Friday, December 21, 2007

Due to popular demand I have relisted the links to my photos below. Enjoy!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

These past few weeks have been crazy. It is hard to accept that my time here is over.I have had mixed feelings about leaving. I am exicted to go home but at the same timeI want to take all my students, villagers and friends back home with me. When I arrivedat site I had no friends or family and thus over these past few years I have had to makethem. Now that I feel at home and life is good it's hard to let go. Nonetheless my lastday of working for the Peace Corps is Monday November 5,2007. That is also the same daythat I fly home. I am expecting to arrive back in KC on Tuesday November 6. I look forward to seeing all of you!

Normally when I walk around my village for whatever reason myvillagers like to give me the Spanish Inquisition and bombard me witha million questions. For example they like to ask where I am going,what am I going to do there, if I am going to the market they want toknow what I am going to buy, they also like to know what am I going toeat for lunch etc. Some of my villagers have been trying hard thesepast two years either to get me to marry them (if they are women) orto marry female members of their family (if they are males).Therefore I also get questions about whether or not I am seeinganyone, what type of girls I prefer etc. They have done this sincethe first day I arrived in the village and still do it to this day. Ihave always taken it as normal even though I know that such behavioris not acceptable in America. The other day I was walking with two ofmy fellow teachers in the village and some of the villagers started in on theirquestions. To my surprise both of these teachers became very annoyedby them doing this and proceeded to confront them on this behavior.Come to find out this is not acceptablebehavior and a Tanzanian would never even think of asking suchquestions (especially questions concerning my marital status) toanother Tanzanian. It's funny I would learn this after putting upwith it for two years.

I just recently returned from my final Peace Corp conference. It washeld in Arusha (the town nearest to mountain Kilimanjaro, theSerengeti, and Ngorogoro Crater so it is a major tourist center) at areally nice private Hotel (we had running water everyday (even HOTwater), electricity etc). The hotel was strategically built in a game reserve area that also had great views of Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Meru.The purpose of the conference was help us put closure on these two yearsand to prepare us to return back to the USA. As I result, we basicallyhad sessions in which we got to get all our stories out (what we love and will miss about TZ and what we hate and won't miss). I really got a lotout of the conference and felt a lot better about leaving afterwards.

While I was up in the Arusha area I also got a chance to spend some timein the city of Arusha. Due to the fact that it is a homebase for tourists coming to see Ngorogoro Crater, Serengeti or climb Mt. Kilimanjaro etc. it is a really a strange place. All of the Tazaniansthat I came into contact with were very suprised that I knew such goodKiswahili and wouldn't believe that I wasn't born in Tazania. However,despite their happiness with my language skills they still saw me as anmzungu (white person) with money and never wanted to give me the rightprice on things. Here we have to baragin for most of the things we buy(with the exception of restaurants although I have even gotten discountson food that was late or not acceptable). After living here for two years I know the prices of most everything and knew they were riping me off.It was a bit annoying.

As I come closer and closer to leaving my village I being to wonderwhat did Namabengo gain from my presence there. Due to variousfactors I don't think my students national exam scores (their collegeentrance exam) will significantly improve and I am okay with this. Ididn't build a library, mill, or water well for my community and thusI am not leaving behind any visual evidence of my presence. Thereforewhat was the purpose of putting a volunteer in a village likeNamabengo if I couldn't improve test scores or leave with withhopefully sustainable projects that will benefit the village for manyyears to come? The answer is friendship.
Before the first volunteer came to Namabengo, most of my villagers hadnever talked to a white person and only seen one a handful of times.Most of what they knew about Americans and white people they learnedfrom the radio. They though white people were mean, arrogant, richpeople who mainly visited Tazania to steal minerals and precious gems. Now if you asked them about white people they would smile and tellyou a completely different story. They would tell you that at onepoint in their lives four crazy white people came to live in theirvillage. They would say we are crazy because they can't understandwhy anyone from the land of machines and plenty (America and Europe)would ever want to live their homeland and come and live withstrangers in very harsh conditions for two years. They would be ableto tell you the names of each volunteer, the state in America wherethey come from, their daily habits, their favorite foods, their likesand dislikes and how they not only learned to speak perfect Kiswahilibut also learned Kendendule the local tribal language. I know thisbecause during my first month at site everyone I met had stories totell about the three volunteers that served before me.The impact that I had on my village is not one that can be measuredwith numbers and fancy formulas. Yet these sort of things arenormally the ones that Peace Corps must submit to Congress every yearin order to prove that Peace Corps is worth them spending less thanone percent of the foreign service budget on.Two years ago I knew very little about African culture or thedeveloping world. Living in Africa for two years has changed me in somany ways that I am not for sure I will realize in how many I havebeen changed until I return home. Now it's hard for me to constructsentences in English without inserting at least one Kiswahili word. Ican only go a few days before I start craving ugali (that maize mealstuff that I hated the first few months I was here). I maybe leavingTazania in a few weeks but I know that Tazania will forever be on mymind. Once I return I will wonder about whatever becomes of thosestudents, teachers and villagers that I will not be able to keep intouch with. I will also wonder if my school finally got a decentheadmaster that actually makes the teachers teach and doesn't allowthe students to buy their college entrance exams. I will also wonderabout how well my villagers crop yields were for that year.

Friday, June 22, 2007

In March one of the bridges that my bus has to cross in order to get to my village was somehow destroyed. I didn't think much of it since last year the bridge broke and it was quickly repaired. This time it took them one month to repair the bridge and all they did to repair it was to replace theparts that had broken and then set the bridge back in place. One week afterthey fixed it a large dump truck carrying a huge load of cement barely crossed thebridge and then the bridge broke and the truck fell down into the river with it.Still to this day I don't know how the driver survived. I am not for sure whois responsible for this accident since the government has provided money for a durablebridge to be built since it is on a road that connects two major cities but due to corrpution a much cheaper bridge was built and then the remaining monies eatenby the ones in charge of the project.
Within a few days the villagers had found out about the incident and peoplestarted visiting the site of the accident and stealing cement, parts of the trucklike the tires, etc. Within a week nearly everything worth value on the truck wasstolen.
It took them 2 months to rebuild another bridge and were are blessed that they finally built a durable bridge that will last! During those two months I dreaded going to town since it meant that I would have to take one bus from myvillage down to the wreckage site and cross the river (don't worry the villagersbuilt a nice little bridge out of bamboo to cross on) and then catch anotherbus that was waiting on the other side. The problem was that due to lack of communication many times the bus on the other side was not there which meantwaiting an hour or two for it to come. One time I was coming back from town and after an hour they told us that there wouldbe no bus coming for us and we would have to walk. My village is only about2.5 miles from the bridge but it was still a journey since I had to carryall the things I bought in town back with me.
My life has pretty much been uneventful since I have been on "winter" breakthese past few weeks. I have decided not to travel anywhere and justspend time at my village since I have already seen everything I wantedto see here. This means most days I have spent just reading (already onmy fifth novel now) or visiting my villagers. In August the PC is putting us up in a ritz hotel next to Mount Meru. Mt. Meru is the smaller mountain located right next to Mt.Kilimanjaro. They also have a safari planned for us which they arepaying for. This is our gift from them for being a volunteer. Now it is official that my last day of being employed by PC will beMonday November 5,2007. This means that I will fly home shortly afterthat date.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Different regions have different stories as to why they can’t to the precious gems and gold here. In my region the Germans established a lot of missions in my region during the colonial times. Therefore the people say that the missionaries purposely built their missions (and still do) over areas where they have surveyed there to be precious gems and gold there. The villagers at night sometimes hear noises coming from the missions and they figure that that is when the missionaries are mining the treasures. One hotel manager said that the missionaries often come back late at night to his hotel and it is obvious that they are returning from mining. The people here don’t mind that the missionaries are “stealing” the precious treasures because the missions give them good churches, good schools, hospitals etc.

For Easter Break I went to visit some volunteers in another region and the people there have a completely different story about the treasures. In one region they believe that there are fairies protecting the gems and gold and when the villagers try to mine them the fairies attack them and chase them away. Evidently the fairies don’t attack the white people and so they need our help to go out and mine the treasures for them. Another region believes that before the Germans left after they lost control of Tanzania they buried all of their treasures 15 miles down deep in the ground. The Germans hoped to return and dig it up again but since they never returned the treasures are still there. So now they need our help to help them use metal detectors and other technology to find the treasures for them. This story is one of the more believable ones the only problem is that their idea of metal detectors is way off target. They think that we have metal detectors that on the meter part the arrow will simply point to diamonds if they are present there or gold etc. and if nothing is there it will also indicate that. They also know about some special glasses that we can wear that allows us to see directly thru the soil and sediments and allows us to instantly locate that treasures.

I think that sometimes the people here are confused as to why in the world we would come here to do simple jobs like teach. They are sure there has to be more to the story. On more than one occasion, I have been out walking around villages near mine and people have asked me if I am looking for treasures. My response is always “of course if you know where they are I would love your help finding them.”

I also had a chance to visit the natural lake nearest to my site (Lake Nyasa or Lake Malawi) for my Easter Break. The trip was rough but I expected it to be and thus it didn’t bother me as much as it would have during my first year. It was only a 6 hour trip where I was packed in like sardines with suitcases, large bags of grains in a Land Rover and later a Minibus. We also transported gasoline (to fill up the car when it ran out) and dried sardines so there were points of the trip where I got a little nausea from the smells. The road isn’t paved yet so we went over rough roads that had huge potholes in them due to water erosion etc. To top it off the driver only brought one tape with him so we listened to the same tape over and over again. All of these irritations can spoil a trip but now they are usual to me and I don’t even think twice about them.

The lake is gorgeous with mountains surrounding it. Its width is so small that you can see a foggy Malawi in the distance. It is such a remote area that normally only Tanzanians visit it. While I was there I managed to come across some very interesting sites. One time we were walking to the beach and we came across this little kid carrying around 50 small dead birds on strings that were tied around his fingers. I asked him about these birds and he said he was selling them. As it turns out, the people in this reason eat these small birds since it is a cheap source of meat. Another time we came across an old blind man who was fishing. He had a bamboo stick with a piece of rope tied to the end except there was no bait at the end of the string. I am not for sure if people tie fish to the end of the string because they feel sorry for him or what.
In many of the areas that I visit the villagers always seem to have strange stories as to why I should be careful of the area. The people near my village always tell me never to be out late at night because that is when the simba (lions) are searching for food. It is true that the Selous Game Reserve is somehow near (2 hours way by bus) my village but I have never heard of anyone being attacked my lions. I also have never heard of anyone spotting lions. On this trip we were warned by many people to be careful of the crocodiles. They told us that we must be careful not to swim to far out into the lake because if we do we are sure to be attacked by the crocodiles. This advice didn’t make any sense to me no matter how I looked at it. The crocodiles normally hide in the flora surrounding the lake and are not good swimmers so wouldn’t it be better if we spotted a crocodile (when asked when was the last time they had seen them they replied oh last year which in the indirect communication that we use here translates as probably never) that we were further out into the lake since it would be impossible for them to swim to attack us.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

The biggest news from the village before I left for vacation was about how two of my freshman students stole a chicken (valued at $2.60) from a house down by the river (about a quarter a mile from the school).(Chickens here are not feed and fenced in like their brothers in other distant lands. They are wild and thus spend most of their daysearching the village for food.) They planned on killing the chicken and cooking it themselves down by the river where no one would see them. A villager spotted them with the chicken squawking in their book bag and later turned them in. Shortly after it happned the whole village was talking about it and how wrong it was of them to do it. It was surprising to me because worse crimes have been committed in the village but they are either denied or justified. Chicken theft always seems to be the one crime that makes the headlines and something is done about it. One villager once told me that we don't even need a real judge in our village because the main types of crimes that are committed are chicken theft. When I questioned them about wives getting beat they told me that husbands are supposed to beat their wives in order to keep them in line. The truth is that it is actually against the law.

These past few months I have made a lot of progress with my teaching. At the last seminar that I went to, they taught us to have our students give us a thumbs up when they are the understanding the material, a thumbs down when they are not understanding and to put their thumb to the middle when they are somehow understanding. Before I would always ask my students if they understand the material andthey would always tell me Ndyio (absolutely yes) since they are required to do so with other teachers and if they don't understand they might get punished. I don't have a problem with my 25 senior chemistry students because I always make them do problems on the board in my presence after we study a certain concept. This would be impossible to do with my 140 biology students. The thumb method works like magic! The problem now comes that most of my girls have not understood the material at all and the students that can't understand aren't able to tell me what exactly they don't understand. In order to resolve this problem, I have resorted to first teaching in special English first and then after a week asking them questions pertaining to last week's material. If they don't understand something I then review the lesson in Kiswahili. This method has helped a lot.

Now my students are so comfortable with me that they have started getting lippy and will tell me once I teach a small part of the lesson to teach in Kiswahili (which of course I won't do since they need to learn some English). On the other hand, the students that I have been tutoring are totally open with me and will answer all of the questions that I have about village life and Tanzania. They are topics I normally ask other teachers but they either don't know or are embarrassed to tell me. As a result, I have learned so much about what really goes on in my village. I recently met some Italian volunteers working here that don't know any English. As a result we ended up talking only in Kiswahili. One of the volunteers recently got married to an Italian volunteer who also doesn't know English that well and so their medium of communication is Kiswahili.

I have picked up a lot of Tanzanian habits since I have lived here solong but one of the habits that I never thought I would ever pick upis that of staring at white people when they come to my village ortown. A few days ago I was people watching in town and I spotted an mzungu (white person) that I didn't know. They were surrounded by only Tanzanians and it so seemed really strange to me. While I stared at them I wondered how their skin could be so white, why were they dressing they way they were, where were they going and what are they doing here. These are all the questions that I have gotten asked here and they are at times annoying but now I totally understand where they are coming from since there are just a handful of us down here and wedo look strange.

Another habit that I have picked up is the habit of having to eat ugali (the corn meal doughy stuff that I hated when I got here) at least a few times a week. Part of the reason is that the lunches that the school provides for us normally consist of ugali and beans. As a result, I will have the stuff at least 3 times a week. Tanzanians used to always say that they had to have ugali (and not rice) a few times a week but again I never understood them.

I will end on a happy note. A lot of hotels here that I stay at here have these posters with nice scenery on them but with some of the strangest quotes. I will leave you with three quotes that I have collected from such posters.

A plan is what we want to do and a budget is the reason why we can't.

Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to let you in.

There is no greater love than that of food.

Friday, March 02, 2007

My pictures from Zanzibar are now available for your viewing pleasure at the link below. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Sorry for the late blog. There are two internet places in the town nearest my village and one of them (the most reliable one) recently had their electricity turned off since they hadn’t paid there bill for a long time. The other internet place is always spotty. For these reasons I haven’t had internet in town for around 3 weeks. Hopefully it won’t be like this again but just giving a heads up.

I recently found out that unfortunately my school will not be receiving a new principal. Instead my old acting principal (who has no college degree or much experience in education) was approved to stay at my school and be our principal. I am still not sure how this came to be but I have learned that sometimes it’s easier to not ask the why question here (since it is rarely answered) and just accept the outcomes. I do know that the principal we were supposed to get was coming from a richer public school and was reluctant to come to my school.

My school recently had the bright idea to purchase a new television and satellite dish for the teacher’s lounge. They said that they are also going to purchase a new computer. They are making all these purchases despite the fact that I still have many students in my classes that don’t have desks or chairs to sit on, many of the chalk boards are difficult to write on and some of the classrooms now have dirt floors since the “cement” that once covered the bricks underneath has now eroded away from heavy use. Every term every freshman and sophomore is required to pay extra school fees so that new chairs and desks can be made. Last year only a handful of new chairs were constructed. I am not saying that their latest purchases were not good ones, I just think that their priorities are in the wrong place. Many times last year I would show up to school and there was no chalk to teach with. Many of my fellow teachers unfortunately used this as an excuse not to teach. I ended up just being my own so I wouldn’t have to deal with the issue but it’s pretty sad when even simple things like chalk are not even made priority purchases.

In November all of the principals in the country had a conference with the Ministry of Education to discuss problems that they were facing in their schools and ways to resolve them. The main topic that they ended up discussing, for most of the conference, was how they (principals) are not receiving a large enough salary and what can be done so they can get more money. This was disappointing to hear knowing that so many principals steal money from the school and use it to build bigger houses or start businesses. Also I am not for sure if their priorities are in the right order since I would have thought epidemic shortages of teachers, lack of textbooks and teacher’s resources etc would have been discussed.

My attempt at organic gardening has failed. Before I went on vacation in December, I started preparing the plots for planting corn by “deep digging.” This method I learned at a conference here and it requires no use of fertilizer but still gives you the benefits of using fertilizer. This would benefit my villagers immensely if they would adapt it since every year they spend a large portion of their incomes on fertilizer. Many of my neighbors and fellow villagers watched me (I am still living in a fish bowl world and every ordinary thing I do is still considered the coolest thing by my villagers despite the fact that I have lived in my village now for a little over a year) preparing my plots in a manner that they were unaccustomed to and questioned me to make sure that I knew what I was doing. I politely explained to them that I was trying a new method of planting corn to see if it really would work as well as Peace Corps told us it would. When I came back from my vacation, I found that my neighbors had planted corn for me in the usual way in the area were I had already prepared. Evidently they didn’t think my new method would work but didn’t want to tell me.

For my December break I decided to travel to the exotic island (pictures will be posted soon) 2 hours off the coast of TZ mainland: Zanzibar. The island is considered by main TZ Muslims to be like traveling to a Mecca since it is probably the closest they will get to making the pilgrimage given their economic situation. For this reason I decided to take one of my best students, who is Muslim, along with me on my trip. He really enjoyed the trip considering that before this trip he had only traveled 3 hours from his home.

Zanzibar is an exotic island that is inhabited by 90% Muslims. Historically, Zanzibar served as a major slave market in East Africa. The slaves that were sold from East Africa were sent to Asia (Middle East). When slavery was ended by the British in the late 1800’s many of these slaves were sent back to East Africa and for this reason very few blacks inhabit the Middle East today. The Middle Easterners were the main ones involved in the slave trading before the arrival of the British. When the British did end slavery, the Middle Easterners secretly moved their slave market to the top part of Zanzibar and continued to trade slaves for another ten years. One interesting thing that I learned was that wealthy Tazanians and other Africans also owned slaves.

One very surprising fact about Zanzibar, is that it was the birthplace of the lead singer of the band Queen, Freddie Mercury. When he was born his father was serving as a civil servant for the British Colonial Government on the island. Freddie only lived on the island for a few years before being shipped off to a boarding school in India. He refers to his Zanzibar background in the famous song Bohemian Rhapsody with “Bismillah will you let him go.” Bismillah is the Arabic word for “the word of God” and has become the rallying cry for Muslim groups pressing for Zanzibar to break away from Tanzania.

Even though Zanzibar is known as the spice island, since more than 30 spices are grown on it, poverty still persists. The beautiful beaches that inhabit the island are monopolized by high class western style resorts and restaurants. However directly behind these high class amenities lies villages that are poorer than mine. In the village that I had a chance to visit, the people were making their huts out of mud and sticks instead of dirt made bricks like in my village. I am not for sure if that many tourists ever visit it, or even know about it since it is hidden by a forestry area. All of the villagers were very surprised to see me there and all asked if I was lost.

While I was in the capital city for my vacation, I had a chance to visit the largest and one of the few universities here in Tanzania, the University of Dar Es Salaam. It was built by an a firm from Israel with funds provided by President Kennedy in the early 1960s. (It has been rumored that this was one of his attempts to decrease the interest for socialism by the Tazanian government at the time. Providing PC Volunteers has been rumored to be another). The campus is set on top of a large hill which has a great view of the nearby ocean. Its campus is comparable to an American community college in that its buildings were actually built with durable resources and furnished with modern windows, desks etc. This is rare here considering it is a public institution.

Shortly after the last school term ended back in December I had a chance to attend a Muslim funeral in honor of one of my freshman students that had died. Only men were allowed to attend the ceremony as the women did their mourning in another location. For five hours (this is not an exaggeration) we sat around on straw mats under a tree outside the Mosque (since I was one of the guests of honor, as usual, I was luckily provided with a chair to sit on) and scriptures and prayers were read in Arabic. Incense was continually burned in accordance to tradition. After that the student was carried in a box (later to be disgarded) by a line of people (passed down from person to person who would later reinsert themselves back in the line) to the burial site a half a mile away. According to the Muslim tradition the dead are not buried in fancy wood boxes (like the Christians here) but merely wrapped in a white sheet and inserted into the ground.