Thursday, February 07, 2008

News From Tanzania

Last night I heard from my good buddy Kajuna who's another teacher at the school where I was teaching. I heard got some very good news from him and some very bad news.

The good news was that the results for the Form IV students were out and I could look them up online. I did, and I was very pleasantly surprised. The girls did extremely well on the tests and they're the best results the school has ever had. None of them failed their exams overall, and not very many failed math. This is very exciting. Most of the girls are going to be able to continue their education in advanced level. It's great to see the vast majority of the students succeeding. I'm extremely proud of them and how hard they worked and that it all paid off for them.

A little while later, while I was still pretty euphoric from the good news, I got the bad. I've mentioned before that largely because of the school being a boarding school in an isolated area I became extremely close with a lot of the students, and many of them began to feel like kid sisters to me. There was one in particular who would always make a point to say hello and talk and joke with me and came to me almost every day with math and physics problems she had done and asked me to grade them for her. She is an extremely bright and hard-working girl. Most of all, she was really good at figuring things out, which is so, so rare in a culture that discourages asking questions and too often emphasizes rote memorization in education. She wasn't the smartest kid I taught and she goofed off a bit too much, but there were very few kids I taught who I felt had as bright a future as she did. What I found out though, is that she's pregnant. In Tanzania the law says that girls are not allowed to attend school if they are pregnant or have kids, so she's been kicked out of school. She's only 15 and now her future has been completely derailed. I'm angry because she knew better, but also I feel awful that because of this one mistake she may have ruined her chances of ever getting a good education. It doesn't completely rule it out, because she will be able to learn on her own or get a tutor and sit for the exams, but now it's going to be much, much harder for her, especially with a kid to take care of. I know her family is well-off, so hopefully something can be worked out, but it breaks my heart. And of course, in a place with the HIV rate at almost 10%, pregnancy isn't close to the biggest thing to worry about from unprotected sex. I keep thinking about how she was so upset about me leaving Tanzania. She could be very stubborn and insisted that she wouldn't like her new math teacher just because he or she wouldn't be me. She was also one of several of the girls who wrote a note for me before I left. I just hope she can learn from this and think about the consequences of what she does. I think she can be a great mom, but she's just so young.

The job search for me continues. Hopefully I'll know about grad school soon and then I'll be able to go more decisively for either a long-term or temporary job.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


I've been back in America for two months now. It was pretty great to come home. I managed to see most of my family in close friends in the first week or so I was back. It was great to see everyone and great to be home for Christmas. Of course, the food has also been amazing. It still feels a bit strange to be in America, and I miss Tanzania, and especially Kongei, a lot. I hear from my friend Kajuna now and then and I got an email from one of my students, but for the most part I feel kind of out of the loop. Of course that is the way it'll be. A big part of me wishes I was still there, but the time's up.

Probably the main reason I kind wish I was back is the boredom. I'm working on applications for grad school and jobs, but for the most part I have nothing to do. I heard a lot about people coming home and getting really bothered by certain aspects of America like the rampant consumerism. Fortunately, I guess, that bothered me before I left so it doesn't bother me any more that it has for awhile. It's also real nice to watch football and college basketball, and it'll be great to watch F1 when the season starts. I've also been doing a few programs about the trip for my mom's school, at church, and a couple of other places. It's nice to have a chance to talk about Tanzania for awhile. As for the future, I'm not entirely sure where I'll end up for the long term, getting a life started is slow work.

It took me a while to update this, and the reason is that I don't feel like I have anything to say. As time goes on I may want to summarize some things about the whole experience on this blog, but at the moment I'm not ready to do that. That's all I have for now, except to say thanks to everyone who has kept up with me and what I've been doing through this blog.

One more thing. I put a lot of pictures online yesterday. So far mainly just pictures from around the school. There's a link under my picture on the left side of the page.

Friday, November 16, 2007


Now I'm in Dar waiting to go back to America. My flight leaves next Thursday. Before then I have a host of medical appointments and meetings to take care of, then it's good by Tanzania.

Saying goodbye to everyone at my school wasn't easy. They organized a goodbye event for me where the students sang songs for me and everything. A lot of them have cried then and other times in the days before I left. A lot of the girls had become like little sisters to me, so it was very hard for me too. I already miss some of them a lot. I don't know if I'll ever have such a big impact on so many kids again. I am nowhere near to being able to write down a summary of the PC experience and what it's meant to me, but it's probably safe to say in a quick summary that the first year of service was the hardest and the second year the best year of my life. In the next few weeks I will keep writing here and talking about my experiences and my thoughts on returning to America.

During this week I'll just try to have a good time and say goodbye to more people. PC volunteers I've been close to are heading out in a gradual stream that has already started and will continue for a few weeks after I leave. Others have another year to go. I wish I had something profound to say, but I'm still feeling like I did when I rode on the bus through the valley where I lived for well over year, and that is I simply can't get it through my head that after a vacation in Dar, I'm not going back there. I'm not going to go back in the classroom and see those girls again. I'm going to start something new back in America. I doubt it will be teaching, but then it may be. Whatever it is, with what I've been through I know I can handle it.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Forty Days to Go

Exactly 40 days from today I'll arrive back home. It seems to be coming shockingly fast. It's really hitting home now that Isaac, my good buddy in the region who was in my training group, is leaving his site in about ten days. In a month I'll be packing up my things and getting ready to go. As I've written before, I have mixed feelings about this. I'm excited to go home, but I also like it here a lot. It doesn't help that the girls are already starting to lament my upcoming departure. "Sir, when you leave we will cry so much!" is a common comment. Enough of this, it's been quite awhile since my last update, so I should say what's been going on.

The Form 4s have started their exams. The math exam was first. The test was a bit tough this year, so I hope they'll get through alright. The results won't be out for another three months, so nothing to do but wait. Before their exams we had graduation (I'm not entirely sure why graduation is first, but it is) and several other volunteers came for the party. It was a good time. I have a lot of pictures of the event and after party which sometime in the future will be put online. Now that the Form 4s are finished with everything, my teaching load has decreased and I can focus on the Form 2s, which means a lot of testing and grading to get them ready. It's been a lot of work, but I'm finally starting to see some serious improvement, which I think is the result of these kids finally taking things seriously. I think we'll have some good results from them.

As I've mentioned before, most of my teaching was to the Form 2s, so as a result these are the kids I'm closest to. They really are quite upset about me leaving so I've been spending a lot of time after school and some weekends hanging around and chatting with them. I also finally gave into their oft repeated requests and let them play with my hair. Despite the fact that they have to keep their hair cropped short a lot of them keep combs and there have been a couple of times where several of them will be around my head working away. There's always a crowd around watching and vigorous debate about how it would look best. It's all very cute, if a bit overwhelming sometimes. There was no reason not to give in, though. Before I let them, girls would sneak up behind me to touch my hair and sometimes give it a little tug. They've also begged me to find pen pals for them when I get home, so anyone out there, particularly girls around high school age, interested in swapping letters with a kid in Africa, let me know.

There's not too much else to talk about. There will probably only be a couple more posts before go home, but keep reading after. There are a lot of things I want to write about here after I get back. I'm not writing them now for a few reasons. One is that I need a little distance before writing about a lot of generalities of life here. Two, now I don't have time to write to much and since I only get internet every couple of weeks, at most, often I only write what is on my mind that particular time. Also there are certain things that I can't write about while in the PC. I'll leave it at that. Good bye for now.

Saturday, September 01, 2007


This week we had our Close of Service Conference in Arusha National Park. This is a time when we get together with all those we arrived in country with who didn't end up leaving early. We started with 37 and have 32 left, which I'm proud to say is a very high retention rate. The first of us to close their service and go back leave next week. They had some extenuating circumstances that allow them to leave early. There will be three more at the end of October, but the rest of us will be leaving in November or December. The purpose of this conference was to get us ready to do all the paperwork and other preparations to leave our sites and get back into life in America. I think though that PC also knows what close bond you have with the people you came into the country and trained with and gives us this one last time to all be together. We come in the country together on the same plane, but we leave at different times and return to different places. A lot, maybe most, of the people there I won't see again until I'm back in America. I have no doubt we'll do a good job keeping in touch. Isaac's wedding in December will be a mini reunion as well.

I also have some pictures here I'd like to post. Here's one of me with several of my Form 2s. From leftto right in the back is Neema, then Dora (one of the kids who cooked grasshoppers for me), me (I know I blend in), Veronica, and Lulu. In the front on the left is Grace and kneeling is Eunice.

They were all out harvesting beans that day and I got some pictures of that as well. When they collect all the bean pods, they put them in a pile and beat the pods with a stick to knock the beans out. This next picture is of another form 2, Janet, beating the beans.
You may notice that the students are required to wear uniforms and that all students, even girls like my students, are required to shave their heads. I'm sure that would go over brilliantly with American girls. The first time you teach here it is a bit disconcerting that you look out to a bunch of kids all wearing the exact same clothes, the same race and gender, and with the same haircut. Not at all like an American classroom. This final picture I'm putting on here I'm doing just because I think it's a really cute shot.

This picture shows Nancy on the left, then a couple behind whose faces I can't see, then Neema and Faith. Naomi is the one really hamming it up, then Clever, and Eunice back in the sun. Unfortunately it takes too long to upload pictures, so when I get back to America in a November I'll put a whole lot of pictures up.

I'll start back in school on Monday, then it's only a few weeks until the graduation, then shortly thereafter exams start. I'm going to be very busy for awhile. It'll probably be best to be working hard and not focusing too much on how little time there is left. It seems like either you're impatiently waiting the day you can go back or wishing it wouldn't come for awhile longer. Very seldom do I feel completely content with the passage of time. Anyway, I think I'll be able to post again next week, but after that it will be awhile. Is this Labor Day weekend? If so, enjoy the holiday.

Saturday, August 18, 2007


I don't have my pictures of this with me unfortunately (oh yes, there are pictures), but this post tells the story of my recent and eventually successful battle with rats. Most volunteers have to deal with this problem at one time or another, at least here in Tanzania. Many get cats for this reason. I often on my own in this one though. I did however get some help from Josh, to whom I'm grateful.

It all began in early June. I heard some noises coming from my bathroom and went in to investigate. It was dark so I was using a flashlight (remember I have no electricity). I heard something behind the door, so I peeked behind it and came face to face with a rather large rat (perhaps six or seven inches long, excluding the tail). He was climbing on the door so he was just below my eye level. We both froze and stared at each other for a second, and then he took off with impressive speed. He ran into the courtyard and made it safely to some hiding place. I didn't make too much of it since pests are a common issue here, but then he started causing problems.

The first incident was when my friend Laura came to visit. She had gone into the bathroom to brush her teeth when I heard a blood-curdling shriek. Apparently the rat, who by this time I had named Pedro, had run across her foot. Needless to say she wasn't pleased. Pedro also started making a lot of noise at night, even waking me up sometimes, but I could never catch him. Then came the last straw. Pedro moved on from trash and things and started eating my food. This was completely unacceptable. War was declared.

I bought a huge mouse trap. It looked like it was large enough to take care of even a big guy like Pedro. I baited the trap with peanut butter (rats love peanut butter) and figured Pedro's days were numbered. Unfortnately Pedro was a more worthy adversary than I thought. He managed to eat the peanut butter from the trap without setting it off. He pulled this off not once, but maybe five or six times. By this time I was going on my vacation so I figured that rat problems could wait. Pedro won that round.

By the time I got back from my vacation Pedro had established himself and apparently multiplied. There was another, smaller rat residing in my bedroom somewhere. He managed to hide in my wardrobe, I think. The worst problem though, was the kitchen. Pedro had gone nuts in there and it was quite frankly a disgusting mess. It took the better part of a Saturday to clean it up. He had chewed through plastic bags and wrappings, gotten into my rice and flour, and actually chewed through the lid of my peanut butter jar. I tell you, he loves the stuff. He'd also been kind enough to leave his droppings everywhere. The fighting had escalated. There was no longer possibility of peaceful coexistence. I went to town and bought some rat poison.

I mixed the poison in some peanut butter and left some outside for Pedro and inside for my new roommate. What I left inside disappeared the first night, but I could never find it. This concerned me a bit. However, several days later a lovely odor tipped me off. Apparently it had worked. I followed my nose to my late roomy and managed to find him.I was a bit disgusting. One rat down.

Pedro, not surprisingly, was more formidable. He seemed to have eaten some of the poison peanut butter, but it didn't kill him. He was still running around. I knew with him I'd have to be more creative. I studied the trap and thought about how he could pull off the peanut butter without setting off the trap. I realized that if he came at the bait from certain angles he would be unlikely to set it off with a pulling motion. I realized what I had to do was control the direction of his approach. With my plan ready, I set it in motion. I baited the trap and placed it against the wall. I then put buckets and other obstacles along the trap except for the one side I wanted him to come to. Then I waited. About an hour after dark I heard the sounds of my success. There was a loud snap of the trap slamming shut and a loud racket of steel (from the trap) slapping plastic (of the bucket). Pedro was snared. The metal arm of the trap and caught him right on the neck, pushing it into the steel teeth of the trap. It is a vicous device. Somehow, Pedro was still alive and trying violently to free himself. I was glad I'd had the foresight to tie the trap down. Pedro put up a long fight until it seemed that he was having trouple breathing. After an hour I went to check since it had gotten quiet and found his breathing was quite labored. I actually felt sorry for the guy until I remembered all the chewed vegetables. Pedro died shortly thereafter. I had won.

There was a brief epilogue to the battle. One night recently I heard a noise in my kitchen and thought it sounded like a rat. This surprised me because I thought all approaches to the kitchen were well sealed, and recently I've been keeping it quite clean to avoid rodents and bugs. I walked in though, and there it was, another rat. This one darted into the fireplace and up the chimney. The chimney! That was how he'd gotten in. And before you ask, yes, I live in Africa but there is a fireplace in my kitchen. I figured a good way to take care of this guy would be to, well, use the fireplace for it's intended purpose. So I built a fire. I just kept it going for awhile until I figured he's either run or asphixiate. It seemed to work. For several days he didn't come back. The next day as a precaution though I had baited the trap and put it in the fireplace. Two nights ago, the rat returned. This one set the trap off immediately. Not only was this one a lot dumber than Pedro, he was a lot smaller, so it killed him instantly. Another victory.

My battle against rodents may not be over, but I seem to be holding my own. I doubt there will ever be one who is as worthy an opponent as Pedro, but we will see. Also, I now have help in my struggle. Last night as saw an owl sitting on the edge of the roof by the courtyard. It was a big one, gray and white and quite beautiful. As I watched him he took off and seemed to be swooping toward the ground on the other side of the wall. With the owl on my side, I figure I can't lose now.

One more piece of news. I'll be arriving at Charlotte airport around 2pm on Friday, November 23. That's the day after Thanksgiving. Just over three months.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Home Stretch

I've started my last semester teaching here in Tanzania. I'm pretty busy trying to get the kids prepared for their exams, so I guess I haven't dwelled too much on how I feel about this. It was actually good to get back. Teaching as gotten much more enjoyable as time goes on. I really do enjoy the work and as great as my vacation was, I'm glad to be back.

Speaking of vacation, after my last post I attended the wedding of Steve Veryser, a former PC volunteer who was marrying a Tanzanian girl he met in the first of his three years of service. I met Steve during training when I visited his site for a few days for my "shadow visit" where you go see a volunteer at site to get an idea of what life's like there. He gave me some interesting, and I see now quite true, advice about being a volunteer. He said, "there are some people who come here hoping to change the world, but they all went home." I can see now that he's quite right. You're not going to come here and fix all the problems of Tanzania or even your one school. You can do some good of course, and I'm sure that I have, but the main motivation for this kind of thing has to be, well, selfish. Otherwise during one of the many times when you're beating your head against the wall because it seems like nothing you aren't accomplishing anything you'll give in and go home. If you're here for what you'll get out of it, how you will change, and the with the idea that you'll have a positive impact, even if it's quite small, you'll do fine. I've always been idealistic, and I still am, but I also have a very practical mind and I have certainly learned a lot about what I can and can't do to help people here, and what the people here need to do for themselves.

Anyway, back to Steve, we hung out a few times later on as well, and we ended up having an interesting parallel in our service. He started in Mwanza, like I did, and then had to change sites to a rural mountous region, only in his case it was the Southern Highlands instead of Lushoto. So The wedding was quite interesting because it was obviously a mixed crowd. The wedding was done in Tanzanian fashion and most of the guests were Tanzanian, but Steve had his dad and a group of eight or nine current and former PC volunteers to act as his family. The wedding was a blast, and we tried to mzungu it up for Steve a little bit so he could feel a bit more at home. I think his dad particularly appreciated it because I think he was pretty overwhelmed by the whole thing.

I took some great pictures of some of my kids harvesting beans the other day, but this computer isn't cooperating with my camera, so I'll post them in a couple weeks.

That's all for now. Enjoy the rest of your summer. We're about to head into springtime up here.