Monday, May 21, 2012

Ze Lain in Spain

Don't know the name of this bird, but it's a beaut.

In case you didn't know, and even if you don't care, R and L are not interchangeable. In Tz, and other parts of the world, people have difficulty saying and apparently hearing the two sounds. To them, either one is ok. I've seen people spell their OWN name using either one on different days. It's been me against them in this vicious consonant war, but I will prevail, despite being the only person in Berega who can differentiate between rock and lock. 

This is a true story.

A few years ago Carlee and I were at our favorite, actually only, bar in Kyela, a little border town between Tz and Malawi. We were having a cold Safari, which comes in a larger than usual bottle as well as having a larger than usual alcohol content. So we were happy girls and more than ready for a guffaw or two. Our friend Gody, Zambian by birth but living in Tz, was busy ignoring us and engrossed in the newspaper, so we weaved over and asked him what was so interesting.

Gody: I'm reading an article in my home newspaper.

Me: What's it about??

Gody: Zambias big erection.

Me: Oh really, that IS interesting, and what about it?

Gody: Well, its going to be a very big erection, and everybody will come from all over Zambia.

Me: Well I imagine they will. I might even go.

Gody: Everyone is talking about it, it's very exciting. It's a very important erection.

Me. I guess so.

Well this went on for a bit, he dug himself in deeper and deeper, egged on by us two giggling half drunk wazungu. After a while I dried the tears from my eyes, and attempted to explain that he was actually talking about an election, but as he doesn't hear the difference between r and l, he never caught on, and village folks dont like to talk about sex, so I gave up. l also never found out any more about Zambias giant erection, although I hope all went well.

We have a spelling test everyday, and I begin by saying a word, after which the kids ask me to repeat it about five times, until Teacher Baraka says it. He has the same accent they do, so if I say hop, he says hope, and they spell. But if these kids hope (or hop) to go on to university, they're going to have to get this straightened out. People with good jobs making good money have had to do it, and so they will as well. I expect a lot, but being here would be pointless if I didn't.

As well as the r and l issue, Tanzanians are totally incapable of ending a word on a consonant. I am Teacha Lizzi, look is pronounced and spelled ruku, hip is heepu, rat is lati. We've been studying letter combinations and have started with sh, which they get, but can't spell ship or sheep unless I translate first into Kiswahiki. " Teacha Lizzie, sheep meli or sheep kondoo?" (boat or lamb).

This and these are turning into a real migraine, from either end. Both come out like zeez. I feel like such a hardass sometimes, but they asked for a native speaker so this is what happens.
The kids with English speaking parents do better, but everyone is catching on slowly, even Samweli is improving. He doesn't spit on me anymore when he says TH, for which I am grateful. It helps that his front teeth have grown in.
Vicent getting his picture taken with the WV soccer ball. 
Normally no kid has a ball, they make them from plastic bags
and twine. I like them, they don't pop.

Last week the kids were all squirmy and excited about old division. I'd never heard of it, and frankly we're having enough trouble with two digit addition and subtraction. Shouldn't we add first, then maybe subtract, then divide? Is there new division? So I asked Teacher Baraka, our volunteer third teacher, but then his accent is thicker than the kids (he's had it longer). After much discussion, I found out that old division is World Vision.They have a chapter here, down the road a mile or two, and occasionally give the kids stuff. 

Signing up for their zawadi (gift).
Over half our kids are helped by Old Division, not financially but with needed items. Sometimes school supplies, or food. After it became obvious I wasn't going to get anywhere teaching, I asked Abdallah to drive us down to Mgugu School so we could collect our stuff and move on with our day. They were so cute, so excited, visions of exercise books and pencils dancing in their little heads.

A big crowd had gathered, the kids  showed their Old Division ID cards, and had their pictures taken with a soccer ball. Then they gave each kid a container of body oil and we went home. The kids looked like Ralphie on A Christmas Story when got a pink bunny suit from his aunt. I asked if this is what usually happens, and they said WV was good while they were actually here, but they are gone, and now the local people in charge sell off most of the stuff or give it to their friends and family then give the kids just a small portion of their intended loot.
Sick kid at giveaway, we took him to the hospital when we 
returned to school.

They weren't blaming WV, they just said that everything is corrupt here, and so they don't complain. Besides, who would they complain to, and if they did, maybe they wouldn't even get the oil.This just strengthens my belief that large organizations, while trying to do a good thing, just get too big to manage. When all the people who work for an NGO start driving around in fat white Land Rovers, you know the money is finding other destinations.

Note girl with orange hair. Not a fashion statement, this is a 
sign of malnutrition.

Small organizations, while they do smaller projects, and have less money and don't go on TV trying to guilt you out of money by showing pictures of emaciated kids with flies in their eyes, are more conscientious with your money. It's all well and good to put thousands of kids in school, but if the school is so bad that less than 10% of the kids pass, what's the point? Better to work on the school itself. All my evening students finished Standard 7 but didn't go on because they didn't pass. This is the reality here, so why not focus on improving the system rather than adding more kids to a class that already has over 100 kids crowded into one room? That's been sticking in my throat for a while, it's a relief to get it out.

Went to Mikumi with my adult class. Philipo,Amon,Abdallah 
and Frank.

We've been having a problem with parents not paying school fees. Christina and Susy are in St 1, nice kids, but very poor and definitely hungry. Susy's shoes are about worn through, and the heels are gone.They eat their uji every morning, then sit patiently waiting for the kids who can't finish theirs to pass it over. Then for lunch they eat theirs, the littler kids leftovers, and whatever is left in the food bucker Mama Dani brings.

Happy, Esther, Aissa,Teacher Martha and Jeska

Suzy's mom owes 385,000 ths and Chris's mom owes 270,000 tsh. Isaac and I sat down with the moms to try to figure something out. Mama Susy (s and z also interchangeable), makes 30,000 tsh monthly and Mama Chris makes about 65,000 tsh. She has 5 kids and Mama Susy has 4. I asked them how they figured they could make those payments, they said they hoped to try. But the math just doesn't work (it can't), so they owe big. They also don't always eat in the evening, which is why C and S hoover up all they can at school. But they're good kids so we're keeping them.

Zebras aren't small, so imagine the size of this giraffe. 

After much discussion it was decided that the families would sweep both classrooms every day, and clean both choos. They will mop every Friday. I'm too happy about this, I still pay, but we're getting something done in return. The mamas are happy as well, and hopefully they can buy more food for the house. It also explains why the kids never complain about the monotonous menu, they're too hungry to care. They're lucky girls, though, lots of kids here live like this and don't get school lunch.

The park roads were rocky and twisty so we had no idea
how long we drove on this, but we found it when we 
left the park. 

A friend of mine just wrote and said sometimes he doesn't believe what I write. But then he's never been to the Third World. Long ago, I worked in an Alzheimer's Unit, and here are similarities. Some things are sad, some things are funny (because you might as well laugh), and some things just don't make sense. But it's all true. You can't make this stuff up, so, you just go along with it, because you have to. Like the time one of my patients walked up to me and said "Dear, this is such a lovely boat".

Guys all over the world. One fixes, all the others stand 
around and watch.


Friday, May 4, 2012


A pictorial history of Beregea kindergarten and first grade.

This was the preschool on the first week. Pre renovation.
We painted  over Jesus, but it was for a good cause.
Our original free meal program, peanuts and water outside. 
You can see enrollment increasing.

Part way through, usable but still pretty bare.
9 students and teacher Martha

That leopard took me three days.
Look at John's mural in the background, it's a beaut.
One room done.
Morning uji, enrollment still increasing.
Movie day every Friday.

Lunch. We're up to 20 kids now. 

We painted the room next door so we could separate the 
preschool and first grade.

The room next door.

 School library

Simon Says aka Simon Anasema

Some of Standard !, we've got 2 classes
 now, chekechea and first.

I enjoy my vacations, in spite of Africa's seemingly continuous efforts to sabotage any trip I take. Or any other activity for that matter, like eating, shopping, breathing...Sometimes you just have to decide to not let it get you down.

Likizo started on Good Friday, and at dawn's early crack I took a 2 hour daladala ride to Morogoro so I could catch my luxury bus for the 10 hour ride to Mbeya. I arrived at 07, the bus was to arrive at 09, but by 0815 I realized, after much inner debate, that I really needed to use the choo (bathroom) before I boarded the bus for said 10 hour ride.

In Africa I religiously eat light the night before a long bus trip, and during the trip I sip water and nibble salty stuff (sometimes it's good to retain water). The toilets in transit are too brutal to talk about, much less use.There's a public pay toilet at the bus stop, but it's unearthly, so I decided to catch a cab to Ricky's Cafe and use their clean First World toilet complete with TP.  The bus guy warned me not to be late, actually he nagged me for a good while, but it's a small town so I wasn't worried. I grabbed a cab and roared into Ricky's, which on a normal Friday is open for business, but not this Friday. There are very few other non lethal toilets in Morogoro. What to do..

Ricky's is conveniently located adjacent to a gas station so I asked to use theirs. While gas station toilets have improved over the years in America, I'm not in America. It was a squat choo, which I don't mind, and the floor was kind of a mess but I found a place for my backpack on a cleanish spot. I was planning to put it in the sink, until I looked into the sink. So there I was squatting and unlike Ricky's, there's no TP. There is, however, a grimy yellow water bucket situated under a faucet located beside my left tako. I squatted there for a bit mulling over my options, which were few. I considered doing what the locals do, you don't want to know, until I looked into the bucket and decided there must be something in my backpack I was willing to sacrifice.

I got back to the bus stand with plenty of time to spare (minus a sock), and waited till 9 o'clock. Then I waited till 10. I started nagging the bus guy who told me bado (not yet). While I was being repeatedly badoed I eavesdropped on a call he had made to the driver of our bus and discovered all the buses were backed up because there was a lorry stuck across the road somewhere along the route. So I asked how far down the road and he said only 130 km. That's about 2 more hours and the lorry was still across the road. 

I asked for a refund so I could get another bus. He gave me my money and he wasn't smiling, this after badoeing to me for the past 2 hours. I guess I can forget about ever getting a good seat on Mbeya Express again. But as ALL the buses were late and everyone with better Swahili than me (which is everyone) got seats on other buses,  I was left alone, dejected, and busless on the first day of my vacation.

Anyway I decided I was too tired/old for this and went to the Morogoro Hotel where I spent the day watching movies, eating Indian food and drinking Safari Lager. An auspicious start, despite the public transport systems efforts to the contrary.

Vacation was fine, all is well in Mbeya, except I discovered my banker is being investigated for fraud. My balance looks about right, so if he's stealing money, it's not mine.

For the return trip I decided I wouldn't go by the same bus, and opted for Green Star, which is a very nice bus, or was. We broke down for the first time while we were still in Mbeya, the second time just outside of Ilula. It could have been worse, there's a whole lot of nothing between Mbeya and Ilula, but we were able to coast into town and were back on the road in about 2 hours. 

I got to Morogoro too late to catch the bus to Berega, so spent another night in Morogoro Hotel, more movies and beer, and a very nice pork steak. So despite all of Tanzania's attempts to mess up my vacation, I had a good time. Sometimes you need to make the effort.

School started again, the kids are doing well. There's lots of reading going on in Standard 1, in English and Kiswahili. The Kiswahili is going a little faster, it's not as complicated as English, but then, what is? Besides, once they sound out a word in their own language, they know what it means.

I've had tables and chairs made to accommodate the new kids, but now I think we need a reading table. We have kids who routinely finish more quickly than the others, so I think it would be good to have a table in the back so they can  read while I help the slower ones. 

I've always been a reader, and right now these kids are excited about this new thing they can do. It's a amazing thing to see the looks on their faces when they finish a book.

If you've never lived here, you can't begin to know how bad most of the schools are. Kids here are working without a net, so if they can get a few really good years in early, they can do ok. Most kids don't get that, that's why so few pass. That and the lack of teachers, books, parental concern...

The fundraiser was a success, but I will accept further donations if you're of a mind. You might like to know how the money was used. There was a total of 1330 USD, which comes to 2,100,000 tsh. Nashukurani sana Leslie, Sharon,Chris, Sheila, Doc, Kathy, Max and Joanne. I has been spent as follows:

2,100,000  total received
  540,000  2 full scholarships
  570,000  5 partial scholarships
  230,000  books
    30,000  videos
    15,000  mats for nap time
    10,000  repairs to the door of the school
    20,000  paint
    15,000  buckets for water to wash hands
  374,000  two large cupboards to hold supplies and kids stuff
  296,000 remaining

We have a wonderful school here. A few weeks ago John painted a preschool at Mgugu Primary where there's 160 kids in the class. So I am aware of just how lucky we are. Our kids get help when they need it, 2 meals/day, movies on Friday. 

We've got books, a library, two full time teachers and a volunteer. I refuse to spend any time feeling guilty about the schools that don't have what we have. H4A is helping those schools as well, but what can you do with 160 kids in one classroom? We did what we could, it's not enough, but then, this is Africa, and it's never enough.