The Flancesca Chronicles Part III | Tanzania
It has been a few weeks since I have last written and many things have happened that I am excited to share. First, I figured out how to use gmail. After the first mass email I didn’t see 90 percent of the responses because I didn’t know how to work my inbox. I have added everyone that has asked (I think…remind me again if this email doesn’t find you). Secondly, the rumors are true. In my grand fashion of acquiring odd illnesses, I now have malaria to add to the collection...one month commemorative edition. I woke up last week at 4am with a migraine (not out of the ordinary) and vomited a few times. I slept the rest of the day and felt better in the afternoon, but the Brothers insisted that I go to the hospital to get a malaria test. In Africa, headaches are almost always malaria. I went in for the test, which consists of a finger poke, smearing blood on a slide, letting it dry (sometimes outside in the grass where the sun can get it), and then counting the number of malaria cells they find in the sample. A typical volunteer usually gets very ill with anywhere from 2-8 cells in a sample. I came back with a whopping 13. It was very surprising because I didn’t feel that bad and I was able to eat and walk around just fine. A white person walking around with 13-count malaria has really upped my street credibility here in Kristu Mfalme (the neighborhood we live in). The medication they give is pretty strong and made me feel worse than the actual malaria. I hung around the house for about 3 days and didn’t teach all week. Father Minde went into my classroom on Friday and decided to teach Bible instead of Biology because, “they both start with the letter B.” The Brothers didn’t let me do anything and just pumped me full of Fanta. Even now they didn’t want me walking to town today, but I am getting stir crazy so I insisted on going. I will return to the classroom this week and am excited about it.
School has proven to be a bit more difficult than I had imagined. Libby (or Ruby as they call her here) absolutely loves her classes because she is having fun teaching English and her kids are learning. I have had a little bit different experience. In Tanzania, the government has decided that all of their curriculum will be in English (for foreign relations reasons of course). They don’t start teaching in English until Secondary school and once the students are in Secondary school most of the teachers are not competent enough in English and end up teaching the kids in Swahili and then making them copy all the notes in English. Their tests are all done in English and you only have to get 25% to pass. Does this sound ridiculous and confusing? Good, then we’re on the same page. Actually, you are on the same page with the entire country of Tanzania.
The bottom line is that the students who do not know English are then not learning Biology, Physics, History, Geography, etc. So really only 5% of the students know what’s going on and those are the ones that are dedicated to learning English. One thing that this school system does really well is establish obedience. Just to give you an idea of what this means I will give you a typical class period. I walk into the classroom, all of the students stand up, face me, and say, “Good morning Madame.” (At this point there are at least 3 or 4 that still say Sir because they aren’t paying attention). I greet them and tell them to sit. Once they sit I start by introducing the material, slowly going over the organelles in a cell, pulling students up in front of the room to demonstrate selective permeability of a membrane, and ask if they understand and if they have any questions. They are so conditioned to comply that the automatic response to “Do you understand?” is “Yes Madame.” But I have learned quickly that this really means NO. Their English is so basic that to define scientific topics in English is ludicrous. If you don’t believe me, find you nearest 2 year old and explain to them the function of a mitochondria. Then you know what I’m dealing with. So this weekend I will regroup and try a new approach.
Monday as I was walking to class, three of my students stopped me and handed me a small bird. Yes, a live bird about the size of a racquet ball. I put it in a chalk box to deal with later thinking it was either a juvenile or had sustained an injury. I went into the library after class and was examining it when it flew out of my hands and around the library. It was neither a baby nor injured, they had just somehow captured it and thought that I would want it. One of the students in the library told me that if I wanted to keep the bird I would have to break it’s legs and wings. I told him that then it would not be a bird. Another student, after asking me where I got the bird, told me that if I liked the bird she would bring me a dog. I politely told her that I had nowhere to keep it and no intention of keeping pets while I am here. After all the excitement, I let the bird go free, hopefully to stay out of the path of any would be “teacher’s pets.”
On the topic of birds, Libby and I were shown how to kill and cook our own chicken. Although I am a vegetarian (less so here due to lack of protein sources) I still thoroughly enjoyed this opportunity. Libby did all of the actually throat slitting and slicing, but I looked on and took mental notes. I really commend people that live so intimately with their food. Everything is mostly free-range and when the time comes you just grab it, slice it, cook it, eat it. All in a days work. They also eat almost every part of the animal. What they don’t eat they feed to the other animals that they keep. Because we were the honorary guest/butcher we got to have the gizzard, lungs, heart, neck, and intestines…all the good parts. I did try them all and, other than consistency, they are not bad. We were promised more lessons in the ways of Tanzanian cuisine so I look forward to adding to my skills in the kitchen, you all know how truly domestic I am.
Libby and I went to mass this weekend and had an interesting discovery. First of all, I think people at church get confused about weather I am a girl or a boy. In Tanzania, most of the girls have short hair like the boys so how you tell the difference between them is by what they are wearing: a skirt or pants. Their model of white people, however, is that girls have long hair and boys have short hair. Since I have short hair, I get one point in the boy category; when I wear a skirt, I am a girl with funny hair. Well, I really put another spin on the whole thing the other day when I accidentally put my money for offering in the “male” box. I didn’t notice until we got back to the pew but Libby told me that there were separate donation boxes for the men and women and then commented, “That must have really thrown ‘em off.” This week, I put my money in the right box, but we realized that this whole time we have been sitting on the “male” side of the church.
In an attempt to keep this email a readable length, I will now briefly run through the rest of the highlights:
- I hate skirts. Everything about them aggravates me. I don’t like the way they flow in between my legs, I don’t like how cold air comes underneath them, I don’t like the confinement of my leg extension as I go to jump a ditch, I don’t like when I go to stand up and I am standing on part of my skirt…I just plain do not like wearing them.
- My Swahili is coming along, a bit slower than I had hoped. Many people also think it’s fun to teach us a little Fipa, a language of one of Sumbawanga’s most popular tribes. People get excited when they see a white person speaking Swahili, but it blows their mind when you throw in a greeting from the Fipa language. There are nearly 100 different tribal languages in Tanzania.
- In Tanzania, being called “fat” is a compliment. It implies that you are well fed and thus, well off financially. The Brothers have a funny way of using their English and the other day one of them told me that I was “thin.” Then he turned to Libby and told her that she was, “somehow not fat, but somehow not thin.”
- We do not get warm water here so I start my days with a frigid, military-style shower. I have actually become very fond of them. Most days the water gets shut off in the early afternoon. We lose the electricity every 2-3 days from about 7-9:30 p.m. It comes from Zambia via a hydroelectric plant. During the dry season they don’t get as much power so they ration it out in Tanzania.
- For all of those subscribers that have sent letters, we are thinking about concluding our time in Sumbawanga mid September to do some traveling. Just to play it safe, I would put August 10th as the latest deadline for letter sending to ensure that we will be in town when/perchance it arrives.
- Today we got fitted for traditional African dresses as a gift from the Brothers. Be prepared for this vivacious piece of seamstress work at your next local party. I will be getting good use out of it in the States.
- I am learning more here than during my four years at a University. And think, only a fraction of the cost.
- I have been getting to know a Doctor from Holland really well. He is older, has been everywhere in the world working (highlights: Sierra Leone during the war, Northern Uganda, New Guinea…etc.) for various relief organizations and he has inspired me greatly to go back to Med School. But then again, almost daily, Libby is talking to me and I totally space out on some local flora or fauna and it really aggravates her. (There are little ditches here with smarmy, trash-filled water that support a wide array of green plants and some tadpoles. Pretty impressive. I also got a sweet photo of this amazing, brown spotted praying mantis. It will blow your mind. “No it won’t”-Libby reading on my left.) Especially when she is mid-sentence about something she is passionate about (whatever that is…) and I come in with a comment about the ingenuity of the ants that live along the path we walk daily. She thinks I like animals much more than people and should go back to be a biologist and do field research, NOT a doctor.
- I got my first haircut here. Libby performed the operation with a pair of medical tape scissors. The blade was about 3/4ths of an inch long and curved. It is not one of my most unique cuts, but definitely interesting. For what we were working with, it was very well done.
I hope all is well at your respective homes.