Saturday, July 29, 2006

Not a lot of things have been going on lately here since School just started. My war with nature, however, continues. Last Saturday I woke up early in the morning to a big boom sound. As it turned out the termites had complete eaten away one of the boards that holds my ceiling up in my dining room and about a quarter of the ceiling fell down. My wonderful neighbor called the craftsmen and they fixed it that same day! I was very surprised since it seems like it takes so long for anything to get down around here. Since it hasn’t been raining the ants, for whatever reason, have decided to invade my house. I now have to wash my dishes immediately after I eat or hundreds of them will fester on them. They also like to get in my honey, sugar, butter and other foods! I know that they aren’t doing as much harm as the termites but they are still irritating.

Today, for the first time, I biked to the main town from my village. I am not for sure how many miles the total journey is but it took me nearly 2.5 hours. I have been hesitant to come to town by bike before since I know it was going to be quite a hassle climbing over all the of hills.

I have started teaching again and things are continuing to run smoothly. We were given 2 new teachers by the government (one English and one Kiswihili). So far they have both been teaching ALL of their required periods! Last semester, I was one of the few teachers that taught all my required periods. I talked to both teachers personally and told them that I hope they continue the good work and aren’t influenced by the other teachers that hardly ever enter the classroom.

This upcoming season I have decided to start a small garden. The soil around my house is very hard but all of my neighbors seem to have no problem growing anything. I plan on just planting simple things like tomates, a type of spinache called “Chinese spinach” (that grows really well here and I have come to really like), and cilantro. When I went to buy the Tanzanian hoe and a shovel the other day, a lot of people asked me if I was buying these tools for my workers or was I really going to farm too just like them. Everyone in my village was also surprised. Up to this point, my villagers have not allowed me to do much manual labor (they have been afraid that my hands will roughen up) so I am curious to see how far I will get with this garden.

Friday, July 07, 2006

I am happy to say that things finally worked themselves out at my school. I found out that while I was in town relaxing from the school burning my principal called in our village priest, who is on the school board, and asked him to talk to the juniors and seniors and come up with a solution to everything that had been going on. I think this was the best thing my principal could have done. As it turns out, my students were able to express that they are tired of getting beat for every little thing especially when most of the teachers barely teach them and are not held accountable. My school has now decided to stop corporal punishment (beatings and cruel punishments) all together and have told the students that if they have a problem with a certain teacher they need to feel free to talk to the academic headmaster or school board members. The last week of school, before summer break, none of my teachers used corporal punishment on the students. I am happy with the way things turned out, especially since the village has gotten involved, but I am not for sure how long it will be before we start beating the students again.

A couple people have asked me about the popularity of the world cup and soccer here. I am happy to say that one great thing about Tanzania is that they are global citizens in that on any given day they can tell you about the major world news stories and world sports highlights. Despite the lack of electricity many people here are able to keep up with the world through their small inefficient radios. The people here love soccer and proudly pay attention to the European Soccer Leagues. It is very common to find dala-dalas (our buses) painted with symbols of European soccer teams or names of European players. I have also come across a few babies that were named after great soccer players like Beckham, who plays for Barcelona. Yes European football (soccer) is truly a worldwide sport and I believe that it is one that actually unites us in a surprising way.

This past week the father of one of our school cooks past away and so I was able to go to my first Tz funeral. Since my village is primarily Catholic the service was similar to a funeral service in the states. One big difference is that first of all the family is responsible, once someone dies, to pay to have a carpenter make the casket, find someone to dig the burial plot, and then send out friends and neighbours to tell the village of the death. Another difference is that the whole village shuts down on the day of the funeral and nearly the whole village turns out show their respect. The casket is carried from the persons’ house to the church in the back of a pickup truck (with a couple of family members sitting back there to ensure it doesn’t fall out) and once it reaches the church the villagers will all line up at the end of the pews and take turns passing the casket on until it reaches the front of the church. The whole time during the service (and before and after) the family members are allowed to express their grief and even encouraged to do so. It is amazing to me how much of a role the village takes on when someone dies. Not only do most of them stay to witness the entire service including lowering the person into the grave but they also contribute enough money to the family so they are not burdened with the cost of the funeral.

I would have thought that my “movie star” status would be ignored at such a huge event like a funeral but boy was I wrong. The catechism kids had just finished their lesson when I got to the church and so they gladly (all 90 some of them) walked me into the church and helped me find my seat. When we walked to the burial site, I had a lot of people ask me who I was and what I was doing there. I was very surprised by their inquires since I figured everyone in the village knew about me by now. As it turns out, a lot of people from the 4 surrounding villages showed up for the funeral and they were the ones that were not familiar with me. I am still surprised that my popularity after nearly 7 months has not decreased in my village. Now I am not sure if it ever will.
Another volunteer equated our popularity to one that the Pope would get if he one day decided to visit. The only thing is that I think that the people would eventually get used to the Pope, and us, if he lived, and worked among them for an extended period of time. The other day I tried to escape all the attention and visit another village nearly an hour away on my bike but to my surprise a few of the children in the village greeted me by name!

For my summer vacation I happily travelled with another volunteer by first class train to visit one of the natural world wonders, Victoria Falls, in Zambia. Even though it took nearly two full days to get to Zambia, I can say that I had a very relaxing vacation. Despite the poverty here, it is possible to travel in style on a fairly new train and bus like you would in Europe or America. Zambia was surprising to me because nearly everyone in Zambia, even in the bush, speak perfect English. In Tz only the educated people speak it. I also saw many people reading novels and newspapers in English, which is very rare here.

We went to one traditional “African” restaurant for tourists while we were there. The restaurant still served the traditional African ugali (the playdough like dough made from corn flour) and rice dishes but they did many things that put the waiting staff in subservient positions. For example, every time the waitress came to our table she kneeled down on her knees and stayed that way until she left the table. I was very appalled by this and so I asked the waitress if this was a common African practice and she said that they all had to learn to do it when they got hired. It was very hard at first but now she is used to it.