1 Month Anniversary

8 01 2011

So as I write this, the date is January 3rd 2011.  Here they say ‘Habari za mwaka mpya!’ (What is the news of the new year?)  I’ve been at site a little over a month now but I’m still learning more about my village every day.  I had a good Christmas, as good as it could be without actually being with my family and friends.  I was able to talk to my family, Audrey, and my good friend Kyle.  Kyle was nice enough to show me all the new Philadelphia Eagles swag he got and I have to say I’m a little jealous.  All I got for Christmas was a huge bag of coal.  No really, I did get coal.  The guy who makes the charcoal came and dropped off a huge bag for me, and I was actually excited because this meant I didn’t need to ask my neighbors if I could borrow fuel to cook anymore.  But as the new year starts, I have to say I’m extremely glad school starts next week.  The past month has been difficult as I try to find out where to buy food, practice my Kiswahili with villagers, and generally try to stay busy without going crazy.  This period is called ‘integrating into your community’ and while it’s nice to have the free time, too much of anything is a bad thing and I’ve found it difficult to get into a routine.  Now that school starts next week, I’ve begun to plan lessons and plan my calendar so that I can finish all the material I need to by the end of the school year.  It’s slow going trying to lesson plan since this is my first time actually teaching but I think it will become easier as the year goes on.  Last year, only a handful of students actually passed their NECTA (country-wide) math exam.  Passing here is a 20%, so that makes the fact that only a handful of students passed slightly more disturbing.  However, this statistic is not uncommon for many secondary schools around the country.  It is encouraging that the government recognizes there is a huge problem with the math and sciences here.  I just tell myself that’s why I’m here and that anything I teach them is an improvement over what they had been receiving previously, which was no formal instruction at all.  So far I’ve only created a general calendar for the year and planned my first lesson.  I’m going to start off my creating the class rules, with the help of the class to create a feeling of ownership for the students of their classroom.  I’ve also heard that it’s important to demonstrate authority up front because I’ve heard horror stories from other volunteers where they tried to be best friends with their students here from day one and the students just lost all respect for them.  Then teacher this unfortunate occurrence happened to said that in their second year they started out being stricter with the students and gradually eased up after the students knew what was expected and respected her.  I don’t mean to sound like I’m going to run my classroom with an iron fist, but students here are normally hit when they make a mistake or mis-behave.  Corporal punishment is still the standard here but me (or any other volunteers) are clearly not going to be hitting any students so we need to foster respect for ourselves right at the start (without hitting them of course).  Otherwise as I mentioned before, there’s a good chance the kids will walk all over you and you won’t be an effective teacher.  After setting the class rules I’m going to have the students write, in English, what they want to be after completing school.  I think this is a worthwhile and fun exercise but will also help me gauge the general English proficiency of the classes as a whole.  I used this exercise before with great success during my internship teaching to get my students excited, so we’ll see how round 2 works out.

Aside from preparing for actual class I’ve been thinking about normally mundane things I’ll need to consider when school starts such as when I can work out, when do I shower (or take my bucket bath rather), when do I cook, and when do I have time to go into the town to stock up on supplies.  Simple things such as these can be quite difficult here.  For example, I’m going to try and shower only once per day because it takes forever to get my little charcoal stove lit to warm water for a hot bucket bath.  I could take a cold bucket bath, but for me if there’s anything I’ve learned about bathing here in Africa it’s that there’s only one thing worse than a cold shower and that is a cold bucket bath.  Some volunteers don’t mind cold bucket baths but I generally feel better and cleaner after a warm one; but that’s just me.  Naturally if I only plan to shower once a day, it has to be after I work-out.  Technically I guess it doesn’t, but that’s just disgusting.  Today I started the P90X program.  I got the videos and charts from another volunteer and figured I’d give it a try.  Anything to get into a routine and finely get me exercising again on a regular basis I’m all for.  I heard of the P90X program before but never really thought to try it.  It uses minimal equipment but requires a strong commitment, both of which are really not problem here so why the heck not.  I also figured it would be fairly easy to follow the diet restrictions as well considering food kinds, let alone food bad for you (aka Twinkies and cookies) are impossible to find here.  But okay, I’m done with my what I realized is my P90X infomercial;  As I’ve mentioned before my village only has a handful of little shops who sell the basics; rice, beans, corn flour, tomatoes, potatoes, bananas, mangoes, and on rare occasions leafy greens.  Anything else, such as peanut butter, oatmeal, or bread is more than 2 hours away.  Some of the specialty items such as raisins and olive oil are ridiculously expensive.  Even things like bread are only keep for about 3 days because nothing has preservatives in it.  I guess it’s a good thing that most things are so fresh but it has got its pros and cons.  When your 1 loaf of bread for the week goes moldy after two days when you’re planning to use it for the next 4 meals, it’s hard to not wish for some good old fashion human engineered preservatives.  Because of this my diet in any given week consists of fruit with oatmeal, chai, boiled eggs from the local chickens, and peanut butter sandwiches with bananas or mangoes.  To prepare all 4 meals here by yourself with only a small charcoal jiko is virtually impossible, even when I’m not teaching.  Most days I’ll go into the village to of the two places that serve food.  The food is more or less the same every day, with slight variations.  Every day they have rice and beans.  Sometimes they have rice, beans, and boiled spinach and some days they have rice, beans, boiled spinach, and goat or cow meat.  I’ve learned that when they do have meat to ask for ‘steaki’ aka a piece of meat that doesn’t have bones or copious amounts of fat and gristle.  I used to try and cook more exotic things for myself because I was getting tired of eating the same thing every day but I’ve actually come to appreciate the meal for the shear fact that I don’t have to spend 4 hours cooking it and it costs the equivalent of 60 cents USD.  A couple other dishes that are fairly easy to cook are pasta (good but fairly expensive) with fresh tomatoes, veggie stir fry with peanuts, green pepper, carrot, onion, garlic, and pasta with scrambled eggs.  Even the seemingly simple dish of rice and beans takes forever.  l didn’t realize that fresh beans actually took 2 hours to cook after soaking them overnight.  One of those things I just took for granted; never again will I think canned beans are an un-amazing thing.  But outside these things I’ve mentioned, everything else is pretty much a delicacy at this point.  When I go into town on the weekend to stock up, I make it a point to eat as much meat as possible because it’s so hard to get in the village.  Also I like to treat myself to yogurt, plums, and French toast from the one and only Hasty Tasty.  My last trip into town I did some more in-depth exploring and was able to find a guy who sells fresh lettuce, green onions, and cauliflower!  All items that are like virtual gold here for 2 reasons.  1st, all these items require lots of water to grow; something my area lacks.  2nd, most Tanzanians are regrettably un-adventurous when it comes to food variety/raw food.  I think I’m going to try and rig up a make-shift ‘refrigerator’ using a bucket, an airtight plastic container, and a rag only.  I found the idea in the Peace Corps cookbook we were given; I’m skeptical but if it helps my food from spoiling for an extra day or two, I’m THERE.

Outside these seemingly trivial obstacles, I’m doing well.  For the most part, people in my village are extremely friendly and I genuinely enjoy going into town and stopping in peoples’ house to talk but one thing that is super prevalent in my village is begging.  I thought after a couple of weeks of me politely saying ‘Sorry! I don’t have any extra money/candy!’ people who cease to ask me for things but I was mistaken.  There is rarely a trip to the village center when I don’t have kids using the 4 words of English they know to say “Give me money” or “Give me candy”.  They aren’t being rude, it’s just the only English they know really.  I even had a man, no younger than 60 today give me the traditional greeting that a young person gives to an elder then proceeded to ask for money.  I genuinely feel bad saying no, and I feel awkward everything someone asks, but if I give one person money, then I’ll be known as the mzungu who gives money to you if you ask and that’s one thing I don’t want.  And it’s not just because I’m the only white person walking through the village because my neighbors Stanton and Charles also get begged for things, but it’s still uncomfortable non-the-less.  I try to tell myself this is exactly why I’m here, to help people help themselves, but sometimes it’s difficult to stay focused…

Anyway, it’s that time yet again; time for me to fire up the charcoal jiko and boil water for my bath and for drinking water.  I’ll try to make another post after school begins next week, but until then I hope everyone had a happy holiday and wish everyone a happy and healthy new year!




One response

22 01 2011
Aunt Kathy

Hi Glenn, We are so excited to read your blog everytime you post. It is just amazing to us as well how others live/survive. We have been watching Flying Wild Alaska where pilots fly food and supplies in to these small villages all over
Alaska and how destitute they are. This one guy came upon a moose, killed it and right there in the swampy waters started to cut it apart. Not one piece of it is left for garbage. Every inch of it is used for something to survive. We think we have poor here but I am not sure anyone in the US lives quite like that. Anyway I just want you to know that again we are so proud of you and the difference you are making in these peoples lives. Stay strong! We are routing for you!! Love you!

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