Friday, October 30, 2009

And presenting the Tanzanian group

These are six young men, full of hormones, who are training together in Korea, will study Swahili together in Tanzania, and end their mandatory military service together as volunteers in Tanzania. Here's their brief bio:

From bottom center, clockwise:

Sungsoo - will teach science to secondary school students. SS for the past year taught music in an elementary school, even though his students were better piano players. As an avid photographer, will be the unofficial photo provider to Tomzanian. SS also slept two spots next to me in army training.

Daehee - will teach computer. DH is well known for his endless fatigue, carrying two dark bags below his eyes. DH is also known for his unpredictability, he ranked first in the first Swahili quiz, then ranked last in the exam. DH is also the oldest of the group, and has been with his girlfriend for the past 7 years.

Jinho - will teach physical education. JH is the clown of the group, always pulling off ridiculous jokes. JH currently leads the penalty points tally in the whole training group (85 or so). Numerically, he is very close to being expelled from training, but no one doubts his work ethic. Plus, training's almost over anyways. JH is also the leader of the Tanzanian group.

Jaesuk - will teach computer. JS is the youngest of the group. Hasn't really done anything particular to make himself stand out, so this space is blank.

Sungkwang - will teach computer. SK is a quiet stoic guy. Once, Samson, the Swahili teacher, asked whether he has had sex with his girlfriend. In the midst of the awkward/funny moment, SK just had a small smirk. SK's a funny kid, but not so generous with his humour. I'll have to earn it.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Heroic Narrative

Past Monday morning I was brewing coffee at the office and came across the following cartoon. It was in the KOICA newsletter, and it reminded me of the Heroic Narrative.

The cartoon is about a KOICA doctor curing meningitis in Niger. Even without the translations, the main idea of the cartoon seems to be obvious. The cartoon depicts the doctor as the main character, who is smart, professional, handsome, and most importantly, a hero that saves lives. At the same time, the Nigerien child is vulnerable, weak, desperate, and in need of Korean help. I don't mean to downplay some of the noble works that KOICA doctors do. But the cartoon seems to go too far in creating a hero.

This cartoon caught my attention as we here in the training center discuss what attitude we should have before we start our volunteer works in our respective countries. Many of us are eager and passionate about our future jobs, but we also know that we should be humble. We know that the field of work that we do (nursing, teaching, computer support to name a few) are not that spectacular. Very few of us have anything more than a Bachelor's degree, and some of us are in fact a couple of semesters away from graduation. A common advice from our predecessors is that it takes 6 months to get used to the area, 1 year to be fluent in the local language, and the last 1 year would be spent packing our bags home. In most cases, the volunteers are sent abroad for cultural exchange, and very little technical support. These somewhat harsh realities counterdict the heroic narrative in the cartoon, and I worry that this reflects the possible existence of a perception gap between the bureaucratic planners and the volunteers on what the volunteer job exactly entails.

Monday, October 19, 2009

nne vs. ine

Samson, my Swahili instructor, teaches me and five other folks Swahili for three hours in the morning.  And of course, us students are curious of life in Tanzania, and Samson joyfully enlightens us. Today, he gave us a small picture of Life in the West.

Kigoma is a city in Western Tanzania by Lake Tanganyika.  It's proximity with DR Congo, Burundi, and Rwanda has attracted a number of refugees from these countries.

 During the Burundi-Rwanda war, several refugees came to Kigoma. After the war was over, the Tanzanian government wanted to send these people back to their countries. Of course, many of these people refused and remained in Kigoma. In Tanzania, many people do not have IDs, so it was difficult to distinguish the natives from the visitors. So this is what the government did to send back the refugees. The government first called the population to gather the at the city center, and one by one, asked them to count numbers from one to ten in Swahili, without telling them why.

"Moja, mbili, tatu, nne, tano, ..., kumi."

According to Samson, people from Burundi and Rwanda pronounce nne (number four) as ine. So all the people who said, "moja, mbili, tatu, ine, tano, ..." were deported.

The twist is that there are two major tribes in the Kigoma area, and one of those tribes pronounce nne as ine as well. So there were Tanzanians in Rwanda, as unintentional refugees.

Of course, this is just what Samson told the class so I cannot verify the validity. But interesting stuff nonetheless.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Army Training

The first month of my 30 month commitment was the army training.  Thinking about my 4 weeks in boot camp, I have mixed feelings.  Some of my time there was good, some obviously bad.  Around the third week of training, I was at my lowest point, and wrote a letter to my college friends that really expressed that well.  I wrote the letter by hand, and emailed it to them once I came out. Instead of trying to summarize or write something about my 4 weeks, I think the letter shows a decent slice of my experience with army training.

Dear Friends,

It has been 3 long weeks in the Korea Army Training Center, and recently I've been thinking about what I would tell you once I get out of here.  But life here has been quite meaningless and I am now jaded.  I feel like my mind will forget my thought I have now as a defense mechanism, so I write this to you now.  Today is Sep. 3, exactly 21 days since I came here.

As you all know, I am part of the public service training center (now that I think about it, I never told this to you).  Trainees in my regiment only have to train for 4 weeks, instead of 5, and will work in various public service institutions, such as district offices, public parks, subway stations, etc.  Overall training, therefore, is less intense.  I am no more buffer than I was in May.

Life here is extremely frustrating.  It is not exactly like Macalester, if you know what I mean.  From 6am-10pm, there is severe control from above.  eating, sleeping, training, clothing; imaginge your everday life, and how it would be in the military.  I've been voted as a squadron leader, so I've been a bit more intense with life here.  There aren't much perks with the position, except for 1 or 2 extra phone calls.  I have no contact with the outside world except from 1 or 2 phone calls to my brother so far, and a couple of letter correspondence with him.

I detest this institution, military.  The lack of freedom is picking on every nerve I have.  There are some kids I can't stand here.  I've had many bitter banters with them.

On the positive, I've made some friends who are quite enjoyable.  I've become accustomed to the shitty barrack, which was built over 30 years ago.

(I wrote about a funny anecdote that happened but I feel that it is too gross to share at the public sphere.)

I wish I could share more with you now but to be honest, I am already forgetting what has happened here.  I have no will to think deeply into my memory, but feel free to ask me any specific questions, as I would be glad to satiate your curiosities.  I just do not have any desire to think deep into my life here.

I long to get out of here, and the next one week will feel extremely long.  I am not happy here, but life goes on.  I will be better by the time you read this (and I AM!).  I hope the best of you, and look forward to seeing you again.



Of course life in the training center wasn't that bad all the time.  I've met some really decent people and really felt good helping a kid with slight mental disabilities.  But to give a punch line, I'm glad I'm not doing this shit for 2 years.

 For bonus, a picture of the 28th Regiment 3rd Battalion 10th Company of the 437th Training Session.