Friday, March 28, 2008

Lost in Translation

Hello everyone.
There is a greeting here, I have learned, that can get you quite far in this culture. "Shikamu." It means, "I clasp your feet." It’s a remnant of the colonial days (although it has Arabic origins) and the proper response is "Marahaba." You use it to show respect to the "Mzees," the elderly. It’s gold. Funny enough, some of the Western Missionaries don’t like to be "Shikamu-ed" (you can make anything a verb if you try hard enough) since it shows their age.

Words here are different. Since Swahili was a tribal language transcribed by Europeans (the reason it uses the same alphabet) I wonder if the similarities between certain Swahili words with their English homophonic equivalents are of any import. Does Ugali (read previous post) sound like "ugly" or "Oh Golly" for a reason? One taste of the stuff makes me think it does. I’m also still wondering if anything of significance can be deduced from the fact that the words for White man and for God are only differentiated by one letter (Mungu = God, Mzungu = White man). Coincidence? Probably, but allows for an interesting diversion of thought in a Swahili Church service which you hardly understand. I started thinking of the contact narratives I had read over the past year, the accounts of the New World explorers interacting with the indigenous populations (which I guess were not "that" new) and how quickly Europeans moved from a state of complete incomprehension to the assumption they were being given power and authority over their hosts. Interestingly, Mzungu has a few meanings. Apart from being a European or, more generally, a white person, it can also mean an unusual or startling thing, or a face card. I began to wonder if there were any connections between these three dots: White person, the unknown, something of value. In a way, I find it startling how the word "Mzungu" might be revelatory of how this culture has dealt with the alterity of the Occident. They do not denigrate it, they revere it. Do we do that with the unknown? Have we? Perhaps there’s a good reason that the most common tragic flaw in Western Drama, from Aristophanes to Shakespeare to Miller, is hubris.

Such were my thoughts during this, the first of SIX Easter services this weekend. Each service is about three hours and they have two each day till Sunday. I’m beginning to see that the worship marathons are a pretty common phenomenon in Tanzania; in fact, for the past three weekends there have been various conferences that have called the congregation to weekend long fellowship of the saints. Each service begins with the call to worship, usually a half an hour past the formal start time. Stragglers seem to mosy into the pews throughout, so it’s not uncommon for the church to be at 10 percent capacity when it begins, and 110 percent when the service ends. Other than taking twice the time of a "normal" service (normal = 1 ½ hours) and being in a foreign language, the service is basically the same. Another difference, perhaps the greatest, is the choir. I cannot get enough of the choirs, although I’ll admit, I’ve had more than enough of their accompaniment. The choir consists of about 25-30 men and women with beautiful voices, which are often (and unfortunately) drowned out by the blaring noise of an electric keyboard hooked up to a large amp powered by a noisy generator. It’s almost amusing to see this technological aberration in a place with no electricity and running water. Priorities. What amuses me the most is that this keyboard is not really played. The "pianist" hits one of the demo selections (reggae, hip hop, jazz, etc. You’ve all seen an electric keyboard). Next, the player hits another button to set the beat. Sometimes it is maracas, other times bongo drums, today was a standard drum-set. Than he/she plays around with the tempo settings (note: they don’t play with the volume, that must be cranked) and finds the right speed and off they go. The singing, despite the 80s rock beats emanating from the keyboard, is beautiful and is combined with painfully intricate choreography. So picture 30 adults moving left, moving right, jumping up, getting down, spinning, clapping, all in concert. It’s quite the spectacle, especially when an up and coming diva takes the microphone and walks to the front and steals the show, serenading the congregation eloquently about Mungu (okay, that’s the only word I get out of it... apart from Yesu Christo the odd time as well). Alongside all this, many of the women get up and dance down the aisles waving congas and handkerchiefs over their heads. I think all the Lammers women would have no problem fitting in. It’s definitely not like Church at home, but no two snowflakes are the same, each sunset here has its own flavour, there are millions of species of insects and I’m beginning to think that if God didn’t love diversity, the heavens might declare that. That is, as long as each is according to its kind; if snowflakes stay snowflakes, sunsets sunsets, and insects insects, diversity is good. Worship must also be worship then. The basic artistic principle of having "the same in the other," probably pleases Gods ear just as it does humans’. We might even say that it pleases the human ear only because it pleased God’s first.
The pipe for the basketball nets has arrived from Mwanza, along with some Red Oxide, special paint for metal. This week I managed to buy an 8X4 foot sheet of plywood, which when cut in half, makes two decent backboards. Buying paint was a bit of an ordeal because of the language barriers.

Doug: Shikamu Mr. Oscar (the Kahunda hardware store owner).
Mr. O: Marahaba. Hujambo?
Doug: Sijambo. you have any paint?
Mr. O: silence
Doug: Paint (a little louder, maybe he speaks English, but is deaf.)
Mr. O: Pent?
Doug: Rengi? (remembering the word for paint because of his time painting in Ikuza)
Mr. O: Rengi!
Doug: (thinks: Nailed it) Yes. I need white paint. Er. I need .... mzungu. (yes, that means white person, but I think he got the gist)
Mr. O: (laughing) Ah, yes. Meupe (the right word for white). No.
Doug: (confused that he has just surrounded the word "white" with an affirmative and a negative) Rengi...Meupe....Ndiyo? (Paint...White....Yes?)
Mr. O: Ah, No. Maybe yesterday. I will get some yesterday.
Doug: (assuming he has his future verb and past tense nouns crossed) Oh, Kesho? (Swahili word for Tomorrow)
Mr. O: Ah yes. Kesho.
Doug: I will be back tomorrow... (debating if he should say: I will be back yesterday, just to make the communication perfectly clear)
(Awkward silence ensues. Both are unsure of their next move. Mr. O is probably wondering if this Mzungu is going to spend some money. Doug is definitely wondering how to leave this gracefully)
Doug: Tutaonano (see you tomorrow...Perfect!)
Mr. O: Hmmm Sawa.
Doug: (not catching that flicker of understanding in Mr. Oscar’s eyes) Okay, bye.

So I came back the next day and sure enough, there was no paint. I think I fell for another common pitfall of communication between Tanzanians and Mzungus. Rather than offend someone, a Tanzanian will say yes, just to save face. A thoughtful gesture, but a little nearsighted. True, for the moment my hopes were up yesterday, when he said the paint would be there tomorrow. But today, when I realize that there is no paint and have just walked all the way to town for nothing, I’m a little annoyed. Of course I had to ask just exactly when will said paint arrive, and of course, he unequivocally responded with : Tomorrow! Sure enough, it wasn’t there again. In the end I got Otheombo (a worker for the Hamiltons) to drive to Katwe, the next closest village, on his motorbike to get a gallon of the skunkiest, oil paint I have ever seen. Once I discarded the top inch of crusty oil, the remainder of the can allowed for two decent coats on the backboards, which are drying in the house right now. I had the junior headmaster over today to take a look at the supplies, which we plan on assembling Monday (We = Andy and myself) and he seems more excited than anyone. We are now even talking of ordering enough cement to cement the entire court. Anyways, Monday will be quite the experience. My CV of handiwork includes a breadboard and toolbox, both made in grade 7 cadets, so this step to two basketball nets may be a bit of a leap, but I’ll let you all know how it goes. For interest sake, I’ve added some diagrams I’ve drawn on a state of the art drafting program some of you may be familiar with: paintbrush.
(ok, as I cut and paste the picture in, I realize that I can't put the picture on the apologies, but just imagine the best CG image of a bball net and you'll be halfway there)

I’m almost finished with my first few English lesson plans. I am starting with Oral reading exercises and comprehension, followed with a dose of classes on various composition techniques before the grand finale of reading a comedy entitled "3 suitors, 1husband" by a Cameroonian writer, Guillaume Oyono Mbili. It’s pretty funny and quite hostile in its dealings with white people. Should be an interesting discussion. As I have been going over the English Standard 3 textbook however, I am dismayed at the low quality of English within it. My first class deals with Crime in Tanzania and I thought of posting an excerpt from the text to show you what I am dealing with, but will save that for another time. All I can say is that the illustration that goes with the passage involves a thief with a tire around his head and the local people pouring kerosene on him and lighting him on fire (Don’t worry, it’s a poor drawing, not a photograph). It is unfortunate my Swahili dictionary has no translation for vigilante.

Also it is now officially the rainy season. The last three days have been cycles of rain, thunder, lightning, sunshine, repeat. Lily, our cat, decided to have her kittens in the middle of a storm, and on the edge of our roof no less. The kittens were precariously close to the edge, so (James Hariot that I am) climbed onto the roof and saved the little felines from imminent peril. There is one pure black one, one white and black one, and one grey and white striped one. That narrows the potential fathers to about 4.3 thousand cats in the area. I have named the black one Scipio, the white and black one is Flannery, and the Grey and White striped one is Whiskers. They are pretty cute, just crawling around blindly for now, mewing away. So with the rains there is "water, water, everywhere, but not a drop to drink." Although, I did try to drink the local water in Ikuza, but have been paying for it dearly the past week with a stomach bacteria called Bakardia (unsure of spelling). There is also not a drop to swim in because of a parasite in the waters from snails. The parasite hooks into your intestines and tears at them, a common disease among the people here. On another note, the worst has happened. I am out of the reading material I brought for our time here (Bible excluded), and am now scouring the local missionary’s shelves for something...anything to fill the void, but books, books everywhere, but hardly a page to read. There are lots of ornithology books, bible study guides, devotional lit and Christian romance...along with a heavy dose of Clancy, Grisham, and Crichton. The situation is bleak. Your prayers are coveted.

Well it is time for tea and coffee. While the rest of the country fails to recognize punctuality as the fifth cardinal virtue, the missionaries’ coffee breaks at 10 am and 4 pm are one of the few constants in the Tanzanian flux. So as we continue to "measure our lives with coffee spoons," (there you go Mitch) our hope is that all of you are healthy, well, and/or wise.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Ikuza Blues

So, the Anderson’s are back, which means the internet is back and time to catch up on our blog.

First, the Anderson’s came back from Kenya. Sounds like their trip home was quite eventful. First they were stopped by a road block and accused of a hit and run, something they had no part in. The police here can often be corrupt. In fact, Geoff (the other volunteer teacher here) was held up by a roadblock and asked to show his passport and threatened with deportation. All nonsense, they just wanted a bribe. And just last week, the police made a crackdown on some thieves in a local city by burning one alive as a form of torture in order to get the names of his compadres. The men from the town took the names and went to the village and stole everything from those homes, and then burned down the homes. Good old fashioned street justice. There are numerous stories of cops involved in the black market and bribes, but so are the politicians. It’s just part of life here that most people, missionaries included, seem to adapt to. If you want something done, or done quickly, someone else needs to get paid. To me, such a corrupt bureaucracy seems to make it next to impossible, but back to the story. A quick call to the American Embassy (somewhat of a trump card here) cleared things up quickly and they headed home. The turmoil in Kenya has apparently calmed down, making it possible for them to drive through Nairobi, but the most dangerous part of their trip was not even in Kenya, but only a few kilometres from Kahunda. Apparently they were driving along, around 8 o clock at night, and someone started to open fire at them with a rifle. Andy saw the man standing in the middle of the road shooting, so he stepped on it, drove right at the guy trying to blind him with his brights or run him over and luckily the guy dove for cover into the tall grass. The man only managed to get 5 shots off, one of which hit the front bumper and hit Andy’s winch, but enough to prove their story for the police (who may or may not have been involved). Long story short, they are home, alive, and well.

While they were gone, Vanessa and I got more acquainted with Kahunda. Vanessa is beginning to work miracles with our kerosene oven. Bread, pizza crusts, cinnamon rolls, pancakes, and cookies are all in her cooking repertoire now; we might have to invest in a kerosene oven when we get back. (I threw that semicolon in simply because I miss using semicolons. It is one of the best punctuation marks when used properly). The food situation here is great. We brought tons of meat and produce from Mwanza and the fruit from the village market is heavenly. The bathroom situation is interesting to say the least. Apart from showers heated by a kerosene flame, and flickering white light from our solar powered lights, our toilet also cannot digest toilet paper. So instead of feeding it to the toilet, we feed it to a garbage can, which in turn must be trekked out to the wilderness and thrown into a hole and burned. I suggested drawing straws or playing rock, paper, scissors with Vanessa for this chore, but no luck. The thankless job is mine. P.S. I despise walking out into the jungle-like "bush" surrounding our house. It is beautiful, to be sure, but is filled with lake flies, and spiders, and webs, and vines, and mosquitos. Not to mention the added pleasure of smelling rotting food and, yes, fecal matter.... our fecal matter. But c’est la vie. I keep telling myself I am camping. Which really doesn’t do much to make this place feel better, it only confirms and reconfirms my feelings about camping. Actually though, once living here and for a week at Ikuza (more on that in a moment), camping in Killbear seems like a Five-Star resort.

Ikuza was great. As I mentioned in the previous post, we were thinking of going with Dale Hamilton to Ikuza , a large island with a population of 20,000. AIC (African Inland Church) recently purchased a large clinic that had been started by a Tanzanian businessman who either lost funds or interest, but whatever the case, had given up on it. AIC decided to buy it and has been renovating and restoring it for the better part of 2 years. They have had numerous teams come and chase out the wildlife and revive the place with a semblance of order. It really boggles my mind how quickly nature can take over a building in Africa. Bats had made their homes in the roof, termites in the doorframes and windowsills, Lizards in the ceilings, moths and flies in the windows, and rats and mice in the corners. Not to mention the ants, spiders, and beetles who persistently besiege any and every dwelling here. The clinic plans to open by the beginning of April, so the work was cut out for us. Our job was to paint nine rooms that would eventually become the Lab, pharmacy, wards, etc. We gave them each a coat of prime and than two coats of off-white paint. Next we gave each room a "kick strip" with thick blue oil paint which is easy to clean and hard to get dirty (apparently). However, there was no tape to be found, so we ended up drawing a straight line with a ruler and pencil and slowly going around with a small paintbrush keeping the line straight. Tedious work. Almost as tedious as this story I’m telling.
Anyways, on top of all that, we gave the entire outside of the building a fresh coat of paint, which covered a multitude of sins. While we painted, literally, from sun up to sundown, other people were working on the lights, installing ceilings, building cabinets, etc. Not the work we came here planning to do, but a great way to keep busy for a week while the students in the secondary school wrote their exams.

The reason we worked from sunrise to sunset was because there is really not much else to do in Ikuza, and based on our one foray into the heart of the Ikuzan night life scene, I think many of these people are pretty hard up for entertainment. When the sun goes down there is very little light except where someone has the money for petrol and a generator, but even then, you have to battle the noise of a generator (which most people here do not find a challenge). On Friday night, Dale took Vanessa, myself, and Lucas (one of his Tanzanian workers...a great guy) downtown for a few soda drinks. The first place we went to was a classy establishment with tiled flooring, green lights, and a small television set playing some Swahili version of MTV. Outside the gates about 20 guys hung around trying to watch the TV. Prowling around the entrance were women of "loose" character, trying to catch a fisherman after his long day on the water. Dale shares my fascination for watching people and is a great guy to be a tour guide. Most of the people in Ikuza (and I think many of the islands) know him and he has some type of reputation among many of the locals which makes him the type of person you don’t want to be on the wrong side of. Fine with me. Dale bought us some roasted corn and peanuts from a street vendor and we sat drinking our Cokes and watching people and talking about life on the islands. We hopped around to a few other bars and saw more of the same: people playing pool, people crammed around small television sets with the volume cranked, people selling goods, people selling themselves. An interesting night. Sadly, the plenitude of prostitutes in the islands combined with the peripatetic lifestyles of the fishermen causes this region to be one of the most highly concentrated areas of HIV/AIDS in all of Africa. Chris Hamilton (Dale’s wife) works in the medical field here and is doing a PhD on HIV/AIDS in the region and estimates that almost 80 percent of the island population may be infected. Insane. Four of every five people I met this week may be at risk.

The showers in Ikuza were something else. After a long day of painting, there is nothing like a hot shower. Unfortunately, there was nothing like a hot shower to be had. The "Bafu" or shower room, was the size of a port-o-potty and designed with that concept in mind. The 2 foot by 2 foot room had a concrete floor with a tiny slope towards the back where a small hole had been made to be the drain. A plastic lawn chair had been placed in the tiny room, which when sat on, my knees were already hitting the closed door. When the door was closed, the room was pitch dark, which gave you two options: A) unchange in the dark and try not to mistake your clean shirt for your towel or B) leave the door open a crack and risk having the multitude of children who follow the Muzungus everywhere catch a glimpse of a rare sight, a white ass. I chose option A, and things went well. By each knee is a pail of water and top of the right pail is a pitcher. So you strip down, try to get as many of your clothes to hang onto the nail in the door as possible (the rest of your stuff must be crammed into the little gap between the wall and the ceiling), take a seat on the lawn chair (try not to think of how many other people have used this chair before), and pour a nice, cold pitcherful of water onto yourself (ignoring the tiny hard things that get in your hair, which upon opening the door, you realize are numerous insects who had met their Maker by climbing into the pail). Anyways, one of the more interesting shower experiences I’ve had in my life.

The food in Ikuza was great. Max, the pastor, and his wife Rebekah, made our stay enjoyable. They put on the works for us every night. Mashed plantains, mchicha, pineapple, fried fish, chicken chunks, ugali, rice, rice, and more rice. It really doesn’t seem like much food in relation to what we eat on a normal basis at home, but all this food had to be cooked over a fire and was proablaby prepared about 3 hours before the 20 minutes it took to inhale it. I mentioned ugali, that might need some explaining. Ugali is a staple of many people in this region. It looks like mashed potatoes, but has the texture and the taste of mortar, and I’m convinced could serve the same function. It is a combination of rice flour and water (yes... the same ingredients used to make the glue for paper mache – thanks for nothing Art Attack) and sometimes Cassava. But people here do not eat for the experience of food or taste (so the people here claim), they eat to fill their bellies. If that is the goal, I guess Ugali does the trick. Unfortunately, Ugali has the nutrional value of, well mortar, also and is a large cause of malnutrition in many of the children.
We met some interesting people in Ikuza as well. To help with the work, Dale hired some of the local people from the Church choir to give a hand painting or whatever else. Now I’ve said it before to Vanessa, but I think I would give my Dad about two days of leading any type of work group here before he suffered a minor aneurism. Of course there are great workers here, and most of the people have great attitudes and desires to work, just no ability to see the work and take initiative. Which, when the job they are given runs out, they stand around, make small talk, and wait for their next orders to be yelled at them. My painting partner for Day One was a young guy by the name of Celestine. After setting up our tarp and having Dale explain to us that the key to painting was a clean work area, Celestine decided to lay the paint-stir-stick right onto the clean tarp. So much for that, especially when, cleaning it up, Celestine stepped in the paint and proceeded to put little paint prints wherever he stepped. In frustration, Dale left us to paint, convinced (I’m sure) that the room would be a mess before the day was through. Well about 10 minutes after Dale left, Celestine stepped on the edge of his paint tray, covering his foot, and a large portion of the floor with white paint. The night guard was another one of those characters I’ll never forget, simply because he asked me to give him everything I owned. He didn’t speak English so it made it quite funny when his sign language dawned on me. He would point to something I owned (my Mp3 player, my sandals, my shoes, my pail of paint that wasn’t really mine to begin with) and then he would point to himself. Then I would say No. Our relationship was complicated. I was not sure when, or if, he slept. He was both the night guard and, I think, the Day guard.

But the highlight to the week was getting to fly in Dale’s float plane. He took me Tuesday to drop off his wife in Bumbili and then fly on to Ikuza. When we dropped off his wife Dale showed me how being a missionary pilot can be incredible. He flew low and harassed the local fishermen, dive-bombed and left us weightless for a few seconds, and weaved in and out of islands sing the Top Gun theme into the microphone. He even gave me some free flight lessons and let me fly the plane for part of the way home on our last day. I like to think I was a natural, but seeing how green Vanessa looked in the back and noticing that we seemed to be constantly going side to side, makes me think otherwise. Either way, one boyhood dream of mine to tick off the list.
This week my goal is to begin the construction of the basketball court – specifically the nets. After getting no straight answer from the headmaster and junior headmaster I’ve decided to take things into my own hands and so far that is working great. I’ve managed to get permission from the Director of Health to take down one rim from behind the clinic here, and managed to get another rim delivered from Nairobi. This week I’m ordering some pipe and angle iron from Mwanza and Andy here will do all the welding, so I’m pretty pumped that we may have two real basketball nets by the end of the week.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

i have malaria

Sorry, I don’t have malaria. Neither does Vanessa. Nothing that exciting...yet. But read on. The rest is anticlimax.
Already two weeks have passed in Kahunda and much has happened. Our neighbours, the Andersons, have been gone for almost 5 days now to Kenya, to visit their children at Rift Valley Academy (RVA), a large boarding school where many missionary parents send their children from ages 8 to 18. So no internet for us, hence, no blog updates. I can’t imagine being 8 years old and shipped miles away from my parents to live in a dormitory with 30 boys in a school of over 500 students. I’m sure it would be scary, overwhelming, and quite fun. Maybe like that new show Kid Nation, or that older book, Lord of the Flies. Still, I can’t imagine it. However, the alternative might be harder to imagine: being sent to one of the local Tanzanian schools, such as the Secondary one I’m teaching at, or the Primary one I visited.
Caleb, the Anderson’s youngest child and my new 6 year old friend, invited me last week to sit in on his first grade class. Like his two older siblings, Caleb will go to the local primary school in the mornings and be homeschooled in the afternoons before going off to RVA. Of course what is on the forefront of a 6 year old’s mind and my mind are completely different. When Monday arrived, or was on the verge of arriving, Caleb was up (according to his mom) at 6 AM asking his mom to cook breakfast and get him ready for school because "Doug is coming." Thankfully Margaret is quite in tune with the disparity between a 6 year-olds frame of mind and a 23 year old’s, so she quickly gave me a call, reminding me of my obligations.

As I lay dreaming of non-instant coffee and non-powdered milk (luxuries in Canada...believe me), my peace was interrupted by the phone call of duty. It was 7 AM, still dark, and Monday morning. But, having nothing really pressing to do that morning I walked over to Caleb’s. We picked up his friend Juvenati (unsure of spelling) and proceeded to hike up the hillside to Caleb’s school, which is actually right behind the secondary school I am teaching at. As we neared the school, we passed groups of little boys in tan shorts, white collared shirts (some ripped, some buttonless, most not too white) and zebra striped knee socks and groups of young girls in green knee-length skirts, white collared shirts and the same zebra striped knee-socks. Behind the students were what I believe are 7th grade shepherds. They wield long switches of bamboo and herd the children towards the school. Stragglers are quickly whipped into shape.
Coming from a small school, I was shocked at the amount of children here. There are, Margaret told me later that day, over 1200 students. And the day I came to visit, there were 4 teachers. Given this ratio, the pandemonium that ensued was relatively mild. The day begins with a run. Each class lines up in four rows and begin a jog around the entire property. When they finish, the classes reassume their position in rows and two of the older boys begin to beat out a rhythm on a large drum in the center of this "Parade" (what we would call an assembly at home). The students start to march on the spot to the beat and kick up red dust. The shepherds, known as monitors Caleb informed me, kept students in line (literally) with their switches. After the students sing the Tanzanian anthem (while marching), they march in rows to their respective classrooms.

The whole time this is going on, I assumed my position as objective, distanced, bystander, the unseen seer. Impossible to do when you are only one of two white people in a crowd of 1200. A little aside, I am (and Vanessa will concur) quite sick of being stared at. I am also quite sick of being referred to as Muzungu and then being stared at. It’s enough to make one crazy. On the streets, in the church, and even on our property, we are followed by intense stares. People will stop what they are doing and just stare and stare and stare. At first I ignored it, then I stared back (which usually did the trick), but now I just say Habari? (what’s up?) and go on my way. Now some people may think I now have an inkling of what it feels like to be a minority. Hardly. I find it annoying enough to be segregated and gawked at when my skin colour is associated with something positive (knowledge, wealth, power.... however far any of these may be from the truth of who I am). I can’t begin to fathom what type of person I would become if all these associations were negative (lazy, corrupt, primitive...however far from the truth that may be of who they are). Both can drive one to a complex, whether it’s one of inferiority or superiority depends on circumstance and the prejudice-du-jour, but either can make one into a devil.
But back on topic. Caleb’s class had no teacher that day, so for the first 20 minutes I sat and watched as ninety 6 year olds wrote on the chalkboard, ran around, screamed, shouted, fought, cried, and (a few) made a mad dash for freedom and a day of hooky. The teacher-to-be in me debated with the amused-spectator-that-is in me about whether to stand up and try and impress some form on this chaotic matter, but my role as the mornings Demiurge was quashed by my desire to see how things would transpire. Sure enough, as I kept my guilty silence, the Kindergarten teacher came in and whipped these students into shape in a way I knew, even if I spoke Swahili with her commanding voice, I couldn’t. The students are old-hands at this game, apparently, and the appointed guard of the day had given the boys ample warning that the teacher was coming. She strolled in and started singing the grade one songs of numbers, letters, days of the week, months of the year, etc. Then she started the math lesson of simple addition by getting the students to count out numbers on their home-made abacuses. She put ten questions on the board and then left the class to their work. Surprisingly though, most of the kids sweated over these sums and you could hear "Kumi...Sita....Moja...Nane..." being murmured throughout as the kids did their work. To supervise the student’s work, the teacher sent a group of older girls as monitors. They have red pens to mark and bamboo canes to hit. The hits are not done with mean spiritedness, but to see a girl repeatedly beat over the head with a stick and have her homework thrown onto the ground because she failed to understand why 6 and 3 makes 9 is a bit much. In tears many of the children left the monitor’s desk. The next lesson was reading, which was quite amusing given that the letter they were learning was "R." See my earlier post concerning most Tanzanians inability to differentiate between R’s and L’s and you’ll see why a group of Ninety prepubescent voices chortling out "La, Le, Li, Lo, Lu" from a board reading "Ra, Re, Ri, Ro, Ru" is comical. The humour wore off after about fifteen minutes of this mind-numbing chorus, but that is what rote learning is....and actually, what I think it does.

Caleb picked up on my boredom and realized that his 6 year old games of stealing chalk and running around the room without a teacher were too advanced for me, so he decided to skip out early, which his teachers let him on account, I think, of being white. I have only been to one class and cannot be the voice of the injustice done at Kahunda Primary School, but I bet Caleb is one of the few children not hit by the monitors, and actually, when I was there, the monitor wrote in every answer to his homework. In the long-run this is probably doing him a disservice, but when you are 6, this is VIP treatment. Anyways, it was hot and sticky, and if the colour of my skin was a get out of jail free card, who was I to complain. Caleb’s real education takes place at home in the capable hands of his mother who is a teacher. Some of the other student’s are fortunate enough to have tutors in the afternoon, but this is maybe 2 or 3 students at most. The rest, well the rest get what this Primary School can give them. Numbers and letters by rote, and soon ideas, theories, and solutions, by rote. Understanding, which some, but not all, students attain in their formative years here, is an unnecessary by-product in this system of education that I think, in some ways, eerily reflects what our education systems in the west is becoming. I recall a discussion with one of my Professors at Ottawa saying how students no longer come to his office asking how to research a certain thesis, they ask him what thesis he would most like to read. Code for "what thesis will you be most likely to give an A grade."
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?"
-- T.S. Eliot.
As much a prophecy as it is a lament I think.

To date, I have run my first two basketball classes somewhat successfully. I think I was a little misinformed as to how Tuesdays, the Sports Days, are run. I came expecting to see the four different forms involved in various drills and exercises, the classes being used to study muscle tension and healthy diets, but what I found was that Tuesday is more of a holiday for the teachers. Most of the students were hanging out in their dormitories or under trees, some were getting a game of volleyball underway, and others were out swimming in the lake. This is probably why the twenty guys I met on the court Tuesday afternoon, suddenly turned into four when I told them we were going to go over some Basketball jargon in the classroom. Fortunately, one of the students (who is now my favourite student) had some pity on me and used his popularity to get about 20 guys into the classroom. (P.S. I will definitely be one of those awful teachers who has favourites, but any teacher who says they don’t is lying or a robot)
I cut "Basketball Theory 101" short, and discarded my ideas of doing a history of basketball altogether (just joking...I have no books or access to anything that would remotely help me do this anyway) and went straight to the practical stuff. Right and left hand dribbling, crossovers in front and behind and through the legs and with spinning, the concept of a pivot foot and what it means to travel, chest and bounce and lob passes, with the three-man-weave to cap off a good afternoon. As a first time basketball instructor I don’t think I can ask for anything more than 20 guys who are quite naturally agile, quick to pick up drills from someone who speaks about 30 words of Swahili, and passionate to work. Well, maybe I could ask for one or two things. Nets might be nice. They were supposed to be here last week, but still no sign of them. I fear if they are not here soon I may have a mutiny on my hands. Also, the court is quite rugged. Get any notion of concrete or asphalt out of your minds. Since I cannot download pictures anymore I will have to rely on words. The court is a bit smaller than standard size, but it is made up of a clay type soil called "Muram" that bad students have wheel-barrowed from some distant field or other. It is reddish-brown and quite clumpy, but the students have tamped it down with boards attached to logs. Once this gets very wet and then dries, it hardens like a brick, but we have not had the right combination of weather yet to work this out. So basically, we are playing on a basketball court-shaped dust field that is rutted, starting to grow weeds and really slippery.

Some people say necessity is the mother of invention, but they rarely tell you that the father is cash and the lack of a mother, literally and metaphorically, is rarely the source of family problems in Tanzania. I can think of a few nice ways to improve this court, but without money not much will happen. I think this is true on a larger level here as well. People see the state of some African countries and say they lack imagination, but I don’t think that’s the case. They have as much imagination as anyone with the imago Dei. What they do lack is money, which may be, in part, to a lack of entrepreneurial imagination, but I think that imagination is like a plant that must be cultivated in a certain socio-political and religio-philosophic climate. An interesting study would be to look at some of the world’s most influential inventions and try to analyse not only the external context, but also the internal beliefs and driving factors that prompt men to invent. Who knows, such a study probably already exists.

Vanessa is busy working with Mary Jane, the South African midwife here. They are doing clinics with children, pregnant mothers, and HIV aids patients. She has a very interesting means of spreading the gospel through her clinic and is a great woman to know here. But for the details Vanessa will write a blog, or at least I’m trying to make her.

Until then, life keeps on going. This week the students are writing mid-term exams, so I will be going to Ikuza, an island somewhere out on Lake Victoria, with Dale Hamilton to help set up a clinic. We will be painting and putting up a ceiling and building cabinets. I’m pretty pumped because I can stay busy for the next few days while the students are writing tests, and I think this may be a chance to get a ride in Dale’s plane.

Sunday, March 2, 2008


Howdy. Vanessa and I have (finally) made it to Kahunda and, now that we are somewhat settled into our third and (hopefully) final home, I have time to update the blog.

We no longer have internet here, however, because the nerds that be have been unable to put the appropriate software and hardware combination together that is also compatible with Windows Vista. Not a big deal; in fact, not buying this card has saved us 300, 000 Tanzanian shillings (about 280 dollars) and is beginning to wean us from our various internet addictions. But if you’re wondering how this blog is being posted without internet, the answer is that we are using our neighbour’s – the Andersons – internet by putting our cell-phone chip into their g-card and paying as we go, much cheaper and easier. So that’s the skinny.

I am convinced there are no words (expletives included) that could describe the “road” to Kahunda. The drive to Kahunda is about 107 kilometres that took just over five hours to complete. We loaded Bob’s jeep with all our earthly possessions and set out by nine in the AM to catch the 9:30 ferry. Again, personal space means nothing to most Tanzanians and the line up to get onto the ferry was a frustrating ten minutes of pushing, jostling, and touching that ignited (not for the first, and most likely not the last) a longing for our Western understanding of what amount of personal space is appropriate. Nevertheless, the Ferry was loaded with a few jeeps and a giant bus which I still have no clue how it made it through those roads. After thirty minutes on the Ferry and taking in the beauty of Lake Victoria with its many islands and its diversity of bird life, we docked and were greeted by a gathering of Maribu Storks. An appropriate bird of death to signal the start of our drive. I would hardly have been surprised to see the words “Abandon Hope all ye who enter” engraved on a sign ushering us into the heart of our Africa experience.

The only thing that marks the road from all that is not road is the amount of vegetation upon said road. Fortunately there is less vegetation (but just barely) on the road, but where there is no vegetation there are rocks pushing up through the road, large ruts from the rivers running through the road and herds of goat and cattle on the road. But the last is only during rush hour. The most exciting parts of the trip though are the hillside streams (either flowing or dry) which create inverted speed bumps that can drop the vehicle one inch or three feet. I think Bob’s “Only the drunks drive straight here” says it best. So white knuckled and slightly bruised we made it to Kahunda in one piece.

The drive into Kahunda was incredible. The village was similar to the thirty or so non-descript villages we drove through that morning – tiny markets, kids in matching school uniforms chasing the jeep or running from it, bikes laden with bananas or pineapples or mangos – but Kahunda is right on the shores of Lake Victoria. The AIC compound in Kahunda (apparently the largest in terms of acreage in all Africa) felt like I was driving onto the set of LOST. After emerging through jungle that has been untouched by human hands since creation, the AIC compound is an oasis of human civilization running for about half a kilometre along the coast. The first home you see, nearest to the Kahunda center of town is Dale Hamilton’s, the AIM pilot. His home is nestled right into the jungle with cacti, vines, and ferns in the back and sandy beach in the front. I won’t describe all the homes, since each is a unique combination of function and form that allow its inhabitants to survive life in the bush with as much comfort as possible. At the end of this string of homes lays the Gilmour home, which Vanessa and I are dwelling in for the next three months.

There are a few things in the house we have to get used to. First, we’ve acquired two dogs (Duke and Dutchess) and one cat (Lily) who is pregnant and ornery and quite annoying. Her incessant meowing and desire to rub up against my shins has already had me hatching plans of ways to keep her out of the house, but with all the little holes in the roof and her cat-like ability to climb... I think my attempts will be futile. As I type this, Vanessa has just locked the cat into one of the bedrooms... and now the cat is dropping into the living room from the attic. What the deuce? The dogs are pretty killer. I’ve decided to gain their allegiance with some free food and a liberal amount of head scratching, but the speed with which they have made two absolute strangers into friends has me more than a little concerned in their ability to discern friend from foe and guard this plot of land. Apart from domestic animals, a plethora of wild animals have also seemed to make their dwelling in the Gilmour house that has been without tenants the better part of a year. There are millions of ants which threaten to take over the kitchen countertop every time we turn around, mosquitos and wall spiders a plenty, and a bat. We didn’t encounter the bat till our second night. Vanessa and I were watching a movie on the couch the bat dive-bombed us and hit the curtains behind our heads. Vanessa bolted for the bathroom and locked herself in...and me out. I grabbed a tennis racket and crouched by the TV anticipating its next move. After about ten useless swings, Vanessa and I took cover in the security of our mosquito netted bed. Fifteen-Love for the Bat.

The waterbed is also something to get used to. The first night we were both somewhat seasick with the motion of the bed combined with the noise of waves about twenty feet from our window. The second night we were so fed up with the musty smell of the Gilmour’s sheets which have been in storage for so long that we decided to air them, not thinking that the duvet directly on the waterbed was a way of insulating us from the cold water in the bed. Both of us woke up around two shivering and numb with the cold. This cannot be Equatorial Africa. The third night, however, was a charm.

Among the other things we are still getting used to is having solar power. All our lights are powered by five large car-type batteries/cells that are actually pretty consistent. The Gilmour’s also have a D/C adapter that puts our battery power into Alternating Current so we can use things like our laptop, the TV, radio, and even hair dryer. Although the two times Vanessa has used the hair dryer, it drained the batteries completely and we were without lights for about two hours. Live and learn. Our shower is heated by a gas heater hung on the wall. The Freezer runs on Kerosene as does the stove (Andy explained the physics of it to me, quite interesting). And we have a group of five Tanzanians who are yard keepers/guards which are hard to get used to.

Margaret (the Margaret from Dar) took Vanessa and I to the Secondary School and the Dispensary to get some concrete details as to the work we will be doing here for the next three months. Unfortunately, trying to get someone in this culture not to equivocate is next to impossible. Something very frustrating that we have both been trying to understand since we’ve been here. Despite the disconnect, Joseph and his assistant Yona hammered out a job description for me that I am very excited to start with. I will be teaching the Form 3 and Form 4 students (equivalent of grades 9/10 and 11/12) English language and literature. I have each class for 120 minutes. 80 minutes of lecture and 40 minutes of debate. Should be fun. I had the chance to sit in on a few of their classes already and I can see that language is going to be a serious hurdle to overcome if I’m going to be effective in teaching. Their midterms are next week and then they have a week of midterm break and I begin, so at least two weeks to develop my curriculum with Yona (the head English teacher) and get a bit of a lesson plan together. Currently I’m reading some drama from Ngugi Wa Thion’go (a Kenyan writer I studied in University) and Guillaume Oyono-Mbia (A Cameroonian writer I’ve just encountered) that we will get to look at near the end of May. Unfortunately the school is quite impoverished. Despite having 350 paying students enrolled (tuition is about 300 dollars per term), the buildings are in disrepair, the dorms which have a 50 student capacity are crammed with almost 90 students, and the library has very few books and almost no duplicates, making a class discussion on a shared reading quite difficult. But I will cross that bridge when I get there. Also, they started making an outdoor basketball court and signed me up to begin the basketball course (first ever in Kahunda history) for about 4 hours a week with some of the Form 3 and Form 4 boys who are interested. With one Basketball though, this may be difficult.

Vanessa met with the Director of Care at the Dispensary, a man named Mikobi (sp?) and tried to get her job description. After showing us around the facilities Vanessa had yet to learn what her role there would be. In fact, he claimed to be so busy and so overworked, but asked how many patients he sees every day, he said, on average there are about 15. If that is overworked, I don’t think he’d last too long in the Canadian system. Mary Jane, the nurse from South Africa, arrived last night with the Hamiltons, and to Vanessa’s relief laid out her plan to take Vanessa under her wing and bring her to the various island clinics and see the work they do there with Maternity and HIV/AIDS.

So this, right now, is our life in the little fishing village of Kahunda. Oh, interesting fact: people love to bathe in this lake and right in front of our home. Vanessa and I set up some chairs on the little ledge overlooking the beach to have some tea, only to have the gorgeous view blocked by a large black buttocks. This has really made our walks down the beach interesting since we are constantly averting our eyes from the men, women, and children, who walk the shores wearing nothing but what God gave them. But hey, if you can’t beat em...