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."


  1. You are such an angel, perfect name for you!

  2. You truly are an Angel, and they are lucky to be learning from you. Can you introduce them to Vortex Shedding? Hey did you ever think about how much we're all learning reading your Blog? Sounds like a teacher is born! Keep the posts coming, we all love to read them.

  3. I agree with John. I love learning about the country, people and customs thru your blogs. I look forward to them.
    You have always been my little Malaika.