So I think where I left off in my last post of returning home from my holiday break. In actuality I didn’t have much time to rest in my village before I had to jump back on a bus and head to Dar es Salaam for our Mid-Service Training. This particular conference was a lot more laid back than the IST that we had been to earlier the past year. It is basically a time for volunteers to come in, get medical appointments, talk about any major updates, and go through the process of extending your service (if you so choose to). Out mid-service training also successfully bankrupted many a Peace Corps volunteers. Again, we come back to that most favorite topic of all Peace Corps; food. Most volunteers indulged (me included) in eating burritos, tacos, thai food, pizza, burgers, as well as hitting up the casino (I actually won 40,000 Tsh!), as well as a few nights at the Holiday Inn rooftop bar. All in all though, it was worth the price multiple times over to have the opportunity to hang with other volunteers from my training class, some of which I haven’t seen for about a year.
As I’ve mentioned, a decent part of the mid-service training included session on how to extend your service. There are a multitude of options from extending at your site in the village to extending with various projects for USAID. I think I’ve mentioned it before, but I am one of those who will not be extending my contract. First, I think my parents would kill me. Second, I’ll be 27 when I get back, and I want to begin to start building up a life again back in the States. It’s not to say that I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed my service, but at this point in my life 2.5 years is a lot of time. In the past few months, 5 of my good friends have gotten engaged, and I’ll be missing 3 of the weddings. I don’t know what I thought would happen when I was gone. People are getting married/engaged, building careers, buying houses, you know, adult-like things. Sometimes it feels like I’m just sitting here in this African limbo as life kind of runs by me. I realize that in certain respects it appears that I’m taking a step back career-wise or relationship-wise, but I think that it’s more of a side-step than a step backwards. That the reason I came here is so that down the road I will be in a position to achieve a greater level of personal contentment. For me, even though I complain about the loneliness and homesickness and all that, this is something I needed to do. Without the struggle or personal challenge, I don’t think I’d be nearly as happy in the long run. I’m trying to keep a healthy excitement for when I come home later this year, but at the same time I’m trying to take each day, one at a time, and enjoy the little things that I’ll probably end up missing when I do get back home. I’ve recently started to really try to take it all in and enjoy it all while I can. Living in the village has its drawbacks; no electricity, no water, boredom, etc. However, most evenings these days I try to get my dinner of peanut butter and honey sandwiches, fruit, and a cup of tea and just sit outside in my yard and watch the day come to a close. I listen to the cornstalks make that oddly distinct eerie rustling noise as the wind blows through the rows of maize, I listen to the neighbors chickens squawking as they are herded into their pen, I watch the overgrown blades of grass twist and turn in the breeze, I watch the sun sink below the horizon as it casts the last few rays of dazzling red, orange, and purple across the sky, I watch the daylight be peeled back to reveal the moon beginning to rise and the stars slowly fading into focus, and occasionally if I’m lucky I’ll catch an approaching thunderstorm, the dazzling array of lightning bolts crashing down and illuminating the nighttime sky.
The first quarter of the year in the classroom has also been exponentially easier than last year. After returning from mid-service training I was able to step right in and hit the ground running in the classroom. I think I mentioned before but I followed my students here from Form 3 to Form 4 mathematics this year. It’s all of the same students so they know what I expect from them and they know what to expect from me. In addition to teaching Form 4, I also helped a few weeks in teaching the new Form 1 students. When the students arrive in secondary school the language of instruction changes from Kiswahili to English and so there is an 8 week English crash course that they go through before actually starting classes. For a period or two per week I worked with these students to review things like telling time, following instructions, and using mathematical terminology; all in English. It’s amazing how different teaching the younger students is than teaching the older students. The Form 1 students don’t run from class and are not yet quite jaded by the broken system and thus a large number still have great optimism about working hard in secondary school. Since this is the last year for my Form 4 students before they take their national exams in October to determine if they will continue their education, I’ve started to have something similar to open office hours on Saturday mornings. These sessions have a laid back, relaxed atmosphere so that students can come and ask me questions, use various textbooks that I have, as well as work with other students. Since a large number of students are actually scared to enter the teachers office where I sit during the week, for fear of being beat with a stick or made to serve other teachers chai who are too lazy to get up themselves, they don’t come to ask for help. These Saturdays give them a much more relaxed environment in which to study, and thus far based on their feedback, have been very helpful.
In addition to things going well within the classroom, I was also able to be a part of an education conference in town, put on by the JICA (Japanese) and KOIKA (Korean) volunteers in town. I knew a few of the JICA volunteers from hanging out in town and I was invited to participate in a demo teaching session so that both students and other teachers alike could critique my teaching methods so that I could improve myself as well as so that other teachers could get ideas on more effective ways of teaching. Me, along with 3 other volunteers where invited to do sessions in the classroom as well as session in the laboratory. It was a great experience and a truly cool experience, to have an event with so many different cultures and perspectives being shared to achieve a common goal. The evening after the last session, the JICA volunteers invited me out to a celebratory dinner with them which consisted of me and about 18 other Japanese and Korean volunteers. A handful of them spoke English, but for the vast majority of the night it was me communicating with Japanese and Korean volunteers using Kiswahili. I’m sure to the other Tanzanians in the place, it must have looked very interesting indeed; a huge group of foreigners communicating in their native language. By this point however, it’s a normal thing for me to be at a table as there are at least 4 languages being spoken. In this case, Japanese, Korean, English, and Kiswahili could be heard drifting away from conversations at our table.
Other than these few updates, the past three months have been business as usual. I’m trying to keep my head buried in my teaching and continue to improve my Kiswahili before my time here runs out. I’ve also been reading a decent number of books. Most recently I’ve read, in addition to finishing the bible, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, “The Help”, and “The Grapes of Wrath”. Other than the handful of weekends in town to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day (actually got invited to celebrate with an actual Irishman, the same one which I had Christmas dinner with at the Tanzanian bar), I’ve been in the village making the most of my time. I also can’t help but to be excited for my family to come at the end of June to show them what the heck my life has been like the past year and a half. No amount of writing can convey what life is like here. As of now, we have everything booked for me and 6 other people to come and visit. The trip will include stops in my village, possibly a stop at the Iringa Girls Conference, Ruaha National Park, and then Zanzibar again. Visiting tropical paradise with its white sand beaches, aqua-teal water, and cold brews, it never gets old, trust me.