Habari za nyumbani!
School finally started. Monday was the first day that school opened and classes started on Tuesday. This is all very exciting except that this is also the Catholic community vow-taking season. In the past week and a half I have been to Catholic mass 6 times, each ranging from 3-4 hours…as I am not Catholic, don’t understand a word of what is being said, and have to greet hundreds of people at each event, these days tend to exhaust me as well as try my patience. I have to commend the Tanzanian children, however. From a very early age they are expected to attend the whole mass and sit silently and very still. It is really quite impressive because they have no electronics, toys, or anything to fidget with during this time and they behave perfectly. Needless to say, I was excited to start school on Monday because then I would have other things to do than attend the swearing in of Brothers, priests, and communions in the Rukwa region. However, as there is never a sense of urgency in Tanzanian culture, Libby and I did not start school on Monday. We were taken by the Brothers to Mvemwa (the main Abbey) for another Priest swearing in on Tuesday. We were not supposed to come back until Wednesday evening but squeezed into a car that was going back on Tuesday so that we could finally start teaching on Wednesday.
When I use the phrase “squeezed into a car” it should be taken literal. There were 13 adults packed into a Landcruiser, heading back from Mvemwa to Sumbawanga. One girl we picked up at the hospital at the conclusion of an antibiotic IV drip. This drive is only about 40 miles but takes anywhere from one hour to 3 hours depending on the driver. The way there consists of dirt roads that are not maintained or even level with the added challenge of goats, pedestrians, cows, donkeys, bicyclists, and the occasional boulder in the way. Father Pambo was driving this particular time and, having driven this route many times, we mobbed all the way home singing church songs (for older generations the term “mob” is used to imply driving at a pace that is fast and dangerous given conditions). We made it in record time (just over an hour) and had no breakdowns. Relieved and exhausted, we were glad to be back and finally starting our teaching.
Wednesday we showed up for our first day of school and had many things to track down. Working here can be very frustrating for people from modernized cultures because, as I said earlier, there is no sense of urgency in Tanzania. Our first task was to figure out what periods we were teaching. Libby took over James’ English classes and I was assigned Form 1 Biology. The next step was locating a syllabus. The curriculum here is issued by the government so there are guidelines as to which subjects should be covered and in what order. I had to ask 4 different people, but finally found the only copy of the Biology syllabus and copied down the part of it I would need. Other than that, I have no other instructions or guidelines for how to do my job. My classes do not meet every day so I also plan on volunteering at the orphanage one day a week. I have yet to visit there, but word on the street is that it is a pretty wild place. There are around 60 kids, for two nuns to take care of, and most of them are under 7. I also heard a rumor about them getting 4 new, really small, malnourished babies in the past week. My other task will be to tutor three boys at another orphanage that houses 9 kids and is run by a German lady. They are terribly behind in math so I will attempt to catch them up to grade level. There is a wide spread problem in the area with malnourished children and, more specifically, orphans. Their early years are so unstable and their diets are so limited that many suffer from long-term developmental impairments.
Many people have asked me if the school needs any resources or if there is something they could donate. I have thought a lot about this and will break down the issue for you. Tanzania is one of the most peaceful countries in Africa. That being said, it is also terribly corrupt. All the money in the country is held by government officials or the church. During my time here I have noticed how little of this money actually trickles down to the average Tanzania. (The average Tanzanian makes 500 Tanzanian shillings a day. 1 US dollar = about 1,375 Ts.) The Brothers and sisters live at a standard way above the average, have many luxuries, and own a lot of property around the country. I share this observation not with the intent that people make judgments about whether the church here is good or bad, right or wrong. It is just important that people understand that donating money and supplies is not really that simple. If someone was to donate money to the school, it is not likely that it would trickle down and benefit the students or teachers. (An example: the sisters that run the orphanage just got high-speed internet at their Abbey when there are many improvements and supplies that the children could use.) If someone was to donate materials, it is not guaranteed that they would be distributed. Also, most supplies are available here and for much cheaper than in America, so buying supplies and paying to ship them across the world is not the most economical solution either. Libby and I are trying to find a good solution to what aid could be beneficial here AND go to the most impoverished portion of the community. I will keep you updated about aid opportunities if we are able to come up with a solution.
I have just read through the preceding two paragraphs and they are slightly depressing. So now I will close this email with a story that will hopefully leave you with a more uplifting image of Tanzania and it’s people.
Looking ahead to the end of the trip when we will be traveling and attempting to climb Kilimanjaro, Libby and I have been trying to physically train and acclimate a bit to the elevation (our town is about a mile above sea level so it’s a good start). This training includes running on a dirt track that is made up of paths surrounding the house, and some lifting of bricks of various sizes in our bedroom-turned-gym. Most people in Sumbawanga do not exercise for fun nor do they even understand the concept of physical exercise. So when two white people strap on their running shoes and start jogging in circles it is quite the affair. The first lap usually gets me a few stares and some hello’s from passers by. As I come around for my second lap, people start to stop and watch and whisper to their friends about what could possibly be going on. Their brows are usually furrowed and it isn’t until I greet them that a big smile breaks out on their face and they laugh. The neighbor kids get wind of our running and come out from surrounding houses to stand on our track. People generally will greet you, say “pole, pole sana” (I’m sorry, very sorry) or just laugh and say hello. Many will stop what their doing for 20 or 30 minutes to watch me complete all of my laps. We have some dedicated fans that include an older lady that sits on the corner from sunrise to sunset to sell her sugarcane. Every lap she gives a huge smile and wave. There is a group of small children, probably between the ages of 3-5, that are out there for every lap. As soon as you turn the corner of the “track” on their stretch of block they start jumping up and down. As you approach they yell “mzungu” and put out a hand. If you tag their hand as you go buy they will start running after you for a bit. Yesterday when we passed them, they started yelling, “I love you!” in English. This was a great surprise and now running is one of the times of my day that I certainly look forward to. These kids give you so much excitement, energy, and encouragement that I end every day with a big smile. Libby and I plan on buying some fruit and taking it over to their families to formally greet and thank our biggest fans.