Monday, October 30, 2006

We are Relaxing!

I don't know why my pics are not as clear as other blogs--maybe because I have to compress them before uploading. In any case, a rare photo of all of us looking pretty good, I think!

Great Books

One of the greatest joys in my life is reading. I loved the book club I was in because it forced me to read outside my usual choices. Several people have sent us books since we've been here and our church library has a decent selection of novels and a wide variety so I'm sure that as I run through my preferred choices I'll be soon reading books that I normally wouldn't choose, which is always good.

Being inspired by Calandria and Karen's blogs, I'm posting several great reads. Some I've just read, some I've read over and over. All are definitely worth the time!

This was Oprah's first pick when she restarted up her book club again a few years ago. It's the story of Cain and Abel played out over 3 generations of Californians at the turn of the century. The struggles of the brothers revolve around those verses in Genesis in which both Able and Cain bring offerings to God--God is pleased with Abel's offerings but not Cain's, leading to jealousy and the eventual murder of Abel. The desire to please a father and continually coming up short in comparison to a brother is at the heart of the novel.

And while we're on Steinbeck..."Grapes of Wrath" is one of the best American novels ever. Period. Steinbeck wrote it in 1939, right on the heels of the Dust Bowl and immediately understand the pain and devaluation of people that was happening. His descriptions of the Joads alternate with chapters of the larger collective conscience of those displaced people. It's sparse--no wasted words or flowery descriptions, but practically perfect in its rendering of life. Everyone's probably seen the Henry Fonda movie, but read the book.

They're called classics for a reason--they represent the essential elements of the time in which they were written and yet cross all boundaries of time and place. My two Jane Austen crazy friends (and 3 watchings of the recent movie while traveling to Tanzania) inspired me to read "Pride and Prejudice." Which, I admit, was helped along having seen the movie first. But the structure of society at that time, the manners and expectations, and the wit are terrific. I'm onto "Sense and Sensibility" now (which also was made into a recent movie, but one I haven't seen).

I am a big fan of American literature, especially Southern fiction. "Huckleberry Finn" is typically touted as the definitive work of American literature, but I have always loved "Tom Sawyer". Twain perfectly capture the dialect, the enthusiasm, and the lives of the people of Harper's Ferry. His knowledge of local superstitions, which are gospel to Tom, Huck, and Joe are amazing as well as humourous.

Along with things Southern comes an interest in slavery. The author of "Slaves in the Family" is descended from some of the wealthiest slave owners and sellers in (I think) South Carolina. Because of his family's meticulous (bordering on obsessive) record-keeping in all aspect of their lives, he has been able to trace slaves owned by his family back to villages in Africa. For those African-American descendents, they are some of the very few who can pinpoint where their ancestors came from. I'm not a big non-fiction fan, but this one I couldn't put down.

Along the same lines, but fictional is "The Known World", an account of a black family (slaves that were able to purchase their own freedom) who owned other slaves. Historically, there were these people who owned other slaves for a variety of reasons. The main character, whose father bought his own freedom and that of his wife and son, is "mentored" by the richest white man in the county and confronts the questions of what determines success and its outward trappings, as well as the need for the kind of labor required to run farms of a certain size at that time.

Lest I get too stuck on the South, this is the last one. Most everyone has read (or seen) "The Prince of Tides". Pat Conroy is one of my favorite authors and this one combines the Holocaust, Southern dysfunctional families, cancer, suicide, Rome, the Vietnam war, and a murder hiding out as a monk all into one great book. It's one of the few books I've read that travels a terribly painful road as the protagonist comes to grips with his past and has a great feel good ending that doesn't feel forced or artificial.

Did you know that Harper Lee only wrote one book in her entire life? I guess you don't have to write anything more after "To Kill a Mockingbird". It is perhaps my favorite book of all time. I loved that it's written from the point of view of the child. It's one of the few books where I've loved the movie as much as the book. And I should mention that you don't have to be from the South to "get" small town life. There were a few Boo Radley and Bob Ewell types where I grew up in Montana.

Speaking of Montana--there is nothing bigger in a small town than it's basketball team. When our team went to the divisional or state tournaments, businesses and school would close so EVERYONE could head to Missoula or Billings or Helena or Bozeman for the tournaments. The whole town turned out on Friday or Saturday nights (teams played home one night and away the other) to watch the team, dissected every play and call at the cafes the next morning, and took every win and loss personally. "Blind Your Ponies" centers on a Class C basketball team (a school w ith less than 100 kids) that hasn't won a game in over 4 years. In true small town fasion (at least for Montana) everyone is connected, secrets run deep, and the hopes of the whole town ride on the shoulders of the 6 boys that make up the team. If you love basketball and/or Montana--read this! The title is from a Native American legend of a band of warriors that returned to camp to find all the women and children dead. In their grief--and absolute faith in being reunited with them--they blinded their horses and rode them off a cliff to their deaths. The story becomes a metaphor for hope against all odds and the reality that they face every game.

(No pics for these last 2--wouldn't upload for some reason)

If you have a great book to recommend, pass it along--one that really touched you and made you think--I'll post them as well!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Pangani Sunshine

When we first arrived in Tanzania, several families advised us strongly of the need to get away "often", at least every 3-4 months or so to recoup and avoid burn-out. We couldn't imagine vacationing that often--as teachers we had the down time that came with school breaks, but only took one trip a year.
Well, that was then and now we're a bit wiser. Stress can be suddenly overwhelming or it can creep up slowly. And "everyone" was right that a few days away does wonders for your mental health. We never thought that we would need these breaks, but they are needed and definitely enjoyable.

Pangani is a small town on the coast about 6 hours from here. Peponi's is a great resort catering to backpackers and expats, but definitely off the tourist path. Low key, great food, a new pool, and a great place to kick back for a few days. We took a dhow to the sand island for shell collecting and swimming, hit the pool for more swimming and rode the tubes for…yep, more swimming.
Noah, especially, did not come out of water for anything more than a bathroom break or meals. Ava learned to swim with her face in the water and began practicing without her floaters (in this pic, though, she's not in the pool--she's just been dumped overboard and is swimming for shore). We’ve been here long enough to see familiar faces, which was really nice, too.

And, since it rained for 36 hours straight just before we left, a bit of basking was especially welcome!

I Love Arusha

And I can sum it up in one word--weather. Yes, any of you with any kind of short or long-term memory capacity have probably heard my mini-rants/musings on why the *$&#^@ the weather is so cool at the equator. And anyone who has known me for any length of time knows that, next to my hair, being dissatisfied with weather is pretty much a way of life for me. After almost 20 years of living in Minnesota, I actually enjoyed the weather for about 6 weeks of the year. And don't get me started on the mosquitos. The combination of sunscreen, bug repellant, and sweat was something I just never really learned to appreciate.

Having just returned from Pangani, on the Tanzanian coast, I am reminded that I think Arusha is pretty much the best place to land in Tanzania, at least for me. For one thing, it really is a pretty decent town as far as being able to access creature comforts. It's got a great ex-pat community. It's on the edge of the savannahs, but in the shadow of the Meru rainforest so the scenery is great. Despite all the dire warnings about mosquitos and malaria, it's not too bad here, and we rarely are bitten and rarely wear repellant.

But back to the weather...the best thing about Arusha is IT'S NOT HUMID. In our 4 days at the coast, we loved the sea, the pool, the heat--but not that sticky humid feeling that never seems to go away. Even when it rained. The owner actually discouraged us from thinking about Christmas there unless we liked the humidity. The weather here reminds me of August in Montana--hot days (more intense sun here at th equator) and cool nights. Minus the forest fires.

Of course, I'm riding the high of a week of hot weather. Last Friday it started to rain here around 4 pm and was still raining without a break when we left Sunday morning. Yuck.

Now about my hair--I'm afraid nothing's going to help.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

In the Year 2006...

Cameron is doing his homework tonight by kerosene lantern. We're learning to not leave things until the last minute because we don't know if we will have consistent electricity. Luckily, the power came back on so Cameron could turn on the piano. He is working on writing a minuet as a project for his music class.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Just Because...

This wasn't taken in Tanzania...but it could've been, really. You've gotta admire the pre-iPod ingenuity!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

An Inside Look at Education in Tanzania

Every day we wake up and feel so blessed to be living in Tanzania. We also feel so fortunate to live in Arusha, which, despite our challenges, continues to be a pretty soft landing! And even though we are working in the education field we have had fairly limited experience in Tanzanian schools and when we visit, it is clear that everyone has put their best foot forward to welcome us.

The other day I found a website that listed a number of PCV (Peace Corps Volunteers) blogs, written by people teaching here. In reading through them, I have a new sense of commitment to the work that PHF is doing. I'm cribbing excerpts from their blogs and have eliminated names and references to villages, since I don't have their permission. All of them are located in villages considerable distances from any large towns.

I noticed a small fire near the school kitchen. I didn’t think anything of it until it got bigger. When I went to investigate what was going on, I noticed that most of the students were gathered around the fire and instead of putting it out, were spreading the fire so it would completely burn down the small school restaurant and area surrounding it. I then went to inform some of my fellow teachers about what was going on and they were very scared and advised me to not worry about the fire (since I would be in harms way if I returned to where the fire was) and go back home and go to sleep. I was very disturbed by their advice because the American in me wanted to call the fire dept (which doesn’t exist here in TZ) and have the fire put out or at least advise our village policeman what was going on (they told me that it was the teacher on duty’s responsibility). When I told one teacher he was surprised that I was so shaken up by the fire and what was going on because stuff like this is common here. I tried to explain to him that fires are a very serious thing in America and it is difficult for me to sleep when I know that a fire is spreading, (and not being put out) so near my house. The next day I found out that a female student got in trouble for losing the soccer ball from the Saturday soccer game. In order to punish her 3 teachers came back to the school around 3pm (Sunday) and beat her for so long until she couldn’t stand up anymore. They then continued to beat her since she couldn’t stand up anymore. I think that she later passed out from this since the teachers had to resort to pouring cold water on her to get her to respond. As it turns out, the school security guard was the one who stole the soccer ball and the teachers knew this they just wanted a reason to beat this girl that they didn’t like. The students were pissed off that they got accused and punished for stealing the soccer ball and so they stole the guard’s bicycle and went to his house and beat him up! (This might sound horrid but the guy was lucky that they didn’t kill him!) The teachers then beat some of the students for beating up the security guard and this made the students madder so they decided to burn the small school restaurant down. I believe that what the students did was not only because of the soccer incident but because they have been beat very harshly all term, they were asked to pay more school fees for better food and the school has yet to provide it, the cooks have still not been paid after 3 months and most of the teachers don’t even teach their classes. On Monday I found out that in order to punish the students for the fire the teachers were going to beat the students!

It all started last week Saturday, when one of our students complained of feeling sick. The next day, he was taken to the regional hospital, where they diagnosed him with malaria. However, this was an incorrect diagnosis, which they realized when they saw his condition exacerbating (GRE word #1). On Monday the poor kid went into a coma, and was having trouble breathing. At this point, he was diagnosed again and found to have meningitis(!). I'm not sure which type, but that’s not important. What is important was that the proper medicine was in short supply, so the entire town had to be scoured to find him any. Maybe it was too little, too late, for a day and night later, he passed away. This was around 11pm Tuesday night.At his bedside, a fellow student had been present. This student immediately called his classmates to tell them the terrible news. Within a few minutes of his death, a majority of the students knew of it. Now, this is the first student death (here) in five or six years, but I've been informed that the "standard procedures" when a student passes away are to hold a school-wide assembly the following day to address the issue. Well, the advent (GRE word #2) of cellular phones allowed this procedure to be circumvented, and the students were aware of the death before the administration. And they were very, very unhappy.Shortly after getting the news, the students arranged amongst themselves to meet at their parade ground. Once assembled, the organized a plan to march en masse to the headmaster's house, to voice their grievances. Their largest concern was that the student wasn't treated properly, they thought with more attention he could have been spared. Maybe, maybe not... Well, at this gathering, another student collapsed and was taken to the house of another school official. I suppose this student's collapse was the progenitor (GRE word #3) of the events which follow. While this student was being looked at in the other house, the students decided to march, as planned. But now, rage was with them.They arrived at the headmaster's house, roughly 500 of them, as a seething mob. Somewhere en route to his house, mob mentality had taken over and they didn't calmly present their concerns, as was initially planned. Now if you recall from my previous post about the soccer riot, what these kids do when they form a mob is throw rocks. So that's what they did. They began bombarding the headmaster's house with rocks, and the yell "Tunakufa!" got taken up ("We are dying!"). They demanded the headmaster come out and face them, and give them an explanation, but prudently he remained inside and told them via a window that he would address them if they calmed down and returned to the parade ground. They refused.I should point out two important facts now. The first is that they arrived at his house around 1am, and that at this time, the power had gone out. The second is that A's house was adjacent to the headmaster's (yes, was; we'll get to that). Imagine waking up in the middle of the night to the cacophony (GRE word #4) of 500 students rioting, and then realizing you can't turn on the lights to see what's going on- the night is stygian (GRE word #5).That's what happened to A, he woke up, and not knowing what was happening, he went outside. The students saw him, and yelled at him "Go back inside! This doesn't concern you!" He did, as anyone would when faced with 500 angry students with rocks. The rioting and shouting continued for an hour or so, but eventually the mob moved away from the headmaster's house and into the soccer field, where a coalition from the school met with them. Around this time, two things happened concurrently (GRE word #6). First, the school administration realized the students were getting more and more out of hand, and that they wouldn't disperse. Second, A assumed all the students had left his immediate area, as the shouting had ceased. He decided to go outside again and see the aftermath of this maelstrom (GRE word #7). When he went out on his porch, he heard some commotion around the headmaster's car, and so he shined his flashlight in that direction. The students he illuminated immediately responded by throwing rocks at him. Maybe to avoid being identified, maybe because they were just angry... Whatever the case, two of the windows in A's house were broken, and he was hit a glancing blow to his head. Don't worry; he's fine physically. But emotionally, the fact that his students he came here to help would be brazen (GRE word #8) enough throw stones at him really got under his skin. So much so, the next morning he called Peace Corps and told them the situation, requesting a transfer.

Two of the cooks at my school were recently laid off for a month for some unknown reason. They didn’t think they were going to be able to cook again at my school and so they went to the village witch doctor and asked him to curse my principal and give them some potion that would make him call them back to work. My principal found out about it and fired both of them for such disgraceful acts.

Life in the village has been somewhat uneventful this past month. I started teaching again in August however I haven’t been able to teach a single period this past September and I was told not to expect to teach any more periods until January. Last week we had graduation and so everyday the students were preparing for that and thus unable to study. We have also been making bricks for some reason unknown to me. I think it might have been to show the parents when they came to graduation that we are planning to build something but no plans of any sort have been made. Everyday each student has been required to carry 20 bricks up from the river. They have now made hundreds of them.

I gave my first chemistry test 2 weeks ago to have all 30 of my students cheat on it including the 3 smartest ones that I give free tutoring to. I was very unhappy tofind one of my smartest students copying the information directly from his notebook when I walked around the room to see if they were done with the test. Normally around half of my students cheat on my tests but I never thought an entire class would. I later discussed what happened with my fellow teachers to find out that most of them cheated their way through high school too! I also talked to my fellow PCVs to find out that it is common in their schools too. One year so many of the students cheated on their national exams that the Ministry of Education canceled all of their scores for the entire country for that.

I have seen or heard about everything at my school: female and male teachers raping students, teachers beating students for no reason other than to let off steam, and other cruel things but last week I was very surprised to see that now they are making the students beat one another! We have had a problem, like most schools do, when it comes to lining up for lunch and other meals. The students are only fed a tasteless dough-like substance, ugali, along with tasteless beans, but they are so hungry they fight each other to get their food! So now to keep them in line they let one sophomore student beat them if they don't wait for their food patiently in a line! I asked my principal about this and he said that they are tired of beating the students, which is hard for me to believe, and they also don't want to miss their lunch in order to keep them in order.

I wish I could say that these people are giving it their all in the worst of the worst school settings, but sadly, that's not the case. This is not atypical. I wonder if things are slightly better near larger towns/cities like Arusha, but I know that it's not the case. Teachers aren't paid, they don't teach, they abuse their students while headmasters pocket fees. It's a sad commentary that one writer observed all he had to do was come to work every day to be a vast improvement over the other teachers that come twice a month. It's a sad commentary when we are told that if we can pay teachers on time and regularly we'll be leaps ahead of the norm. What's sad is that classrooms are full of children who want to learn and who believe that an education is their ticket to a better life. There are teachers who are trying their best, who know there's a better way to do things, but are stifled by a system and a lack of training. There was an article in the paper a week or so ago about "brain drain" as Tanzanians leave the country to get education and jobs. What about the brain drain that's occurring every day in schools all over the country?!

In that respect, I believe PHF does have much to offer. In addition to educating the students that will attend our school and training our teachers to be great, I firmly believe that we have an obligation to share the wealth by providing training and opportunities for learning to as many teachers as we can. Face it, we can't educate all the kids, but if we can show teachers a better vision of what teaching can be, if we can show headmasters a different model of leading and managing, if they in turn can share their knowledge...then we can begin to effect change apart from just what happens on our own campus.

To those of you who have supported us personally and PHF financially or emotionally or spiritually--THANK YOU. Keep it up in whatever way you can and know that whatever you do, you are making a dramatic difference way over here.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Color, Color--Everywhere!

One of the things you notice when you arrive in Tanzania is the profusion of color, even in the driest dustiest areas. Any of our Western notions about coordinating color in our clothing goes right out the window. Women everywhere wear kangas and combine them in ways that make every passer-by come alive. The small fungas (piles of vegetables) sold by the road or at the markets brighten up the scene wherever you look. Brightly painted dukas and buildings--painted so either because no one can afford to be choosy about affordable paint or because they have an eye for color that is so different from ours--line the streets. Even the dalla-dallas, the crazy overstuffed minivan buses are wildly decorated (my favorite the other day proclaimed "damu ya Yesu"--"the blood of Jesus"-- on the top of the window, "Inshahallah"--the Muslim phrase meaning "if Allah wills it" --at the bottom and sported a giant marijuana leaf in the middle--go figure).

But nature provides some amazing color as well. Here in the fall/spring (fall back home and spring here) it's jacaranda season. These beautiful purple trees explode like fireworks and their beautiful lavender petals carpet the roads everywhere. These photos are taken in our yard and at the international school, but you can bet PHA will be just as colorful.
The bouganvilla spreading across the roof of the kids' dining area at school will be covering the 2 miles of fence surrounding PHA. It's amazing how everything grows so quickly here, given enough water. The weather is hot, the short rains are (hopefully) imminent, and things are BLOOMIN'! Come and see for yourself.

And thanks, Calandria, for your inspiration--you always capture the little things that are great about living in MN--including your nature shots--and I'm terrible about that. It took me a week to remember to drag a camera along on the way to school today!