Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Writing Samples

Eventually I suppose I'll have to either ask permission or let this Peace Corps volunteer know that I'm using stuff off of their site...

By way of understanding what we are attempting to do at PHA, I found some writing samples that Form 2 students wrote at the beginning of their school year this month. Form 2 students are approximately 16 years old. At the end of their Form 2 year, they are required to take exams in English, and those scores determine whether or not you can continue in school. Apparently, these are the students' best attempts at a paragraph in which they were asked to describe themselves to their teachers.

And, by the way, reading these completely shocks/scares/whatever me at the skills students have. They have spent so much time in school. They have bought into the belief that an education is the ticket to something better in life. Given the circumstances, I believe most students are willing to work hard to get a decent education. But there's so much lacking...

I like swimming I dislike to be a Lazy man
If I grow up I want to be a Doctor

I like to listen music and to study all subjects.
Also music of Mr Nelly I don't like eat Ugali and beansI want to be pilot

In this program I like to drink beer and I like to eat meat and rice and I reading into dreaver of bus or into teacher. I must.

I like play football to write letter girafe and the colour blueI don't like pigs, etc.
When I grow up I want to be Carpenter

I lake football I don't lake to sing
I want to be a present

I like reading booksI do not like to steal{crime mistakes)
When I grow up, I want to be a teacher

I like to eat pilau, To play football, to swimming, to dancing Music, to watch TV to study subjects. I don't like Majungu, don't like thief, don't like beer, don't like improper behavious, When I grow up I want to be Police, Carpenter, teacher, Doctor, Nurse, Tailor.

It's a jolting realization how far apart our goals for our students are and where they will begin their lives with us. I don't believe they are impossible, but I do believe that what we are visualizing today will be vastly different than what we finally discover to be what's optimal for our students!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Back to School.

These past couple weeks have marked the beginning of the new school year in Tanzania. New uniforms if you've outgrown something, a new pencil, a new exercise book, perhaps a new school. But this year 53% of the students who are able to start secondary school won't because of a shortage of schools. That's about 267,224 kids out of luck. Approximately 9,000 of these students are here in Arusha town (about 50% of our eligible population). These numbers only reflect those that are eligible to attend based on their final exam scores from primary school. It doesn't reflect those that did not pass the exam, or those that might get a spot but can't afford to pay for it.

The way it works is that students take an exam at the end of primary school. Those results are available for secondary schools who uses a system to select the ones with the best scores. Those students take the spots at the government schools which are the least expensive. The rest can wait for further selections (sometimes selections go until June, but then the child has missed half of the year, or they can attend private schools if they can raise tuition. Or, they are out of luck. According to the article, the government reports that about 70% of the children passed their Standard VII exam this year.

Even when you pass your exams, things don't run smoothly. Our housekeeper's daughter took her Form 2 exams last year and did well (she is 15). She was accepted into a new school closer to their home so she won't have to board. Last week school was supposed to start. But many of the students from that school took their Form 2 and 4 exams but did not pay the exam fees. So now the school won't open until they sort out which kids passed their exams, which didn't, and who's paid. The exams are administered by and exam fees paid to the government, not the schools--wouldn't it seem logical to collect the fee before the child takes the required test? Now the students all wait for the notice that they can attend. Or, they can attend right now, but there are no teachers (which is what the school encourages).

What a mess, eh? Private schools say they are willing to step up and take more kids if the government will provide funding (I smell vouchers here! ) but the sad truth is that there simply aren't enough school buildings or qualified teachers at the secondary level. At PHA we were able to hire a science and a math teacher and count ourselves very lucky as they are so rare here. The government (similar to what is done in the US at times) is giving crash-courses to high school grads to get them into the classroom as quickly as possible (except there aren't enough classrooms. Literally--no rooms) and you can imagine, then, the quality of education that can be provided.

The article further said that it was important to improve working conditions so teachers would enjoy working and more people would want to be teachers. They want to focus on training facilities, well-qualified teachers, quality well-equipped classrooms, latrines, books, and other facilities. Notice that "latrines" are mentioned. That's because many schools either don't have them or not enough for the number of students. Science teachers here teach biology, chemistry, and physics without any lab equipment and without ever having done a lab themselves. They teach without books and sometimes without chalk. They teach without photocopiers, overheads, or even paper. They teach without getting paid for months at a time. They are looked down upon for choosing such an unglamorous career and are often held up as part of the problem for "not doing their jobs." They job shop, leaving jobs mid-year if they can for something better. They run other money-making enterprises on the side and often don't show up for work if they have a chance to make money elsewhere that day.

Those are the working conditions of teachers in Tanzania.

So basically if we open a door into 4 walls and could pay teachers every month, we'd be light years ahead of the game. Thankfully, we aim to to do much more than that. The teachers at PHA will have opportunities for professional developement and access to resources. They will have a sense of pride in what they do. They will work harder than they can imagine, doing things they never thought they would do, and see great results. They will be able to participate in the decision-making processes of the school and have autonomy over their jobs and their school day. In short, they will experience (some of them for the first time) how rewarding teaching can be, something that many of us already know.

We are building a beautiful school, one that is worthy of the attention it is receiving. 19 buildings on 100 acres with a drop-dead view in all directions is something special. But for Mark and I, it's what happens inside the classroom between the teachers and the students (and the other adults) that will effect the changes we hope to see. It is those relationships that are central to achieving our goals. It is the teachers and their students that will ultimately drive our success in what we're going.

God bless teachers!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down a great book by Anne Fadiman and a must-read for anyone interested in
cultures and differences. It is an account of a Hmong family in northern California

who had a young daughter who was severely epileptic, one of the very worst cases the doctors had ever seen. The title of the book is the Hmong term for epilepsy and it is often considered a prized characteristic in their culture, and these people often become the shamans or holy people in the community. It traces the history of the Hmong, who have really never had their own country, through the Vietname War, refugee camps, and finally their relocation to the United States. Interestingly, many of the characteristics that have allowed the Hmong to survive throughout history now make it very difficult for them when they arrive in the United States.

What is absolutely fascinating about the book, which details the conflict between the family and their culture and the doctors and their expertise, is that there aren't "good guys" and "bad guys". The author even admits that she tried hard to place some blame in one camp, but couldn't. The family's culture, language, and needs conflicted at almost every step with the doctor's knowledge and expectations for them. In many cases, the expectations just couldn't be met, causing frustration on both sides. Often, the inability to communicate and inability to fully explain procedures and situations was an issues. Othertimes, the family's solid confidence in generations of healing and treatment took precedence. Both sides willingly discuss their choices openly, even when those choices don't make them look very good.

The book is technically a case study, but it reads very much like a novel. It's an extreme case of culture clash, but one I suspect happens in schools, businesses, hospitals, courts, and in everyday life in every community in America. Most of us don't see it, since we are part of the dominant culture. I've read the book several times and this particular rereading has been more personal, now that I'm not part of the majority, especially in a country where certain qualities are ascribed openly to all groups. It's very common to hear people say, "hire a Maasai for a guard, but not a Chagga. Chagga are very clever, but they can't guard," or "oh, he's a haya, that's why he's so smart." Of course, it extends to us white people as well; but while Tanzanians tend to put all "wazungu" in one bunch, Europeans will tend to delineate between different countries, esp. the Americans. It's a bit uncomfortable, since we Americans are really not allowed to generalize like that about groups of people. know you don't have anything better to do, so read it!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

YAAAAAAWWWWNNNNN in, I'm so sick and TIRED of these allergies and I can't get any good sleep because I'm filling and draining all night long. Yuck. At least it has hardly rained for several days now and it's hot (finally). And I pretty much feel really bad in the morning when I first get up--which is really a crummy way to greet the day--and as I go to bed. So I guess (?) things might be looking up.

Mark is tired, too. Again, yuck.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Scenes from Nairobi

At the risk of another travelogue about Nairobi, I'll give you just a few highlights of our few days away. Mark had to travel up to check references for a potential head of residential life so we all tagged along. Here you can ask for reference letters but you get very poorly written ones that don't really say anything. You need to go directly to the person (even if they are in another country) so you can sit down with them and actually talk. With no data privacy, you are free to really ask any question and people have no trouble volunteering information, opinions, impressions, etc. We had a good time but we've all agreed we can be done with Nairobi for awhile (although we did go to the movies 3 times--unfortunately kid movies--Happy Feet, Flushed Away and Eragon (the boys)--and didn't get to catch "Casino Royale" or "The Departed").
Remember way back last spring when I mentioned drought and rain and said prayers were needed? Well, you can all stop that right now and pray about something else. It just doesn't stop and it didn't in Nairobi, either. Every day and most of every night, too. Our tent flooded the first night and we escaped to a dorm room at the campground which was fine. We should have had a clue when we got there as the site had 1/2 inch of water on it already. It started to rain about 3 am and rained hard, alternating with raining harder, until 10 am. By 7 we were huddled in the center of the tent, our sleeping bags soaked. We moved to dorm rooms for the next few nights and everything was fine. This (above) is the road leading into the campground. Flooded.

We headed out to Magadi Lake, about 50 miles (but 2 hours away) out of Nairobi. It's a soda lake with a big salt processing plant and some hot springs. Soda lakes are very interesting. They tend to look very desolate and are a favorite habitat of flamingos, which we saw by the thousands! The road was pretty good, but 4-5 spots looked like this. Flooded. This one wasn't too deep, but one came up to the bottom of the car doors. No problems, but I did worry that we might not get back if it rained hard while we were gone.
Cameron was keen to get out and demonstrate that yes, we could in fact get out and push if we needed to. And yes, he is standing on the road at this point! All the kids always want us to bash through these puddles/lakes ala "Dukes of Hazzard", but we remain pretty boring and roll quietly through the water. I just figure boring is better than pushing one's car out of the ditch and waiting for the engine to dry off! We saw zebras, wildebeests, several unusual birds (gotta get a bird book!) and the ever-present cows, goats, and sheep...even a small camel herd (not wild).

We stopped by the lake to eat a bite and were approached by a young man wanting to be our guide. At first we said no, but after sharing our lunch and chatting we agreed, even though we didn't think we needed one (I figured he could always push the car if we got stuck). Good thing, too, because what looked to be the main track wasn't and we would never have found the pools. Parts of the road were marked with poles so you could tell where the crust was thick enough to support the car. As you can see, the landscape there was pretty much lunar (we're actually on thick soda crust), with a small creek running through it. Periodically, the creek would deepen and, voila! the hot pool!

The little pools were actually very hot. Much hotter than a hot tub and Ava refused to get in. My pictures don't show how very pink the boys' legs were when they got out. They loved being able to hop in and be so hot, when the rest of the area was so barren.

The thing about Africa (well, Tanzania and Kenya, at least) is that there appears to be so much empty space. Here and there you see small herds of cattle and sheep, and a boma now and then, but it really appears to be very empty. I say "appears" because the minute you stop, people materialize out of nowhere. Sometimes they have something to sell (as these Maasai did when they showed up at the pools), sometimes to ask for money (or a pen or ask you what you'll be giving them). Often, they are there just to look at you. No matter what you're doing, they just watch. Gawking has been raised to an art
form here. On one hand, I can understand--very little changes day-to-day out here and new people who look and act differently provide a break in the routine. We are used to people asking for things and us saying "no" all the time now. What really wears on me (and the kids) is having a group of people just stare and watch you. You wouldn't think it would be a big deal, but it's very awkward. On the way home we pulled off the road to eat a snack and within 10 minutes, people materialized out of nowhere to ask for money. When we said "no" they just gathered around us. Staring. Not talking or doing anything. Just staring. It drives me absolutely nuts. I wonder if that's how celebrities feel, knowing that wherever they go someone is looking at them, as if they are zoo exhibits. I wonder if other people stare so blatently (and at such close proximity) as they do here. I should be over it by now, but I'm not, and it's one of the most irritating aspects of living here (for me).

Speaking of zoo exhibits, we revisited the Sheldrick Trust which rehabs baby elephants. This little guy is only 6 weeks old (and about 300 pounds). They are wearing blankets because they have trouble keeping warm without their mothers.

This one has a cut ear. She was found by some Maasai herders who clipped her ears the way they do with their cattle to mark her as part of their herd before she was brought to this place. It's amazing how these babies, even with no adult models, take on roles that the adults would in the herd. This one was a "mother" that watched out for the youngest and took care of her. Every time they passed,
they touched each other with their trunks to make sure they were OK. The larger ones (1-3 years old) are much more independent, but still very attached to each other. One of the funnier moments was when a group of 8-10 warthogs decided to come and join the show. The older one stamped his feet, flapped his ears, trumpeted, and charged! One of the littler ones tried it, too--after scaring off the warthog, she turned around and scampered back as fast as she could to the group. I think she scared herself! Eventually all the elephants will be released into parks to rejoing herds.

This is not a hapless elephant. It's Carnivore, a very famous Kenyan restaurant (voted one of the 50 best restaurants in the world). Nyama choma (roasted meat) is the traditional dish here and in Kenya and Carnivore has raised it to an art form (this place doesn't serve anything else, including veggies, although you might get a potato--it's just meat). They used to serve lots of bush (wild game) meat, but laws now restrict them to camel, ostrich, and alligator (incidentally, foods you can get at the Great Minnesota Get-Together) in addition to pork, lamb, chicken, and beef. This cow is in honor of New Year's Eve. It's an expensive place (lunch for us would be $90 + drinks + a 25-30% mandatory tip) so we opted to eat at the Simba Saloon next door. We were seated, however, right next to the cow and got a great view of the Carnivore action--all the meat is roasted over open fires on enormous sabers! Lucky for us, we were able to order nyama choma off the menu and it actually did come from the Carnivore grill. You order by the kilo, believe it or not (common in lots of places) so we ordered over 2 pounds of mixed meat. Noah went for the spaghetti but Cameron and Ava (who loves "meat bites") are clearly avoiding any herbivore tendancies! I think I've found the perfect restaurant for my brother-in-law Jason, who likes his meat and potatoes in large quantities and not dressed up and doesn't care to waste plate space on veggies! If you are ever in Nairobi, it's definitely a place you should try. There's a great giftshop cum museum next door that displays different textiles, jewelry, carvings, and crafts from different African countries. Looks like a museum, but it's all for sale!
I'll leave you with the highlight of the trip. There is an animal orphanage (really, a somewhat tacky zoo) where animals are brought, rehabbed, and released, if they are able. It was fun to see the very large lions, as well as serval cats, which Noah is very interested in. They also have 3 cheetahs that have been there since they were 2 weeks old and you are allowed to go in and PET them! The kids were speechless. I know there are some of you who might be thinking, "Dang, loose meat-eating animals and small chewy children--not a good combo." Well, then you wouldn't have as much fun as we did. We didn't think twice! This one fell over as soon as we approached so we could reach all the good spots for scratching. The other two wandered around watching and occasionally pushing at us. We came back later in the afternoon for feeding time and saw the lions in action, and these guys looked a lot more "wild" as they tore into cow legs. The workers let Cameron help feed the smaller animals. Definitely a great great time!

Hope your Christmas and New Year's was a good one!

I'm Sick

And I have been since Thanksgiving. And I haven't been to the doctor, which I now realize I should have done quite awhile ago. Here's how it goes...

I get a cold. Why go to the doctor for a cold? Break out the Kleenex and the last Sudafeds I've got and hunker down.

The cold persists and gets nastier. Why go to the doctor? In the States they'd just tell me to get rest and fluids. What's a doc in Africa going to do? I'm out of Sudafed so I switch to Claritin (Claritine here) and hope it's real and effective.

It's not (effective). Still really nasty. I'm thinking it's allergies. My eyes are filled with sand, my nose with something else, and my head's all fuzzy. I rub the puppies all over my face when I'm having a good moment. No change. Maybe it's their new food. I take deep breaths during my good moments. No change. Never had allergies before so maybe it's some new spores or molds or something brought on by the changing seasons or the ever-present rain. Why go to the doctor? I'm sure there are no allergists. I doubt I'll get a workup or a scratch test. I'll just get an antibiotic, which I can just go buy myself. Plus I'll have to wait at a clinic forever just so a doc can ask me what I think is wrong.

I'm still sick. NOW I want to go to the doctor. There's an American pulmonologist here. Works in town on Tues. and Thurs. I will easily wait 4 hours to see him if I just show up. Couldn't go on the 26th--holiday. Couldn't go on the 28th--out of town. Couldn't go today--don't have his number. Can't go Thursday--teacher interviews. Still don't have his number so I can go to the front of the line if I have time to get to the clinic. There's no line at the pharmacy--I could just drop in, ask for some antibiotics and see what happens.

I'm still sick.