How Glenn got his Groove Back

27 08 2011

So it’s been a while since I’ve last posted anything but I’ve been extremely busy.  That’s my excuse anyway.  The other reason I haven’t been able to post is because recently electricity at my school has been hard to come by.  The generator that usually runs from 7-10pm is broken.  At first I was really bummed that I wouldn’t be able to bask in the life-giving rays of phosphorescence every night, but after talking to other volunteers who have no electricity ever I realized that it would be better so shut my trap.  That being said, I do realize how utterly spoiled I am in comparison to some other volunteers.  On the other hand I recently was sent by Peace Corps to scope out a school near me because they want to place a new volunteer there.  This particular school was immaculate in comparison to my school.  There were TV’s in the teachers’ lounge, the teachers were served food everyday by the school (at no cost to the teachers), and the new volunteer will be blessed with electricity in her house 24/7.  So I guess compared to me, other volunteers are spoiled.  But then again it’s all a matter of your frame of reference right?  However I think the fact that the generator is broken for the time being is a blessing in disguise for me for a couple of reasons.  First of all it forces me to read the plethora of books I’ve been meaning to get to.  Second it forces me to get out at night to the little shops near my house to practice my Swahili.  Anyhow, the new volunteer actually they just arrived two days ago.  This is what we call in Peace Corps a “site mate”.  Many other volunteers have someone else within walking or at the very least a short daladala ride away.  This is usually a good opportunity to collaborate with each other on various projects.  I was however out on a virtual island by myself.  The closest volunteer was probably a 5 hour, multi-bus journey away.  I think it was a product of my own doing.  Mid-way through training Peace Corps staff interviews you to find out what your requests are for a site and what things are important to you.  It’s not always a guarantee they can accommodate you but they do make an effort to take your requests into consideration.  My request, because of my situation at the time, was to be as close to a town as possible.  My request was most certainly granted.  Then again there is the example of this is the volunteer who requested running water nearby, didn’t care about electricity, and wanted somewhere with a cooler climate.  Well wasn’t he shocked when he was placed at a site, for all intents and purposes, in the desert.  This is the classic example of the underlying attribute that is essential, above anything else, for success in Peace Corps; flexibility.  But getting back on track.  My new site mate is only about a 2 hour bus ride away north towards the capital city of Dodoma.  I’d be lying if I told you the fact that Peace Corps called me and asked “Are you able go to this school and do a site evaluation to see if it is suitable to place a volunteer?” wasn’t pretty exciting.  Of course I accepted and made a day trip to scope out the premises.  After doing the site evaluation I let Peace Corps know that yes there is electricity, yes there is cold soda in the headmasters office, yes there is a PRIVATE SCHOOL CAR that can take teachers to town on the weekends (without having to deal with the ridiculously uncomfortable/unreliable public transport), and yes there is a disco “aka dance club” in the “village”.  I have a hard time calling any place here that has electricity/a disco a village; it’s more like a small town.  Okay so I know I sound bitter but truly, I’m not.  If you asked me to trade sites right now I would have no interest.  I’ve made too many good friends and created too many good relationships with my students here to want to go anywhere else.  However, that doesn’t mean that I won’t be visiting that particular school occasionally… 

So as I mentioned, the past month and a half has been super busy, which in my experience here is far more desirable than not being busy.  The highlight was a week-long training I attended on how to use Theatre and Dance as a tool to incite behavior change within the community, be it your school community or the larger community.  Now if you know me, you’re probably saying “Glenn and theatre/dance; that’s like oil and water”.  Well, you’d be correct.  Previous experience has told me that I wasn’t particularly gifted in the arts such as theatre and dance but countless people have said that the company who Peace Corps hires to run the training is absolutely phenomenal and that even if theatre/dance is not your forte, it’s still worth your time to go as it’s another tool in your toolbox that you can use in your village so I figured what the hell.  While I’m stepping outside my comfort zone living in Africa for two years I mind as well go big or go home.  Like most other trainings Peace Corps offers we were requested to bring a Tanzanian counterpart to participate as well.  Thus far I’ve taken my neighbor Charles to our in-service training and my other friend/teacher Madam Eliza to the girls conference, so I figured this would be as good a time as any to bring my food/country music loving friend Rama with me to this one.  The first two days of the conference were dedicated to discussing the theory and reasoning behind using theatre/dance as an agent of behavior change.  They gave an example that I really can’t beat.  The facilitator said that a recent study showed that well over 96% of people here know what HIV/AIDS is; that much is a fact.  This country is absolutely inundated with organizations both governmental and non-governmental doing HIV/AIDS awareness work.  Even at my own school, there is hardly a month that goes by without some type of organization coming and giving a presentation about the dangers of HIV/AIDS, how it is spread, and how to protect yourself.  We’ve had Universal Chastity Education (UCE ), Doctors with Africa Cuamm (an Italian Organization), as well as various governmental departments.  I think that Tanzania has reached a point where the massive influx of money has helped and really increased awareness of HIV/AIDS.  The problem then is this; why is the infection rate so high even if people know what it is and know how dangerous it is?  I guess I can show to illustrate my point.  When you were under 21, your parents told you “don’t drink, it’s dangerous” or “don’t smoke, it will kill you”.  Yea, that is true and I think all kids would agree that underage drinking can be dangerous and that eventually smoking can kill you, but how many of you all did it anyway?  The problem here in Tanzania is I believe, and this is just my opinion, organizations need to now not just look at educating people about the disease, that much has been achieved, but finding effective ways or methods to help change these behaviors.  Instead of just driving up to a school, hooking a speaker up to your car, and yelling “AIDS is bad! If you have unprotected sex you’ll die!” they need to take a more systematic or scientific approach to inducing behavior change and actually look at what methods change behavior and what is just white noise.  I mean I’ve been here for under a year and even I’m sort of dealing with what economists call ‘information fatigue syndrome’ related to HIV/AIDS.  What I mean is that if you hear the same old line “AIDS will kill you! AIDS will kill you!” it loses its potency.  Yea, people know it will kill them, but maybe that won’t be until 5, 10, 20 years down the road so why worry about it now?  You start to tune out the information.  Now if someone knows something is bad for them but they continue to do it, what do you do then?  Do you throw your hands up and say “I give up”, or do you try to find a way to address the inherent problem?  The facilitator gave an example of a conversation he was having with a doctor friend of his.  He said that the doctor, a Tanzanian himself said “you know, they (talking about his fellow citizens) know that this disease is killing them and know how to prevent it, but they refuse to do anything about it.  I’ve lost hope.” I can certainly see why he’s tired of fighting.  He’s a doctor here in Tanzania and sees firsthand what the disease is doing.  He has devoted his life to medicine, and to do that here is no easy task, and yet people continue to inflict this pain upon themselves.  I can see where he’s coming from.   However I think that what needs to be done in the fight against HIV/AIDS is not to give up, but to re-adjust course, step back, re-evaluate what methods of education work and which don’t, which effect behavior change and which don’t.  Another example.  You have a relative that has a problem with alcoholism.  He or she most likely deep down inside knows that this is a problem.  His/or her close family has told him/her that the drinking is a problem and it’s killing him/her but yet they continue with their destructive behavior.  Do you as a family member or friend say “Well, we told him/her so but he/she is not listening to us.  We should probably give up.” For me, no.  The problem is not that he/she doesn’t have the appropriate information regarding how destructive their behavior is to themselves, the problem is that they need to realize for themselves how destructive their behavior can be and make that conscious decision to make a change.  The answer is not to throw in the towel but to find a way to help this person.  Anyhow, I didn’t realize how long I’ve been rambling.  My point is that this Community Theatre Workshop attempts to address the aforementioned problems I’ve discussed here.  How to create a theatrical piece of work that really resonates with the audience.  That makes them maybe stop laughing (which occurs here with many dramas related to AIDS) and really reflect upon themselves.  Make them have that conversation within themselves to say “wow, I can really relate with this character in this place.  He/she is like me and is this actually where my life could be headed if I don’t correct my risky behavior?”  True understanding and the motivation to really change a behavior comes from within, not from someone standing in front of you telling you what is wrong.  The goal of Community Theatre is to make each person in the audience reflect within themselves and to make that conscious to change their behavior rather than have someone beat it into their head with a hammer.  We’ve seen that this second method isn’t very effective, and even if it is the effect isn’t long lasting.  In short, or maybe now that I look at how much I wrote in long, this was the basis for the workshop. 

However, after we finished learned about all that heavy stuff, we were able to take that knowledge and prepare 2 plays and 2 dances.  Our group was large enough that we needed to split up into 3 separate groups.  2 groups would each construct an own play which attempted to really address specific problems that lead to risky behavior in our communities.  In other words, find the root causes for the continuation of the risky behavior and address those in the play.  The other group would act as a break from the more serious plays and perform some traditional dances.  At first I thought to myself, “oh shit, I didn’t realize we’d actually have to perform like this.”  Then I thought, “Screw it” and I volunteered for the dance crew.  Yea, I can’t even normally be coaxed into dancing after a few beers at the bar and I just signed up to do two traditional tribal dances in front of an audience of about 400 high school level girls.  Yea, I think I forgot to mention that.  In order to practice the methodology that we’d learned during the week, the final Friday of the workshop we traveled to the local girl’s school in town to practice what we had learned.  Starting in the middle of the week we broke off into three separate groups.  The two other groups worked on their performances and my group worked on two separate traditional dances.  The first one was a traditional Maasai dance.  If you have never heard of the Maasai they are one of the more famous tribes in Africa for the fact that they more or less have kept intact and preserved the largest aspects of their culture.  This includes wearing things that would look to us like red bedsheets as well as traveling everything (including public transportation) with their spears and clubs to kill lions that attack their herds of cows.  I highly encourage you to google “Maasai Warrior” or “Traditional Maasai Dance” to get a feel for what we did.  The second dance we did was a traditional dance from a tribe in the southern part of the country called the Makonde.  They are known for their high energy, intense dancing.  Outside of this I really can’t give you an accurate picture of what we did, but I have posted about 175 pictures over on Facebook.  As always, my pictures on Facebook should be accessible by everyone, even if you don’t have a Facebook account.  The link is

If you are not able to access these pictures for some reason, please shoot me a message!  The pictures here can give you a much better feel of what the experience was like rather than me trying to express it in words here.  From now on I’ll try to break up my post so they aren’t each comparable to shorts novels.  Enjoy!





One response

30 12 2011

I have an entry in my blog with this exact title (well, replace Glenn with Sarah)!! I was sure you stole it from me, and then I realized you posted it first. Ha. Ninaiba.

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