Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Out of town

Hey Everyone,
Thanks for being such great followers! I hope you're enjoying my stories. I'm going to be out of town for the next couple weeks on safari. If all goes according to plan, I should return with some incredible pictures of Africa... from the highest point!
You can expect my next post around March 5th.
Wish me luck!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Teaching at Mwenge

I have returned to Mwenge several times to teach Advanced English to the adult students. I mentioned previously that the setting was not entirely conducive to teaching. What do you think?

Yes, that's the roof falling down. It's ok, because three of the six nights that I've gone to Mwenge, there was no electricity so we did not use the 'classroom' anyway. We sat in the field and talked for an hour.

Anyone that knows me well is going to agree that I love to play board games, or any games. It should be no surprise that I used Taboo as inspiration for my first lesson that lacked electricity. One student was given a word that they had to describe to the group. Many of them would tell stories or little anecdotes to help the other students guess the mystery word. My favorite explanation was "what you say when you have a girlfriend and you really like her." I was expecting them to say something along the lines of "a substance that bees produce," but their description of honey was far more entertaining.

My next lecture in darkness turned into a great conversation about everyone's current job and hopes for the future. Many of them are expert carvers who want to continue all their lives. One woman currently sells Maasai jewelry, but wants to become a receptionist at a hotel. The man who calls his girlfriend 'honey' is actually a bodyguard for all famous American rappers who come to Tanzania, including Jay-Z! My American friend and I made him promise to get us up close to the next big star that comes to Dar.

Then we started talking about the bizarre foods that people eat in Tanzania. I happen to LOVE Tanzanian food, but this conversation made me a little unsettled about what exactly is in the mystery meat that has been served each night. Some tribes eat dogs, bats, and millipedes! One student casually mentioned how he used to love eating monkey, but hasn't had it in a while. He proceeded to explain in graphic detail how he would go hunting in the villages with his bow and arrow and bring home monkey for his family to eat at dinner. Apparently it tastes a lot like pork... certainly not what I would've imagined. But I guess I'll have to let you know for sure in a few weeks when he prepares a monkey for me, after shooting it with his very own bow and arrow. I think that's a really sweet gesture...

One day I borrowed a book from Loyola High School to show the students at Mwenge a picture of the Periodic Table of Elements. They were so amazed by some of the things in this book. I swear every lesson seems like a new world is unfolding before their eyes. Each topic is new and exciting! They especially love science. My lesson planned for tonight was a personal favorite from all my academic studies: why is the sky blue? It seems like such a simple question, but many think it is a result of the sun's rays reflecting off the blue ocean. WRONG! Before I get into the details, I'd like to give a personal shout-out to Dr. Brienza for the best lecture of my college experience--a lesson I will never forget. The sky is blue as a result of the differing wavelengths of visible light. You remember ROYGBIV, right? Red=big wavelength, Blue=small. The small blue waves are scattered by particles in the atmosphere, while larger red waves continue on, so what reaches our eyes are the scattered blue waves. This also explains why we see the larger red waves at sunset, because the blue waves scatter so much as they pass through more of the atmosphere to reach our eyes, so we are left with the larger red waves that have not been deflected by small particles. That's still probably very confusing, which is why I had an hour lesson planned, as opposed to a few sentences.
I even brought a little experiment! That lesson has to wait for tomorrow, as there was no electricity again this evening, and I have a few excellent diagrams to accompany the lecture.

I could not ask for better students. I honestly look forward to meeting them every night. I think they like having me there too. Last week they gave 'Tanzanian Names' to me and the other American teacher. Out of all the possibilities in the Swahili language, they chose to call me "Malaika" which means "Angel."

Saturday, February 12, 2011

My Tanzanian Family

I was welcomed my very first day in Dar es Salaam by my new Tanzanian family. It was strange to immediately adjust to their expectations of referring to one another as kaka (brother), dada (sister), baba (father), etc. My brother, Amani, is 24 years old, and a recent graduate of the University of Dar es Salaam as a Civil Engineer. You can tell we get along by that fact alone. Yeah engineers! He works full time at a construction company in Dar, and on occasional weekends he travels up to Arusha to manage construction projects for another company. Although he isn't home all the time, he likes to include me on silly adventures. He has a twin brother named Amini who lives in another part of the city, but I've only met him a few times. Amini likes to joke around... a lot. He brought a friend over once and convinced me that he was the chief of his tribe back home... of course I fell for it. I was pretty excited to meet this chief, and bombarded him with a million questions about his responsibilities at such a young age and how he manages to acquire his education so far from his people. Joke was on me...

Then there is my sister, Sarah. She is really sweet. She's actually my cousin, but all paternal cousins are called brother and sister. On the very first day, she took me to the “Dark and Lovely” salon where she got her hair done, and I stood awkwardly in the corner being stared at by everyone in the room. I guess they couldn't figure out why I was there... It was a fun experience though. She works at a company in Dar also.

There is a maid in the house, named Neema. This is very common in Tanzania, and she has become a member of the family. She cooks the most incredible food. Did you know that you can cook bananas a hundred different ways, and they can be the focus of the meal? It's so delicious! I'm in love with Tanzanian food. I warned my Baba that when I leave this country, I'm stealing Neema. I don't know how I'll ever go back without her. Communication with her is sometimes difficult because of my limited knowledge of Swahili, and her very small English vocabulary. It works though... we talk about all the important stuff, like when there's a big cockroach in the bathroom and I run out screaming. She saves me every time.

That brings me to Baba... he is very traditional. He is very kind, but his traditional customs are overwhelming. He also has some interesting perceptions of Americans, that he is quite confidant and vocal about. He actually lived in Iowa for two years, 25 years ago, so he thinks he knows everything about America—it's pretty comical. On the first evening, he explained to me that children of divorced parents are those that bring guns to school. They are all bothered and emotionally wrecked. I told him that my parents divorced when I was young, and I think I turned out fine... He seemed very concerned about me after that fact. I don't think it changed his perspective at all; he just views me as troubled... I'm sure he'll come around.
When I say Baba is traditional, I mean he maintains the old Tanzanian ideals of hierarchy in a family and society. Man knows best. This is very difficult for me to comprehend. I come from a society where men and women are generally considered equals. As an educated woman, I am respected. In this house, I am often treated like a child along with all the other people in their mid-20s. Except that Baba does not have many expectations for Amani—just the females in the household. There have been several occasions when he finishes his dinner and his hands are greasy. He will call to Sarah, no matter where she is in the house, and make her come out to wash his hands at the table. Logically, he could have walked 10 feet to the sink, but then she would not be able to show how she respects him... or something like that.
He also tells me when I must shower... and sometimes he won't allow me to leave the table until I eat all the food he wants me to eat. I think he is looking out for me, and that is why he often seems controlling. He wants to be sure that I'm eating enough of all the proper foods and that I sleep soundly because I have showered. Sometimes he'll back up his rules with “biology.” Did you know that the reason I wasn't eating enough (according to Baba) is because I hadn't showered before dinner? Biologically, my body needs to be clean in order for me to be hungry. I'd like to read the text book that came from. For a while I had to take a shower before anyone was allowed to eat dinner.

He teaches me how to be a good Tanzanian woman. Personality/submissiveness is important, but does not compare to a Tanzanian woman's ability to cook and clean. If she cannot cook, she could be the most beautiful woman in the world, but a man wouldn't care. Anyone who has ever seen me in the kitchen will agree that I'm never finding a Tanzanian husband...

You might be asking where Mama fits into this equation. She lives at their home in Morogoro, about an hour away. This is just a temporary home at the University because Baba works here. Every other weekend, Mama will come to Dar. On the other weekends, Baba visits her. Mama is so sweet! She greeted me with the biggest hug. She also has an incredible laugh and positive disposition. She took me shopping for a kanga—the customary Tanzanian wrap worn by women—and we got matching purple ones! Mama is a secondary school teacher, and she also runs a small farm at their other home. I don't know how she manages all that work! Of the few times I met her, I have never seen her rest. She is constantly helping around the house—cooking, cleaning, etc. One morning I walked into the living room where Baba was lounging and singing along to some music. I asked where Mama was, and he said she was cleaning his room. “If I cleaned my own room during the week, then what would Mama do on the weekends she comes to visit?” Hmm... maybe she'd be taking a break and listening to music... but what do I know.

I'm glad that I have the opportunity to witness this traditional household, because I don't think I'd actually believe it otherwise. I have spoken to many other students who live with host families, and they say that their fathers are not nearly as strict or traditional as my Baba. That is a wonderful thing! I'm very happy that this behavior is not considered typical anymore. But at one point, most families were managed in this manner. Baba grew up in a rural village, so he maintains those beliefs. The majority of families in Dar have become more modernized than that. I like to ask people my age to confirm the crazy stories Baba tells me about gender roles in Tanzania. More often than not, people will say that those are old Tanzanian customs, and not the way things are anymore.  

Monday, February 7, 2011

Hatari Kubwa

This morning I was informed that campus would be completely safe today. No students would dare to act inappropriately in front of the Minister of Education, a government official, who would be on campus to address their concerns.

This was entirely true... until he left.

A large crowd was gathered by his podium. Once he exited the stage, the police told the crowd to leave. As the students walked away, they thought it might be fun to incite the police officers by throwing empty water bottles and stones at them... not their best move. The police defended themselves and retaliated by bombing the crowd!

I had been innocently eating lunch on the outdoor patio of the cafeteria with two of my American friends. Out of the blue, masses of students start running toward us. I had a feeling they weren't all on their way to class... There were hundreds of students sprinting up a big hill in all different directions. The other American girls whipped out their cameras, but I knew there wouldn't be time for that. Just then a tear gas bomb was launched within 10 feet of where we were eating! It looked like a big gray pokéball (yes, I'm referencing pokémon) about the size of a cantaloupe with dark gas spewing out of a slot. The gas filled up all the air around, and the wind was taking it in our direction. We tripped over tables and chairs as we rushed into the closing doors of the cafeteria. I wasn't sure where to go. We were technically in a “safe area” where the police weren't expected to come. Why were they aiming tear gas bombs at the students eating lunch!? I wasn't sure if it would be safe to run outside, joining the masses, and potentially be followed by the police. I didn't want to get mixed up in any trouble. So we tried to wait out the gas inside the cafeteria. The only problem is that none of the buildings have windows, because they need the breeze to get through the walls. So the tear gas was slowly creeping inside! I begged the cafeteria workers to let us slip into the back kitchen where there was a bit more protection.

We could hear more bombs being shot into this area, attempting to fully disperse the crowds and force them back into the dorms. I was pulled down from view of the window because the cafeteria workers feared being seen by the police. I think they believed that if police saw crowds huddling in the kitchen, they would assume a mob was forming and try to gas us all out.

My heart raced faster than ever before. This was possibly the single most terrifying moment I've ever experienced.

If you think about it, I wasn't really in any danger. What's the worst that could have happened—my eyes might get a little itchy? It's the panic induced by the bombs that cause all the trouble... but, logic aside, I have no problem admitting that I was scared.

We waited until the air was safe to breathe and the crowds were mostly gone. Then I power-walked out of there as fast as I could.

My host family's reaction to this traumatic experience: “Oh, that's normal! ha ha ha Welcome to Tanzania!”

All classes resume tomorrow. The strike is officially over. Please don't be worried... I'm sure that's the worst of it.  

Friday, February 4, 2011

More on the Strike

All day there were crowds of students walking past my house, some waving large Tanzanian flags. They were chanting, singing, and trying to stir each other up. They were going to a place called Survey, which is right down the street from my house... I walk there everyday. Don't worry, I didn't leave my house all day, and I was completely safe. But the students on strike weren't all so fortunate.

Police and University officials were aware of the impending struggle. They knew the students were upset about their allowances. Apparently they receive 5000/= (Tanzanian Shillings) each day for food and accommodations. This is equivalent to about $3.30. A basic lunch or dinner in the cafeteria is 1200/=, with breakfast slightly cheaper. You must constantly drink bottled water due to the intense heat and humidity. At the campus rate of 500/= per half liter, it can add up quickly. You can see how 5000/= can be spent easily on food and water, with nothing left for accommodations. The students are requesting to double their allowance to 10,000/=. The Deputy Dean of Students explained to me that administrators refuse to grant this high amount, but might consider a 50% increase if the students are willing to write up a report showing the current costs of living and why the extra money is necessary for survival. He also explained that the students have not rationally attempted to solve the problem. This strike is their first act to get what they want.

Over the past few days, I have seen many students gather together on campus, generally led by one man who incites them all into chanting. You could tell they were planning something. Today all the students congregated at the center of campus, near the cafeterias. They chanted, sang, and riled each other up. Then they marched together down to Survey. This is where they were met by police and large tanks. They were warned that the protest was illegal. The crowds were entirely blocking streets and damaging properties along the way. If they saw students going to class, the mob would beat them up because they weren't joining the cause. They also damaged lots of property in the cafeteria, forcing it to shut down. After several warnings from police, the mob refused to disperse. I could hear tear gas bombs exploding into the crowd, followed by screams. Several students were hospitalized because they ran blindly away from the gas, tripping over barbed wire and running into trees. It sounded like complete chaos. After the mob dispersed from the first round of gas, they would gather again with the same result.

I'm not really the mob/protesting type. I was quite content sitting in my house, doing a little laundry, and reading all day.

In the late afternoon, the riot finally broke down and students passed my house walking back onto campus. I was outside helping Neema cook ugali at the time. They seemed defeated. They were shouting things to each other in Swahili, but remained relatively quiet for such a large crowd. Then they stopped--right at my driveway! They sat on the lawn across the street and began harassing some cars that passed by. Neema explained that they were trying to block certain vehicles from entering and exiting campus--probably the administrators who refused to grant their demands. I kept saying to her, "hatari!!" (danger!) but she didn't seem worried. I may not have mentioned that my father is the Deputy Dean of Students at the University, so these students are not particularly pleased with him right now. I'm not sure if they knew that they were directly across from his house, but I was concerned that they were there because of my father. After about 20 minutes, they continued back onto campus peacefully. 


There's a huge demonstration on campus today. Thousands of students are protesting, walking around and crowding in the center of campus. Luckily I'm about a 20 minute walk from all the commotion. I was advised by one of the administrators that there is a possibility of violence, so I must stay inside my house all day.

This happens about once a year, and the administrators agree that students usually have very good reasons for going on strike. It's the only way for their voices to be heard by the government. I think they are upset about the government allowance. Part of their tuition fees are reimbursed to them monthly so they can afford food. Sometimes the government doesn't give them money at all, or significantly reduces the allowance. In these cases, many students must sell their belongings in order to afford a meal.
Nearly every time the students have gone on strike, they get what they want. It seems unruly, but I guess it gets things done...