try to find out what’s really going on.
The report that came back said that Joseph was being mistreated, that he was sleeping outdoors, undernourished and it recommended that we find him a more suitable home.In this case the parents' committee find a family with another child in the school, and they house an extra child, often at no charge. The child stays there during term time and then, where possible, goes home for holidays. The parents' committee recommended this course of action for Joseph. Although it's rare, if there is an objection by the child's family, they show them the report and tell them they will go to the police if they do not let the child stay with another family.Mostly the families are happy to have one less mouth to feed but in the case that a child is a "workhorse" they are often reluctant to let them go. I suspect Joseph is one of these cases. In any case, we are led by our Parents' Committee so we agreed to find Joseph a suitable hom in January since we received the report just before the Summer holidays in December.
When Joseph’s aunt came to collect his school report in December, before school holidays, she talked about her schitzophrenic son and her chronic back pain. I think I might have felt sorry for her were it not for the fact that she showed utter disinterest in Joseph and no pride in the fact that he had passed his exams, despite missing three weeks in the last six weeks of term. We told her that we would find Joseph a house closer to school so that he could get there on time, and so that she wouldn’t have as man “stresses” in her life. She didn’t seem very happy with the offer though Joseph seemed pretty excited.
When I returned from
So, Peter our Deputy Welfare teacher and I returned to Joseph’s house to find out the situation. But Joseph wasn’t there. His aunt explained that he had gone to see his family in Moinze and that there had been a hurricane while he was there and had not returned. It was an odd story, littered with contradictions but we humoured her. We explained to her that Mama (Gemma who rns the school) wanted him to live with her for a while and that he was very important to the school. We also repeated the point that St Judes was a certain way that Joseph would get a priary, secondary and if he chose, a tertiary education. In so doing, Joseph could then repay her love when he got a good job since he could support her in a country that has no social welfare or means to care for the eldery. The thought of her nephew living with a woman who has a
That was last Tuesday. The chairperson of our Parents' Committee called her on Thursday and I called her on Friday. We were reassured that Joseph was coming on the bus. When I called last night, they said that he was on the bus but it had broken down and he was due later that night or today. It’s entirely likely the bus did break down since it travels along the worst road in
So tomorrow morning, we are going back to the house to take Joseph and his few belondings to the school. If he is indeed there, and we can take him, he will stay with Gemma for a few weeks and then stay with a local family. Auntie isn’t keen for him to stay with just any family, especially if they are Masai. We’re just going to take it one step at a time. On the strength of our Parents’ Committee report, we will go threaten to go to the village chairman and police and tell them how he had been mistreated and that should be enough to keep the aunty quiet.
I have no idea how guilty this woman is. I'm sure that she has a very tough life. And hopefully she doesn't have malevolent intentions toward the boy. After all, her sister was brutally murdered. I don’t know what to believe anymore and I can't judge people when I have NO IDEA what it's like to live their life. I just care about this boy getting a chance in life, after the hideous start he has had. He’s clever and although emotional happiness is far more important than intellectual ability, this is a start. We are not just a school that focuses on academic learning. We try to teach self-confidence, morals and ultimately, that through education you are automatically advantaged. We also now have the benefit of two trained psychologists who come on a weekly basis and they will be able to give Joseph the counselling he has never ever had.
I’m afraid to be hopeful because this has been an uphill battle all the way. But, I won't give up. So cross your fingers, say a prayer... whatever... that Joseph will be in school within twelve hours from now and sleeping in a warm bed tomorrow night.I’ll update this in the next couple of days. Please keep him in your thoughts.
Joseph, December 2006 (centre, smiling)
After almost a month in Ireland, basking in the luxury of a warm open fire, lots of fish (scallops...ahhhh), retail therapy (too poor to buy anything and there's just too much choice), running hot water on tap (pardon the pun), parents, relatives and friend who utterly spoiled me, roads that are mostly (though it depends on where in ireland you are driving) that are fully paved and devoid of enormous potholes, generator-free (though definitely not free) electricity... well, it was nice.
but you know, Ireland is RICH! And people are SPOILT. Not in a spoilt child way though not far off it.... We have SO much and I'm not sure that the gratitude is there but you could say that for most if not all developing countries. It doesn't make it right though. Shops are just full to the brim of products, people are in a spending frenzy. Okay, it was Christmas so spending had reached epic proportions. And although this is the society in which I grew up in, though it wasn't nearly as rich until around ten years ago, it still shocked me to the core for the first time in my life.
I sat in my parent's bed (I'm still a child), on the second morning home, and was able to look fairly objectively around the room - from the lush bedspread covering me to the matching curtains, beautiful pictures, coloured TV, built in wardropes, electric blanket etc etc etc and I can honestly say that no Tanzanian, that I have met anyway though I am sure they must exist, lives a life of such luxury. My parent's house is not opulent or decadent in any way - they're just comfortable and very typical of any middle class family. But it's a very, very comfortable lifestyle.
Although I could certainly look at my old world in a new perspective, it never felt alien to me. in fact I fitted in pretty quickly and became immune to my cozy surroundings within a very short time. And I know when I go home, it will become that way.
But I would like to think and I certainly hope that I will never, ever forget how very lucky we are. I hope that I can always look at the world I was lucky enough to be born into and appreciate that not everyone lives this way. I hope that I can give a little more than I used to and know that by doing so, I will be far richer. I am not a different person for having lived here - hopefully I'm just a little bit more enlightened and appreciative and fingers crossed, just a tiny bit wiser.
I have a confession to make. I've kind of been sort of using God's name in vain... or rather, in a sort of manipulative way.
I find that Tanzanians can be VERY insistent when they want to know or get something. Not being the best at saying no in an awkward situation, I find this difficult. Let's face it, in this world of haves and have nots, and being a very clear "have" (if only because of my race), it's not easy to reply with an outright No (okay, I'm a coward, I know).
But I recently discovered a reply that seems to get me out of any situation where I don't want ot say No but I DEFINITELY don't want to say yes and commit to something. I say "Mungu akipenda" which means "If God wishes".
You see, most people in Tanzanian have the most genuinely beautiful trust in God. I know that probably seems like a complete farce to any doubting Thomas and especially in light of the fact that the Africans I'm speaking of are so poor, they seem to be utterly foresaken by God. But I have personally witnessed the genuine sense of peace that they get from God. On Sunday, it's a family day, spent in church and with the family. They dress up in the most elegant way, no matter how poor they are. In fact, unlike the Western world which discussing religion with a friend let alone a strange is simply not done, it's just a fact of life here. God exists and there's nothing to discuss. I think it's nice. And if I didn't believe in God myself, I think I would envy their blind faith.
And yet, I must confess to manipulating this knowledge ever so slightly for my own purposes.
So, for example, the other day, someone asked me whether I think I will spend the rest of my life in Africa, and clearly I won't. I really did try to explain that my home is in Ireland, but they just wouldn't listen. I was told that I am old, I have big hips (neither of these are insults, simply facts) and I should be getting married and producing offsprings pronto since time is clearly not on my side. Again, I tried to explain that in my world, I'm pretty average and not in any hurry to do any of the above. I have plenty of time. All in vain. In the end, I looked resigned, a little sheepish but still accepting and said "Mungu akipenda".
End of discussion! I was greeted with an equally accepting nod and no more was said on the matter.
Somehow, and though I know it's not very nice to abuse such a lovely expression of utter acceptance to get myself out of one of those endless conversations, it was soooo effective and utterly conclusive! But in my defence, when it comes down to it, I do believe that if something is meant to happen it will, and if it's not, it won't. So why not!
Yeah, okay, it was the easy way out of a discussion that I have had many, many times in the last year and will never win - I'll only use it as a last resort in the future! Ahem...
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Paula's visit to Tanzania
Even though it was only for a week, Paula (my sister) got to experience the flavour of Tanzania - from Masai to local families' houses and of course a safari (albeit only one day).
I think if you asked her what she thought of the country, she would tell you that the people are beautiful, the scenery and wildlife is second to none but that it made her exceptionally sad to witness such exceptional poverty. She went home to Ireland and her creature comforts with a very new perspective and unquestionable, an attitude of gratitude for what she has.
(Right) Local school children on the road from Nairobi (Kenya) to Arusha (TZ) walking from church on a Sunday, in their uniforms. Although this photo doesn't capture it particularly well, Tanzanizans are exceptionally colourful - in personality and dress.
(Left) This is Paula, myself and Peter (our tour guide for Paula's safari of Tarangire National Park).
Below us were Wildebeest and elephants drinking and crossing at the river.
The wildebeest migration is now in full flight due to the early rains though it's currently moving from The Masai Mara in Kenya down to Tanzania
(Right) The elephants and wildebeest drinking and crossing at the river.
This is me last week with some of the girls from my class 2A plus a few others who jumped in.
(L-R): A student whose name escapes me, Karisma, Rehema, Jackline (my parents' sponsor child), Evalyn, Vicky (hidden) and Latifa (my sister and her husband's sponsor child).
Every day, these and other girls comes to see me before school, at lunchtime and somtimes after school, just to "greet" me!
Barnaba, the child I sponsor. Lively, chatty and "personality-plus" Barnaba also comes to see me every day and will be VERY happy to see himself featured on my blog! In Standard 3, Barnaba loves football (soccer), computers, reading and his church!
Barnaba lives with his parents in a nearby village with his parents (his father is a Pentecostal Minister) and sisters. He plays soccer every day in a nearby park and gives me regular updates about who is winning in his local football league, littered with comments about how their goalkeeper didn't turn up hence they lost!!
This is me in Mombasa last month during mid-term. A few of us drove there (it takes ELEVEN hours non-stop on the some of the worst dirt-track I've ever seen) and when we finally got to the beach, it rained. But it was still fantastic to relax, eat local mangoes and seafood and just experience a new place!
Update - 29th November 2006
It's been a few weeks since I last updated my blog. My only real excuse is the fact that it's so busy here at the end of term. There are a few toics that I want to update, such as about Joseph, the student who went missing, so I'll do that asap.
Right now I'm just sitting marvelling at how quickly this year has gone. Already it's the end of November which means I've been here for the best part of a year. The school term has less than two weeks left. Today, our school exams start which leaves only a couple of days of after-exam revision, marking exams, meeting parents and then a huge end of year celebration. If there is one thing that Tanzanians do, they can celebrate. We are expecting between 2000 and 3000 people at the school - parents, students, local supporters and whoever else manages to get past the gate. The last time there was such a celebration here - around two years ago - 1500 turned up though only 500 were invited. It will be a day of speeches, awards and a LOT of goat!
We're also getting ready for next year. On 11th December, 170 children will turn up to get their new uniforms. They are the lucky ones from at least 15,000 who turned up at the gates to do the Friday exam. Since September we have found around 200 who met the criteria of being very poor and of above average intelligence, but then some turned out to be be only one or neither of those, so it's been whittled down to 160. Our last testing will be this Friday and hopefully the result will be that we find the last ten children. It sounds like it shouldn't be a major feat to find a child that is both clever and very poor but it's exceptionally hard. Most children are poor and far too many are very poor but to find those very poor children who are really clever is so difficult. It may sound exceptionally picky to only target those clever children but if you understand that (a) we only have a very limited amount of places and hence we have to choose carefully because (b) the Tanzanian education system is very difficult so only the strong will survive. Remember, this is a sytem that will cull at least 80% of children before secondary school by making them sit two national exams in primary school. It is also a system that educates children in Swahili until they get to secondary/high school whereupon they must study in English. The odds are stacked against them. Therefore although it's hard to find very poor, ethical, hard-working and clever children among the Arusha population every year, it makes sense to me now.
So our end of year exams start today and after that we will have a couple of days of post-exam revision. Next week, we will be busy correcting exams, writing reports and meeting parents. And then we launch into final preparations for 2007 - uniforms, timetables, desks, chairs, finishing the building of new classrooms, covering books, fixing old broken desks, expanding the admin office etc etc. Thankfully, we have 11 Rotarians from Chinchilla, Qld here right now who (as I write at 6.30am) are building desks and chairs so the 170 children has something to sit and work on.
On that note, I guess I better do some work myself so I can head home to Ireland in two weeks time.
Mary : )
Monday, October 30, 2006
On Friday I cried. After one of my children was absent for a week, I sent a teacher to find out what was going on as I knew he wasn't sick. Joseph is an orphan who joined the school this year. He lives with his aunt and her mentally challenged son. Joseph is the tallest boy in the class and pretty quiet but a very cheerful child, so it was unusual for him to miss school.
When he saw the teacher coming, Joseph locked himself in their one room house. When the teacher (Ben) looked around the village, he found Joseph's aunt who is sick at the moment with a bad back as well as caring for Joseph, his sister and her sick son.
The aunt told Ben that Joseph has been very down and because she was sick, she didn't have the energy to force him to go to school. She told Ben Joseph's family history. Joseph's mother was murdered by thieves who came into their house a couple of years ago. Perhaps she tried to resist their demands, who knows why, but they cut her from head to toe with a Panga (like an axe). Joseph was in the bed beside her and witnessed all of this. Not long afterward, Joseph's father discovered he was HIV positive and hung himself, leaving Joseph and his sister orphans to be cared for by their extended family.
Today, Monday, Joseph didn't come to schoool, though his aunt assured Ben on Friday that he would. I suspect he won't come tomorrow in which case, I'm going to ahve to go and get him myself! We have a counsellor from the local community who helps us so I'm going to try to get him to come with me.
It's such a powerless feeling, knowing that you can't erase this terrible tragedy, and heal a child. Sure, I can teach him and help him as much as possible. But it broke my heart to know a child had endured such heartache and witnessed such a brutal murder and I can't do anything about it. How can you heal a broken heart or erase such memories - you can't!
Thursday, October 26, 2006
Our new family members - Our Kid, Kitten and Kuku
Over the last few months, we have acquired some unexpected members in our Volunteer family.
Our first arrival was Cora, the daughter of a new volunteer Zac and his wife Tess.
Cora is just over a year old and after a short while, seems to have become more comfortable at the school. They live in town but regularly come out to the school to visit.
Having a child around is lovely (along with 700 others that is). The children at school find it absolutely fascinating to have a white child to carry around, poke and prod. I'm not sure Cora is quite as fascinated by them, probably a little bit freaked out sometimes, and other times she's a little indifferent! I like watching her learn new words, finding her feet and getting bigger - even in the short few months she has been here.
Our second addition was Kuku, a chicken. Given as a present to Anne, one of the volunteers, we decided we would keep her (I think a chicken is a female bit don't quote me on that). So Kuku has been wandering around our volunteer area and loves to sit on my bike. She can't reach the pedals though so I don't think she'll be taking off any time soon!
We're hoping she's going to lay some eggs now that she's hanging around with a local rooster! We're now making a pen/ chicken run for her so she can't go and sit on the kitchen table.
Our most recent addition was last night -a kitten (as yet unnamed) that is around two or three days old. The mother brought him over, left her with us and disappeared. She turned up today to check he was okay and then left again.
Currently Kitty is being carried around in a piece of fabric and fed milk through a syringe. We don't know if she will live but if she doesn't, she'll be the most loved kitten in the meantime.
Having these little additions to our family is nice. It's given us all something to care about, in the hours after school. I'll add some pics and keep you updated on their progress.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
My Big Sis is Coming to See Me!
I'm very excited - my sister Paula is coming to visit me here this weekend for a week. A music teacher in Dublin, she only has a week's holiday for mid-term break. But I'm so happy to know that I will see her after nine months. She probably won't have any room for her own luggage after she brings my order of a hot water bottle, some clothes, some stuff for the school and a variety of other things. But as long as she brings herself, I'll be happy.
I don;t know if she'll get much of a rest as I want to show her as much of Arusha and it's outskirts as I possibly can. Flying into Nairobi on Saturday night, where I will meet her, we'll take the bus back to Arusha the following morning and arrive there five horus later, on Sunday afternoon.
I'll probably drag her out for lunch and to a local craft market in the afternoon adn then let her rest that evening after we feed her again.
Monday is St Judes Day so she will see the school at it's busiest and most lively because we are having a huge celebration here. It will start with a church type service in the morning, where the children and staff bring gifts in an offertory procession as a gesture of thanksgiving to St Jude. Those gifts (mostly food) will be given to local poor families. Then in the afternoon, every class (23 of them) will perform - a dance, a song, a poem, a play etc.
On Tuesday, we will go to school as normal and she will help in my class and in the Music class. After school on Tuesday, we will take my family's sponsor child swimming and then back home so we can meet her family. Then we will come back to school for a hallowe'en party.
On Wednesday, we are going to a local National Park - maybe Tarangire or perhaps Ngoro Ngoro crater so she can have a quick safari and see the local wildlife.
On Thursday, we will be in school again, and we'll duck into town so she can see the Rwanda Tribunal being held by the UN at the Arusha International Conference Centre. Then after school, we will go to her sponsor child's family for a meal and to meet them.
Then on Friday, it's time for the School Assembly in the morning where she will hopefully be able to get the children to perform a song she has taught them. Then she will help us with testing the children for next year.
and finally on Saturday, she will come shopping with me in the local markets to buy food for our kitty. That's a real experience before she gets on the bus back to Nairobi to fly home, probably exhausted, but hopefully a little more inspired about Africa and the school.
It will be so nice to show the school to someone from my family, so they can see what an amazing place this is. I want her to meet the beautiful children that I teach and some of their families; our teachers; my friends and everyone else I know here. I want her to see a little of the real Tanzania. She hasn't been to a third world country before so I think it will be a real culture shock but I think (hope) she loves it as much as I do, so that she can go home to my family and let them know that this a worthwhile way for me to spend a couple of years. And hopefully the rest of my family will follow her out next year to visit me.
If you haven't been here and are thinking of it, just come! It's incredible to experience this country and the school. It's worth saving for or taking the time off work. With National Parks teeming with wildlife, amazing mountains like Kilimanjaro and Mt Meru, beautiful beaches in Zanzibar, amazing local villages, the UN Tribunal for the Rwanda Genocides and so much more, it's worth seeing. It has changed my life and that of many people who come here!
After living in Australia, I thought I knew what a drought was. And it's certainly a problem in Australia. But we don't have to buy water. We just treat it with respect.
In Tanzania, water is scarcer than anyone can possibly imagine. Rivers beds are dry and desolate looking. Fields are starved of water, cows are living on grass that hasn't seen rain in a long time. Families have to buy it by the bucket (around 20c US) and use it with great respect.
And because there is very little water, power is just as valuable. Tanzania uses hydro-electric power generated from the water rushing (or not) down the mountains. So when there is no water, there is no power.
Last year, the Tanzanian government was being re-elected, so the prospective new President and his party omitted to tell people how bad the water/ power situation was until he was elected in December 2005.
In late January 2006, it became very well known because they started power rationing. Everyone received a schedule which outlined who would have power when. This was meant to allow businesses and families to plan their work accordingly. And it could have worked ahad they stuck to the schedule. Instead, power went on and off in the most unpredictable fashion, usually for twelve hours at a time.
This has meant that many businesses just can't operate as they often have power in the middle of the night. If you can't afford or find a generator, you simply can't open your doors.
Last week we were told that we were moving from 12 hour a day power rationing to 24/7 power cuts. The damns are being blocked off to stop what little water there is from flowing. So any day now, families and businesses will have no power at all.
I don't know how this will affect the country - I can only begin to imagine. It will be cruel and difficult time for these people.
We are lucky at school because we have two big generators. We are only using one now but from next January we will use both. Were it not for these generators, we simply couldn't open the school. We couldn't fundraise without power for computers or the internet. We couldn't photocopy exams, have lights, boil water for the students to drink etc. etc.
We spend over US$50,000 per year on diesel for our generator as it's much more expensive to run a generator than it is to pay an Electricity Bill. But it's the only way that we can run our school, we don't have much of a choice. Just today we decided that we would have to find "generator sponsors" to help us pay for the diesel (that figure only covers the generators and doesn't include the US$2000 a week we spend on fuel for the school buses!
But at least we have the option of using our generators - most people over here don't. I don't know how they will get through this.
On Monday we will celebrate St Judes Day (though it's officially this Saturday 28th October. I have written a play that my students will perform to illustrate how St Jude works. St Jude as the patron saint for hopeless cases/ lost causes, helps people who are desperate and don't know where else to turn to.
the play is about a village which hasn't seen water for six months. When I asked my students (they are around ten years old) how this would affect a village, they told me people would be hungry because there would be no maize or rice to eat. They told me they would be forced to drink dirty water and use that same water to wash with, and as a result they would get sick with typhoid. They told me how the animals would die and people would be left with no income. This is a very real scenario for these children - it didn't take much imagination for them to conceive how this might and does happen.
The play closes on a happy note. The villagers ask the village chairman and an old wise man for advice before they go to the local priest who advises them to say a prayer to St Jude and ask him for help. And sure enough it helps - the next day the rains come.
Nice ending though I have to admit, it feels a little like a hoax to tell the children that praying to St Jude will always help, much as I wish it were true. Some things seem beyond a simple prayer. but you never do know I suppose!
I know I say it almost as often as I think it, but I come from a very lucky part of the world where our children have no idea about drought and hunger and disease. And although the children here have a great appreciation for such things, it seems sad to me that they should have to know about it at such an early age. I don't know why Africa, one of the first settled places in the world, has been foresaken. This beautiful continent is drying up and no-one knows why. And maybe St Jude can help and maybe not. I hope someone up there can - Africa needs a lot of help.
Keep them in your thoughts.
Life in Tanzania
I've gotten very used to life over here, but occasionally I will stand back and marvel at how different life can be here. And it's amazing how quickly you can get used to it.
We have free internet access here thanks to a local Internet Service Provider (Habari) who give us free access as we're a school. Thanks to the genuis work of our new IT team, we also have wireless internet which we can use in our rooms, as I am doing now. I NEVER expected this over here. It's nearly as surprising as seeing Masai men, herding their goats up the mountains, wearing only a couple light Masai shuka (blankets) as clothing, on their mobile phones!
And yet, we often have no power. In fact, were it not for our generators (THANK YOU ROTARY) we would have no power seven days a week, at least twelve hours a day.
Very frequently, we have no water coming from our boarhole or the pipe which supplies the local village. We have had to buy tanks of water so we can boil it for drinking, use it to cook with, wash etc.
There is no delivery service from restaurants/ pizza places/ Chinese restaurants. but we have our own little system! We call our local taxi driver, text him a list of what we want and he goes to the Chinese restaurant in town, orders and pays for the food adn then brings it to the school. What a thrill on a Saturday night.
There is a cinema here but it rarely works. But if you want to see a film of your own, we just bring along a DVD and they will play it.
There are no public swimming pools - they are all in hotels or schools. So if you don't mind paying for a meal or drink, you can usually swim for free!
We don't have access to TV here but we usually end up seeing the latest movies as people send them out to us (THANK YOU EVERYONE) so we're kept up to date!
On a Saturday, shops close around lunchtime and don't open again until Monday morning.
Everyone rests on a Sunday and dresses up for church. And it's not uncommon for another teacher or student to invite you to their church on a Sunday. If someone did that in Australia or Ireland you would think they were trying to get you into a cult!
If you go into a bar and you want some credit for your mobile phone, they will run to the shop and buy it for you. If you want some chips and they don't have any potatoes, they will go and buy them and make chips for you without a word of complaint.
It's such a different lifestyle here. Sometimes I miss home but I love the contrast of life here and am enjoying it while I'm living here. I doubt I will ever experience anything like this again.
I try to explain to people what it's like to live here because many of my friends have no concept of Africa. I certainly didn't before I came and nothing could have prepared me for it.
I love the fact that it's so different here to anywhere I've ever been before. The culture and history is so rich, and learning about it is mind-blowing.
The simplest things here are lovely, like greetings. I've talked about greetings before but as time goes on and I learn more about the Tanzanian traditions, I have more appreciation for them. Tonight I learned that in the Meru tribe (Mt Meru is a big mountain, overlooking our school and very close to Kilimanjaro), before men enter a home, they make this coughing sound. This is to alert people indoors that someone is coming, so they can look respectable when that person comes inside. Most tribes have their own language. Language is denoted by the word Ki such as Kiswahili, Kimeru, Kichagga, Kimasai etc. In normal Kiswahili people say "Hodi" before going into someone's house. I told one of our friends that in our world we might say "Yoo hoo" or something like that but apparently that's very offensive here. Mental note not to do that one!
Then there are traditions like washing your hands before you eat. Even in the most basic bar where you might buy chips mayai (chips cooked with egg, a bit like a chip omelette), they will bring you warm water and soap in a jug to wash your hands with, and there will be a bowl underneath to catch the dirty water. Tanzanians wash their hands often to prevent disease from spreading. They are very clean overall in fact. Far cleaner than most people I know, whether they live in a mud hut or a concrete room. It really puts us to shame with our hot showers, endless supply of water and washing machines. Somehow Tanznians always manage to look immaculately clean and well put together. Someone said to me that it is very important to always look your best, no matter how poor you are. "Better to be poor and clean than poor and dirty" as they so accurately explained it.
Tanzanians wash before going to sleep instead of in the morning. And when they wash, they scrub their feet. I didn't really understand why but after having lived here for a while I do now. YOu can't get into bed with dirty feet, nor do you want to spread the dirt around. So now every night, I clean my feet before going to bed. Right now, my feet are as immaculate an any Tanzanians.
One of my favourite Tanzanian traditions/ rituals is the way they put cream or oil on their bodies and faces in the morning. Everyone from a young child to an old man does this. They keep jars of vaseline and various other creams, and lather themselves with it in the morning. From having asked a few people about this, the reason for this, especially in poor families, is to keep the body warm. The oil heats the skin, especially when you rub it in, and closes the pores so that cold doesn't get in. I've seen cool teenages, rub it on their faces, heads, arms, hands and feet before going to school - boys and girls alike. And there is no stigma like we have "creams are only for women and poofters". Not in this world! It would explain why Tanzanians have such beautiful, shiny skin! We could take a leaf from their book!
Blokes in Cloaks
Our askari (guards/ watchmen) at the school are Masai. This is pretty typical in Tanzania and Kenya. For some reason, askari are often watchmen or guards. We have around 12 of them and they work a couple of weeks on and a week off. They come from a nearby Masai area called Monduli. Some have a couple of wives and they all live in Masai style houses (boma).
Instantly recognisable by their red and black (or various other) Masai blankets, they also carry a panga (like a big knife). I've always been a little dubious about how effective their Pangas would be in the event of a real problem but thankfully, thus far, we've never had to find out.
Generally speaking, our Askari are the loveliest, most polite men. They don't speak very much unless you make the effort because most of them don't know much English. In fact, many of them don't know very good Swahilli as they tend to speak Ki-Masai most of the time. But they really appreciate when you make an effort to speak Swahili to them.
Sometimes the Asakari like to sit in the darkness and wait until you pass by, before they greet you. I can tell you, it scares the living daylights out of me. But they find it pretty funny.
I think that the most memorable sounds of my time here is hearing our Askari walk in the playground, under my bedroom window. The crunch of their feet on the marrum/ gravel is one that will stay with me for a long time. And before one shift finishes work in the morning around 6.30am I often hear them talking in KiMasai below my window and it makes me remember I'm in Africa. It's so nice to have learned a little about another culture and to get to know them. In fact, it's a priviledge.
Au Revoir - Til the next time
I estimate that I've met at least 150 new people in the last nine months since I've been at St Judes. Many of them came for only a few days or weeks, and yet I've made a lot of friends. The best part about my job is that I get to show people the school.
There have been volunteers who left who made me cry like my Irish friend Charlotte, from Wexford. There have been visitors who have touched my heart like Paul Weinland, a sponsor of the school and a dear friend. And even though I haven't met his wife, Margaret, I feel like I know her. Margaret is ill after a sad accident a few years ago which has made it increasingly difficult for her to walk. I get updates from Paul and messages from Margaret which are really special. And when my precious laptop got destroyed, Paul and Margaret arranged for me to get a new one and managed to get it from the US to Tanzania. Thank you so much. But thanks for keeping in touch after you left. I hope that one day I will meet you Margaret, and I keep you in my thoughts and prayers that your pain will ease.
I have met the dear Flemings whose family comprises of an ex-Olympian, a TV presenter and dad, Lloyd Fleming. I met the Seabrooks from NZ at St Judes and shared a lovely meal with them in Zanzibar. And the Smiths, who support the school in so many ways without ever telling us where to spend the money. I have met Rotary Teams and had such a nice time with them, cutting wood, taking them around Arusha and I love hearing from them again.
I think of Len in Newcastle, Australia who has been having more chemo the last couple of months, since he left St Judes and hope that he is okay, for his sake and the sake of the family that obviously loves him. Len is one of the most energetic, friendly and willing people I have ever met. I truly hope that he will get the good health that he and everyone deserves.
I have met some amazing people and many of them keep in touch with me. It's lovely and I really appreciate it.
Keep in touch
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Dinner at St Judes
Tonight, I sat down for dinner with nine (9) of my housemates. We are all "Westerns"/ Volunteers living and working at the school - we form one of two "kitties" at the school - this means that we cook and eat together every night, and at weekends do a chore (food shopping, washing the dishes, taking out the bins etc).
Sitting around the table were:
Sherryn, who cooked lasagne - she's a Kiwi who has lived in the UK and Thailand and in her 30's. She teaches science at the school.
Suzanne, an Australian Art teacher, and she runs the Art dept at the school like it were a perfectly oiled engine. Suzanne, as the oldest in our "kitty" is in her 50's and she is more like a mother to us.
Dan, the lone male, is an Aussie country bloke in his twenties who teaches English (his students love reading Roald Dahl books and using words like "disgusting"). Dan will eave in December after two years at the school and head off to Canada to see a lovely girl who he met at the school.
Maria and I - we're cousins from Ireland and we both work in the office looking after visitors and volunteers. Maria also teachers PE and Drama while I teach English and Drama. I'm a reluctant 31 year old while Maria is clinging to her 20's...
Janet who is a New Yorker with corkscrew auburn hair - she's around my age. From a publishing background, and an "information specialist" (I'm still working it out) she worked in the library but then became a full-time tutor at the school. Janet arrived in January, just before me and will stay for at least another six months.
Taryn is a 20 something year old Aussie country girl (I can't even spell the name of her town but it's something like Galangbone) and she's our head librarian. She's been at the school for almost two years now and will stay for at least another year though probably longer
Karin - German girl heads our Sponsorship Dept. and is the epitome of efficiency and organisation. She has been here for a year and a half and intends to leave but somehow can't quite do it. She speaks beautiful English, German (duh), Swahili, French, Italian and Spanish!
Joanne from Sydney, has just arrived at the school. She works with Karin in the Sponsorship Dept and will stay at the school for a year, if not longer.
And finally, Maxine who is a visiting travel writer from Ireland (originally English), in her early 50's and is staying at the school for three weeks. She will be a part of our kitty while she lives at the school and help in a variety of areas; the art room, music room; library; office and whatever else comes up - all while she soaks up the flavour of St Judes!
We all sat together over lasagne and salad and ate happily (who said anything about starving in Africa though I'll freely admit that lasagne sheets stretch our budget, as does cheese - it's around AU$5 for a block of cheese and $4 for a box of lasagne sheets). I realised then that this group has become my family. We are all from very diverse backgrounds, have different experiences, hopes and dreams. Our personalities are wide and varied, as are our beliefs. In any other circumstances we might never have met and if we did, we may not have become friends.
Living with a group of random strangers is a peculiar thing. We all have our own expectations, boundaries and idiosyncracies. We have all come looking for something - whether it be realistic or unrealistic. Some are running away from problems, others are simply looking for the right place to be or to help out a community which has so much less than own.
The first few months of living together was tinged with frustration, confusion and sometimes hostility. As everyone tested boundaries, we were all equally challenged to find ways to live harmoniously. But somehow, you learn how to modify your behaviour without losing yourself. You learn to consider others and to give a little leeway where you would normally refuse to. Because if you don't, life can be draining and that affects everyone.
Maxine came bearing a bag of mini mars bars and Suzanne had a packet of peanut M&Ms. We all sat like children on Christmas morning, dying to tear open the wrappers of the goodies. Suzanne counted and then shared out the Mars Bars and M&Ms in a way that only Suzanne could - by sorting, dividing and checking again. And then we all tucked into our mini-feast. We got either 3 M&M's and a mini Mars Bar or one M&M and two mini Mars Bars. I went for the latter option.
At the end, a solitary M&M rolled around in the wrapper, and we all stared it, satiated. It was a funny moment and yet there are so many like this in Africa. It's a funny old place and at times challenging, but I've find a lovely for this place and the people that I didn't expect. I don't know how long I'll be here. Some days I just want to go home to the comfort of my own place, to a safe world where life is complicated but predictable. But most of the time, I love the newness of the experiences here and the genuine appreciation that we have for small things. It's not often that ten people could derive so much pleasure from a bag of chocolate.
And for that I'm very grateful.
ST JUDES TESTING - HEARTWARMING/BREAKING
In the last term of the year, we look for around 170 new students who will start in the lower classes the following year. In september we started looking for those students. The procedure for this goes like this:
Every Friday in September, October and November (sometimes even December) from 1.30pm (7.30pm Swahili time), potential students line up outside the gates acommpanied by a parent, sibling, neighbour - some come alone with no-one to wish them good luck or dry their tears, when the leave having been unsucessful.
Between 1500 and 3000 come to do the Friday testing every week - around 20,000 over the ten week period - to try to gain one of the 170 places. On average, around ten are successful every week.
After lining up, they are all brought into the school grounds and form two lines - one for Standard one and one for Standard two. There are few places in Standard two because it's easier to educate children when they're younger - they need to be very smart to get a place in Standard two. The first part of the test is reading - in English for St. 2 and Swahili for St. 1. I am one of the seven reading testers and encounter children who can't read at all, some who just recite numbers and others who read with surprising fluency. It's interesting to try to guess who will fall into which category, from a cursory glance. I'm rarely correct.
Those who pass (around 200 of the approx 2000) are ushered onto a grass lawn nearby and the unsuccessful are put into a group to the side, and later taken back out to the gate, to awaiting family members or to walk home alone. Those who passed wait patiently, sitting on the grass in orderly queues and then go into the Assembly Hall to sit a written exam: What is your father's name, How old are you, Where do you live are typical questions. There are also some Swhaili questions and others which test them in Mathematics. We're looking for those who get the best results - around 16/20.
Of the original 2000, around 50 will pass the reading AND written test. They will then be given a letter and told to return the following morning at 7.30am with all their paperwork; something to show their age; school reports from their current school, recent exams and copy books. We're trying to find out (a) Where they place in their class (the school reports all show this in Tanzania); (b) if they actually did the exam (by comparing the handwriting on the test with that in the copybook) and (c) if they are actually the age they say they are.
I was shocked to find out how many lie, and yet how badly they try to cover it up... tippex is a very popular though remarkably unsubtle way of trying to change a date of birth, exam mark etc. Many others will have completely different handwriting than that of the exam the previous day - their brother or sister will have sat it on their behalf. Of those 50 students who return, around 20 or 30 will have what we perceive to be genuine paperwork. Some will bring genuine paperwork but perhaps they are ranking only around 15th place in a class of 50. We're looking for teh children in the Top 5 of their class, or perhaps the Top ten if the class is big (eg 70 students).
This all sounds like a terribly harsh way to judge seven year olds but because places are so limited, and more significantly, because they will have to sit VERY difficult National Exams by Standard 4 (when they're only around 12 years old), it's a necessary evil.
Of those remaining 20 or 30 succesful candidates, they will undergo the final part of the assessment - the poverty test. Immediately after they present their paperwork, they will go home on a bus with a Western teacher and an African teacher. We go in groups so that African teachers aren't pressured by families (The Mzungu gets the blame) and so that African teachers can translate.
At the child's home, we have to ask many questions about the family members, how many rooms they have (we check them); their income; rent etc. We then takes notes about where they live; how many people share a bed, whether the house/ room is made of cement, mud or wood; whether there are glass windows or electricity lines going to the house; where the nearest water source is and even if there is glass in the cabinets. Students who have mud floors and walls, share a bed between three, rent their house and have no electricity are more likely to get a place.
While at the house, the parents have to answer a number of questions to verify this is where they live; identifying neighbours, local schools; the name of the person who runs the local shop; where they buy kerosene from etc. This is then verified by the Tanzanian teacher who goes around and asks locals some questions. At this point, many lies are discovered; last week a clever young student took us to a family friend's house where her mother was waiting. They were able to produce her copybooks, school uniform but no family photos and couldn't say where they got water from. As it transpired, this was not their home. Ironically, they were probably poor enough to qualify but because they lied, they are automatically black-listed. They knew our system - they had copybooks from the last three years and her current school uniform folded neatly in a drawer (too neatly)... But were it my child, I couldn't say that I would behave any differently. I cannot possibly understand the desperation of such a life but I can only begin to imagine.
By Saturday afternoon, around 10-15 students will have passed the intelligence/ poverty test, and they will then come into the school for two weeks for a probation period. During this time, their ability and attitude will be assessed. Then one day, they will be taken from class and two more people will go home with them to check out their house again. Now the real professionals are discovered - the Mama that allegedly died will be found alive and well; the mud hut will no longer contain their uniform or copybooks... it really is heartbreaking because no child could plan that - it takes a careful training from their parents to make them lie. And having been in the school for a couple of weeks, it must be exceptionally painful for a child to go back to their old school with at least 50 others in the class, poor teachers and regularl beatings. But again, a necessary evil if the poorest and clever children are to be identified.
By now, we have around 100 students - of which around 40 have passed probation. Of the 100, hopefully we won't lose more than ten during their probation period. Unfortunately, many now know the St Judes testing procedures and are developing their own way of slipping through the net. So now we have a new procedure in place - a member of the Parents' committee (there are representatives from every village in the district) will visit the house, ask the neighbours questions and essentially verify that all the information we have is correct. This if the first year that this additional safety net has been put in place so we've yet to find out if it makes a difference.
The procedure I've described above accounts for around 70% of children who come into the school. The remaining 30% are compassion cases; orphans, children from exceptionally large families etc. In the "compassion" category are also those students who simply will not give up. They come back week after week to sit the test (they can do it as often as they like); they refuse to go home, they sneak past the guards and form a protest outside the office. Students like this are regarded as having enough tenacity and determination and usually do exceptionally well -better than the bright students in fact.
To witness thousands of children arrive on a Friday in Communion Dresses, ill-fitting suits, tattered and torn school uniforms and a range of other poor but clean clothes is heartbreaking. And yet to see the look of pure relief and ecstacy on their faces of the families of the successful children is somethign I cannot possibly explain. It is humbling, almost to the point of embarrassing to see how grateful they are. Imagine we, in the Western world, had to jump through such hoops so that our children might be educated... I shudder to imagine!
This system is tough, there's no doubt about it. But when I look at a child who only last year lived in a Masai village, high in the mountains, working as a housegirl for her grandparents who regularly beat her - and see her coming first in her class, I can't help think that this system probably gets it right. There are 700 such children at The School of St Jude now (the patron saint of hopeless cases) - they all have their own stories, most of which would break your heart. but they are thriving at hte school - they look happy and healthy and now they have a chance to break free from the cycle of poverty which has crippled their family and community for years.
In my opinion, only through education can Africa move forward. It will take a long time but it's possible. I'm very honoured to be a part of this heart-breaking, heart-warming process. come and see it for yourself one day - it will change the way you look at your life!
Well, this is my first blog with my new laptop and though I'm not sure I'll be writing as often as I'd like to, I should be able to improve on my recent performance (or lack of thereof)!
I can't believe we are now in the second half of Term 3 at St Judes. The countdown to the end of the year has begun with only six weeks of term left. In some respects I'm sad because this year has gone so quickly. In other ways I'm excited because I'll be going home to Ireland for three weeks on December 13th!
The last term of school means finding new students for next year. Every year, the school accepts (approximately) an additional 170 students. Those students go into the lowest classes, while all other students (unless they're really far behind) move into the next year. Because the school only goes up to Standard 5 (around grade 5 in Oz or 5th class in Ireland), it means that the school is still growing every year. So next year the school will have almost 850 students.
I never would have thought I'd be able to differenciate between various children because in their uniforms, they really do look similar. Unlike white children, African children all have the same colour hair, the same colour eyes (called black on their documentation even though in my opinion they're brown). AND most of them have their heads shaved because it's cleaner and easier to manage. So telling the difference between them relies on knowing their facial features.
And yet, each child is so unique in that respect that I know many of their names. In my class, I feel like I have a hundred personalities even though there are only 29 students. Some of them are so unique, and I have a real soft spot for each one of them. I wish I'd been teaching them all year. The saddest part for me at the end of this year will be saying goodbye to them, as they'll be in different classes next year. So I'll savour these last few weeks, even though I'll have to drill the rest of the course into them, so they hopefully do well in the exams.
In my class, I have John who is the class monitor and all-round good student. He's smart, popular and quick-witted, even though he's only around ten years old. I have Diana who is almost as smart though a little impatient. She writes letters to me several times a week or rather draws me pictures. She keeps these hidden in some amazing compartment in her dress and whips them out surreptitiously in the playground. She invites me to her house (I've been once) and sometimes wants to tell me the most hilarious secrets (like; one child pinched another one).
Then there's Epifania who is the most hilarious, unpredictable child. She's sulky and cheeky all at once, but in the most loveable way. She will gallop across the playground to carry my books to class, grab my hand in the playground and then pout when I don't ask her a question first. She's demanding and yet playful. Then there's Fransiska who never appears to listen and yet who always performs well. And then there's Caius... Caius is taller than most children, the first to put up his hand even though he's often wrong. He reminds me of myself when I got the award in gymnastics for the girl who wanted to run before she could walk. I wanted to be swinging around the parallel bars before I could even reach it or put chalk on my hands. Caius is desperate to move on and easily bored (to the point that he probably has ADD) and yet he's so sophisticated and tears through the dictionary to understand words. From a broken family, he is no doubt the surrogate father at the age of around eleven. And even though he leaps from his seat continually, albeit to help clean the blackboard or collect papers, I can't but like him.
And then there's Deborah (pronounced Deb -OR-ah with a stress on the OR). A small girl with an impish grin, Deborah often does the complete opposite of what i ask but she always has a carefully though up excuse. And when you feel most frustrated with her, she will grin in a way that makes it difficult to be angry.
Lucas is a small child, who looks younger than everyone else. Dreamy, shy and vague, he is often in his own world. It's incredibly frustrating because even when he does something wrong and he is scolded, he looks so regretful. Now he's listening more and it's nice to see him spelling words correctly - even if it's just bowl!
And yet another exceptional child is sweet Magreth who is incredibly clever, demure and obedient. She rarely looks you in the eye, but takes so much in.
There are so many more of these children I could describe and in time I will. For now, I'll continue correcting their mid-term exams and doling out the stickers the love so much. They don't ask for a lot here!
Class 2A have a special place in my heart, even though they test my patience at times. They're energetic, enthusiastic and eager to please.
Sunday, August 20, 2006
MAKING UP FOR BEING SO SLACK THE LAST FEW MONTHS
Okay, I know, I know, I've been really slack at this whole blogging thing over the last few months. I've had a few things slow me down, so while I don't normally write this a sa diary thing, since i've also been horrendous at emiling people, I'll write about what I've been up to the last few months, and then I'll be back on track, with my usual witty but poignant insights into life as a "missionary".
But before that, I'd like to knock this missionary rumour on the head. Somehow, some of my Aussie mates heard that I had obtained a missionary visa adn took great delight in passing it around (YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE JW, MH AND HB). I'm not even sure what the modern day definition of a missionary is, but I'm sure that whatever it is, I wouldn't be allowed to be one. I would possibly ruin it for the other poor missionaries : ) So, to clear up this rumour... I'm on a "missionary" visa over in lovely Tanzania. What that means is that the nice people in the church, in recognition of hte good work of hte school, get us visas through the contacts. So TECHNICALLY, I'm a missionary. But I won't sully the reputation of real missionaries by lettting you think I am : )
That aside, let me update you on the last few months.
School is very, very, very busy. I'm not going to go on and on about it. If you want to know more about the school, either check out newsletters from the last few months (they're actually really interesting - here's some links. If you like them, sign up for a monthly newsletter by emailing your address to email@example.com or to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll get you on the list. Anyhow, here's the last few newsletters
May (there's a pic of me somewhere in this one) http://www.schoolofstjude.co.tz/News/NewsletterMay2006/tabid/85/Default.aspx
Or if you just want to check out the new website that I've been working on, along with our team in Australia, go to www.schoolofstjude.co.tz
My job now is to look after visitors and groups who visit. So a visitor might be a sponsor, donor or someone who is just interested in the the school. Some come just for a few hours, others come and stay. So I look after them. It's a great job because it's a real feel-good type of place, with children who are pretty ecstatic to be getting an education, and great resources and overall, I'm doing PR for a fantastic product/ service. I also look after working groups who come. So, for example, many rotarians come to the school to help us with building, making furniture and various other jobs. They get to experience life in an African school and in return, they work their little butts off for around three weeks. It's a fantastic relationship/ arrangement.
So in July, we had a group come and visit. They weren't rotarians but they were fantastic. There were 13 of them, including Ange, the very first headmistress of the school. They stayed for three weeks, went on a safari, had a trip to Zanzibar and helped out at the school. I've got some pics to share but don't have accesss to them right now as I'm in Zanzibar, so I'll put them up in a week or so when I get back.
So apart from looking after visitors and groups, I've also started teaching one class English. They're class 2A and they're an average age of 9, and cute as anything. They're a little bit naughty at times, like any kids they try it on to see how far they can push you. But after around three weeks at the end of last term, we're getting there. I'll keep you updated on my angels/ demons!
In the middle of all that, we had a new website launching. I'm the 'webmaster' - basically that means that I put the content on and update it. The tecchie stuff was done by a guy in Australia. He built it from scratch, designed it and uploaded a new accounting system onto it, almost single-handedly over around six months. I came in near the end to fix up the content, make it look the way we wanted to, in terms of navigation. It was a bit stressful for a while, but it's nice having a nice new toy to place with, and help with marketing.
Work aside, life in Tanzania has been up and down. I've been here for seven months now and in some ways it feels like it's flown and in others, it feels like I've been here forever. There are days when I feel incredibly happy, and that I could stay forever. And there are other days when I just want my normal, old life back again. I love so many things here; the children who are so positive and funny and cute and don't whinge at all; the weather which is fantastic - the coldest it gets is around 15 degrees in the day and around 10 at night, but on average it's more like 20 during the day and 12-15 at night. Being at a fairly high altitudes means that it doesn't get too hot, but also being in Africa, right beside the Equator means it doesn't get too cold. It's gorgeous almost year round.
I also love the culture here, increasingly so as time goes on. The people are very laid back, are in no rush to go anywhere, always have time to greet you and generally just want to be friendly. There are many flip-sides to all that, such as if you are in a hurry it can be frustrating. But once you slow down and accept that things just don't happen fast, it's pretty nice to slow down a bit and take it easier. I've even found myself walking slower, when I walking through town.
I also love Swahili. Over the months, I've been picking up more and more phrases and over the last month or so, I've been able to have conversations! It's all still a little daunting but I love the challenge of learning a new language and the buzz of being understood, and understanding, however simple the conversation.
And then there are the hard days when I just want the creature comforts of being able to call good friends on the phone and just have a chat. I miss hugging the people I love, hearing the little details of my family and friends lives. I miss silly but comforting things like a cinema, going shopping in normal shops (they don't really exist here) sitting in a cafe reading the Sydney Morning Herald (the website is NOT the same). I miss wandering around a bookshop for a few hours intending to buy nothing but always finding something I have to have. I miss crap, reality TV, a comfy couch to lie on that is mine, in a home that is my own space. Some days I miss the freedom of having a car to drive around in, being able to walk down a road on my own in the evening. I miss being able to be completely independent - when I want to go somewhere I can, without having to get a taxi or someone to go with me. It's just not safe in Africa to go out at night alone, or to even take a taxi if you don't know the driver. Soemtimes I miss going to a supermarket and buying normal stuff like nice bread, biscuits and the usual comfort food we eat i nthe Western World.
Having said all that, there's a definite benefit to not being able to get to such things. Not eating rubbish, not zoning out on the TV and not spending money for the sake of it is a fairly good thing. I feel like I apreciate the value of time and money more. I read more books, talk to friends more and probably work more (not sure the latter is ideal but at least it's for a great cause).
Overall thoug hI'd say that although it's hard, hard work because the school is growing at the most tremendous rate and we have to work accordingly, it's been very rewarding. It's also been quite tough and consequently really rewarding in personal terms. I find that I am a more tolerant person these days. Having lived with over twenty people for the last six months, worked with them and socialised with them, if you don't become tolerant, you suffer! We all have different backgrounds, personalities, quirks, pet hates and likes - living together for the first few months was TOUGH at times. But at the end of the day, like living in a University residence or a share house, you learn to compromise, communicate and also to shut up at times (yes, I can do that sometimes!!!)
The last month has been up and down. First of all, my computer had a bit of a tragedy. I had a minor problem with the connection on the plug to recharge the batter, so I left it in to be repaired at a VERY respected shop, run by a Dutch guy. I was assured it was a really good repair shop... famous last words! The next words were "your computer has had a problem..." Not, we have a problem with your computer or we fecked it up... no, it was the problem of my very dear and now dead laptop!! Sigh! I won't go on like I could and spew forth a diatribe of invective. I've moved on now (only just) and just have to forget it. Thankfully, a very dear friend that I know from the school, who lives in America, got me a new one at a really subsidised price (thank you Mr Paul) and it's coming over with another dear friend of the school (thank you Ms Cindy) next month.
Meanwhile, my digital camera went awol (try teaching 9 year old Tanzanzian children the meaning of that expression). I don't know how, where or when but somewhow my lovely though fairly inexpensive camera went astray. I might have left it on my desk in the school of fficeor my room. either way it's gone! My dear father sent his over with a friend of mine just last week so I'm using his until Christmas when I'll try to replace mine. Oh well, in the grand scheme of things they're just... well.. things. But oh, how we can get attached to things... well I can anyway!
After all that... yes there's more. I got SICK! I consider myself to be a healthy person. When I'm a little ill, I whinge a bit and act like a sook / baby. When I came to Tanzania, people told me about malaria and I didn't particularly care because when you get it, you just take antibiotics and you're right in a day or two. I didn't get malaria but let me tell you, what I go was very similar and now I do NOT EVER want to get it! What I got is thought to be the flu - the REAL flu, as in influenza. And God, was it awful. I woke up feeling a bit achey around 7am on a Sunday morning. Then the headache came, along with the chills and hot sweats. That all sounds okay but it got worse and worse and worse as the day progressed. Eventually I was in such pain, I couldn't lie down, painkillers did NOTHING. That lasted for a day until I finally went ot hospital. They gave me some painkillers which killed hte pain a little bit but even then it was hellish. At some points, I felt like I was going crazy - my head was just out of control in a way that I can't describe - I was hallucinating and delirious, fainting etc. It was NOT pleasant. AFter around 3 days, I was almost back to normal.
And then, to add insult to injury, agony to pain, the ear infection came long. This is apparently not uncommon after such a fever/ flu. The ear infection though was chronic. I won't go into it cos I've no idea what was wrong - suffice ot say it hurt like hell, so much so that I tried poking those white things in to clean in and somewhere along the line, I perforated my eardrum! That was last week. Thee infection is finally gone after around ten days of some intense antibiotics , though my eardrum isn't in the best shape. It's going to take a month or so til that's okay. but I don't mind cos I'm jsut so damn happy to be feeling okay again.
Somewhere in the middle of all that, Maria, my cousin from Belfast arrived. That really was a lifesaver. Because no matter how well you get to know people here, there's no-one like someone from home and even better, someone who is blood - practically a sister to me. She's now been here for nearly three months and it feels like she was always here. AND she gave me a LOT of love and care when I was sick. God bless cousins.
That probably all sounds a bit dramatic and tragic and God, I felt tragic for a while. The GOOD news is that I'm writing this from Zanzibar. It's school holidays so I took a week off and came here with a friend who's over from Ireland. And it's Paradise! Gorgeous weather in the daytime (around 25 degrees) but a lovely wind to keep it a little bit cool, perfect blue seas, seafood to die for (and you might know how much I love my seafood), beaches that have the whitest, softest, cleanest sand. Add that to great books to read, relaxation time - well, I feel so much better than I did a week ago!
I could write so much more but at US$5 an hour (expensive by Tanzanian terms) I'm going to finish off there and get back to my Zanzibar holiday, because soon enough it will be TErm 3 at St Judes and I'll be back there.
I'll write more again soon. I have so many postings I want to write, and when my new laptop arrives in a few weeks time, I'll be able to do it with no problems.
Email me if you get a chance - either at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
And if you know anyone who wants to support a REALLY good cause, helping poor but clever children to get an education and to change their lives, send them to our website. Every single dollar/ euro, whatever counts. And if not, keep the school in your thoughts.
By the way, if Dan O'Sulivan is reading this, I've tried to email you a few times. Can you get in touch with me by emailing me - email@example.com
In the meantime, take care all. I miss you all very much but soon enough I'll be back in the real world and this will all seem far away. So while I'm here I'm going to carpe diem...
Thursday, July 20, 2006
THIS ONE IS BEATING ME
If you came to our school, and went into any class, within around two minutes, you would probably hear a child say "Teacher, teacher, this one is beating me". And you would be forgiven for being as surprised if not shocked, as I was to hear it at first.
But it all makes sense when you break it down...
Kiswahili, being quite a simple language, has far less words than English, so for example, there's no word for 'he' or 'she'. In Swahili, the word "a" is the pronoun which means "this one" or to compare it to English, it replaces he/she. So naturally the children have difficulty in understanding the concept that we differenciate between males and females in English - so they resort to "this one" or "that one".
Beating is the hot word in our school. In Kiswahili, the word for beat is Piga, but piga has a variety of meanings ranging from pinching to slapping to pushing to shoving. So when the children want to tell on another child, they'll say "this one is beating me"...
So if you ever come here, don't think we're letting them beat each other - maybe just the odd slap or shove!
Another common one is "dropping" and "picking"... If you take the bus somewhere you will "drop at XXX place". So it's common to hear a child say "I am dropping at Kijenge" or "I will pick you at the bus-stop". Trying to teach people to say "I am getting off the bus at Kijenge" or "I will pick you UP at the bus-stop" is harder than it sounds because it's in common usage all over Tanzania...
The scary consequence can be that, as a native English speaker, you find yourself pointing to a child saying "this one is dropping at Njiro" or "We will pick that one at 7am".... Sounds crazy but I defy you to come to Tanzania for more than six months and NOT find yourself saying it at least once!
Sunday, May 21, 2006
Puppets Save the Day
Somehow, without knowing quite how, I found myself agreeing to put on a puppet show for a colleague's community day at her Mosque. Of course, this was weeks ago, so I didn't need to worry abut it. Until last Tuesday when she reminded me it was this weekend. Oops, I hadn't done anything.
I knew we had a few puppets lying around, so I pulled them out and dragged Felicity, Suzanne and one of our visitors Tracey to work out a storyline. We had to entertain these children for around 20 minutes and right now we had nothing but a few puppets; a crocodile, a funny looking little man, a monkey and two identical ones in smart looking clothes. We looked at the puppets in despair.
But somehow, over a couple of hours we worked out a story; the identical puppets were (naturally) twin brothers. They lived on opposite sides of the river and met every year in the park beside the river to celebrate their birthday, and invited their friend monkey. On this particular occasion, monkey arrives early and as he's about to cross the river, Mr Crocodile pops up and won't let him cross. Finally, Croc agrees to take monkey across in exchange for some chocolate cake (yes, any rememblance to reality disppeared quickly). So silly monkey hops on Crocs back, and of course Croc then tries toeat him half way across the river. Fortunately and fairly fortuitously for monkey, there's a tree in the middle of the river which he scampers up. Then the two brothers arrive on either side of hte river but they trick croc into thinking there is just one of them who can magically get from one side of the river to another, without getting wet! Finally they scare croc into submission (through the alleged magic), and he promises not to terrorise poor monkey or other animals again. Yes, it even had a moral because as it turned out crocodile wasn't mean and nasty, contrary to first appearances. He was just lonely and scared because his parents had died and his friends abaondoned him as he wasn't scary enough. And now he had learned his lesson, he had found friends and lived happily ever after...
So, between Tuesday and today, Tracey outlined the script, I wrote the dialogue and Suzanne and Rachel painted the backdrop. And today, to around 50 children and even more adults we put on our puppetshow - The Twins Save the Day! It was all quite amateur but it was a lot of fun and it showed that with a proverbial gun to the head, you can do (not quite) amazing things! Tracey deserted us for a safari but we're going to do an encore this week for some of the classes so she can star in the show she helped produce.
It'll be a while before I volunteer to do something like that again though. Far too much hard work : )
Thursday, May 11, 2006
Wednesday 10th May 2006 - Maurin has gone to Peponi (Paradise)
Today was definitely the saddest I have had so far in Africa.
A number of teachers and students went to the funeral of Maurin. In total, there were around 45 – 50 of us to represent the school.
We took the bus with Maurin’s class and pulled up outside a field, where a type of tent had been erected using long sticks and several canopies. Inside were seats of all descriptions (some wooden, some covered in fabric, others were plastic); many looked as though they had come from people’s homes.
When we got there, around 150 people were gathered. But over the next hour at least another hundred arrived. Most were women but there were men standing at the back. The women had large pieces of fabric (like sarongs) wrapped around their lower and upper body, and most had a piece of fabric covering their hair.
When we arrived, the group were singing hymns. They were the most beautiful songs in Swahili. From what I could understand, they were similar to the type of songs we would sing at a funeral – asking God to look after the deceased, saying rest in peace etc.
Then, for a long time there was a silence that was unbroken by any sound. It was a very peaceful and respectful mood.
Then the priest started talking. He talked about the kingdom of God and children. With my limited Swahili, I couldn’t understand a lot of it and yet, I didn’t need to. I had a fairly good idea of what it meant and the overall tone.
After the priest had spoken for a little while and some more songs, everyone started to file up toward the front of the church toward the coffin. After the adults had paid their respects, we escorted the children up. I hadn’t realized the coffin would be open and I don’t think the children had either because most of them became hysterical and wailed in the most heart-wrenching way to see their friend lying lifeless in a coffin. And as they cried, the rest of the church erupted in the most mournful wail. I don’t think I’ve ever heard such a sad sound in my life.
For my part, it was incredibly sad. I have never seen a corpse before and this one was particularly heart-breaking. She looked even smaller than I remembered her. She had been embalmed in a waxy, oily paste. Some people felt she looked peaceful. I couldn’t say that because I was so shocked by seeing this fragile little body in a coffin - the body of a child who had been playing only a few days before and now was gone.
Afterward, Maurin was buried in a banana field, just beside where the funeral was held. Students and family/ friends threw flowers once the coffin had been nailed shut and covered with dirt. After some short speeches, we took a very quiet bunch of students back to school.
I think it was good for the students to say goodbye to their friend. And in Africa, death is so much more common. But nothing could lessen the pain of Maurin’s death today.
When we were discussing this tragedy later, one of our askari (guards) commented something to the effect of "Ana Peponi sasa" meaning she is in Paradise now. I think he's right.
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
Dala Dala Pole Pole (Dala Dala, Slowly Slowly)
One of my favourite ways to travel in Tanzania is on a Dala Dala. Yes, you say it the way it looks. A dala dala is the Tanzanian form of public transport. Basically they’re mini-vans with around four rows of seats in the back. Safely they can hold around twelve people but I’ve NEVER been on a Dala dala with just 11 others. It averages at around 20, not including the people sitting in the front beside the driver but more often has 30.
Below is a photo of my friend Paul Weinland on a dala dala with a total stranger on his lap! The joys of public transport in Tanzania!
Privately owned, Dala dalas leave the town or terminus and go to a variety of destinations. So to catch one, you go to the local terminus and say where you’re going. Usually around the terminus, there are around 20 men trying to get business, as sometimes there will be several going to the same destination. Getting past them can be a bit of a trauma as they fight over your business. If you’re lucky, there will be a nearly full one ready to go but with an available seat. If you’re unlucky, the dala dala will either be packed and you’ll have to squeeze in OR it will be empty and you just have to wait until it fills up because only then does it leave! So, no, there are no timetables or anything resembling a schedule – dala dalas leave when they’re full. Just as the driver gets ready to pull off, it seems that a million people arrive out of the woodwork and pile in.
When all the seats are full, standing passengers then get packed in. The most comfortable technique is to lean over your neighbour in a friendly fashion. Often a seated passenger will hold your groceries or even your child. Mostly, dala dalas drive with the side door open so that the conductor can hang out. If it’s particularly packed, some passengers also are hanging out the door. Thankfully they don’t go very fast so, if you go over rough terrain and fall out, it’s pretty safe… Bus stops don’t really exist. When you want to get out, you shout “Shusa” whereupon it will stop and let you off. Similarly, it stops along the road whenever someone wants to get on. There doesn’t appear to be a limit to the number of people who can get on. I’ve yet to see a Dala Dala refuse people, simply because it’s full… there’s always room to be made for others.
The thing I like about this type of transport is that you are very much involved with the locals. I’ve had some of my most interesting conversations on dala dalas. I’ve even been invited to dinner by a girl on the dala dala! And it cost the equivalent of US 0.20c to go from town to home (around 8km).
But damn it hurts when you go over a bump in the road!
The bumpy road - and of course, all the women are carrying their buckets (after using them as seats on the dala dala)
RIP: 1997 - 8 May 2006
Last week, all the students in our school sat their exams. Maurin Abibu was no exception. Today they all came back to school for the first day of term two. Except Maurin.
Yesterday, trying to cross a river after recent heavy rain, Maurin and two other children were swept away by the strong current. The other two were able to cling to a tree. Maurin wasn't as lucky. She was swept away and drowned.
Maurin was in Standard 2B. She came to the school when it first opened - she was around the twentieth student to be enrolled. When she died, Maurin was nine (9) years old, and the eldest of three children (she had two brothers). Her parents are separated and they family are poor as most of the children in the school. A good and quiet student, Maurin worked hard. In January, I gave her a new uniform. Only a few months ago Maurin's cousin died tragically. Now the family is mourning their second loss in as many months.
This type of death (drowning by being swept away) happens much more frequently that you would ever imagine, particularly n the rainy season. Only today a student answered a question in Science homework which read "describe an accident that you have seen". He wrote somethign to the effect of "One day I see a man fall down in the street and the water take him away"
This is the fifth such death that I've heard of in the last couple of months. They all made me sad but when it's a child that you have contact with, it seems much worse though it shouldn't really. But it does.
This it's tragic and it's awful - and yet it probably won't make the news beyond the local paper. But tonight there's a family within les than a kilometre of here, grieving for their only daughter or sister or niece.
Rest in Peace Maurin
If you are so inclined, please keep Maurin and her family in your thoughts/ prayers.