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.