3/7/2011: Teachers vs. Students – Soccer

2 04 2011

So for the past week or so Charles, my neighbor and fellow teacher who is in charge of all sports (soccer, volleyball, and basketball) at our school had been talking about getting a teachers vs. students soccer game together now that we have a “proper” field to play on.  I told him that heck yea, just let me know when and I’m there.  It is actually feasible to do now because we have enough teachers to field a team.  Last week we received about 14 new teachers from the teachers college in town.  They will be at our school for about a month doing their student teaching.  At first I was super surprised that we had more than doubled the teaching staff overnight and was slightly disappointed that they are just interning for a month.  I guess we can really use any help that’s offered to us at this point and from what I’ve seen the teachers actually go to all the periods that they signed up for on the master schedule which is refreshing.  For example, some days I may use more than my allotted 80 minutes if we have a lot of material to cover or I may stay a few extra minutes if we get started late.  However, one day as a student in my class was finishing a problem on the board I looked at my watch and saw we were running over on time but usually I’m the only teacher the kids have all day so I don’t really worry.  Today though, immediately after I looked up from my watch I saw a teacher standing at the door.  I had to do a double take.  She asked if the class was stream 3A and I just nodded and said I’d wrap up in 2 minutes.  I was honestly shocked and super excited at the same moment.  I finished the class and apologized to the teacher or running over on my time.  I don’t think she minded at all.  I was just so shocked to have this new and welcomed problem at this point.  So the good thing is we have a boat load of teachers but I do feel slightly guilty that all the male teachers are staying at my two neighbors houses for this month that they are in our school teaching.  I didn’t say I wouldn’t host any of the teachers but I’m 99% sure it’s Peace Corps policy that if a school requests a volunteer, they need to provide individual housing for them.  At first it may seem ridiculous that we need a whole house to ourselves but I won’t lie, I’m pretty glad that this is the policy.  I know that another volunteers had two teachers living in the same house with him and that after a month he finally approached Peace Corps about it.  My friend told me for example that he’d come home from school to find all the water in the house gone, thus unable to shower or wash clothes.  Our aim is to immerse ourselves in the culture as fully as possible but most volunteers need a place to retreat to every once in a while.  Some days can be overwhelming in terms of teaching load, language, and a host of other seemingly small things that are magnified by being in a foreign country that speaks a different language and has a different culture.  I’m extremely grateful that occasionally I’m able to retreat to my house to just sit, read, and decompress.  As we learned in training one of the big cultural differences is the idea of personal space.  Here, it’s virtually non-existent.  We don’t realize it but the vast majority of Americans value their independence and personal space more than they think whereas Tanzanians conceivably view this as being a bit anti-social.  Sometimes the limited personal space is a good thing but sometimes I need to just be alone to sit, listen to music, read, or write.  Anyway, sorry for the little tangent I went off on; back to the topic of the teachers vs. student’s soccer game.  Today at the start of school Charles announced to the whole student body at the opening assembly that the staff would be taking on the Form 4 students.  After he made the announcements it was quite comical to see all the kids chattering, whispering, and giggling with anticipation.  After school finished I tried to get an answer as to when the match would start and most of the other teachers agreed it was 4:30pm.  Perfect, I knew that this was Tanzanian time and that I’d have time for a quick nap and maybe even a P90X video in time for the 5:30pm start.  I was pretty dang close as Charles came to get me at around 5:20pm to head over to the field.  I was just finishing up my pre-match P90X workout so I told him I’d meet him at the field in 10.  I quickly finished up my workout and realized I had a pang of hunger so I grabbed a kit-kat bar and 2 precious chips ahoy cookies to woof down for a little pre-game energy boost.  As I started out of my house and was locking my courtyard gate I saw a massive grey storm cloud rushing towards me as the wind started to whip up and the temperature began to plummet.  I thought to myself, “Yes, this is going to be epic.”  As I started to jog over to the field with my water bottle I realized I was the only one that brought water as I’ve discovered that the majority of Tanzanians drink less than a glass of water a day.  When I arrived at the field there was a huge crowd of students waiting in anticipation of the match.  I fit in perfectly in that I was wearing absolutely none of the typical soccer equipment.  I had my ‘In Rod We Trust’ Michigan Football T-shirt, black mesh shorts, and my running shoes.  No soccer cleats, no shin guards, and no soccer socks.  Most of the players, both teachers and students lacked these articles of clothing with only a handful having them.  Two of the students who were playing with us because of a slight shortage of teachers had bare feet.  One kid was wearing a ‘Hooters; Atlanta, GA’ T-shirt and also had no shoes.  I didn’t know if the kid was any good but I thought he was already awesome just because of his choice of attire.  Several of the teachers were already kicking the ball around but because I could get a single touch on the ball to warm-up the guy who was officiating blew the whistle to start.  The Form 4 students were chomping at the bit to start but I also think the official realized the massive storms clouds that were approaching weren’t far off.  So much for my warm-up.  I hadn’t played soccer since the first week or two I was here in Tanzania.  Now I’ll be the first to say I’m no all-star when it comes to soccer but I still enjoying playing to win, so I was slightly worried that I didn’t get any touches and that I risked completely embarrassing myself in front of the school but hey, what are you going to do?  Some of the students were even talking smack in Swahili and I generously returned the smack talk in Swahili, I believe to their surprise.  As I walked out onto the field I realized how dangerous this could be, especially by American standards.  I picked up several decent sized rocks and clumps or rock hard mud and discarded them on the outskirts of the field.  I then carefully scanned the pitch only to realize it was a virtual mine-field littered with small holes, larger holes, medium-sized holes, rocks, and clumps of un-even grass.  I told myself “Okay, just do two things: 1. Don’t kill yourself and 2. Don’t embarrass yourself” Then as wind start to really pick-up and the ominous grey-black clouds thundered towards us the ref blew the whistle to start.  Both teams knocked the ball around a little bit, but it became increasingly difficult to do anything meaningful as the wind started kicking up swirling dust clouds.  Combined with the fact that the ball bounced about 15 feet high every time it hit the rock-hard field, it’s not an understatement to say the playing conditions were less than optimal.  I got a few quick touches on the ball, made a few good passes, and got absolutely mugged once.  Then as I followed a guy into our end to defend against the cross through the center, the ball was launched to my side of the field by one of the students attempting to connect with the kid I was defending.  It passed both me and the kid I was marking but I was able to beat him to the ball to clear the ball but before I knew what was happening the ball skipped, hit a rock, and bounced up at the exact time I followed through with an attempted clearing kick.  I completely whiffed and the ball rolled out of bounds.  You should have heard the laughter, especially from the students closest to me standing on the sideline.   It was slightly embarrassing, okay maybe more than slightly, but all I could do was laugh and smile with them.  I should just be glad there’s no video or pictures of the play or it would have certainly have made one of those ESPN NOT Top 10 lists.  After about only 30 minutes of play, the rain started to fall and the sky cracked with thunder as the clouds, now directly above the field, prepared to unleash a torrential downpour.  Just as the rain started, our team made a run down the field and successfully punched in one goal.  As soon as we scored the downpour began.  We sprinted off the field along with all the spectators, the teachers (me included) held our hands in the sky and were yelling “We won!! We won!!”  No other way to describe it than totally awesome even though I had absolutely nothing to do with the goal we scored.  Since we only played 30 minutes, I think we are planning on a re-match hopefully in the near future so that we can finish the game and obviously more important so I can redeem myself for my blunder.  Even afterwards, as I took cover under the tin roof of the school kitchen shack along with the school cook and come of the students, they were still commenting on my whiffed kick.  I know I’m no Pele, but I promise I’m not that bad, so I couldn’t wait to get back out there.

As it was clear the rain wasn’t going to subside soon and I was already soaked, I made a run for my house which is only 50 yards from the school kitchen.  At this point it was too late for me to cook anything substantial so I lit my kerosene burner, cut up a green pepper and some local spinach and tossed it all into a pan with some olive oil.  I figured I’d cook up some veggies, take a bath, and then head back up to the school kitchen for some ugali and beans.  Normally I’d heat up some water for my bucket bath but wanted to cook my vegetables instead because waiting would mean taking a cold bucket bath in the pitch dark.  I know these are some of the complex decisions I need to make here sometimes.  I pulled one of the buckets of chilly rainwater from under the edge of the roof where I was collecting fresh water and proceeded to take my ice cold bucket bath in the center of my courtyard during the downpour.  Initially I wasn’t looking forward to the cold rainwater bucket bath in the middle of the thunderstorm but I have to say it turned out to be quite refreshing.  Plus, how many people can say they’ve taken an open-air bucket bath in an African rainstorm?  I grabbed a towel, got dressed, threw my veggies on a plate, put on a jacket, and headed up to the jikoni (school kitchen).  When I got there, there was maybe only 15 minutes of daylight left as the rain was still coming down, but gradually slowing.  The girls in the hostel were already lined up and were receiving their food.  I always insist in waiting in the line with the students but Gaston (one of the two school cooks) as well as the students always insist on grabbing my plate and bowl then loading them up with piping hot ugali and beans immediately.  At first I tried to politely refuse and say I’d wait in line but they never allow it so my protests to waiting in line now have becoming progressively more feeble.  After I received my steaming plate of beans and ugali I noticed the other school cook, Moses, was under the main part of the jikoni eating with 3 or 4 other students so I joined them.  They were all kneeling down and basically eating from the dirt floor (with plates of course) and they insisted on giving me the lone chair.  As I’ve said many times, I try to resist these acts of charity but I can see now that it’s pretty useless.  At this point its dusk and the last minutes of light are fading as the rain continued to slowly subside.  It was actually pretty chilly outside, but I was sitting fairly close to the main stove which consists of a huge concrete block with a large round hole bored into the side large enough to hold a giant steel cooking pot and a smaller hole at the bottom to put the firewood, so the stove kept us warm as thick clouds of steam rose up from the main pot of ugali and clashed with the cool air.  The warm orange flow from the smoldering wood embers gave us just enough light for me and a few other students to continue eating our food.  The students were talking in Swahili amongst themselves as I sat in my chair in the corner taking in the scene.  I know I’m not the most gifted linguist so I regret I can’t do the scene justice, but I had this odd sense of contentment as I sat there eating my steaming hot meal of ugali and beans, listening to the rhythmic patter of the slowing rain on the tin roof while enjoying the gentle glow of the dying embers in the stove which illuminated and warmed my face.  It was one of those moments when I snap back and think “Am I really here in Africa doing this?”  I was just enjoying the moment and that moment only; I wasn’t thinking about what I did yesterday or what I had to do tomorrow but was just enjoying the present.  It almost felt like a dream, the fact that I was sitting there under these seemingly miserable circumstances in rural Tanzania and was enjoying it so completely, especially in a place with so little.  Thinking about it now I think that I enjoyed it so much because in America, most people are always rushing from place to place, always thinking about what we need to do tomorrow or what we didn’t do yesterday instead of taking time to breath deep and just look around and enjoy the present.  Even when I did take the time to slow down in the US, there are countless numbers of distractions; TV, phones, computers, etc. that it’s difficult to put the brakes on and just relax.  I know it may sound totally cliché and I don’t mean to sound all Zen-like but I definitely think that being here even just these first couple months has taught me to enjoy the small things and to not get so worked up over the trivial things.  But enough of the emotional talk, I hope to have another post up in the next few days about the In-Service Training which I attended these past two weeks.  All I can say is that it involved a lot of cheeseburgers and a swimming pool, so stay tuned…




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