Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Kwaheri Kahunda

Class ended. With a bang. I wrapped up the year teaching the students a few last literary devices. It was riveting. We got through archaisms, allusions, and allegories (don’t worry, we weren’t going alphabetically). The allusions (Tanzanian pronunciation: arrusions) was especially amusing. With the classes help we whittled down the definition to “A direct or indirect reference to a well known person, place, thing, or event.” Example: Someone who is wise can be wise as Solomon. Asking the class if everyone followed, and seeing 90 heads nod in the affirmative, I asked them to give it a try. After a few seconds, one of the braver girls in the class tentatively raised a hand and offered: “The mother bore a child, the child was dead.” Hmmmm. Okay, back to the drawing board. “How does that fulfill the requirements of our definition???” No response. Okay, someone else give it a go. Next came one of my best students. He raised his hand and suggested: “Israel is the place where the Jews live” Hmmmm. Strike two. I tried backpedalling to tie “Israel” into an allusion. NOW, do we all understand what allusions are??? Everyone nods their heads: Yes. Okay, someone give me a real allusion. A boy in the back stands up: For God so loved the World he gave us His Son. Alright, well he’s alluding to something, even if this isn’t what I wanted. As I walked back to home I wondered if my students’ comprehension was just an illusion...or irrusion.

Other memorable moments were the simile a student offered me: “This class is as long as my penis” (I was quite proud he made a rather abstract connection between length in time and length in space). The awkwardness of this moment however, was compounded by the fact that I thought he said “My beans” and I asked him to repeat his answer three times. Or there was the student who, giving me an example of onomatopoeia, said, “The lion says Moooo” and another student, “the car goes uuuuu.” Or the student who, trying to give me an example of an archaism, suggested “Gracias” since, he said, “this means ‘thank you’ in the land of the Italians.” Close enough.

In all fairness, I think the last few lessons on creative writing were a bit out of these students’ leagues. In fact, I think some of my friends in Canada couldn’t come up with a Litote or an Archaism if I asked them. But they are still good people.

On one of our last days, Vanessa and I went to the school to take some pictures. When we got there we saw all the students outside between the classrooms. This might be interesting we thought. I was about to take a few pictures when the headmaster came to greet us (again, greeting here is a 5 minute ordeal: how are you? Your home? Your work? Your friends..etc.). I asked if we could take some pictures of the school to show our friends back home and he said, “Of course you are welcome.” (Aside: many Tanzanians say Of Course to emphasize saying Yes, it’s really funny. One student, Titus, is the best at it. I called him Mr. Titus one morning and he replied, “But of course you may call me Mr. Titus”). Anyways, I asked what was going down at the school and why the students were all out of class. He told me that 4 students were being expelled. Two boys had been found using opium and living in the village with some woman of ill-repute and two girls had been found drinking. So we packed up the camera and inched our way backwards. Awkward.

This is just one example of the fact that I never really knew what to expect when I went to the school. One day I went there and it was a national holiday. The other day I went up to teach my Form III students and they were all pouring out of the classroom and heading to the village. I was a bit late, but time here does not really mean what it does back home (e.g. the other teachers can come about 30 to 40 minutes after a class should have began and go for about 50 to 60 minutes after it should have ended). I saw the headmaster with a few teachers following the students and quickened my pace to catch up with the growing mob. The headmaster informed me that last night some students had stolen the school’s plastic lawn chairs and sold them to a man in the village and they were going to raid the village and return them. Mob violence in Tanzania is very real and accepted, just 2 days ago the nightguard at Ikuza (I wrote about him in an earlier blog) had both his sons stoned to death when they were found guilty of stealing and last time we were in Mwanza a man was inches away from being stoned in the street, but a guard with a rifle managed to take him away. Anyways, I was thinking that this might get ugly. Fortunately it didn’t. The chairs were returned, the students expelled, and the man who bought them was fined 300,000 shillings and a cow. Did that make sense? Of course. So the school now has a brand new cow tied up out back.

We said our goodbyes on Friday. The school hosted a big assembly and made a feast of rice, beans, fried beef, meat stew, and tomato salad. Good stuff. Some of the teachers gave speeches imploring us to stay. They offered both of us full time teaching positions and they would construct us a house. We’ll see what happens. At the clinic, Vanessa’s coworkers had dessert and sodas for us. I was surprised at how little English they speak there compared with the school. But that is over and Kahunda is now a collection of memories of unique students and patients, lessons and lesions, beaches, naked bathers, fishermen laughing in the night, struggling with propane stoves and battery operated lighting that never seemed to work, making everything from scratch (more Vanessa than myself) and a whole bunch of smells and tastes and sounds that don’t translate well into words.

Now we are in Mwanza. Tomorrow we fly out to Arusha for our Mountain Climbing adventure. Mwanza is pretty uneventful. We went to a nearby “cafe” for some tea and coffee yesterday morning and were surprised that the price for two cups was only 1500 shillings ($1.20). We were more surprised (or perhaps less) when they came out with a kettle of boiling water and gave Vanessa a tea bag and me a pot of instant coffee grinds. Nasty. We are enjoying the city though. Bob took us to see some of the missionary homes yesterday and the home of the old AIC archbishop. He lives in a large place on a mountain peak overlooking the lake. Quite beautiful. He’s an English M.A. as well, which is interesting. If teaching ever falls through, maybe I could find a job as archbishop somewhere.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Kahunda Church.
Lunch time at the school. The old dining hall burnt down many years ago and they lack funds to build a new one. Even the cookhouse (which is the building here) is pretty shabby and in need of renovation.
The headmaster, Joseph Kunyume (red shirt), Me, and Yona, the Junior headmaster and English teacher (my Mentor here).
The pride and joy of Kahunda Secondary School. At least my pride and joy. The muram is a treat to play on, you never know which way the ball might bounce.
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On the "Kahunda Road" Two lorries either stuck or washing in the water that collects on the road.
Large Sailboat that past our house.

Small boy that passed our house. (yes..I sit and read outside with a camera on my lap)
This little girl is always playing here by her home when I pass to school and she always smiles and says, "Shikamoo Mzungu". She is my favorite kid in Kahunda.
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Emma (left) and Charles, our house helpers. They were amazing and did everything from lawn cutting to grocery shopping. Our conversations often involved a Swahili-English dictionary.
Kahunda Secondary School Staff photo 2008. One of these things is not like the others....
Clinic Staff.
Going away celebration in the staff room. We had a great feast and some students and teachers gave speeches.
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Vincent challenged me to a one-on-one game on my last day in Kahunda. This was for the King of the Court position. You'll have to ask him who won.
Exhausted. The temperature when we play is around 30-32 degrees. (The tall student you see behind vincent is Kunumbe...he now owns my bball shoes, which he asked for when I left)
Vanessa's office. Maryjane checking out the baby, the baby, checking out me.
Outside the clinic on a busy day. All these mothers are waiting to see Vanessa and MaryJane.
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There and Back Again

Time to break out the defibulators and bring this blog back to life.

We are back from our journey. Finally. It is funny how a two day grocery run to Mwanza evolved into a two week sojourn into Kenya. When we were planning to go in with Andy to top up our supplies in Mwanza – things you can’t get in the bush, like eggs, syrup, lettuce, oil, dish-soap, etc. – we originally planned to be away for two to three days. The morning before we left, however, Margaret called to inform us that Vanessa’s visa application was rejected and we would need to leave the country and re-enter in order to extend it for a month, and we had till May 3 to do so. Since it would cost 50 dollars each to leave, Margaret (the CRWRC head of Tanzania) suggested taking a tour of the CRWRC operations in Nairobi, especially now that the country was somewhat at peace. Our tickets were scheduled to leave on the Wednesday (and not just our tickets, we also) and return the Monday, which was just in time to catch a ride home with Josh who was making a stop in Mwanza before heading to Kahunda. Well, that was the plan and everything seemed to have fallen into place quite perfectly. Unfortunately Josh’s plans changed and he was held up in Nairobi (in fact, he’s still there) and we were on the verge of bussing it back until Bob offered to save us the 8-12 hour ordeal and drive us back to Kahunda. So, here we are. Again.

The trip to Nairobi was great. I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking. But where pictures fail, I’ll fill in. It was definitely a badly needed/desired break, even if it turned out to be much longer than we anticipated. I think too much time in a place like Kahunda could lead one to insanity. If anyone has seen the Sean Penn flick Into the Wild (an adaptation of Krakauer’s novel) one will know what I am talking about. The boy’s final epiphany comes as he is reading a short story by Tolstoy and sees that the main ingredient for the good life is (no, not good books) the society of others. Not that there is no society in Kahunda, it is just that we are somewhat excluded from it based on our language, and now that the Andersons and Hamiltons are oot and aboot, Kahunda is down to Vanessa, MaryJane, and myself.

But back to Nairobi. Going to Nairobi was a reverse-culture-shock. Cityscapes and suburbia, highways with traffic, rush hours and the smell of early morning exhaust, street lights and street sweepers, underground sewage and underground parking, coffee shops with Mochas and Japanese restaurants with Sushi, theatres and bowling alleys, museums and art galleries, pubs and bars, life beyond sunset and before sunrise, and everywhere you looked or listened, the sweet music of familiarity: the English language. It wasn’t just reverse-culture-shock, it was cultural relief. We could not believe we were on the same continent. No one stared at us or called out Mzungu. Sweet anonymity. To be able to communicate freely and easily with people on the street, to ask for directions and make plans without pantomiming, and to decipher a large part of the corpus that comprises the unwritten dictionary of the non-verbal communications of head nods, hand gestures, and eyebrow aerobics was exhilarating, albeit short-lived. Our time was spent walking the city parks, enjoying numerous cups of Kenyan coffee and Tea-masala, checking out the Kenya national museum, going on a walking safari, and driving around with John (our taxi driver) and Amy (a CRWRC employee from the Kansas).

After four days, the blur that was Nairobi faded into the dark clouds of the rainy-season as we ascended into the inverted world of airplanes. The flight was pretty spectacular; we flew between the peaks of Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru, then headed West over the Ngorongoro Crater and the vast expanse of the Serengeti plains. We were too high up to see, but the biggest wildebeest migration in the world was beginning 20,000 feet below us as thousands of wildebeest begin their trek across the Serengeti grasslands and into Kenya. We landed in Mwanza and later that week had a chance to tour the Bugondo hospital with an American doctor who is doing his residency here through Cornell University. The hospital has 850 beds (which is huge, even for an American hospital, according to our guide) and largely understaffed. We met a whole bunch of interesting missionary families who are constantly flowing into and out of Mwanza. The highlight of my week was eating a large Fillet Steak, my first steak in three months. (Question: why do some Americans pronounce this “fill-it” steak?)

Now we are back in Kahunda. And like I said, it is quiet. I’ve been back to teaching this past week, and I am amazed at how time has sort of slipped by. It feels that I’ve finally been able to get things started up and now it is almost time to wrap up. I jumped ahead in my syllabus and noted that I have only 2 more lessons for the different classes I teach. Unfortunately, with the unexpected Nairobi trip, I’ve had to take off our fiction courses; however, after asking the students every class for the last 2 and a half months how many had even begun to read the play I requested, 0 people had started. Yet after each class, it never fails, two or three students will come and ask me why I don’t start looking at fiction, rather than spend class time learning how to read it (and write it). Frustrating. A similar thing happened with the basketball, so I should not be surprised. Each Tuesday I go to coach a 2 hour session of basketball fundamentals, but the students only want to play games rather than learn basics. So I’ve compromised. I realize that I’m only hear for a short time, there is very little chance they are going to pick up how to run different set offenses; therefore, we spend about 30 minutes doing lay-ups and shooting and 3 man weaves, and then begin a game. It’s fun, and on non-Tuesdays I have been going to the school from 4:30 to 7 just to play pick-up with some of the guys who really like Basketball, and have become quite good. One particular student, his name is Vincent, must have played somewhere before since he is quite a bit better than all the other students. He is hilarious. Every time I come to play he makes sure he is not on my team and gets to guard me. Last week he took the bus to Mwanza and came back with a brand new pair of Air Jordans and a Lebron James jersey. Too bad the Muram court will do a number on them.

Class is interesting though. If the students are not learning all that I hoped they would, at least I am gaining an appreciation of the English language from the “other” side. My recent lessons have turned to creative writing and explaining a list of various literary devices, which has made for some amusing in-class discussions.

Doug: Satire is a mode of writing where one can be critical while also being humorous and witty. (Deciding to scrap his original intentions of explaining the differences between Horatian and Juvenalian Satire).
Student A: What is critical?
Doug: Well in this context it means to expose problems.
Student A: And what is humorous?
Doug: To be funny, or to make jokes.
Student A: What is funny?
Doug: (thinking) To make someone laugh.
Student A: Of course.
Doug: So, for an example, let’s talk about the road from Kahunda to Mwanza. If I were to satirize it I might say, “The road is great; it only takes the bus eight hours to travel 100 kilometres”
Student A: (confused) But sir, how is a road great if it takes a bus such a long time to travel a distance that is so small?”
Doug: (realizing that sarcasm is lost in translation). Well, that is my point...
Student B: No, Mr. Doug means that the road is very long. Great means very big, so the bus takes a long time.
Student A: But 100 kilometers is not a great distance.
Doug: First, great can mean a large size, but I am referring to the road’s quality. It is “great” or very good. So my second sentence undercuts the first one, but it’s subtle (maybe too subtle I’m beginning to regret)
(a moment of silence as the students digest this new information)
Student A: Mr. Doug, you said that Satire has to make someone laugh. Why do you think criticizing the roads in Tanzania is funny? We are poor and the roads are also poor. It is not funny.
Doug: (thinking: why is this getting so tough?) Alright, point taken. But there are different types of Satire, in some instances the writer chooses to laugh at his readers, but in other types he laughs at himself and the readers. (Remembering a grad paper he wrote on the different employments of Satire in Ben Jonson’s drama...) So, depending on the type of Satire, you, as a writer, can be aligned with your audience or alienated from it.

Blank stares ensue....

So that is one of many discussions we get into. The discussion around Litotes, Hyperbole, and Onomatopoeia were also humorous, but too lengthy to get down. Much of the class involves laughter at how these words are pronounced and me trying to draw or enact how they work.

So, two more weeks in Kahunda! The countdown is in earnest. We are trying to continue carping the diem, while we are here, but with the end so near at hand, it is hard. I have just finished writing up the questions for the English end-term examinations; a symbolic full-stop of our work here. This week to come will involve exam review and then as the students write their exams, we pack up and head for Mwanza. This may be the last post for a long while, but hopefully when we get to Dar, I can update you on how our travels from Mwanza to Arusha and to Zanzibar have gone. If you do not know, our original plans were to take our midterm break at the end of our time here rather than in the middle, so we could maximize our time in Kahunda. So we booked a four day hike to the summit of Meru with our friend Geoff (the other volunteer teacher here). This was, of course, pre-visa trouble and pre-Nairobi. Anyways, taking off on the 22nd proves to be quite convenient for both of us since the school will not be running due to exams and the clinic is shut down for meetings.

(By the time this is posted, we are now already back in Mwanza and have said our goodbyes. I will update on all the recent adventures of the past 2 weeks, our farewell parties etc. soon)