Two weeks into our adventures in Tanzania and I (Kristina Parthum) am finally feeling like I’m getting a handle on things. As you all have read, this is my first trip to Tanzania, but it is a return trip for my companion, Eileen. With only a few months between these expeditions, Eileen fell back into her Tanzanian life with (what appeared to me to be) relative easy. I, on the other hand, didn’t know up from down and with my absolutely zero knowledge of Swahili, wouldn’t have even been able to find my way across our small village Bunju if I were to get lost. The result of this has been my following Eileen around in what I can only imagine looks like to the way the ducks who live at our house here follow one another around! Luckily for me, I’m not too averse to looking stupid, and Eileen is very helpful so even with this duck-like mentality in mind I’m having a wonderful time!
As I said, I’m finally starting to get a handle on things here. My Swahili is still sub-par at best, but I’m able to communicate a bit with the people who work for our host-grandfather, Babu, and Babu understands and speaks English well so there is no problem there. The only problems I run into a bit are at FANAKA, where Eileen and I teach everyday. FANAKA is a secondary school (which makes it similar to US high school) and while just about all of the Form Three and Form Four students (these are comparable to Juniors and Seniors in high school) speak English fairly well so that we understand one another, I am teaching Form One (Freshmen) and some of them know very little English. Unfortunately with my understanding of Swahili being basically zero, I am forced to teach in a sort of immersion-style. I speak slowly, using the simplest form of English that I can, and hope for the best. This works out better some days than others, usually depending upon the topics I am covering that day, and it has forced me to plunge back into my memory and retrieve my first classes from French One in high school and my elementary English classes, and combine the two. While I’ve had a few class periods where I have left feeling frustrated with myself, and my inability to communicate what I had wished to, most of the time I am surprised with how well class went. I am quickly learning my students’ paces and able to adapt my lessons to (hopefully) fit those paces as well as possible.
Outside of actual school I have been learning a lot about the culture of my new environment. This past weekend Eileen and I were invited to attend the wedding of the nephew of the matron of the girls’ dorms at FANAKA. This was a new experience for both of us. While the ceremony was in the traditional Catholic style, and so in that sense something I have experienced many times before, there was one element that made it very different from back home-the ceremony was being held for ten couples at the same time! Apparently it is very common in Tanzania to have multiple couples in the same ceremony, however Babu said that even in Tanzania ten is a lot! Each couple got his/her turn in the spotlight as they came out of the church. The wedding party rushed around the newlyweds and a few photographs were taken as they exited the church and descended down the stairs towards their awaiting vehicles. After the ceremony the guests all headed off in the various directions of the receptions (because, yes, those are separate). Our reception was very pretty, but again differed from most receptions one would attend in Winona.
Most US wedding receptions that I’ve attended have gone along the same structural lines of cocktail hour, dinner, then sort of a free-for-all/dancefest the rest of the evening with just a few traditions thrown in the middle (like the garter and flower bouquet toss). The traditional Tanzanian wedding is much more programmatic. It seemed as though there was a set list (of sorts) that the reception had to check off as it went. For example, when they cut the cake it wasn’t just a quick one-two punch like back home. Instead, the bride fed the groom a bite of cake, then they presented the grooms family with a cake tire, after which the same routine happened with the bride and then her family. Then the newlyweds fed cake to the best man and presented another table with a cake, then the maid of honor and cake went to another table, etc. This cake-dance went on for close to 15 minutes, with applause between each step. And this was just one of many (and probably the most familiar) traditions at the reception. The reception also had dancers as entertainment, and they would show up sporadically throughout the ceremony to do a traditional dance or two. They were very good and fun to watch, just like the rest of the wedding experience!
The next few days were sort of all over the place at school. The reason for the craziness was that another secondary school was closed a week or so ago, and on Sunday FANAKA received around 65 new students. FANAKA has both day students and boarders, and all of these new students were supposed to be boarders. In the very Tanzanian fashion of not worrying about anything until you absolutely must, Sunday came and FANAKA had not yet prepared the dorms for the new students. Eileen and I decided to walk down to the school to see if we could help with everything and found that 65 students were due to show up at any time, and we had only four or five new bunk beds assembled for them. Uh…what? Without hesitation, Eileen and I rolled up our sleeves and began assembling more beds for our soon-to-arrive new students. As most college students, we had assembled at least one dorm room bunk bed in our time at WSU, but this being Tanzania, our materials here were in less than ideal conditions. Nearly all of the frames were bent quite a bit, and our nuts and bolts to connect them were mostly old and rusted, so needless to say that it did not go as quickly as it should have. As we continued to assemble the beds the new students began to arrive and it took about 30 seconds to see that there were going to be some issues. The FANAKA girls became quite territorial and when I asked a few if they were going to be welcoming to our new girls who would be living with them I got a quick, shameless response of “no.” In the fashion of high school girls, they were not interested in the fact that having a lot of new students would be good for the school, all they saw were girls they didn’t know and who they believed to have “attitudes” coming onto their turf. While, as a teacher, I knew I had to try to get the FANAKA girls to be welcoming to our new students, as someone who was a high school girl not too long ago, I couldn’t help but laugh. The longer I am with my students the more things I see translating across cultures.
Finally, as the sun was setting Sunday night, every new student had a bed to crash in, although we would find out the next day that, for many, it would be the only night they would spend at FANAKA. School on Monday was hectic to say the least. It seemed as though a large number of our new students had been told (for one reason or another) that they shouldn’t attend FANAKA but should instead be going to another school. The politics of it aren’t important, but it became quickly evident on Monday that a sort of mob mentality was arising among the new students. What at first had been just a few students planning to go to this other school, had morphed overnight into nearly all of our new students were raising a ruckus about being at FANAKA. The rest of the day was a lot of “discussions” (for lack of a better word) between these students and a few of FANAKA’s older teachers, the Headmistress, Babu, and the occasional parent. When the dust finally settled, about half of these new students stayed at FANAKA and half went to this other school. Unfortunately for the FANAKA girls, the half who stayed were almost all girls, so they will have to learn to get along!
Besides our work teaching, our integration into our host family, and our adventures exploring our new surroundings, Eileen and I have been spending a lot of time working with Babu on Hydrate to Educate, which one of the current undertakings of the Tanzanian Education Project. The goal of H2E is to fund and install a water-catch system at FANAKA so that we can collect the rainwater during the rainy season and store it so that students have water on-site throughout the year (especially in the dry season). Up to this point, Babu has been spending exorbitant amounts of money to have water pumped to FANAKA each month. The system is not complicated. Basically it is a series of rain gutters that will be connected to pipes that will take to water to one of several storage tanks on the school grounds. These will be covered tanks equipped with pumps so that we may extract the water throughout the year. H2E has been moving along well these past two weeks, and (surprisingly!) we are just about on budget at the moment! Right now we have the well that will be used for our largest tank just about complete and the gutters are being installed around the Assembly Hall. This one tank will hold enough water for a few months of the year, but as we hope to have enough to last throughout the entire year, we are simultaneously working to outfit a few other buildings with gutters and storage tanks. Hopefully we will have (at least) the one around the Assembly Hall operational before the rains start next month.
So that is what we’ve been up to this past week! Tanzania amazes me daily and I am learning more than I cam possibly convey. It’s the first week of March, so hopefully everyone in Winona is preparing for that wonderful March snowstorm I’ve become so accustomed to! Baadaye rafiki!