Monday, 2 September 2013

lil BIG Update

For to stay, though the hours burn in the night, is to freeze and crystallize and be bound in a mould.”–The Prophet

It's been all too long since I've updated this blog but I wanted to squeeze in one more before I COS (close-of-service) from Peace Corps in 2 weeks.  The name of this blog, although I chose it way before I'd even started learning real Swahili, has rang true through all of my service.  Umoja means one-ness and, more distinctly, self actualization.  My whole PC service has been about finding within myself the strength to carry out each day and persist despite obstacles or people around me.  Funny how things, like choosing a name, have way of fitting perfectly into the scheme of things.

Looking back on the breadth of experiences, I can’t even begin to sort through them.  Of course, some of my favourites are the times when my Tanzanian neighbors helped me through things that I could’ve never navigated on my own.  For example, when Radi (my cat) locked me inside my bedroom.  He was playing with the dead bolt lock on the outside of my door and slid it into the latch – making it impossible for me to leave my room.  I had to call Mama TT next door at 7 am and have her send over a kid to climb through a partially open window and unlock my door from the inside of my house.  Then there was the time that I got really sick with a fever and night sweats and couldn’t leave my bed.  That same mama brought me over porridge every morning and dinner each night so that I could just rest and recover (and considering that cooking even one meal in this country – with your kerosene stove top and lack of refrigerator – is a hour or two long ordeal, that really meant a lot).  Then there was the time that the doctor told me to go get my stool tested at the hospital because I hadn’t been feeling well for 2 weeks and my other neighbor, Shaffi, gave me a ride (it was 2 hours away) and then, because the results were taking so long, brought me a cold soda and sat and waited with me until lab test was finished.  Turned out I had a parasite.  And without Shaffi’s lift to the hospital, I would’ve had to stay the night in that town alone because the results didn’t come out until an hour after the last bus home had left.  Who does that?  Well, people that have now become like a second family here do.  Every single time something like this happens, all I can feel is how lucky and blessed I am.


                Granted there’ve been plenty of times that people have also, to put it bluntly, screwed me over and those experiences are hard to forget as well, no matter how much you want to.  It almost always involves money and charging you too much or tricking you into paying for something that shouldn’t be paid for.  Sometimes it’s tempting to just let it go and pay the extra.  The hassle can be so exhausting.  But it’s so frustrating and wrong because you know that you aren’t paying the actual fair, and to me, that’s stealing. 

I made a promise to myself when coming to this country to not give monetary handouts, no matter how much I feel bad and may want to.  So far I’ve kept really true on that although I know that my neighbors and other teachers see me as selfish and ungenerous at times.  However, I joined PC to give of my time and effort, not money, and being here has only reinforced my belief that that’s actually what Tanzanian’s need from PCVs.  My reasoning was that, not only am I poor and can’t really afford it, giving handouts doesn’t lead to anything positive in the future, only a perpetuation of a “begging” culture dependent on outside help.  One of the most annoying things that PCV’s hear (aside from the word for “tourist” in Swahili repeated incessantly) is the phrase “Give me money.”  Sometimes it’s in Swahili, sometimes English, but either way it is so frustrating because it only continues the stereotype that most Tanzanians have, which is that Americans and Europeans are only here to give Africans money.  So, to come and hand out, even candy to passing children, isn’t “bringing happiness,” it’s perpetuating the greed that can be found in daily life.

To elaborate a bit more bluntly, this idea that many Tanzanians have (not all…and I want to clarify that) in which they would rather be dependent on others than work themselves for something in order to earn and deserve it, is rampant.  It’s unpleasant, and not applicable to every single person, but definitely the majority.  And to fully understand this, you need to know that they don’t see it as stealing, or greed, or selfishness…they see it as a means to an end.  And since the end is something that they believe they are entitled to, they will justify any means in order to reach that end, no matter the cost.  While they screw over foreigners more, they still lie and cheat from other Tanzanians as well.  ANYTHING justifies this ends…and that’s where the line between earning and stealing becomes blurry fast.  Really really fast.  That may sounds a bit too honest or unbecoming, but it is a basic truth that only gets revealed in its entirety once two years have passed.  Even these last weeks, I’ve seen some unseemly sides of people that I’ve worked beside and known my entire service…people that I know others trust. It has and always will irk me into disgust but now I simply approach it with indifference because, well, what can you ACTUALLY do?  This is THEIR culture, THEIR country…not mine.  While living in Tanzania long term has shown me wonderful things, from the intricacies of community to the beauty of the land, it makes staunchly apparent the fact that I am still not Tanzanian, and will never be.  Which is usually for the best.

Looking back, I know that I’ve been changed significantly yet the world still seems to be the same overwhelming place that it was before I left.  The key difference, I would venture to guess, is really that I feel more capable of handling anything that’s thrown my way.  I suppose that’ll happen to after you spend such long amounts of time here… and a few too many days when the students are sent home to go collect school fees and don’t come back until a week later, a few too many bus rides where the engine breaks down in the middle of a 8 hour dirt road because the radiator just fell out, a few too many neighbors covertly “borrowing” your things and returning them 3 months later broken, or not returning them or even admitting that they took them in the first place.  This country, as many other PC-ridden ones throughout the world, will make you learn to appreciate all the organization and trust that we have on a daily basis.  It makes you understand how large of a role our basic moral codes and social expectations can play in every aspect of life – from church, to school, to community meetings, to dinners, to walking down the street/path.  And, it makes you able to adapt at a second’s notice because you never really know what that day has in store for you but the only way to really make it through is just to roll with the punches amicably (and typically accompanied by several disgruntled texts to your best friend).


As the more time passes, the harder and harder it becomes to relate to people back home.  While my biggest daily frustrations ranged from cows getting in my way as I biked to school and to people selling me something for twice its actual price, Americans back home would talk about the traffic, too much snow, and annoying significant others.  When I toyed with the idea of extending my service (adding on between 6 and 12 months) in order to finish out another school year with my students and be there to support the sustainability of the library, I realized that if I stayed any longer, going back might just be a little too hard.  I’m already so different, what if I just couldn’t relate…ever?  I agreed to stay until the new volunteer arrived (September) which was already an extra two months but then I knew it’d be time to say goodbye.  I’ve always known that goodbyes would be hard but necessary.  I still remember vividly saying goodbye at for the first and then second time when leaving the States.  Always challenging, always sad, but always important.  You have to move on, to grow…idleness is the seed of unhappiness and for me that meant coming to Tanzania as well as eventually coming home.  Every single day that I’ve woken up in this country, there’s a piece of me that, upon realizing where I am, says “Crap.  Still here.”  But then you go on with your day and forget about all the things that you miss and get consumed by the present, momentarily enthralled time and time again by the things that are SO different and SO quirky…the tribal people wrapped in only a blanket with their walking sticks as they converse on their Chinese made cells phones, mothers carrying water on their head and a baby on their back simultaneously, children running in hoards just to scream “Good morning!!!!” at you (it’s 5pm) over and over…and then ask you for candy.  Some things never get old and others get old all too fast.

Living in the bush within a developing country as also brought to a realization how different one’s beliefs can be.  I live and teach within a community who thinks that wizards and witchdoctors exist (and practice their art…), girls can become possessed by evil spirits, albinos have magical bones, evolution is all a big hoax, America is over run by horrible freemasons (Does anyone even know what a freemason is???), and homosexuality is so much of a sin that it’s illegal.  While I don’t agree with a single one of these statements, it’s been eye-opening, and humbling in a way, to live amongst people who do believe in these things, and so completely that no credible evidence will actually change their minds.  Have you ever been surrounded by a community that thinks are you crazy for your lack of belief in something you’ve always been taught was crazy?  I’m sure that we’ve all been ostracized and felt like an outsider at points in our lives.  Well to feel that way here, and be the only one within a 30km radius who thinks so differently, has challenged my patience, open-mindedness, and, most importantly, skills of logical persuasion.  However much I disagree with my neighbor’s opinions and beliefs, I have to accept them as their own and be okay with that.  To make it even more challenging, Tanzanian culture predisposes them to ask questions that they think they already know the answer to. Therefore they hardly ever actually listen to your attempts to explain yourself no less believe you.  Each day tests me in some small yet substantial way and numerous times I’ve failed, simply snapping at my colleagues, neighbors, even students.  While I haven’t been perfect, I have grown.  And that, within itself, is a rewarding feeling.

                Peace Corps is often referred to as teaching us how to fail.  We are raised in a culture where we are taught that failure is bad and success is the only viable option if you want to feel good about what you’ve done. Tanzania is FULL of failure.   There are the NGO built-schools, libraries, and computer labs with no staff or resources which are becoming more decrepit with time.  There are students that fail their secondary school exams, composing half of the country despite the passing grade being a 21%...that’s not a typo.  There are the houses made from mud that only stand for a year, the water pumps that no one knows how to fix, the buses that constantly break down or swerve off roads and the overcrowded ferries that sink mid-journey.  More often than not, things are done half-assed here, and it shows.  Yet, Tanzanians don’t go about their days feeling mad or sorry for themselves (this is the part that usually shocks foreigners).  The majority of them are sufficiently happy in spite of all their country’s hurdles.  While the sustainability of any project here is nearly non-existent (it’s ALL about getting the money now), it’s from these failures that people learn, they grow.  And when they finally get so tired of the same failures over and over and over again, they change.  However, that’s for the Tanzanian people to decide, not you or me or the U.S. or the U.K.   This is still a DEVELOPING country.  Tanzanians are still developing the capacity to do things on their own.  And one of the most important things that Peace Corps has really taught (aside from accepting failure) is that for something to be sustainable you need the people in the community that you are working to WANT to continue that change.  Ultimately it may even come down to one person but that person needs to care enough to work at it otherwise any change that you attempt will decay along with all the abandoned buildings once you turn your back.  It’s taken me two years, a lot of upset and anger, but I’ve learned this lesson and forgiven myself for the times that I wasn’t a “success” by American standards.  Maisha yanaendelea…Life goes on.

Someone that I’ve found who’s really helped me know that change IS possible and people DO care has been my counterpart on my library project, Mr. Yame Amnaay.  I’ve always known that he was kind-hearted and driven but I’d never seen it such an impressive degree until I really needed someone to step up and help me bring the project to fruition.  He’s been motivated non-stop since we elected Head Librarian and never once complained, acted tired or showed any ounce of frustration with my requests and demanding American standards.  This contrasts starkly with any other Tanzanian that I’ve worked with on projects.  I would not have been able to complete this library successfully without him.  It’s rare to find people in this country who are in something for a reason other than money (I’d imagine that’s a common trend among developing nations).  I rarely trust anyone here after being lied to and cheated so many times and initially I was so hesitant about him just like everyone else.  However, Yame and his family (he has a wife, a 4 year old girl and a one year old boy) have shown with that there is hope and truly good hearted people do exist.  God really blessed me when he put me at this school.

I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished…and tried to accomplish.  Peace Corps really does teach us high reaching Americans what it means to lower our standards, to not have tangible results.  It’s completely frustrating but pivotal since not all attempts can succeed.  It’s just statistically impossible.  Things that I’ve tried and failed at would be teaching Form 1 baseline English, starting an English club, tutoring various students (who’ve usually just stopped coming after about 2 sessions) and continuing a ZINDUKA (HIV/AIDS prevention) club.  Now I’m not saying that all failure is bad and completely unfruitful.  Some things were imparted, whether about English grammar, cultures outside Tanzania, and HIV/AIDS knowledge, but, since the long time sustainability was not achieved, I wouldn’t really consider these things a success.  That being said, I also don’t regret trying them.  Although it’s really defeating to look back and realize all of your hard work and effort were seemingly wasted, it’s in attempting that you find solace.  Hindsight is always 20/20.  The reasons for my failures range dramatically from a lack of student motivation to my unavailability.  However, most poignantly, this so called “failure” results from the from other teachers unwillingness to participate and stay motivated.  At every school the teachers are the ones with the power to initiate change and direct focus.  Especially here, a strong prevalent social hierarchy exists and is reinforced daily through sending students on errands in the middle of class to beating them when they misbehave.  Therefore, it’s the teachers that need the determination to keep any project, club or outlook sustained…and determination here is rare and often hindered.  This is another reason why Yame’s efforts are so impressive and appreciated.

The two things that I would quantify as successes are my time teaching Biology here (for Forms 3 and 4) and my library project.  Now, I’m going to try to be realistic and acknowledge that the library could depreciate over time and just because we have an awesome head librarian (Mr. Yame) doesn’t mean that the school and its politics will prevent him from doing his job, but for now, as I have 2 weeks remaining, the library is functioning and being used each day by the students.  All I wanted to do was give them reliable access to books, and that, currently, is happening.  So, for now, I’d consider it a success.  We’ve tried to make it as sustainable as possible, putting in measures to chose the most enthusiastic people to work in it, actually paying someone to watch over it each day and signing contract after contract agreeing to do yearly maintenance and add to the collection of books, so it’ll be interesting to see where it ends up in one, two, even ten years.  But, as my parents constantly remind me, all you can do is your best when you’re here and hope that someone in the community cares enough to keep things going.  It’s been really rewarding to see students come in everyday and wander through the shelves, request to use the coloured pencils and chalk that we’ve donated and staying until closing time writing notes.  The last few days of its first week open, it was so full that we had to bring in desks from outside to accommodate all the students.  I had a smile on my face the whole time.  And, again, to everyone that made this possible, THANK YOU! ***

Teaching, however, has been a whole different story.  While I’d classify it as a success in the sense that I did it, my passion was not as fervent as with my library.  Each day I woke up dreading what was to come just slightly and each day there was the unexpected.   Whether the school bell ringing in the middle of your period, half the students not even bothering to being a notebook and/or pen to class, the rain coming down too hard that you couldn’t even hear yourself speak or my students looking at me blankly as I ask them a question about something I just taught yesterday, there was always something preventing learning from actually occurring.  While I stuck it out and stayed here for two years despite feeling constantly disheartened, it wasn’t my favourite job and I wouldn’t sign up again.  I think that one of the reasons that I put my heart so ardently into the library was because I didn’t really feel like any of the students cared as much about learning as I did about teaching them.  I’d wager that’s a common feeling among teachers in the States as well.  There were the rare few who’d come and ask questions, answer the homework quite thoroughly or participate in class.  But, for the most part, I feel like I spent two years talking to a wall.  The language barrier is one thing but that compounded with the tribal attitudes to result in some rather defeating times.  On the days that I did teach a lot, I left feeling accomplished, whether or not the students really seemed to understand because, hey, at least I tried.   Most of my favourite memories are with my current Form 4 students.  I’ve been teaching them for over 2 years now and it’s really evident when they take my exams and answer my questions in class that they’ve become accustomed to me – my language/accent, my style, my expectations.  We did group projects last year and they had to present in front of everyone and it was really rewarding to see them stand up and teach each other about various topics we’d covered.  I was so proud.  J It’s the little moments and memories like that which make teaching feel like a success here.  Who knows how the NECTA (their final exam to continue into advanced level secondary school) will go.  Grading is never consistent, the exam writers never use proper English and they constantly try to trick the students (who are already taking this exam in their second, maybe third , language) but the students that care will do their best and hope for good results.  100-81 is an A, 80-61 is a B, 60-41 is a C, 40-21 is a D and 20 and below is an F.  Yep. That’s a little bit different from our system, huh?

In fact, just yesterday, as I was in our library watching students as they studied for their midterms, two of my Form 4’s came in and started talking.  We discussed the final projects I’d been planning for this coming week, the library and its potential and how they felt when it came to preparing for the NECTA in two months.  They were really positive and told me how great it was to have the resources here finally.  Then, they asked about having one final English club meeting.  I felt so great because I thought that they didn’t care about it anymore.  After we discussed what we should read at the meeting, they both stayed to study for a few hours.  At closing, one of the them came up to me and handed me a card that he’d made with my name on it, the Tanzanian flag and various verses saying “Thank you” and “We’ll miss you so much”.  I wanted to cry.  It’s so small but it means so much to me, especially considering the frustration that you feel on a daily basis.  Tanzanians are not very grateful by nature – they don’t really say “Thank you” after a transaction or when given something.  I have to remind my students all the time to be polite because they’ll translate Swhaili into English directly which, instead of saying “Can I please has this” will come out “Give me this.”  They are just not accustomed to saying things politely.  That’s why, when a student show their gratitude, it means SO much here.  It’s not the norm.

Many people have asked about my plans for afterwards, which have become more solidified now (albeit still a bit in the “winging-it” stage).  So far, here’s what I’ve got:  One of my awesome friends, Sarah, is coming to visit me in a week.  She’s been living in Thailand the last year teaching English and traveling…it’ll be interesting to compare stories.  After she sees my site for a few days, I’m going to say goodbye for good here and head to Dar to COS.  We might climb Mt. Hanang one last time before heading out as well…it’ll depend on if we can find the trail. Then, I’ll COS in Dar, which takes about a week.  I close my bank accounts, fill out all the paperwork, get lots of medical checkups and have a final exit interview where, I’m told, the country director convinces you that your two years were not for naught.  Then, we are heading to Moshi to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro for a few days.  It’ll take about 5 days to go up and down (we are taking Rongai route for anyone who’s actually done it) and then I want to head to Arusha one last time to say goodbye to Shaffi’s family.  They live there and have become literally like a second family.  Their home feels like my home away from home (esp. last weekend when I stayed there while getting books and would run in for 5 minutes, grab food, and run back out to complete my errands…Mum and Dad, you understand : ) ).  Me and Sarah will spend a few days with them and then…well, I don’t know!   We are set on making it to South Africa by December.  That’ll give us two whole months to travel from Tanzania through Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, maybe Madagascar (if we can get some great deal).  We really want to see Victoria Falls along the way but other than that we’ll be just winging it.  I haven’t bought a plane ticket home but we are planning on flying from South Africa to somewhere else (if my Peace Corps stipend makes it that far).  Maybe Ethiopia, maybe India, maybe Greece.  Not yet decided.  Egypt was in the running (I wanted to see the pyramids) until all the riots and unrest so that’s off the drawing board.  This will put me home either late December or early January.  After that, I’m going to be studying for the MCAT for 6 months (Caribou Coffee and Cook Library here I come!!!) and apply to medical school in June.  Hopefully I’ll find a part time job to supplement my income during those months and then a temporary job for 6 months to a year before medical school starts (assuming I get in…fingers crossed!).  Obviously those updates will come per annum.

 This brings the updating to a close.  For those of you that made it to the bottom...thanks for reading.  :)  I've learned a lot from this whole experience, am grateful for everyday and appreciate all of the love and support that I've received along the way.  I put my heart into being here and, while it's been really heartbreaking at times, I wouldn't change a single moment. "Sanity and happiness are an impossible combination" (Mark Twain) and I don't know if I'd claim to be sane anymore but I'm definitely happy.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Little library update...

So, we are now about 3 weeks into the renovations on the library and everything has been going wonderfully.  After several more negotiations about the pricing of some supplies and furniture, we finally sat down and cemented it all in a contract.  I copied a version that my headmaster gave me from the government offices here and add our own modifications and specific budget.  Then, last Monday, me, one of my teacher counterparts, Mr. Yame, and my headmaster met with the builder and all together signed and stamped the contract.  I was estatic.  Now it is officially onto the waiting game of overseeing the renovations, getting the furniture (which another person is doing) and then I’ll be up to Arusha to buy the books.  The library now has a completed cemented outside and the cement corridor is setting slowly as they wait for it to dry.  The old windows were removed, wire mesh was put on and then metal grill bars to prevent any intrusions.  So, this leaves the finishing of the windows complete with glass panes, the ceiling boards, the grill for the outside door and then painting inside and the outer front.  Should be great!  After that, it is on to setting up the furniture and books.  I’d requested long student study tables to save money and make them more efficient for group work and 3 7-foot wide double-sided shelves.  Should leave space for plenty of books.  So, I’m thinking about another month and hopefully the builder’s work will be done.  Then I’ll get to put a library system in place and head up to Arusha to buy as many books as possible.  I’ve also been working with another NGO (Tanzania Reads) to raise more money for books and they’ve put up a summary and link on their website ( if you’d like to check it out or donate.  All in all, things are moving along…what a wonderful feeling it is!

Monday, 4 February 2013

School school school

So it’s been three weeks back at school now (only two of actual teaching) and it already feels like forever.  With the library project moving forward finally and now another way to continue raising money to be able to purchase enough textbooks to actually stock the library…things feel good.  It feels like stuff is actually happening…which is a new and rewarding feeling for being in this country.  And so, as for actual teaching, things are going really well so far.  I think that I really do believe what they say about being a teacher…that it takes about a year to feel like you really have a grasp here and are being efficient.  And so, while it is a nice feeling, it’s a bit disconcerting knowing that in less than a year, all of this knowledge and understanding and skill that I’ve developed for succeeding here will be defunct.  I will never use over half the techniques that I’ve honed here ….such as little ways to make sure that the students ACTUALLY come to class when you ask them to change classrooms instead of climbing through windows or pretending to have to use the toilet.  Or ways of encouraging them to ask you questions and come in for tutoring since they are scared to come to the office because they will either be yelled at or sent on an errand.  Or how to best get their attention when five minutes into lecture they are already zoning out or trying to finish that English exercise that they were too lazy to do yesterday(the answer for this one is to take an insanely chalky eraser and whack them on the head with it….not only do they HATE getting their school uniforms dirty and consider cleanliness actually higher than godliness, but their hair is so dark that the white chalk makes a huge, hard to remove print).  So, in summary: sad to leave soon, feeling good about projects, and proud of my accomplishments so far despite how little they may be.

As for the library, the fundi started work this week and is working on putting cement around the outside and pulling out the windows to rotate them.  We had to revise the budget again because most of the windows broke when pulling them out.  Between this and all of the changes that we made when we reviewed the budget last weekend, it accounted for about half of the money that I'd allocated in the grant for books.  Therefore, our book budget as decreased greatly and I'm already trying other methods to collect more money so that we can help bridge that.  There is an American NGO called Tanzania Reads that works with TZ schools and PCV's  helping them collect money to increase Tanzanian youths' access to literature. 

Also, this week my headmaster is traveling to Dar-es-Salaam to help transport a shipment of donated books from a British organization called READ International.  I found out about this organization through other PCV's here.  They donate books to schools all around Tanzania and even implement libraries in the Singida region.  I emailed them a request, explaining our project, and they agreed to help.  Between the time that we started talking and they finally had an opening for us to collect the books that aligned with our schedules, it was February and they promised us 11 boxes of books.  So, this Tuesday, my headmaster is going to Dar to pick up the boxes and ship them on a bus back to our school.  I'm really excited about this, as are all of my teachers, and happy that my headmaster was so willing to go.  I'm not quite ready to travel past Katesh yet and having to escort boxes around Dar sounds horrid.  I'm lucky that my headmaster is so enthusiastic and supportive of this project.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

And so it begins...a library update!!!

Another beautifully great update about my school…and this time is really is about the library, which is really exciting.  Today is Saturday and I went in with my headmaster for an 8am meeting with two of the other teachers (anyone who knows me is probably really impressed right now at the fact that I actually woke up…granted I did get out of bed at 7:48).  We sat down to talk about the budget and chose which builder we were actually going to use since the one who gave us our initial estimates was actually the one building the laboratory at our school right now.  I gave them the finalized versions of the BOQ along with all the adjustments that’d been accumulated over the last months of grant writing such as wire mesh for the windows, cement estimates for the corridor and to plaster the outside in addition to my requests for the furniture.  At first we decided that we would find two builders, one for the furniture and one for the actually renovations of the building.  Then we started reviewing the details of each part necessary, the windows, ceiling, plaster, painting and corridor.  As they reviewed it, they found the same problems that I’d brought up with my headmaster the previous year.  Since the teacher that’d originally started helping me with the project (a self  proclaimed previous builder himself) got frustrated after about 2 revisions, it’d mainly been me and my headmaster reviewing these prices. *  Well, we felt reasonably confident in our final estimations, and some of the stuff that original teacher had even assured me would be included in the quoted cost.  Well today, just at my newest counterparts, Mr. Yame and Mr. Lohay, were looking over the costs, they noticed discrepancies and asked me about them too.  I had to tell them that I’d been assured that they were taken care of, but, needless to say, I got a little worried again.  I’m not a builder, and as my father can attest, will definitely never be one.  These were all new concepts to me…truckfulls of sand and meters of wire.  However, we noted the problems and decided that we’d compare them with the option of the builders that we talked to.  After about a half an hour discussing how much money we had for what and where it was coming from, we finally went out to the classroom/library-to-be. We noticed several more things to be adjusted, especially missing vents, more broken windows and the positioning of the grill outside the windows.  We would need the fundi (builder) to invert all of the metal windows so that once the wire mesh was attached, you’d still be able to open them from the inside. 

My counterparts decided, that since our original fundi had written the initial BOQ, it made since to ask him first if he’d still do it.  So, we did and, luckily, he accepted!  This would save us a lot of time and trouble finding someone else.  He even said that he’d started preparing some of the furniture last year and he’d like to build it if still possible.  So, we accepted and will be sitting down with him this week to revise the changes to the budget, start the project and write up a contact.  SUCH. GREAT. NEWS. :)

*Side note: This is another reason why I feel really blessed with an awesome headmaster.  When I’d asked him about some of the prices, he told me that he’d get an estimate and the next day called me from Babati with the prices that he’d asked about.  Awesome.

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Letter home..

Dear my wonderful parents-

Hey guys!  So, your lovely daughter here just keeping you updated on my life.  Hey, so guess what?  Remember how accident prone I was when I was little?  So much so that after I lost a sewing needle (with which I’d been using to repair old socks…yeah, IDK why either) and then that night got out of bed and stepped on it?  Remember how the tip broke off and we couldn’t find it until a week later, while playing soccer, I realized that the bottom of my foot was kinda sorta hurting really really bad?  And then remember how the xray showed that I indeed did have the tip of a needle in my foot and it had been there for a whole week with me walking on it and I was pretty darn lucky that it was pointed at the bone instead of talking a little trip to my heart?  So, I have some wonderful news for you both!  Not only am I still incredibly accident prone in Afrika as well (no shock there) I’m also not far off from having the exact same problems as my child hood.  Well, of course since you are probably just ecstatic to know, mom and dad, let me tell you.  I was running today as usual.  This was a longer run and about half way through I felt what seemed like a thorn in my shoe.  There are a lot of thorns around my house now that the rainy season has started so this was no surprise.  I kept going and it kept poking me but I just put it out of my mind because this was one of those ignorable pains, like running cramps or little sisters (just kidding, Mish!).  So, anyways, when I finished with my run, I went into my house and attempted to take off my shoes.  Only I couldn’t take off my left one because the further I tried to slide it out, the deeper into my foot this thorn dug.  Yes, the thorn was big enough and at such an angle that the only way it seemed that I could remove my shoe was to dig it deeper into my sole until I could actually slide my foot out.  I looked and looked for the source of this thorn on the bottom of my shoe but it was no wear to be found.  Well, after some debate, and, might I add, a little cringing at the thought of what I was about to do, I twist my shoe around my foot and slowly slid it out.  Whew!  It could’ve been worse but then I looked to discover the source of this agony and there it was, one little needle, about an inch and a half long, stuck in the insert in my shoe.  I looked at the bottom of my foot wear this little guy had been digging at the ball of my foot and there was the mark, a couple centimeters long, wear I ran with it poking me for about 4-5 miles.  Perhaps its time I get the nerve endings in my feet check out.  So, moral of the story, dear parents is that I’m all right and apparently my feet can survive numerous needles.  I’ll be home next jan…Mom, perhaps you should hide all pointy objects just like I was 3 again.

Love and miss you –

Your adoring daughter – Steph

Muddly Me Musings

No, I don't think that "muddly" is a word.....

Lately, as I’ve been spending the usual ever-increasing time at site, I’ve started to make some more of the lists that I love to compose in my head.  For this one, I think that I’ll list things that I love doing in TZ that I would hardly have the time or guts to do in the States:

-Spend hours at my neighbor’s house whether or not he’s there.  If he’s around, then I chat with him and his brother (they are my Dad’s age) about life and school and farming and corrupt politics and unnecessary violence and watch Al Jazeera or South African soap operas.  If he’s gone, I go and grab things that he’s let me store in his fridge or freezer, watch TV, cook with their oven or, for example today, I cleaned the dishes there and wiped down the counters.  One time I even took everything out of his fridge, cleaned it all out and then rearranged it again.  It’s the least I could do for letting me live a life of semi-luxury here and giving me access to cheese and meat whenever I want.

-Singing alone to myself (outloud, of course) using a flashlight for the microphone and composing accompanying dance moves…and this pretty much occurs every night

-Gardening and then being able to pick my fruits and veggies directly before I eat them.  Awesome.  Just awesome.

-Spending dusk watching the sunset from the huge rock behind my house.  If I finish my run earlier than usual, then I reward myself with taking a Turkish Airlines blanket and my latest book out to the rock just about 50m behind my house where I can read until just the right moment when the sun sets and the sky is literally everysingle shade of the rainbow.  There is absolutely nothing I’ve yet seen that could trump an Afrikan sunset.  It’s just beautiful.

-spending an average of 2 hours composing my dinner each night…this includes lots of veggie chopping (which occurs simultaneously with veggie eating), boiling copious amounts of water, running back and forth to my neighbors fridge to grab even more veggies, or maybe the mayo or the beans, cutting up fruit for dessert (which I also eat as I simultaneously chop) and, finally, (on fri/sat) doing all this while sipping on a glass of wine.  LOVE.

-also spending over an hour each day just talking on the phone.  How else will I get my daily dose of American-isms?

-opening up the door for my neighbor kids and actually inviting them in.  Yesterday I impromptu-ly tutored my neighbor’s niece and today Monika and Alana came and coloured.  You just don’t have time for kids in the States unless it’s planned

-lying…okay, no, telling indirect truths…in order to solve my problems.  This problem of the week concerned my neighbors that were supposedly watching my cat while I traveled.  Seeing as how little weight he had on him and rumors of him being beaten, I figured that it was time to reclaim my key that I gave them.  As the week progressed, I started noticing that things were missing from my house.  At first I blamed it on my own forgetfulness until my neighbor’s niece started asking me about these things, my candles, my favourite tea cup, my cookbook (which is in English and my neighbor only speaks Swahili….question mark?).  Realizing that I wasn’t nuts and they’d just taken these things without conveniently telling me.  The final straw came in the middle of the week when I tried to fix my extra bed frame in the spare room and couldn’t due to the fact that they’d broken the back part of my hammer when they’d used it months ago.  Deciding it was time to do something I finally asked my neighbor about one of the items.  Her response?  She told me she’d no need of them, so why should she take them?  No mention of the other items…so, as my mum taught me, I decided to kill them with kindness. I walked over there with a plate full of fruit and thanked them for their work.  Then I brought another of my cups to exchange for the one that I wanted.  She gave me all of my stuff back with a little guilty smile and I accepted with a pretend appreciative grin.  The next day, I sat down with my headmaster and told him the problem.  He’d even admitted that the corn that he’d kept in the extra room of mine, he’d taken it all because my neighbor had started putting her corn and beans in there too and he’d noticed it but they’d never even asked me.  A bit ridiculous.  So, in cohort with my headmaster, we deceived a plan in which we go over together to ask for my key back but I pretend like this is news to me and he tells them that the school needs a copy of the key.   I love this, and am also super relieved that soon I will not have to question myself everytime the sugar looks low or I seem to run out of pens unexpectedly.  However, today, my headmaster calls me in the morning and says “Don’t come to school yet.  I’m coming over.”  So I wait and 10 minutes later he pulls up and hands me a whole new lock set and 4 accompanying keys.  I was ecstatic when he tells me “Use this set and when your neighbor asks, tell them that I replaced all the teacher’s locks and that I only gave you one key.”  And he hands me the lock and keys.  Wow.  I have the best headmaster ever.  Therefore, solution: found.  Bent truths: a few….but overall…a very Tanzanian solution.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Happy New Year!

Well hello folks – goodness it’s been forever and I apologize for the delay.  You know that thing that gets in the way all the time of us keeping each other up to date, yeah, that one, life.  Well, I sort of let it get to me too.  Whoops.  But I’m around now.  In fact, since I’ve been constantly impeded over the last few days while attempting to type even the most minute of emails, I figure it’s about time to get on blogging.
So, I can’t quite remember when I finished my last post (and ironically enough loading my previous blog entries takes forever so I’m going to avoid it) but before I left for Christmast, here’s the big news:  MY LIBRARY GRANT GOT COMPLETELY FUNDED.  I must have plenty of more- than-wonderful friends because within a matter of weeks, I raised over $4000 to help my school establish its first library.  I was so ecstatic when I found out that I called my headmaster at like 10pm just to tell him.  Luckily, he was just as happy as me and didn’t mind being bothered so late.  Unfortunately, I hit this goal right before my big month long stint at home for the holidays so that project has been on standby until my return.  Now that I’m back, we have our first meeting this Saturday to finalize a builder (our last one was given another project at the school recently) and then start the renovations.  We have to finished cementing the inside and outside, paint both parts as well, build some furniture and then buy the new, updated and not-falling-apart textbooks and dictionaries the students are craving.  I can’t wait!  It will be a long and grueling process for sure…it always is when money is involved here…but it’ll so be worth it.  So, whether or not you were one the donors, thank you for your support on this project!
In other news, I had an amazing time at home.  I travel to and from I would’ve gladly substituted for teleportation but luckily it went really smoothly and I arrived safe both ways (and didn’t lose a thing…which should shock some people even more!).  While home for the break, I got some much missed family time with movie nights, cookie baking and even a trip to the Kriskindlemarket in Chicago.  My mum really did a wonderful job being there for me and taking me around to fill up on the all the shopping that I so missed.  We had lunch dates and mall visits and multiple over-an-hour grocery store trips.  I’m pretty gosh-darn lucky. J  As for friends, I got to see almost everyone that is still around the area, and even some people that aren’t, so, while it was incredibly busy, it was so wonderful at the same time.  Made me really look forward to the day when I’ll have to leave my home here forever and go back to first world indulgences.  While I do miss things about the States, I really do like my life here as well.  Ultimately though, if I had to compare, nothing beats speaking really fast abbreviated mumbled slurred English about TV references from your childhood while cruising around with some friends.  It really just feels like home and that’s a great feeling to revel in.
Okay, enough about the States.  I’ve been back at site for almost 2 weeks now and all is back to the way that it was.  It’s like I never left!  My cat still tries to eat all my food, I still wake up to lots of dead bugs on the floor and my neighbors are still constantly trying to highjack food and other various eating utensils covertly from my house.  I do feel a lot more refreshed when it comes to teaching though, and that is a really renewing feeling.  Before I left I felt so bogged down everytime that I had to step into a classroom and overwhelmed when the students just didn’t care but now I think I’ve hit a good medium between trying and letting go.