Friday, 12 October 2012

As Taylor Swift would say...

Hatutakuwa pamoja kamwe. Or...

We are Never ever Getting Back Together.

Okay, I really just translated that just for fun. And, yes, I have that song currently on repeat in my house. I love overplayed American pop music when I'm aboard because I havne't yet heard Katy Perry, JBiebs, Sean Paul or Rihanna enough to be sick on them. Because I'm the only gosh darn people around for miles and miles playing them endlessly.

You want another one? Okay:

Call Me Maybe - Nipigie labda.
Boyfriend - Mchumba
Where have you been? - Ulienda wapi?
She Doesn't Mind - (Binti) Hajali.

I think this is what happens when you've run out of thisngs to translate in your head...

Well, I guess it's time to get to the actual post. And it's quite long. Enjoy!

So, like usual here, it took longer than expected to select our students but we’ve done it now and today I actually came home after our first practice.  Goodness, I could not be happier.  It was so rewarding to see their smiling faces and the bounce in their step afterwards.  My counterpart coaches were grinning from ear to ear too.  What a great feeling!  But, I’m getting ahead of myself. 

So this week, despite not getting through a ton of new material with my students, has been incredibly rewarding.  I finally got the chance to teach my Form 3’s and I’d been planning on doing review.  I finished up the segment on reproduction with 2 classes on menstruation.  Fun!  : )  My plan for reviewing was to make it more interesting than just question and answering.  I decided on group work so I made 10 different group assignments that ranged from diagrams to fill in the cycle to plays.  After one class period to prepare, they were expected to present in front of their peers.  It ended up being a bigger hit than I expected and I was just stunned and elated.  The groups that drew pictures of things like vasectomy/tubal ligation, angiosperm fertilization and transfer of materials across the placenta took their assignments quite seriously and did a phenomenal job with coloring and labeling it.  I told them that they had to present in English and it was even more inspiring to see some of the students that I’d hardly recognized just blowing me away with their poise and fluency.  I was so impressed.  Then one group had to explain the advantages and disadvantages of family planning methods which was tedious but I realized how many of the students weren’t familiar with many of them.  That opened up the discussion for the plays that I asked them to compose and perform.  There were two groups, one to display examples of irresponsible sexual choices and another to illustrate responsible sexual behaviors.  They did PHENOMENAL.  I let these groups use Swahili because I knew that it would allows more of the message to get across but now, so many of them are not shy or even in the least intimidated by going in front of their peers.  The last groups (irresponsible sexual choices…) even ended their presentation by explaining the causes and effects of irresponsible sexual behavior. I used this as a spring board to brainstorm ways to prevent these things from occurring.  Darn!  I was just so impressed and please by my students and they asked me to do more classes like this.  I think that I may have found the perfect way to do review before the end of the year.  It’s just great, though, when your students pleasantly surprise you.   This even more validated my feelings about building the library at the school.  It was a great time too, since I just completed my revisions on the grant and am waiting for PC-TZ to review it in the Grant’s Committee, after which (hoping it happens) they will send it to PC Washington DC and I’ll be able to start collecting donations.  Oh, goodness, it’s great when things work out.  Fingers double crossed.

Additionally, speaking of working out, after school today we held our first Zinduka Club.  I’ve already explained what it is in previous posts but I’ll give a little recap.  Zinduka is a program based out of South Africa’s Grassroots Soccer NGO in which they use soccer skills and language to educated the more impressionable age groups, ages 10-19, about HIV/AIDS.  The program consists of 10 sessions in which a small group of about 30 students are lead by 2 teachers and a PCV in activities and discussions to educate them about HIV/AIDS and the skills necessary to prevent being susceptible.  It’s a great program because it appeals to the youth through, not only soccer lingo, but also encouraging language and high energy cheers and exercises to get them excited and involved.  I was a bit nervous going into this practice, not only because it was out first time but also because we all went to the training back in June and due to school breaks and scheduling, haven’t been able to start until now.  And, as usual, the typical preparations and meetings for me and my coaches kept getting pushed back and back.  Then, today, when the practice was supposed to start at 3pm, after constant reminders, one of my coaches finally opened his book at 2:30pm while the other chatted it up with the secretary before finally getting sucked into looking over the material too.  But, to my surprise, we hardly hit any speed bumps while teaching.  This also may have been because I super over-prepared and had things figured out to a tee logistically, so I could pick up for any slack and answer any questions that they had.   But, then again, that’s what I’m here for.  So, the students started off a bit wary and unsure of what to expected but many of them, especially the older ones, were really enthusiastic after we started them off and even took the lead in many of the cheers and warm ups.  It was so great to watch them.  My coaches really stepped up to the plate just like they were back in training again and did the silly looking energizers and used the methods that they were so well taught to incorporate the kids into the teaching and discussions.  I was just beaming with pride watching them.  I need to bring a camera to the next session.  Also, I didn’t even need to use the extra time fillers/energizers that I prepared in case things went sour.  The most rewarding aspect  though, aside from the big smile on my face, was the smile on the students’ faces.  They were all just smiling bigger than I’ve ever seen and talking about the exercise that we just did and I swear that all of them also had an extra bounce in their step.  Wow.  What a great feeling!  I’m so glad that I took this opportunity and my teachers and students stepped up to take it as well.  Go us! : )

So, that’s all for now.  I’m going into Katesh once again tomorrow to say goodbye to Mel because she’s changing sites but I think that I’ll leave early on Sunday so I can be here as much as possible.  I love my time here.  Today I went over to Shafii’s when he wasn’t even there (they are crazy busy with harvest because the rain is coming soon) and stayed for an hour and a half chatting with Uncle (his brother), Rama (his cook) and eating sambusas and drinking cold coke.  Oh, life is so hard! Actually, I’m just really freaking blessed. 
One last translation before you leave...I just discovered recently that I've been translating the name of my blog wrong.  Of course.  So, Finding Umoja (Finding Oneness): Life through Translation should be:
Kutafuta umoja: Maisha yenye utafsiri.  So there's that.  Night night

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Call me, maybe, baby

I know that I’ve been insanely lax in blogging so I wanted to write at least a few more before I go home for xmas break.

After a few wonderful but crazy weeks of traveling before and after MSC (midservice conference), I came back to site more than willingly.  It’s been great connecting and reconnecting with people from my region and just getting back into a routine.  Not that I don’t incredibly mind living out of a backpack but for some reason I tend to pack mine so full (literally and metaphorically) that it becomes a huge chore fitting and refitting everything in.  Even though the next couple months will be low key and within the borders of Manyara region, I have little things to keep me busy, and as usual, a wonderfully made up house to come home to as well. 

So, last week, I went to my school’s graduation ceremony for Form 4’s.  I’d been teaching them for almost a year now and it was great to see them all excited and ready to be done.  Graduation is done a little differently here, with the students all sitting on one side of the big array of chairs positioned in front of 2 classrooms under several strung up tarps, and the parents on the other side.  In front, at the “head table” as its deemed, are all the teachers, the headmaster, and anyone else considered important enough to join them.  In our case, this included one of the parliament representatives from Hanang district (basically the equivalent to a senator…kinda  big deal) and the head of school’s version of the PTA, who also happens to be my neighbor, Tom.  The schedule mimicked that of a long parade with a choir, dance, introductions, play, bike tricks, more dances (one even mocking the tribal dances from the area…which I got a huge kick out of) and lots more speeches and talking.  Additionally, the headmaster read off an inventory of everything within the school  (books excluded) and this meant he explained things ranging from the exact number of functional desks and chairs to the gender of each of our cooks.  Odd.  The Form 4’s did something similar, reading off a summary of how many students started in Form1 here and how many were left and the like. As you can imagine, this was now short endeavor. The ceremony was written to start at 10am, it actually started at 12pm and I sat in the one darn seat until 5pm when we were finally fed lunch and soda.  It was grueling but not horrid.  I enjoyed some of the plays and dances but listening to Kiswahili for 5hours nonstop is tiring.

These last weeks, since Form 4 is done being taught and merely waiting to take their exams in 2 weeks, I’ve been getting back to teaching Form 3’s and started on Form 1’s.  I’ve avoided the younger forms because, after internship teaching last year, I wanted to explode after any instances that I had  with the younger forms.  But, so far, they’ve been okay. The other teachers (of whom are now gone or too lazy to teach) taught them the majority of the topics expected to be covered so it makes me job a lot easier.  I’ve just been filling gaps in their notes and adding on bits of information to catch them up.  Now that I’ve written this, however, I’m sure that I’ve jinxed myself and they will turn into little monsters.

Another update from the area of academics is that I finally (2 weeks ago) finished revising my grant to renovate a school library and sent it into PC.  Due to horrible timing on both our parts, the grants coordinator went on break the day that I sent it to her and hasn’t been around since so I’ve been patiently waiting out the time until she returns.  My school (teachers and students alike) are anxiously awaiting the funding to build their first library and furnish it with books and desks.  My fingers are crossed that this funding comes through successfully within the next months because, even if I have to extend the length of my service, I’d like to see this project through.  It’s something that I’d already committed a lot of thought, time, effort and heart into and it deserves (for the school’s sake and mine) to come to completion. 

Another project I’ve been actively working on is starting a Zinduka club at my school.  Two counterparts and myself went to a training in Dodoma back in June and due to school breaks and graduation stuff, have been unable to mobilize the students into forming our school’s first club.  Zinduka uses soccer skills and language to educate and initiate discussions on HIV/AIDS.  It’s a great program despite still being in its prime here in Tanzania but I think that my school could greatly benefit from additional HIV//AIDS education and awareness, even if the rate of infection in Manyara is relatively low for TZ.  More updates on that to come.  Hopefully by the end of this week we’ll have chosen the students.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Revelations 2.0

So today was another one of those really happy days.  I think that I’m going to start having to be sad more often because no one’s allowed to enjoy life this much without some type of consequences.  Maybe my punishment was that one of my closest neighbors went back to Arusha for the week.  Along with him me took his daughter, Mehwish, and niece, Sumehra.  They were my favourite Tanzanians this past week.  We had a chips and chocolate and movie night and watched the Notebook, we hung out  and braided our hair while talking in fake Indian accents (they are Pakistani so I guess that makes it a little less culturally insensitive….) and baked brownies to deliver to the neighbors after splurging on half of the batch.  It was like being in high school and I LOVED it.  So, sadly, they left today and I spent the afternoon watching the Big Bang Theory and lesson planning for tomorrow.  My headmaster came over later and we talked about issues in the grant that I’m writing for the library.  It reminded me, once again, how much I love my school and how I have a wonderful headmaster.  He’s off again to Arusha tomorrow so I’ll be the one spearheading it as usual put I don’t mind put my excess of energy into something actually productive.  Speaking of too much energy, I went for a run today again and during which, I came up with a list of things that being here in Peace Corps has taught me.  So I thought that I’d share it.  It’s a mix of things about Tanzania in general and also about myself.  Here goes:

1)      Tanzanian women can carry more on their heads than I can in my heads.

2)      There is no limit to the number of uses that you can put a piece of fabric (khanga) to.

3)      It’s perfectly okay to laugh out loud at a movie when you the only person around.

4)      More Tanzanians carry cell phones than have reliable access to water.

5)      Paved road is a luxury, not a right.

6)      Running maintains sanity. 

7)      I would rather lose a limb than live without my Ipod.

8)      Deodorant is not an idea that has been invented everywhere.

9)      Reading books on the computer hurts your eyes, especially when they are insanely addicting.  Damn you, Hunger Games!

10)   Flirting doubles as a survival technique when traveling.

11)   Warm showers should ALWAYS be appreciated.

12)   Never underestimate the power of a cup of tea.

13)   "Disgusting" is a completely relative term.

14)   I’m pretty sure that my Tanzanian neighbors shower more often than me.

15)  My attention span is one hour (but for some reason movies just keep getting longer and longer).

16)   Chocolate cravings don’t care what country you are in…they are coming too.

17)   Cat's bee stings can swell and look ridiculous (and scary).
18)   I’m a clean freak no matter where I live.

19)   Ignorance is the most widespread disease.

20)   Tanzanians do not know, and do not need to know, about organic food.  All of their produce is organic.  And cheap.  Lucky lucky people.

21)   Dario Marianelli is phenomenal.

22)   And…Happiness is no one else’s responsibility but your own.

And that explains me.  The end.

Monday, 13 August 2012

More updates

Hello world!  It’s been a while.  Since my last post, per usual, a lot has happened.  My parents came and visited and we had a wonderful time.  It consisted of hanging out in Moshi, going on safari to the Serengeti and Ngorongoro crater and then coming to my site.  The time spent with them at site was the most meaningful.  They could see how I lived and interacted with my neighbors, whom I love.  I think that they really enjoyed it.  They got invited to so many meals that one day they ate 2 full lunches.  Everyone wanted to host them.  And they dealt with it well.  For the most part they were open and generous, letting me take the reins and patiently waiting for translations in the background. It was fun but exhausting being the host, but nonetheless I enjoyed it.  It made me excited to go home for xmas but also happy to be here.  I love my life here and I’m lucky to experience this.  As of now, I really don’t want to return to the States.  Living abroad is a phenomenal experience and returning the norms of American life make me cringe at the moment.  I’ve been looking up medical schools abroad but unfortunately since I really only speak English fluently, my options are limited to Canada and Australia for abroad medical degree programs.  It’s a bummer because I would’ve loved to study in the UK but apparently they all start their medical degrees right after secondary school, just like here in TZ.  So, looks like I may be going back to the US for a bit before going abroad again, assuming the med school is still my ultimate goal.  And as of now, it is. 

I had a great time last week showing my shadow around.  His name was Travis and he’s from Texas and runs/bikes/swims triathlons.  He was really phenomenal, being open and interested in finding out as much as he could.  We (me and the other PCV’s in the area) met our shadows in Singida for a night on the town before taking each of them back to our sites.  They spent 2 days learning about how a PCV lives (how we cook, where we buy our food, what our houses look like, how we interact with our neighbors) and also went to the school to watch us teach.  Unfortunately, that week almost all the teachers in TZ went on strike for higher salaries so he spent a lot of time just chatting with students.  I went in to figure out what I was going to do for remedial classes this week and then we headed how for dinner at the neighbors.  They cooked an entire goat’s leg and it was really delicious.  The next day we went for a hike in Dareda to see the waterfalls there.  The view was gorgeous and the hike was the perfect level of strenuous.  We ended the day in Babati, met with his headmaster who bought us a round of drinks and the next day sent him off to his school.  He really seemed to enjoy it and the school is super well set up so he has electricity and running water.  Lucky lucky duck.  I chilled in Babati that day and sipped wine with a fellow PCV while we chatted about life and boys before heading to Singida the next day to Travis off.  The other singida peeps met with us for a picnic on the rocks overlooking Singida Lake.  It was wonderful.  Now I’m back at site reveling in the quiet of my pretty little home and looking forward to hanging with my neighbors during this break before our mid-service conference in Dar.  Should be plenty to look forward too. 

Thus, all is well and as for other random stories…I saved a little bluebird from my cat, Radi, who caught him after he got caught in the thorns around my garden. 

My neighbor’s cat had 4 kittens who have yet to open their eyes and I requested one for the new volunteer that’ll be in Katesh because she wanted one.

I visited Justin’s old neighbors in Katesh when I passed through and we chatted about how they were doing in school, how the family was and when I could visit again.  I’m putting together a care package to bring them with coloring stuff and rulers.  I think they’ll like it.  They are looking forward to having another volunteer there since we didn’t think that they’d replace Justin after he left.

Additionally, I’ve been looking up options for things to do after next year since I know that it’ll come fast.  Like I said, I’d love to stay abroad but I don’t think that’ll happen.  I think that I’ll exile myself to a big American city for several years before going abroad permanently.  I just need to find something that I can fully put my heart into.  And being here has taught me so many things about myself and the world I know that whatever doors I need to go through to make my dreams a reality, I will do with determination and passion.  The future excites and scares me, a very awakening feeling.  But I love it all the same.  All the best to everyone in the States!  I’ll see you at xmas!

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Back in the good ‘ol Tanz to the Nia

Let me detail my travel itinerary back to my Afrikan home:

3:00pm Thurs- left from the airport in Istanbul

6-8pm Thurs-flight to Cairo

8-12 Thurs – layover in Cairo airport

12-6am Fri – flight to Dar-es-Salaam

7am Fri-Taxi to Ubungo bus station (Dar) to find a bus home

8am Fri-Bus leaves from Dar to Singida

6pm Fri – Bus arrives at Singida bus stand (because there are no more cars to Katesh….)

Sleep in Singida

6am- wake up in Singida

7-8:30am Sat – Bus to Katesh

Run errands in Katesh

1:30-3:30 Sat - Bus to Site (Mulbadaw)


After a very very long 3 days of traveling, two of those with little to no sleep, I arrived back at site.  Whew, what a relief.  Or you’d think, but apparently Radi thought that an appropriate greeting would be to move all of my stuff to the floor, including eating through my bags of dried beans and scattering them about.  Oye!  After cleaning up, I started to put my life back in order, including the tons and tons of goodies that I’d collected from Turkey.  I don’t know if my house could be any more stocked that it is now.  Maybe after my parents come….

My first full day back (Sunday) I relaxed relaxed relaxed.  After borrowing some eggs from my neighbors, I made breakfast, sleep a LOT and watched lots of movies.  Oh, the wonders of home.

Monday came around and I had my first day back at school.  Little did I know, that they’d changed our finals schedule (apparently because of a lack of food at the school….) to being a week earlier.  They were supposed to be next week but I arrived in the midst of the students taking their exams and the Form 4’s (who just completed their mock exams last week) being sent home for their mid-school break.  So much for teaching!   I caught up with the teachers, gave some the little gifts that I’d collected while away, and then just started making a TON of phone calls.  Being out of the country for 2 weeks really does put you behind.

I discovered that my couch is finally being made (rocking!) so in a week or so hopefully I’ll have a couch to go with my cushions I had done.  Then, I got details about my trip to Dar in a week (we have Warden training).  I also finalized details with Bella, Justin’s counterpart’s wife, who will be coming from Katesh to Mulbadaw this Friday to visit me along with her 2 year old son, Matinde.  I’m so happy to have them.  A fruit and cell phone vendor biked by and I bought some oranges and avocadoes, but no cell phones.  :) After chatting it up, meeting with the headmaster briefly to finalize things with my library grant and other random details, and helping some of the teachers grade their final exams, I left for town to stock up my house which, while now abound with first world goods, was lacking on the bare necessities, like toilet paper and flour.  Oops.  I said hi to my Mamas in town, picked up some veggies and then all the goods that I needed (flour, sugar, TP, rice) and even 2 fresh fish for Radi.

Back at home, after eating a late lunch, I did about a half hour worth of dishes and gardened quite a bit.  My plants are getting SO big, especially my tomatoes, eggplant and lettuce.  Tomorrow on the agenda is lots and lots of detailed gardening.  Later that night, I visited my headmaster and his wife, giving them some gifts from Turkey and in return, they filled the bag I’d brought all my gifts over in, with veggies from their garden (tomatoes, eggplants and green peppers). Looks like I didn’t even need to actually buy my own veggies then, huh?

That night I relaxed by watching The Descendants and making tuna fish sandwiches on my German bread that Holly supplied me with before leaving.  It feels so great to be home, especially now that I have so many fond memories to reminisce on from İstanbul, İzmir and Kuşadasi.  I’m the luckiest girl in the world.

Istanbul Musings...

I’m safe in TURKEY!!!  Being on a plane was culture shock in itself…the people were friendly without being over friendly, I got my own pillow and fleece blanket and their was food that didn’t include rice and beans.  CRAZY!  

I got into the airport at like 9 because our flight was late.  Cetin, the Jones’ driver picked me up complete with a lunchbox filled with food (sandwich, fruit, brownies…delish).  I walked into the house 20 minutes later being greeted by a poster that read "Welcome to Turkey!" in the front hall and then my room was not only made up, but STOCKED with all these goodies. I had a new set of PJ's, fresh towels with a Toblerone, chilled water in a pitcher with a bowl of fruit next to the bed and extra water bottles by the side (It's like a high class hotel...) and a little dish with M&m's inside. And it gets better. Behind the bed were 3 buckets STUFFED with stuff for me to use/take home. This means like big bottles of shampoo, lotion, baby oil, moisturizer, exfoliant, face mask, nail clippers, electric toothbrush, floss, toothpaste, mouth wash, nail scrubies, more lotion, hand lotion, night time face lotion... it was amazing......I wanted to cry. :) I did my laundry right away and took a shower and we just chatted till pretty late. 

The next day I woke up, Holly made me coffee and then I had yogurt and museli and dried cranberries and apricots for breakfast (I feel sooo healthy!!). Me and Holly talked for a while and then we started to map out the next week. We leave for Ephesus on Sat and we fly home Sun (only one night). So, today we decided to go to the twice-weekly market by them and then to the mall. Cetin drove us and we picked up Teresa, Holly's Italian friend who is hilarious and went shopping for a few hours. I decided that I wanted a dress so we made that our goal and I bought like 5 things...all so cute. I love them!! I MISS EUROPEAN SHOPPING/CLOTHES/STYLE!!!!!! (side note: I also had a revelation that I might make a stop in Denmark, Sweden or maybe Turkey again on my flight home next year...after I finish...and get this shopping bug out of me and BE STYLISH before returning to America and their 2 year behind fashion...even Holly noted this fact.) It was great though...Cetin helped us bargain things down so I barely had to worry about a thing and since he drove, transportation was a breeze. They also informed me that whatever treatment, mani, pedi, massage, I wanted would be gratis because they are good clients of the place and they explained what I'm doing right now and they agreed to do it for free. How awesome! So later this week or next, I'll do that. woot!

After the market, we went to a super market (can you say overwhelming????) for a bit to shop. Holly keep insisting that I chose whatever I like (I picked out German rye bread, blackberries, dates and Perugian chocolates...remember those, Mom?). I felt bad going crazy despite how much I wanted to. They have already done so much for me! Back at home I made lunch for myself which (AGAIN, I MISS EUROPE!) consisted of pieces of Danish/German bread with a plate of veggies, ham, cheese and mustard to arrange as I pleased as an open faced sandwich. Holly baked cookies (chocolate chip and cranberry) and I started skimming through fashion magazines on the patio until the kids came home and we all chatted. Me and Cassidy decided to go to the mall so Cetin drove us. It looks like a modern version of American malls (more simplistically designed with things like digital, interactive maps and a zip line. So cool! Cassidy showed me around and I peeked in and out of stores like Koton, H&M, Zara, Gap, etc. I finally found the sunglasses that I wanted (for a great price too!) and then we got frozen yogurt (Pinkberry...the very chain that was started in Cali and I ate at in Colorado last year when I visited Sarah...) and went to the kids arcade area. There's a huge indoor playground, an arcade area, zip line, bowling alley and laser tag area. We found this 2 player game where you sit inside a hummer looking thing and shoot bugs so, since Cassidy had never played any of the games before, we bought credit and played two rounds. So fun!!

Now, I'm relaxing before dinner, contemplating how lucky I am and how badly I want to live in Europe.

The next day, I was touristy with Holly, Teresa and Cetin, visiting the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sofia (Aya Sofya) and the Basilica Cistern.  We recovered that afternoon by lounging in a couch studded café in Sultanahmet where we ate this Turkish puffy bread, eggplant kebabs and sipped Turkish coffee and smoked apple and mint flavoured hookah while people watching.  It was a conversation coloured by the opinions and experiences of Italians, Turks, Canadian and me, the American.  We all laughed and bickered over minute details.  It was a wonderful experience and me really appreciated the blending of cultures that I was and would experience.  These are the memories that I really cherish…not so much walking the halls and halls of history museums.  No, it’s the social interaction which echos the years of each’s cultural experiences that makes traveling so wonderful.

That Thursday, I taught at the international school where Cassidy and Kyle go. It was just to Cassidy's grade and only like a half an hour. I made a slide show and they asked a ton of great questions like how do Tanzanians go to the bathroom, do they believe in any superstitions, and how many Tanzanian shillings are in one Turkish lira. I loved it! 

Then, school, we stopped by Teresa’s house for a chat and Italian coffee and chocolates.  We chatted, Teresa, Holly and Gaby (their Bolivian friend) and then were off to Hakart, a factory where they manufacture lots of Turkish house décor that is eventually sold in the Grand Bazaar and around Istanbul.  Since it’s actually a factory, they sell you things for wholesale as a favour, although they still showed us the usual Turkish gratuity.  We browsed floors of mass produced metal wares and then brought whatever interested us to the main floor for a price quote.  It would be like buying Pottery Barn wholesale but Turkish style…with lots of bowls, large plates and pitchers.  While sipping Turkish tea (2 sugars) I settled on two things, a little saucer and cover and a glass votive with the skyline of Sultanahmet in the surrounding holder.  Afterwards, we went back home and Cassidy and I hung out the rest of the night watching America's Funniest Home Videos, baking gingersnaps and making jewelry while Kyle and the parents went to his athletic banquet. It was great :)

Friday, 11 May 2012

“Find a happy place, find a happy place” (Finding Nemo)

So these past weeks have led me to a wonderful realization.  I’m so happy here!  Don’t worry family, not happy enough to never come home… But seriously, really, completely, whole-heartedly happy.  Yes, there are many moments and days that things go wrong, I get super annoyed or I just miss my American bed, but those are incredibly out-numbered by the times that I think, “Wow!  This is a beautiful, wonderful place to live and I’m so incredibly blessed to be given this chance.” These times occur when I’m biking to school (without a puncture in my tire), when I have random conversations in Kiswahili, when I visit my Tanzanian friends in town, when I’m laughing with my teachers so hard that my tummy hurts, when I’m teaching and the students ask me some question that makes me realize “they DO understand”, when I’m running my favorite path at sunset.  So so so many times.  And as that African sun slowly begins to creep behind the vast array of clouds, and the yellow-orange beams turn the sky shades of pink, purple and blue that I’ve never seen before, I count my blessings again and know that, just like no sunset is the same, no two places on Earth are the same.  This one place, my current home, happens to be the place that’s making me the happiest.  And I don’t long for American luxuries (as my teachers call it) or a white person to hang out with, I know that I’m happy here, in this moment and it is fulfilling enough to enjoy completely.  And the hope of exploring more places and finding again and again, other unique places that make me this happy, is overwhelmingly encouraging.  So I just smile to myself because, finally, I’ve learned to enjoy the moment.  And that moment is beautiful.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Majirani mazuri (Great neighbors)

Today I decided to take things slow.  I had a fundi (plumber) coming over in the afternoon and since I’d taught to much the last 3 days, I didn’t actually need to go to school.  After a morning of waking up late (7:00 instead of 6:30) I watched some Alias, fed Radi and went online for a smidge.  As I was making coffee and contemplating breakfast, I decided to refill my water tank (I’d been watering my garden a LOT and I didn’t want it to get too low).  I stepped outside to see my neighbor (Mama Tt) chatting in her front yard.  We waved hi and I went back inside to get started on some school work.  A half an hour later, the plumber came and knocked on my door.  He was in the area and Mama Tt had told him that I was still home.  Again, I love my neighbors.  So, I showed him the shower that was clogged and he spent about a half hour using a plunger to unclog it and then fashioning a rod out of a stick and sticking that down the pipe to clear it.  It seemed effective because when he left, it drained  lot better.  He said he’d come back around lunch to fix the sink and the toilet seat.  Oh! I love progress!

So, deciding upon pancakes, I went over to my neighbors across the way to buy some.  This was my first time actually visiting so, as a Tanzania would have it, she invited me in for some chai (tea) and gave me Makande (beans and corn), milk chai and some home cooked bread.  It was delish.  I’m so lucky!  We chatted about school, her kids, Tanzania in general and her home.  Later, as I went to leave, she gave me the half liter of milk and said “don’t worry about paying this time.  This one’s on me.”  Oh!  How I love Tanzanian generosity.  So, not only did I get some conversation and free milk, but now I don’t have to cook breakfast since I’m all full from the tea and bread.

Mwanzo hauhitaji kuharibu siku nzima

(The beginning needs not spoil the whole day)

Yesterday started off as a bad day.  I was a bit tired because the night before, the headmaster’s wife and  my neighbor, Mama Msami, came over to chat at like 8pm.  I loved talking with her but she didn’t leave until about 9:15 so I still had to lesson prep a bit and get ready for bed.  Then, after leaving my house that morning, about 2 minutes into my bike ride to school my bike tire went flat with a puncture.  Again.  Go figures.  If I don’t get a puncture at least once a week, it’s been a lucky week.  About 5 minutes later, I ran into about 4 of my Form 4 boys on their way to go grind corn for lunch.  So, they offered to help and took it to the fundi (bike shop worker) for me.  I continued on my way, making it to school in time for my second class of the day.  I taught the Form 4A’s the last of Genetics.  After break, I went into Form 4B’s, where we are still in the middle of Genetics, and made up for the class I missed that morning.  After our second break and some quick prep, I taught my last class of the day, Form 3 Reproduction.  This was our second class studying human reproduction and boy did they have questions.  Some of my favorites were these:

-          How big is the biggest penis?

-          If your penis is too long, can it actually pass the cervix?

-          How, if the penis can’t enter the cervix, can the mother birth a child out of the uterus past the  cervix? (This was a good question…)

And my absolute favorite which I found out later many of my teachers also believe is true…

-          When you have sex, and the sperm gets deposited in the vagina, does that make your hips widen/fatten because the sperm is protein?

After class, the students prepped the school grounds for the big soccer match on Friday and I chatted with my teachers.  They make me laugh so hard and I’ve started to become really good friends with one of the Form 6 leavers, Diana.  Her English is impeccable, but we only speak English if I don’t understand what she’s saying.  I love her sense of humor (Its so American) and I’ve lent her a good selection of my DVD’s to watch at home.  Her mother is also the mango/tomato mama that I visit in town all the town.  She is also hilarious, although she doesn’t speak English.

After school,  I passed by the hardware store (Dad, you are really going to be surprised when you see this…it’s a little like Ace Hardware…in the sense that they sell really random things completely unrelated  to hardware…) and asked about the paint I’d ordered.  They said it was in, so I grabbed a liter to finish up my doors and headed to my fundi (tailor) that is making my curtains and couch covers.  He still hadn’t finished yet with either, so tomorrow I’ll make another go around.  Back at home, I finally watered my garden (it’d been two days and those tomato plants were not looking happy), gave Radi some food, did dishes and asked my neighborhood kids to help me collect rocks for the garden.  Kids will be kids because about 15 minutes into the task, they wandered off to go play elsewhere despite being promised candy.  Oh well!  : ) As I went to say hi to Mama Tt she told me that the plumber I’d been asking about was at the neighbor’s house and I could just go over there to talk to him.  I found him with the help of Mlasa (Mama Tt’s kid) and two other little ones and also met a neighbor I’d yet to visit.  She invited me in and told me that she sells milk if I ever need it.   Then, after finding the fundi, he offered to look at the problems right now and came over and inspected my dying bathroom.  Agreeing to come back tomorrow around lunch, he went home for the day and I went on a nice run (watching my ever favorite African sunset on the way).  After coming home and showering, I was in the process of making dinner when Mama Tt knocked at the door, bring me some friend bananas and grilled meat for my dinner.  That woman can really be a life-saver!!  And, I think I’ve told her about 4 billion times how much I loved her grilled meat (It’s seriously amazing!).  I added it to the fried rice and grilled veggies I was making.  She also told me that she’d asked around about the charcoal I needed and told me the price they were selling it at.  Not too expensive, but still out of my price range for now.  She agreed that it the price seemed like it was going to go up, she’d buy some for me and I’d pay her back later since I was going to be traveling soon anyways. So, during dinner, I watched about 3 episodes of Alias while Radi vegged on my lap and passed out rather early.  Teaching and running make one tired!  Goodnight world!

Friday, 4 May 2012

Little life lessons...Masomo madogo ya maisha

Lessons I’ve learned in Tanzania thus far…aside from Kiswahili

Masomo yangu ambayo nimejifunza kwenye hapa sasa hivi…kando ya Kiswahili

1)       As mentioned previously, wine can be enjoyed alone.  And still tastes just as wonderful without cheese

2)      A day spent in bed is not a day wasted.  Rather, a chance to catch up on some much needed TV time, or thinking time, or just being alone time.  And it always goes by much faster than one might think.  I love my days alone.

3)      The wind picks up significantly before it rains.  Maybe that’s just here???

4)      Neighbors that will do anything for you…rock!  Whether that means bringing over lunch because you looked really busy with housework and didn’t have time to cook or sending their son to meet you at the bus stop because you have a LOT of stuff to tote home.  Or maybe just had a few extra carrots around that they wanted you to have.  Oh, you wanted examples that weren’t just from this week?  I have plenty of those too.  I love my neighbors.

5)      American’s are constantly stimulated.  We are so spoiled in America, not just by things and stuff and accessability, but also the possibility of having things to always keep your mind going.  It’s awesome.  And when you’re sitting quietly somewhere it seems like a huge waste of time.  Which is good and bad.  Sometimes we just need to appreciate the quiet.  And other times it’s nice to know that we feel pressure to make things reach culmination.  Go us!

6)      No matter what country you are in, children love to play, adults love to gossip, students love to do anything other than study, and people in government will abuse their positions.

7)      The basic necessities of any household are hammer, nails, tape and string…with this you…or maybe just I…can do anything.

8)      French music sounds better in the morning while sipping coffee

9)      Tanzanian’s hate flavorful food.

And…as for my lessons about myself:

1)      My motivation to do something is consistently swaying.  Sometimes I really care about teaching…other times I really don’t.  Sometimes I’m a neat freak.  Other times I’m not.  Unfortunately, here, not being a neat freak means finding a lot more bugs in your clothes.  And not caring about something…usually means that thing, whether buying milk or lighting the stove, will never get done.  Considering things take a bit more effort, a lack of motivation is magnifying…but still not daunting.  Just puts life in perspective.

2)      I could eat white rice everyday forever.

3)      I love reading dictionaries.  Like am addicted.  It takes me like 20 minutes to look up a new word because I keep getting distracted by all these words that I don’t know.  So nerdy.  But awesome.  Makes me much more excited about learning Kiswahili.

The end. : )

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Long time…no update. Sorry!

Let’s catch up:

1) Radi is doing great. He’s growing super fast and super well. All the food that my Aunt Donna has been sending him (thank you!) has been doing him good…and he loves it all. He still cuddles with me every night and I love coming home to see him. He’s my child, no doubt about that, and I love his company. He’s definitely the most spoiled cat around and the only one that my neighbors aren’t scared to pick up or play with. They always ask me if he bites me and it takes me so long to explain that yes, but only when he’s playing and he never bites hard.

2) I expanded my garden. I had mentioned to my neighbor last week that I wanted to make it bigger and add 3 more plots and when I came home from school that Monday, it was done!!! She’d hired the random guy that passes by here to expand the thorn fence and dig 3 more plots. That day we transplanted onions, eggplant and tomatoes. Then I added some plants of Chinese spinach, spinach and green peppers. Fingers crossed they grow!!! I’ve been rather vigilant about watering it, unlike my usual habit of neglecting the things that I love (aka…my cat Pepper, my fish…what’s his name?…enough? Okay…)

3) My newest obsessions on the food frontier are as follows:

a. Cookie dough eaten serving size. This is accomplished via taking 2-3 spoonfuls of the packaged dry dough that my parents send me, mixing it with a spoon of water/oil and mixing. Since, let’s face it, cookie dough is usually better than baked cookies (unless they are fresh out of the oven…but, oven? Tanzania? Those too words don’t mix…) the dough is the best after meal snack.

b. Wine, wine, wine. I recently that you can buy 5 liters of red wine for 38,000Tsh…which is, oh, about $23. And the wine tastes like the 8-10 dollar bottles that you can get at the grocery store. At the risk of sounding like an alcoholic, I’ve been enjoying a glass each night out of my beautiful wine glasses and I couldn’t be happier. I always thought that drinking aloen was crazy, but my nightly glass just makes me feel classy. It brings me back to my college wine and cheese nights. Wonderful!

c. Popcorn! I’ve been stocking up in Katesh and popping some every few days while watching a movie…or three. Delish! And the safflower oil my neighbor gave me makes it taste buttery without the butter. Double yum.

4) Last week my girls that I took to the girl’s conference taught their first peer education class. I could NOT have been more proud! They taught two sections, HIV/AIDS and reproductive health/family planning. They taught the girls of Form 1 and 2 and it went so well. The girls asked so many questions and the ones that taught, taught for over 2 hours! They went over the structure of the reproductive system, contraceptive methods, transmission of HIV/AIDS, and did a condom demonstration on soda bottles. I was like a beaming mother when they finished. This week I’m hoping that they can finish their sessions. And then onto the Form 3 and 4 girls! The boys have been complaining of being left out but, alas, they’ll get their chance. I might invite a health volunteer up to teach them sometime soon.

5) TURKEY!! I leave in a little over 3 weeks. Could I be more excited?? Nope! I’m staying with Holly Jones and her family and they are being so generous. They have a private driver that’ll be picking me up from the airport, a guesthouse that I’ll have all to myself to stay in and, this week I just found out that, because they’ll be flying for the weekend to Ephesus, I’ll be tagging along there too. OMGoodness, I could not be more lucky or blessed. I can’t wait for that adventure. I’m also just so happy to be able to see them all.

6) House renovations are underway! My house is a current disaster-but, alas! All shall be returned to its original place. I’m painting my bedroom, main room, trim, having lots of curtains made, a couch made and cushions covered, and my two favorite parts: a bulletin board and room divider. The bulletin board was a 4 days long struggle to get constructed in katesh. They used ceiling board for the backing and wood trim. The problem was the price, which I returned over 3 times just to negotiate the final price (I paid 12,000/=…or 5 dollars…not awful for custom made since no one in Tanzania uses these in their homes…) and then, at home, I spray painted the edge silver and tacked fabric for the backing. It looks wonderful…I’m so proud! As for the room divider…I had to get more creative. Since my house was Canadian built, there WERE sliding closet doors in all the rooms. Since my house is also super old and dilapidated, only 4 remain, 3 of which were not broken. So, I wrenched them all apart, painted them black (this is the stage that I’m now in…) and will reattach them with the hinges and nails I picked up in Katesh too (Parents…you’d be superty duper proud!). Therefore, I’ll have a screen-like room divider for my living room, eventually a couch and, goodness, I can’t wait!!!

This should be enough for now. All my love to those back home and thank you for all the wonderful packages and cards. Miss you all!!

Saturday, 24 March 2012

A day in the life (get the Beatles reference???)

Today is Saturday. It started out normal. It ended normal. And there’s lots of normal stuff in between. Like having a dog walk inside my house and steal Radi’s bowl b/c there was left over scraps of food in it. And then having me chase him down until he finally dropped it. Or perhaps there is the normalness of running through fields of sunflowers during an evening jog. That normal feeling of having thousands of sunflowers taller than your head stream pass you as you bop along to Coldplay or perhaps the talented Lupe Fiasco is just normal bliss. There’s the normalness of watching an African sunset upside down. With your head hanging off a cement water tower as you lie on your back and gaze so far into the distance you swear you see the pyramids. There’s the normal rebellion of 3 month old Radi who has decided that despite being spoiled beyond belief, he’d like to eat the green beans that you’ve cooked for yourself, not the American cat treats that he has lying around in his bowl. Or the other bowl of fresh milk. No no no. He’d like your dinner, thank you very much. Another normal thing? Having that bump on my head because for some reason I didn’t see the chair right next to me and hit my forehead smack in the middle. Gosh darn glasses with no peripheral vision…ergh. There’s the usual multiple pots of water that I boiled today…for drinking, bathing and cooking. There’s the usual Saturday 8 hour charcoal-a-thon where I start the charcoal stove at like 11am and keep it lit until 8pm. That means I can accomplish my normal Saturday baking of banana bread, muffins/bread and some sort of bean concoction. Today’s variety? Little green peas called choroko that I mixed with coconut milk, oil, onions and curry. Result? Pretty delicious…not the worst of my experiments that’s for sure. The worst was probably the day that I decided to make a banana and jelly sandwich (sometimes you are veryyyyyy limited in available items…) and, oh goodness, disgusting. There’s the usual dusk-time drawing of my chicken-pattern curtains. And the turning on of my little Christmas tree-now night light. So all in all…a normal normal day. And I didn’t even go into the village. I had to save some normal chores for tomorrow. Night night.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

As it continues...

This week I started teaching my Form 3's for Biology. Like Form 4's, there are 2 streams, A and B. And, apparently, now Form 4's has 3 streams, despite the fact that what is now B and C, are still in the same classroom as the original B. Starting with Form 3 was a nice change because my Form 4's were giving me major issues about turningin homework. I don't understand how difficult it is to turn in homework that I assigned a whole week ago. Talk about lazy. And organizing the desks at the beginning of class (I usually teach the first 4 periods of the day...)seems to be the most impossible task in the world. It's so frustrating when I feel like my job is more babysitting than teaching but, alas, such is teaching here. I spent a lot of time at school this week and last organizign lessons and pouring over pages of past NECTA's (the final form 4 exam) to find good homework/practice questions. Sometimes I think that I'm more invested in teaching than any of the students are in learning, but, ultimately, I know that's not true. It's just hard since it's their future that's in the balance. Not mine.
Aside from the venting, class has been continuing well. In my Form 4 classes, we just finished the chapter on Growth. Quiz next week...get ready class! In Form 3, we started on Movement today. We'll be covering movement for a little over 2 weeks and then move onto reproduction, which the NECTA asks a LOT of questions on. I wanted to get started on the topics like reproduction and genetics that the NECTA focuses on. I think my favorite part about this Form 3 class (aside from the fact that they payed really good attention this week....probably because I'm new and they are still interested in seeing how I conduct myself) is the fact that because I'm starting with them so early in the year, I can actually give them a good head start on covering all the topics in Form 3. Since the Form 4's this year only covered less than half the topics in Form 3, it's nice to be able to plan out getting them to complete all the topics.
After school today, I went into the village to pick up a few things and fix my bike. I took it to the fundi (tradesman) and he fixed 2 more punctures...that makes 4 in 2 weeks. There sure are a lot of little thorns at my site. While waiting, I visited one of my favorite mama's, the one who sells eggs. She's never raised her price despite a now increasingly dramatic egg shortage and, despite the fact that she'd closed the shop for her lunch break, she was still more than willing to help me. Sometimes, I need to be reminded how wonderful and generous soem Tanzanians are. So, although she was out of eggs, she asked one of the neighbor boys to find me some and he came back with as many as he could, 6, still for the usual cheap price (200/= each...or about 10 cents). To show her my appreciation, I bought soap and salt from her little shop (usually I got to the main one in town, Mr. Kassedy's, who also happens to be my second headmaster, but I'm sure that she could use the business a lot more than he could.) Afterwards, I stopped by to just say hi to my mango and tomato mama's and then finally picked up chicken soup for my kitten.

Notebooks-check, Red pens-check,’s back!

After a month and a half long break, school is now in full swing. A calendar has been made, class schedule printed and the grounds cleaned. While it did take over a week and a half to accomplish those 3 tasks alone, the teachers, myself included, have finally started entering the classroom and doling out homework. This year I’ll be teaching Form 3 and 4 biology. Each form has 2 streams and each stream meets twice a week for 80 minutes. There is the option of combining streams when teaching in order to teach less and/or faster, but having 40/50 students in one classroom is enough. 90 is just a bit too crowded. So, my classes are Monday through Thursday and I’m attempting to do office hours Thursday or Friday where I give them practice problems from old NECTA tests. The NECTA exam is the big test that all the Form 4’s take and if they pass, they can go onto to advanced studies, after which, if they pass that, they can go onto college. At my school, the rate of passing the NECTA is about 50% last year. That’s pretty good for this region and really good for Tanzania. So, the last 2 weeks, I’ve been busy preparing my lesson plans, which has included skimming through the national biology text, PC s supplements and years of past NECTA tests to try and give the students the practice that they’ll need for their exams. While preparing for these exams is a lot of work, it’s worth it if they want to do anything other than work the fields or run the family’s duka (little shop).

Also, one of my goals this year has been to use as little Kiswahili in the classroom as possible. While it is almost impossible to completely avoid, although the Tanzanian education board is under the delusion that all classes are taught exclusively in English, I think that the more practice these kids get, even if it is challenging and forced, the better they will be. This choice does have some consequences. It really separates the kids who understand English from the ones who don’t. But, to looks at the positives, it gives the kids who really want to try to understand, the forum to do so and more confidence in their abilities once they do. Personally, I’d rather have all the students understand everything I teach (aka use only Kiswahili). It’d be a lot less daunting going into the classroom without so many blank stares. Additionally, my Form 4B’s, the non-science stream, hardly answers any of my questions. But, alas, one must still go on and so I do.

As for other updates on the Mulbadaw front, I’m still in the process of making my home a home. I had the workers come last week and fix up the table around my sink and a electrician came two days ago to repair the electricity in my bathroom. I still would like a plumber to finish connecting the pipes in my bathroom sink and to replace the faucet in my foyer, but the progress, although slow, is still progress. Next big tasks: paint the inside of my house, repair my bed and make new curtains. Thanks to my mom, I’m currently as comfy as ever sleeping under my beautiful quilt that she sent me. It has pictures of me from childhood onwards so when I wake up feeling nostalgic, I can look at it and think of home. I also finally received my Christmas package from home with lots of goodies, including a mini xmas tree and adorning lights, so to elongate the Christmas spirit, I put it up in my room, put all the presents and even other unopened envelopes under it and each day, I open one more. Christmas didn’t really feel like xmas here so its nice to be able to recelebrate it in my house with all my wonderful goodies. Thank you family!!!