Friday, April 29, 2011

Paradise for the politically incorrect

I've complained long and hard over the years about the metastasis of political correctness, seems a person can't say anything anymore for fear of offending someone. So for those of you of like mind, KARIBU AFRICA, the mother ship is calling you home.
The man in the back caught this monkey
 in the forest and now he lives in Magubike and 
likes tomatoes.
On my first trip to Tz, a few of us were perusing some books we'd bought for the kids at the children's center. We came upon a children's first dictionary made by Vika, a local company that publishes educational material. Cute book, with clever little drawings depicting each word, A to Z. Like Richard Scarry and Sesame Street. Pretty standard stuff until we came to J.
They went downriver and clowned for the camera. 
 I didn't tell them I've got 24x zoom power.

There's about a million words that begin with J, but Vika chose jail. J is for Jail. The accompanying picture showed a mournful looking man staring out of a cell, gripping the bars. The caption read "Hamisi's uncle is in jail".

On to S. A picture of a man holding a smoldering rifle over a dead deer, tongue lolling to the side, blood on the ground, little x's over it's eyes. "Amina's uncle shot a deer".

So by then I was laughing so hard I 
Water pump in the middle of Magubike. 
It's women's work to fetch water, 
so you'll see very few boys doing 
this past the age of 8 or 10. 
Then they simply refuse, and the girls take over.
was crying, and then there was V. Of ALL the words in the world beginning with V, they had a picture of a cute little schoolgirl holding her stomach while she V is for vomited on the ground. Lots of graphic little splatters of little Violet's (V is for Violet) recent lunch. Probably ugali.

Local farmer selling sugar cane.

That was in 2005, and here I am, back in Tz. I found some English books to use with Waziri, the 18 year old student I tutor at night. The exercise was to change the verb from active to passive form. The sentence given to us was "He beat the thief to death", which in the passive form would be "The thief was beaten to death by him". Another gem of a sentence was They are beating her now. I forgot what we were supposed to do with that one.
The rains have arrived so all the kids can
throw off their clothes and swim in the river.

Then we studied question tags, which are small questions such as isn't it? or didn't we?, tagged onto a statement (hence the name) Up until now I never even knew they existed, but apparently the appropriate question tag for the sentence "You cannot beat your mother", is can you?? You have to love a place like this.

 Habeli, with his pikipiki

Africa is also the place where I have heard, and not for the first time, "You white people all look alike".

I asked Waziri how school went today, he said good. I asked what was good about it and he said "I got to school early today so I was not punished". Will now try, to the best of my recollection, to replay this conversation verbatim.
Magubike market

And how are you punished?
Well, sometimes we are beaten with a stick and other times we have to clean the toilets (if you've got a brain in your head you'll take the stick).
When you are beaten, how many times will the teachers strike you?
Oh, maybe 6 or 12 times.
Are the girls caned?
Yes, but they are caned on the arm.
Where are the boys caned?
On the buttocks.
Will they sometimes cane more than one student?
Yes, they can beat us all if they wish.

Old goat 
Sometimes I can't believe the conversations I have here.
Ive mentioned Waziri a few times, so let me tell you more. He's very bright. They just took their mid term exams. and he passed 6 of his 7 subjects. Passing is 51%. He got a 90 in English, his favorite subject. He failed Physics. I asked why and he said they don't have a physics teacher. I asked how long the teacher has been absent and he said there never was one. Waziri studies 7 subjects, English, Biology, Kiswahili, Physics, Civics, History, and Math. Four out of his 7 subjects have no teacher. According to Waziri, the kids just sit around and play or study, as the mood strikes them. Waziri studies.
Typical backyard in the village. 
Clothes drying on the bushes.
The shallow baskets are used for cleaning rice

Ive been in Africa enough to know this is pretty standard for rural schools. It was the same in Idweli when I taught 6th grade English. Not many teachers want to come to a small village, there's nothing to do. Even if there are teachers assigned to an area, that doesn't mean they actually show up. But you have to wonder what would happen if he was sent to a proper school with a library, science labs and hey, teachers.

Along those lines I asked him if he'd like to go to a different school, and if so, where. So we talked and I've talked with his parents (really nice people), and Mungu akipenda he will attend St. Alpha's School in Morogoro. It's only 400 USD/year for boarding school. Will be working on that over the next few months.

I love living around all the goats and cows,
saw these on the Magubike trip.

I've gotten past being angry about all this crap. It won't change anything, there's just too much to be angry about, and eventually I would go insane. So I try to make end runs around the garbage. I guess I've just adjusted, which you must do because in the end, Africa Always Wins.

Went to Magubike last weekend, to visit friends and troll for fruit, as we are virtually fruitless here in Berega. Went on the pikipiki with my friend Habeli, who owns the bike. Had a nice visit with Kaleni, the leader of The Group. I paid my dues, we walked around the village, and I scored some fruits and veggies.

We were talking about the recent increases in pikipikis (a license is a plus, but not a must) over last few years and she mentioned a couple of accidents she's had, and showed me her battle scars. I told her I felt jinxed and we laughed.
Transporting charcoal from far away.

Then on the way home we skidded on some gravel on a curve and went down. Nothing broken except Habeli's hand brake. I got a couple of bruises, but my camera and the fruit came through without a scratch. It's not the village roads that scare me, it's the big roads. The big buses and cars are apparently driven by vehicular virgins, but in the village all we really have to worry about are stray goats and cows. No one cares about the chickens, who are incredibly stupid and apparently not worth a swerve. And if I have offended any chickens with that last remark, I am truly unrepentant.

 Will catch up after my likizo (vacation) . Nakupenda. L

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Kids, The School, The Rains

This is a new thing for me, to spend a couple of years, and it's good. 

I'm usually a little more mobile, but I've decorated with all the stuff I've collected over the years and it's nice to have a home. Plus, this time I get a chance to see the effect the walls can have over time.

Already I'm amazed, but it's not just the walls. Martha, our head teacher, is great. She's Tanzanian, 24, likes kids, and likes teaching. We also have stuff, some books, things donated, and things I brought with me. So combined with the walls we rock.
We are standing on stones. Nouns and verbs. We go outside
everyday, lots of nouns and verbs outside.

We try as much as possible to speak English, but sometimes we need to use Kiswahili. These aren't like American kids. Most of these kids have had NO exposure to oh, anything academic, so you can only try to explain something in English for so long till you just have to slip into something they understand. One little girl doesn't even speak Kiswahili. Aside from Kiswahili, which is the official language of Tz, every village has a tribal language, sometimes multiple tribal languages. So, she speaks Kaguru.

This happens frequently in small, rural villages and when these kids start first grade, which is taught in Kiswahili, they're behind from day one and will probably stay there. But they are an amazing group. The other day during peanut time, Freddy turned to me and said "Hello, my name is Freddy Adani, I come from Berega. I am a boy. I am 6 years old. May I have peanuts?"  Nilishangaa!  Martha and I just looked at each other and smiled. These are all things we've said to them many times in many forms, but he put it all together. They're all starting to speak in full sentences, small ones, but still very cool.

They're a wild bunch. When I asked a retired teacher about caning she told me that unless kids are caned, and caned regularly, they act up and won't learn . So that's crap. They're a little nuts, but they're learning. Anyway, I like it a little crazy. I was one of those kids in school who sat in the back and made smart assed remarks all day but got good grades so they couldn't do much to me.This is my playground and I'm loving it.

Shapes and colors

These are some happy preschoolers, which is not the rule here. The Kiswahili preschool next to us (we're English medium) canes the kids, so theres always lots of crying and hollering across the courtyard. Before you wonder why I haven't stormed over here to stop it, please remember I tried that in Idweli about 6 years ago and they just beat the kids harder after I left the room. So instead of helping I made it worse. Ive been talking to the pastor about it, his church runs that preschool. He doesnt seem overly concerned about it, kids get caned here, it's always been that way. A moral dilemma for sure, but I have no idea what to do about it except NOT cane our kids and hope the Kiswahili teachers notice.

We are smelling, we are smelling. Learning verbs.

School here can be pretty boring as well. In the old colonial style, the teacher stands in front of the class (with a stick) and repeats the same old stuff over and over. The kids learn early on that this is school, and it's no fun.

Not so our school, it's interactive and loud and very busy. And the kids like school.They come by in the afternoons and weekends while I paint to look at books and draw. Eventually we will have electricity in the classroom and then we can have evening classes and a library. A place to go.

The rains are finally here, asante Mungu. Everyone here grows maize, and after harvesting it's dried, then ground into powder to make ugali. They sell the excess to buy other things. So if the maize dies they have to use what little money they have to buy ugali, which leaves almost nothing for school fees, doctors... So it's good to see the rain.

Taken from inside the preschool on rain day. It just poured down the hill.

It rained all night last night, came down in buckets. And speaking of buckets, anyone with a brain puts theirs out to catch rain water. The ground water here is a little salty, and we bathe and wash our clothes in it, so you can imagine what a good cloud soak means.I had my buckets out, and even treated myself to a rainwater bath. Very nice. Most of the upper echelon hospital staff, and us wazungu, have a rainwater collection tank which drains from the roof. So we can have cleanish water most of the time, weather permitting. We filter it and it's safe and tasty. Very few villagers have this, and have to fetch every day.

It takes about a minute to fill a bucket this way, beats the hell out of a 30 minute walk to fetch salty water from a hole in the ground.

This has been a real moral issue for me (yet another one). Before the rains came, people would come and ask me for water, rain or ground. I have spigots in the house for both kinds of water but the locals fetch from over the hill. Anyway, I said yes and they told everyone that the mzungu was giving up water and then it got out of hand, so I have now refused to give water to a fellow human being. This doesn't sit well with me, why should I have steady access and they don't. Anyway, I'm probably just as happy as they are about the rains, and I don't even eat ugali.

Left right left right. It's a process.

I figured none of the kids would come to school today because of the storm, so I thought I'd pack my computer and other junk in a bucket and try to get to school without sliding down the hill with all the leaves, twigs, and small children. Figured I'd spend the day painting the walls and listening to music. Mwalimu Martha (teacher), showed up, as well as a few kids, so we had a rain day. I showed them pictures on my computer, played music, and tried to teach them to say LONG LIVE ROCK AND ROLL. Given how Africans mix R and L,(one day I'll tell you about Zambia's big erection) the results were less than stellar. But I've got time. Anyway, they played games, danced, and generally had a good time. I like preschool.
Christina came with me on Saturday and while I painted, she drew. 
She's the girl with the bad leg infection, all better now

I want to tell you about the kids, so will start with Freddy. He's a sweet kid, his mom is a nurses aide at the hospital. It's steady work but doesn't pay much, so the money she spends to send him to us is hard earned. Freddy was the last kid to get his uniform, (all the schools here wear uniforms). Which I think is bull. Primary school is supposedly free, but you can't attend without a uniform and shoes, so lots of kids don't go to school for this reason. So how is that free?


Freddy stopped coming to school for a few days because he lost his shoes, but I talked to his mom and told her he could come without shoes. He could come in his underwear for all I care, but then he doesn't have any of those either. I know this because he's been walking around holding up his pants for a couple of weeks while his mom saved the money for a belt. But now he has a uniform, a belt, and shoes. No underwear though, but then that's why we have belts, isnt it?Anyway he's a keeper. He's got a sweet spirit and he's a natural born gentleman.

Samweli, on the other hand, is what we call in Hawaiian, kolohi, a real rascal. Not bad, but just into stuff. He reminds me of Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes. Kinda looks like him too. His father is a tailor, so while he's verbally not as sharp as Freddy, he does know the English words for dress, pants and shirt.

I have a good group of adult learners. Waziri is faithful, although he's not here tonight. He has four tests tomorrow, or as he told me, "I have four testes". I decided to leave that one alone,he'll figure it out on his own one day. He has four testes tomorrow because the rains made the river impossible to cross yesterday, so some of the kids missed two tests and will have to double up tomorrow. The teachers were planning to cane them for missing the tests, but they managed to convince that bunch of dopes they weren't actually responsible for the rain. Sheesh. I'm investigating private schools in Morogoro, he's got too much going for him to stay in a village school.

Freddy's mom, Mama Freddy, comes to me for lessons, as well as Zakayo, who prepped the preschool room before we started painting. I adore Mama Freddy, she's just a good, hardworking lady and we spend lots of time just getting to know one another, in English with some Kiswahili mixed in. 

Then there's Abdallah (which means servant of God), who drives the daladala everyday to Morogoro and back. He'll also pick up odds and ends for people who can't make it to town. He brought me eggs yesterday and felt so bad when one cracked, but I didn't care. Eggs in a plastic bag don't travel well on a bumpy dirt road, and I usually sacrifice one or two to the god of the barabara (road). Hamna shida. He's also got unbelievable bone structure and smells divine. Another keeper.

Taking a small likizo (vacation) in two weeks. Going up to Mbeya for a couple of weeks to check up on some kids in school, visit some old friends, and eat chinese food. There's a restaurant there that we frequented last trip and I never got sick once. They have an interesting menu, and every time I go I ask for the squirrel like fish or deep fried cubes. They always said they didn't have the squirrel like fish, and when I asked "Deep fried cubes of what?" they said they didn't have any of those either. But they do have a hot sauce that can burn all the hair out of your nose.

I'm not bringing my computer with me, so will be off the grid for a while. If you're inclined to worry about me when you don't hear from me, don't. Will have lots to report when I return.

Wish me safari njema. Nakupenda. L

Bugs in love.

local checkerboard. They use water bottle tops here. In Kyela they used beer bottle tops,
but then they drank a lot more in Kyela.

One small portion of about a million termites near the hospital. 
Maybe the rain flooded them out.I think these ate the ones the kids eat.

It's not easy to get a shot of a fly. But then, I guess most people don't
even want to.