Thursday, December 30, 2010

Putting the Internet to the Test

Dear Readers,

I'm putting the Internet to the test by asking you for solutions to a conundrum I have.

I have recently acquired 3 netbook computers on the grounds that they could improve efficiency and proper documentation in the school.  I'm a bit unsure how to go forth from here, so I ask you for your input.  Here are some things to consider:
  1. There are 3 netbooks, but there are 15 full time teachers.  4 are involved in the most important departments: the bursar (a.k.a. Madam Money) and the academic department (every test score, every student, document nightmare)

  2. They have seen a computer, but have barely used one.  I think they are more familiar with the concept of a computer.

  3. I have a computer and a projecter.

  4. I know how to use a computer, but I acquired knowledge of it more gradually, by having one at home and a couple of classes at school.  I have only heard of the challenges of teaching computer to those who have no background at all.

  5. There is a place in town that teachers computer.
  6. No internet (cost reasons)

If you have an idea, please write it as a comment to this post and include: who will use it, how will they learn it, who will be taking care of the computers, etc.

If you have any further questions, I'll answer them by continually updating this post, and provide feedback in the comments section.

Winning prize: changing the world, one small step at a time. :)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Family Dinner Scene

I'm going to Korea and Malaysia for vacation later this month to see some family and friends.  As I was mentally preparing myself for some smart dinner conversations, I got stuck on this particular scene:

A fancy restaurant, courtesy of rich uncle

rich uncle: so jungyul (one of my many names), how's it like in Africa?  (oooh impromptu inspiration, on my holidays I'm going to do a count on how many times people refer to where I live as "Africa" instead of "Tanzania" on initial encounters.  I might add a third category, "Tanzania, where's that?")

jungyul: (slightly self-concious by the fact that he has spent thousands of dollars of his father's money on an expensive education in America and reaping the returns by volunteering, and also by his less than spectacular korean language skills) Well, when I first arrived in Tanzania, if a student came to me and told me "teacher, I'm having trouble doing my homework because I cannot afford a notebook," I would have responded by feeling sorry for his poverty, and wondering how tough his life must be if he cannot even afford a notebook.  Now, if the a student asks me the same thing, I would think about how terribly lazy, what an unmotivated student he is, and respond "what'd you want me to do?" in an overtly sarcastic way.  I would do so because I know that a notebook costs only 300Tsh, and even a poor student would manage to get one out of the slightest desire to study.

As I replay the above scene over and over, I wonder, why?  And, I also ask, does this have another layer?  Is this just the surface of a larger psychology?

To that I say yes.  When I first came, I was concerned about proverty, writing about it on this very blog.  It seemed to be common, yet not as easily observable either.  I tried to grasp it, wanted to understand it more.  I think I succeeded in that, but I also wanted to be a solution.  I was concerned about issues of family economics, and wondered what I could do to involve myself in its alleviation.  Coming from a political science background, and volunteering under the name of a development agency, albeit its heavily political nature, this was my default mode.  In fact, it was one of the reasons why I applied for this.

But now, I'm less concerned with the notion of poverty.  Poverty exists, but in a more personally detached manner.  Perhaps I have negotiated myself into living with it without being bothered by it; or I believe poverty to be less of a disenfranchising force; or I have come to accept to certain degrees the theses of social darwinism, no free lunch capitalism, and Werner Herzog.  At the moment, I'm more concerned with simple school matters: what subject to teach, how to teach, to lead which extra curricular activity, etc.

I hope the above scene does not continue with the question of why, because I really don't know.  Maybe there is no why.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I have a crazy friend and his name is ...

TORY KAM

Tory is my testicular buddy, a Korean euphemism for good old friend.  I've been friends with Tory since 4th grade, and given how we live such nomadic lives, that's like embryonic days in terms of TCK-years.




 Isn't he so charming?

Tory sent me a care package today, and he displayed his Americaness by stuffing it with candy.  I have received a number of parcels, cards, and letters from the past, all of them very heart-warming.  Tory told me weeks ago that he sent me a package so I pestered Mr. Nalamba for the past two weeks about a possible parcel, and today, finally, he gave  me a yellow postage slip.  I went to the post office on my bike with a moderate sized back pack, only to receive this:


 Can't decipher the size?

 
It was indeed an awkward bike ride home.


 And if that was the postage cost, it must have been a cussing large package.


Tory Kam, responsible for Tommy Kim's caloric intake since December 15, 2010.


 Back in the beginning of dry season, or late spring for you Northerners, Tory asked,

"Hey I'm going to send you a package.  Do you miss anything in particular?"

"I dunno, but I miss Reeses a bit."

So I get not only reeses, but ritz, twix, snickers, spam, tea, coffee, more coffee, gum (which I have not chewed for 2 years), plastic bags (just plastic bags, I'm confused Tory), nutella, oreo, wipes, deodorant, blah, blah, blah, and most importantly, a card.


 Gotta kill those tropical germs (on your armpits) fool!
 

He sent you TWO NUTELLAS? No, in fact the one on the right is what I bought at the store here.  Nutella is indeed globa.  Just as a side note, yes that book is Internatioanl Relations and the Problem of Differene by Naeem Inayatullah and David Blaney.

THANKS TORY!!!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Instant Noodle Advertisement

video

 I made a 35sec. instant noodle advertisement based on my life here.  I made it with the intention have it noticed by the Nongshim company, so that I can have an unlimited supply of instant noodles.  I'm having some trouble in getting their attention, so please help me make this video viral.

To explain the story of its genesis, Tanzania is suffering from national power shortages, and as a result, it is implementing power rationing.  One day, I returned home, only to notice the power cut.  So, I pulled out my charcoal stove and fixed an instant noodle lunch, and realized, hey this would be a half-decent advertisement.


For those non-Korean speakers, the subtitles (with awkward translations) are as follows:

"Mtwara, a small town on the outskirts of Tanzania

There is a young Korean man,

who came to volunteer during his youth

Although with frequent power cuts and a poor living standard,

he has to cook with charcoal,

he encourages himself as he thinks of home, where his friends and family are.

Nongshim, we support you from home"


This bs-filled video is also available on youtube.   

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v75TbpF_cxM

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Nostalgia


It's getting a bit chilly here.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Problems as Natural Components


Here's a thought.  Can’t sleep, maybe it’s the heat or the late afternoon nap.

There is this eerie widespread belief that people hold, intentionally and subconsciously.  People back home, from my past, and even I often hold this belief, as if it is our default setting. 

This belief is that I, the volunteer in Africa, belong to a particular picture, and that problems must exist to make this picture whole, complete, and true.  These problems, which are stereotypes of Tanzania, the developing world, and black people, are numerous and varied.   Let me elaborate with some examples.

Lets start with the notion of poverty.  The concept of poverty implies a lack of material goods.  Poverty exists in my school, and amongst my students.  I have been to many of their homes, and it's heartbreaking.  But not all my students are in poverty.  In fact, most are not.  Just as a simple measurement, I asked those with televisions in their houses to raise their hands, and about 70% did.  To this, should I be disappointed?  Should I, or the KOICA office, or anyone else feel unwanted or unsatisfied because I am not in some place that is completely decrepit?  Should you be surprised to know that my classroom consists of a roof and a blackboard, rather than a large empty space under a giant mango tree?  Of course not, but there are pervasive attitudes that make one feel dejected when one realizes that the preconceived notions of poverty are in fact not present.

There is a short documentary clip famous amongst the KOICA volunteers depicting the lives of previous Mtwara volunteers, especially on how tough the living environment is.  It describes the poverty of Mtwara as a place where livelihood mostly consists of "selling a couple of tomatoes and coconuts."  Of course, this is fallacy.  There are shops, companies, and even a port.  The economy is not very robust, but there really is no need to evade the fact that the poverty one looks for is not as apparent.  Korean media who come to Tanzania for sappy stories are the most disappointed to know that poverty is slipping away their fingers, and the workers in the development field are not far off.  To them, this (not always but often) represents “work” slowly fleeing away.  I ask, isn't this something that is worth celebrating?  Yet, more often than it should, I find it lamented.  Strange.

Another prime example is low school performance.  I've complained enough, there is no need to further elaborate that my students disappoint me like crazy and are not hard-working at all.  This problem, however, is considered as something that is so normal to the entire secondary education in Tanzania.  Of course, this is not a challenge that Sabasaba faces alone, but it is not endemic either.  There are schools with high performance in Tanzania, but to the low performance of schools one remarked: isn't that what all volunteers naturally face?  One volunteer whose school faces similar problems took the issue more casually, claiming that it is how it is in Tanzania.  So much wisdom from an expert who has been here for only a year, not to mention the number of hours he/she works.

This bitching is getting out of control.  I admit that my most embarrassing moments of my time here have been when I realized that I too harbor this attitude unconsciously.  I try to emancipate myself from this, but it is so engrained in me.  Recently, I’ve been helping my dear neighbor Ninje on getting a second hand laptop, and I have had some struggles trying to put together the images of teacher salary, three kids, and a computer in one smooth image.  The conflicting thoughts that went through my head were not tantamount to the battle of Jacob v. Angel, but I wonder why I couldn’t have helped him without associating any problems with this endeavor.  It’s just a purchase.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Weekends

I am often asked what I do with my weekends.  Indeed with few friends a whole lot of time, what do I do?

My weekends are dominated by two main activities.  One is church (yay!).  The other is watching Arsenal play at Mtwara Guesthouse.  I highly recommend you to avoid Mtwara Guesthouse for lodging when you visit Mtwara, as it will be loud with rowdy football fans.


Notice the tension??


Alert! High testosterone level.


The day's schedule, with 500/= (35cent) entrance fee for each match.
In the beginning, I passed this venue multiple times, really wanting to enter and join the matches, but at the same time, I was a bit reluctant.  A shaby guest house filled with testosterone did not seem to be a safe place for a foreigner to be.  After a while, however, I thought oh what the hell, and went in.  Until now, I have missed only a few games this season, and it feels great as a fan to watch Arsenal every week.  Plus, this year, we're going to win.



P.S. The first two pictures are from a different match than the third one.  I planned to post this earlier, but earlier match was such a depressing heartbreaker, I could not bear posting then.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Dilemma

I am constantly faced with the dilemma of to do or not to do those damn stupid things that teachers have to do.

For example, today, the teachers have been slaving away on writing report cards, which include a section of character assessment.  The teachers, from their interactions with the students, judge the students' diligence, responsibility, and even personality.  These nine categories include respect for teachers, likes student leaders, and participates in sports.  After years of neglecting this job, the Saba Saba teachers have finally decided to complete this task, and as a part of the character assessment, each student was interviewed.

The following questions were repeated many times.

"Do you play sports?  Why don't you play sports?"

"Where's your chair?  Did you lose it somewhere?"

"Do you like your student leaders?"

Of course, in my mind, it seems perfectly okay to say no to any of these questions.  What is so wrong about not playing sports, or not liking some asshole student leaders?  Plus, if a student was street-smart enough, he could easily present himself as a student with stellar characteristics.

Ah, I digress.  This rather pointless activity lasted for the whole day, and will continue to do so for the next two days.  I sit, (shit), and I ponder, why are we doing this?  If the students are not present for the interview, the teachers have a mini discussion, and award them Cs.  With the interviews as arbitrary as the discussions on the absent students, why not just have a 30 second discussion for every student?  At least the teachers can have time to eat that way.

During my time here, I've encountered many of these inefficient work, which receive little or no resistance.  I've obliged to most of them so far, with the attitude that if I do likewise as the other teachers, I will earn their respect; and so far, I have.  I have learned so much more about my students, the teachers, the TZ education system, and Tanzania as a whole by doing these menial brain numbing tasks.  Plus many friendships with other teachers have been formed in the midst of these labor.  At the same time, as I were participating in these tasks, I couldn't stop thinking, is this..... am I really (insert expletive) doing this? And I ponder to do or not to do.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Every Morning in Korea....

My dear friend/colleague/mentor/co-worker/roommate/brother/uncle/father KabCity wrote on my facebook wall:

Every morning in Africa, a Gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a Lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest Gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn't matter whether you are a Lion or a Gazelle... when the sun comes up, you'd better be running.

This "African" proverb - notice how there is no specific geography that we can source this proverb too, just the exotic/erotic "Africa" - is one of my favorite passages ever, and I was touched by it ever since I encountered it in a Thomas Friendman book (Lexus and the Oliver Tree maybe).  I don't know if Kabir liked it as much as I did, but we both liked to make fun of it from time to time.

Given the recent events of Korea, I wrote him back the following:

Everyvmorning in Korea, a South Korean leader wakes up. He knows he must make bigger bombs than the North Koreans, or he will be killed. Every morning a North Korean leader wakes up. He knows he must make bigger bombs than the South Koreans AND the Americans AND the Japanese, or he will be bombed to death.  It doesn't matter whether you are a South Korean or a North Korean... when the sun comes up, you'd better be making bombs.

In Swahili, the word bomba means water pipe.  We should make more bombas, not bombs.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Third Moment

All right, I'm going to show some hubris today.

A couple of weeks ago I had my third moment, and by moment, I quote an earlier post from February:

There are incidents in life that I simply call “moments.”  No three adjectives suffice to describe the moments.  They are indeed memorable, but not to the extent of life-changing.  They are not grand events, such as a wedding or a dental accident.  They provoke some thought, but are perhaps more sentimental than stimulating.  

Back in October, my beloved former Headmistress Mama Machinga passed away.  We were very close, and it was a relationship that I valued deeply.  Emotionally, it was not easy for me, as I have little experience with death; the most recent death in the family was back in '92, to which Seigo, the Japanese volunteer, replied "happy life."  I felt no need nor desire to write about it on the tomzanian, and though it was an important event, I let it slide.

Although Mama Machinga was assigned to another school, her second daughter, Kalela, worked at Saba Saba as a part time physics teacher, and we were just like any other colleagues, a bit of friendliness and bit of distance.  I never thought of her as a close friend, which makes the third moment even more surprising.  

One day, couple of days after Mama's funeral, I was in the office doing some work.  I was called by someone so I went outside to the hallway.  It was Kalela.  She told me that the family is leaving, with each member going their own paths.  We did the usual small talk, and bode farewell.  After coming back to the office, I was a bit perplexed.  Why didn't she come to the office to say goodbye to the other teachers in the office?  She could have just come into the office herself.

I soon realized that the bond that I created with Mama Machinga and her family was a lot firmer than I perceived it to be.  After Mama's death, I visited the relatives in her house a few times, and wrote a letter to the family as well.  I didn't think of the foreigner/local divide, or my lack of experience with death.  I felt that it was just part of what I had to do, as if it's completely normal.  In the end, through Kalela's farewell, I saw how these gestures were meaningful to Mama's family.  It felt good to be recognized in such a way over the other Tanzanian teachers, and I will treasure this moment as a vote of confidence on my work/life hereonafter.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Nummeracy

The prime reason of my interest (or nerdy love) in Statistics is that it trains me to gain an acute sense of numeracy.  By numeracy, I mean litearcy for numbers.  Thus, innumeracy is an inability to understand numbers, as illiteracy is an inability to read words.  To further clarify, if you were numerate, you wouldn't get a student loan at 8% interest rate.  Instead, you would borrow from your parents/grandparents/relatives at 0% interest rate after buying them a nice bottle of wine at Christmas.

Statistics are often representations of our society in simple numerical ways.  These indicators are most often a single dimension of a larger complex world.  Thus a combination of these indicators show several cross sections that seem a bit choppy without the numeracy needed to synthesize them holistically.

In Tanzania, the failures in mathematics is often referred to as a national disease, and the statistics shows.  A large chunk of scores in Swahili, English, Geography, and other social sciences range in 30-50, while the Mathematics scores range in 0-30.  But when we are more numerical and analytical , we notice what the problem truly is.  The Arts subject examinations are filled with multiple choice and matching problems, and thus, there is a chance of guessing the right answer.  On the other hand, Mathematics questions have none of those, and all answers must be constructed from blank space.  Now, after eliminating how many questions should you guess in the SATs?

So the picture I see is in fact more problematic.  Students are failing / underperforming at every topic.  Wait, lets look at the subject of the previous sentence, students, and think again.  Is it just the students with problems?

Here's more.  The Millenium Development Goals and similar standards in development are often represented by a few statistical indicators.  For health, child mortality.  For education, primary school enrollment, etc.  Rarely does a single category involve more than five indicators.  I never knew high salary policy makers were so innumerate.

The Secondary Education Development Plan (SEDP1), implemented in 2005, is heralded as a great success of Prez. Kikwete, increasing the enrollment of secondary school students.  But other statistics, if collected or easily obtainable, will show otherwise.  A dramatic increase in student/teacher ratio, a fall in government subsidy per student, a fall in test scores, and many more.  I wonder if Kikwete is numerate.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Expetation vs. Reality

Expectation


Reality

Friday, November 5, 2010

Fruits of Labor

Fruits of a year's labor.

unFUCKINGbelievable.

No wonder I say the West Wing is the most exciting thing that happened to me here.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

West Wing

I hoped that this day would never arrive, but it unfortunately has.

If someone in the near or distant future asks me "so, what was the most exciting thing that happened to you in Tanzania?"

I would say "West Wing."

The seven seasons I had with West Wing were absolutely fantastic.  It gave me so much.  I was fully entertained with all its politico-cinematic awesomeness, and was informed as well about various aspects of American politics.  But most of all, it was the best motivational tool I had.  I would be watcing West Wing to wind down after work, only to be pumped up to do something after finishing it.  But in many cases, I could not resist watching another episode.  In the midst of ridiculously low standard and achievement that surrounds me, it was something both intense and comfortable.  It took me a while to finish the seven season, but I admit that I had intentionally took my time, and I even wish that I was even more economical.

No doubt I will return to another round of the West Wing, and perhaps a lot sooner than I expect myself to.

Farewell West Wing, it was good to have you around.  I'll miss you.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Election Day

October 31, 2010 is Tanzania's election day.  It is its fourth national election since multiparty democracy was introduced in the early 90s.  Prior to the 1995 election, the current incumbant party, CCM (TANU its prior name), has been the only legal party since independence, causing a misconception amongst the Korean volunteers that Tanzania prevoiusly was a communist country.

Citing electoral violence in Zanzibar and Kenya in the past, the KOICA Tanzania is freaking out, and advised all volunteers to stay clear of polling stations.  As an avid student of democracy, I could not resist the temptation to take a look.  In fact, with Sabasaba Secondary being the polling station, and with me not taking the office's obsession over security too seriously, it wasn't such a difficult task.
 
 Polling station / classroom

Democracy in action

Mama showing me how it is done.  It's the left pinky.

And as a bonus, four chicks from the neighbor greeted me upon my return.

Much like the 2008 US Election, observing a foreign country's democratic process has been exciting, and has encouraged me once again over the merits of democracy.  I have particularly enjoyed the conversations I had with my colleagues, friends, and strangers over who to pick.  I have told others that although I am ineligible, I would definitely not vote for CCM, as I believe that they have stayed in office for too long, and must have a tremendous sense of arrogance that the country belongs to them, rather than the people.  Unfortunately, there is little doubt that CCM and Kikwete will be voted as the leaders for the next 5 years.

For all those interested in TZ politics, here's an article on BBC:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-11589013

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Peeping Tomzanian

I decided to something about the dearth of pictures, and here's the result.




This is the hallway where nothing particularly erotic or violent goes on, despite the students' puberscent age.


 I often find the documenting element of picture taking a bit intrusive, so I was stealthy here in capturing Ally, Yasin, and Judith, who are all terrible students.


This is our village celebrity, Daufiki.  I was stealthy here as well.


 But I finally got my balls together to spend some time with the great D.


And take advantage of his current age.  He won't be this cute in a couple of years.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Corporal Punishment

Enforcing discipline has been one of the largest conundrums in my work here.  If I mimick my own experience, I would be threatening my students with grades.  But the threat of a zero is not really a threat if they are getting it in the first place.  If I look at the prevalent Tanzanian culture, it's the use of a finger-thick tree branch.  I have always been opposed to corporal punishment because I believed that those with bad behavior will continue to have bad behavior despite the pain, and that discipline from fear is a negative energy that I did not want to be associated with.  Unfortunately, the motivational speeches and humorous public humiliations had reached their limits, and more and more students began to lose their focus.

Two days ago, like many of my classes, I taught a lesson, and gave the students some practice questions.  I have predicted that in line with the recent trend only a few would attempt them.  So today, I broke my corporal punishment virginity, and decided to make it a bit eventful as well.  I had the students' names in an envelope, and to randomly selected a few to solve the practice problems that I have assigned.  As I announced this new lesson plan and vigorously swung around my new wand of power, saying "I know kung fu," the students began to belatedly do their homework.  Surprise surprise.  And when the selected students had no idea how to solve the questions, I gave them a pretty mightyful swing.  In fact, two of the sticks broke, and even a small crowd was formed right outside the classroom door.

Of course, I felt personally sorry for those students who were unlucky to have their names drawn out.  They looked real upset too.  But while their sad and angry faces lingered in the corner of my eye throughout the rest of the class, I was real impressed by the work the class as whole did.  It was exciting to finally see some vigorous mathematic exercises in place.

I do admit it is my weakness as a teacher to be unable to enforce discipline in a more positive way, but I don't think it was such a bad thing to do.  In fact, I might do it again! :)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Moon




Prior to Mtwara I have always thought that the word "moonlight" was used for:

1. the hardworking but poor studied under the moonlight and went to Macalester

or

2. can't fight the moonlight!

But now I've realized that moonlight is something that really exists, and makes the nights brighter and temporarily safer.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Truth about School Fees

The tuition for the first four years of secondary education in Tanzania (O-level) is 20,000 TSH ($14) a year.  Prior to 2005, before the Secondary Education Development Plan I (SEDP I), the tuition was double.  This halving of the school fee is considered to be a great achievement of President Kikwete, as it is associated with an explosion of secondary education enrollment.  A spike in the statistics definitely brought some ooohs and ahhhs.

Lets look at the other side.  For many community schools, or public schools with limited government funding, this reduction in tuition meant a drastic cut in school revenue.  Under the SEDP I, the government is supposed to reimburse the difference, but in the case of Saba Saba, only about 3,000 TSH per student has been received.  With school expenditure ever rising with inflation, schools had to resort to other sources of income.  It turned to: other school fees.

Along side with the 20,000 TSH, the students of Saba Saba have to pay the Academic Fee (10,000TSH), Contribution to Graduation Ceremony (3,000 TSH), and starting next year Special Fee (10,000TSH).  For first year students, they also have to pay for desks and chairs, medical emergency fee, uniform, and ID card, which adds up to about 65,000 TSH.

Of course, in an urban area this fee is not exorbitant for many students, but we can easily imagine the problems associated with this.  Most obviously the poorest students are going to have a hard time, but also, policy makers and development workers who are less informed will make mistakes.  For example, the KOICA volunteers run a scholarship program, and it pays only for the 20,000 school fee.  Of course, no volunteer had an idea that these other school fees existed, as the recipients and the school were just glad to get any money.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Washington Consensus

Forgive me if this is blunt, but maybe the Washington Consensus was not given the proper chance to prove itself.

The Washington Consensus was all about free-markets all over the world, but agricultural subsidies in the developed world killed the agricultural exports in the developing world; and it still is.  If you think about it, agriculture is the comparative advantage of the developing world as well as the largest sector in terms of value and employment.

There seems to be a lot of judgment on developing policies solely looking at the results (well, how else?).  Combine agricultural subsidies, the Washington Consensus, and failed development results, and a possible conclusion is that Washington Consensus = no good.

So, maybe a more complete free-market initiative that eliminates agricultural subsidies could have redeemed the Washington Consensus' poor reputation.

Please let me know if otherwise.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Why Is Everything So Damn Connected?

When you donate your clothes to the Salvation Army, they end up in Africa.  But there are no Salvation Army workers in Tanzania who distribute these clothes to the really poor people who you've seen in pictures half-naked with bloated bellies.  Imagine the mountains of clothes that need to be distributed to mountains of people, and how much man-power that would need.  It would probably cost more than the clothes themselves.  These clothes, are given (or sold, I'm not certain) to merchants to be sold in large markets all over Africa.  In Tanzania, these markets are called "mitumba," specifically referring to those of second-hand clothes.  The diversity of these clothes is vast, and include church soccer team jerseys.  Surprisingly, there are a lot of Korean clothes as well, especially in contrast to Japanese ones.  Anyways, while this may seem to be in ethically gray grounds, in my opinion, it is the most efficient way of distribution.  It creates jobs, invites efficient entrepreneurs in the market, and in the end, the different quality clothes are bought by people with different levels of demand.  It's economics in action.

What this also means is that the textile industry in Tanzania is suffering.  Many women in Tanzania wear kanga and kitenge, which are colorfully decorated clothes that they drape around their body, or get tailored.  Many women do wear second-hand clothes as well, but it's the men who overwhelmingly do so.  With second-hand clothes out-pricing TZ-made clothes, the textile industry is not conspicuous at all.

I'm not in a position to say whether cheap second-hand clothes are good for developing countries or not.  That's a bit beyond my pay-grade.  But I do think about how cheap the presumably-leftover / slightly-defected / stolen-from-factory clothes in China were, and I contemplate a bit more.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Third Thing I Miss the Most

Living in Mtwara can get a bit lonely, and thus, the two things I miss the most are

1. Family
2. Friends

in that order.  Take that friends!  I love you mommy, daddy, and big brother.  The third thing i miss the most is:

3. Intellectual vigor.

I have had the honor to attend Macalester College with some of the brightest minds.  The friends and professors that I have interacted with always challenged me to think deeper and develop my mind further.  A pensive thought that began as a tadpole in my brain grew into an awesome multicolored dragon once it was bounced off a couple of brilliant minds. 

Prior to coming to Mtwara, I had certain visions that such vibrant cranial activity would continue, and packed books like Orientalism and Seeing Like a State.  Unfortunately, whether in the Saba Saba office, or with encounters with other volunteers, I was not able to have such lively discussion that I expected.  Once I used the maze-like streets of Stonetown to explain an idea from Seeing Like a State, but received no significant reply.  It's a shame, because I find that the volunteer experience poses many questions about identity and development in a globalizing world.  I miss the intellectual vigor so much that I could put it above the fourth thing I miss the most:

4. Pho.

I could confidently say that I am enjoying my time here, and it is both extremely rewarding and challenging.  But because of the four things that I miss the most, it is not perfect and rosy one could imagine.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Work

Thoughts worthy of a tomzanian update do appear every day, but as foreshadowed earlier, my experience here has changed me to perceive those as extensions of life, rather than anomalies.

Being a member of the modern world, I am a slave to the idea of career.  I think about what I am doing now, and wonder whether it is resume-worthy.  Not that I do every single thing to illuminate my resume, but I do think of how I could better present myself. 

Today I compiled a list of non-classroom work that I did, many not flashy or substantial enough for the resume.  Previous and many current volunteers focus solely on the teaching element of their jobs.  On the other hand, I additionally did the following:


scholarship - I visited students' home to verify that they're really that poor.  And yes, they were really that poor.  One fascinating part about this was that after handing out the scholarship, these students began to see me with an extra glimmer of light in their eyes. 

solar lamp - two workers from the Heart-Heart Foundation came to Mtwara, and as a part of their trip, they wanted to donate two solar lamps (lamps that are charged during the day) to two poor ass students as an experiment prior to a wider distribution.  I chose two from the scholarship recipients, and I just cannot forget how their faces brightened up with genuine smile when they heard the news.  Unfortunately, one does not work, so there is more work to do.

library improvement plan - the Headmaster asked me for suggestions on improving the library, so I wrote a two page report and submitted it.  Haven't heard about it since, but that's okay.

data input - the teachers of the academic office (who keeps all academic records on paper) rushed to me one Friday asking for help.  They had to compile the student's test results, along with the average, rank, etc.  Seigo, the Japanese volunteer, and I ended up in the office until 10pm (terribly late in Mtwara standards) Microsoft Exceling like crazy.

showed movie - Kyungbok and I showed the Dark Knight to students who weren't able to afford a field trip to Lindi.  They remarked that the joker/ his gang with the masks were zombies.  I also showed parts of Iron Man 2 to my students, and they clapped and cheered when Tony Stark put on the Iron Man suit.  What a dramatic way to watch a movie.

Form IV test - I am currently preparing the answer sheet and comments of the Form IV national exam on mathematics. 

remedial classes - Last term during finals, a student was on her way to school to study math with her friends.  I offered some help, and I taught them probability.  They understood 25%.  That's 0.25.

bought the class monitor tea and chapati - so that he could stop slacking off and come to school.  It was during Ramadan, but he ate anyways, claiming that he was sick.  I think it worked for 2 weeks. 

malaria test - Juma Bushiru came to me to be tested on Malaria.  I have a Malaria self-diagnose kit, which is pretty awesome technology.  Juma must have spent some time on the farm because his skin was pretty thick, making it a bit difficult to poke him with the needle (to extract blood).  After so many pokes, he was tested positive.  I didn't see him for two weeks, and during the two weeks, I asked his classmates how he was doing because I knew he was too poor to afford the drugs, and I was seriously worried that he would die.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Names

My name in Swahili is KIMU.  This is the result of 1. many Swahili words end with a vowel; 2. my host mother/former Headmistress could not pronounce Tommy; and 3. nobody can pronounce Jungyul without being uncomfortable.  I didn't realize that my name was spelled so until I checked the attendance, and I saw that the students thought of me as Kimu.

There are three large branches of Swahili names.  Christian (Joshua, Catherine), Muslim (Ramadani, Fatuma), and Tribal (Mwilenga).  And then there are just awesome names.  Here are some of my favorite:

  • Prosper
  • Perpetua
  • Mambo (equivalent to "what's up" colloquially)
  • Happy
  • Msafiri (traveler)
  • Jumanne (Tuesday)
  • Mbaraka (man of blessing, or just the first name of OBAMA)
  • Goodluck George

Thursday, September 23, 2010

El Fin

Finally water has returned.  Last time I thought I was dying after 10 days.  Well, this time it was six weeks (maybe more, I don't know I lost count).  It has been a dark time.  I've coped, using a variety of measures, and even managed to do my own laundry.  The thought of doing laundry during a water shortage may be counter-common-sense but it actually lifted up my moods.  Life goes on without water, and laundry is part of it.

During these weeks I've also wrote an editorial bitching about this, and sent it to the Daily News.  Obviously it wasn't published, as I have not bragged about it on the tomzanian.

This had me thinking, most, if not all, problems facing developing nations are very similar to those facing developed nations.  Termite infestation, building roads and bridges, supplying water, saving the economy, inner-city schools, etc. are common problems with surprisingly large number of similarities.  The fact that I didn't have water for six weeks is not something that is so cool and hard core volunteeresque.  It shows that the politicans here suck.

Well enough of complaining!  Party with water!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Mpapai Nyuma ya Kwangu Umeanguka

All right kids, I admit it.  I live in a crazy corner of the world that nothing like where I have lived before.  Once a friend remarked that my life reminds her of the movie the Gods Must be Crazy.  I was in complete denial, and tried to write a blog post how it's not that different at all.

It turns out, she's right after all.  There are sandstorms in my house (this does not make sense does it?), I have seen more species of insects on my bedroom floor than my entire previous life combined, my infrequent tap water is translucent (using my Korean exaggeration skills), and my students suck at math.


I digress.  I just wanted a pensive way to introduce my big event of the day.  The papai tree that once stood behind my house has fallen.  Damn, it doesn't sound as dramatic on writing.  THE PAPAI TREE FELL.  I guess it's just one of those things that isn't so cool unless you've experienced it yourself.


BAM!


BAM!



And yeah, the papai tree is full of sap.  It's moist and fleshy, so the insects will have a party tonight, tomorrow, and so on. 

One and a half papai fell with the tree, but they were far from ripe, so I let them be.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Death

Previously I have remarked that it is rather sad to know that I will live longer than most of my students.  Statistics clearly shows that the life expectancy of a South Korean is much higher than that of a Tanzanian.  Although, as any statistical measurement is, it is a generalization, the distinction in the availability of health care makes this harrowing difference believable. 

I have also noticed that this statistical difference (oh I'm sure a very small p-value) is reflected on the daily Tanzanian life.  That is, I observe a high rate of death around me.  Over the past month, a student's mother, another's sister, and another's friend passed away.  Mr. Prosper, a fellow teacher, went to his grandfather's funeral over the weekend.  One particular death I will never forget happened a couple of months ago.  In the middle of the night, I heard a loud wailing.  It turns out there was a death in a neighbor's family.  People gathered for condolences, but I didn't go because one, I was not acquainted with anyone in the family, and two, I didn't know how to react.

In fact, thinking about the past deaths, the list goes on and on.  Azizi, a young teenager who lives across from me, lost his mother after she had a surgery on her uterus.  And now, my other neighbor has a growth in her uterus too.

A lower life expectancy and a high birth rate in developing societies indicates that death looms.  And the decrepit medical system also indicates that if you're sick, be ready for death.  When my students ask for permission to attend a funeral, or to console a friend who's experienced a death in the family, I see grief.  But being so frequent, the grief seems to be anticipated and routine.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Ramadan

I wrote an email to my friends and my brother about Ramadan, and I feel that the content from the email is better than a the usual blogologue.

Life has been rather cyclical lately.  I've been getting the feeling that today is like yesterday, and tomorrow will be like today, and likewise in the unit of weeks.  I connected this rhythmic conception of my life as a sign that I am now completely used to my new environment.  New things do appear, but they mostly have become something as insignificant as a new shop on Grand Avenue.  It moves my blog (yeah this one) closer to retirement, but this steady undramatic tempo is what I am experiencing at the moment.

Except for one thing: Ramadan.  Thursday was the beginning of Ramadan, and to many of my neighbors and students I said "pole," which roughly means "poor you," or "sorry" as the Americans overuse it.  But my neighbor Mr. Ninje said that I should be congratulating him, because it is a significant religious moment.  So from then on, I said "congratulations" to my Muslim friends.

And today, I went to Dubai for dinner.  Dubai during Ramadan does not open until 6. When I arrived at 6:10, I was the only customer, so I ordered my usual fish and rice.  Ten minutes later, the restaurant suddenly woke up from its fasting/slumber.  People started to come in non-stop, ordering food and taking them out as well.  They ordered food that I've never seen before, such as potato, white bean, and noodle dishes.  And to make the atmosphere more festive, it handed out free uji, a sweet Tanzanian breakfast porridge.  Customer service, of course, was compromised.  When a customer requested an additional spoon to stir his uji, Jabili quickly grabbed one from the kitchen and just stabbed it in the his plate of beans.  With Tanzanian food, architecture, and arts being dry and drab, this was a refreshing experience of culture.

Congrats to all those who are fasting.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Democracy in Africa


July edition of the Economist

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Thus is Life

My previous Headmistress, Mama Machinga, moved to Chuno Secondary School, which is a twenty minute bike ride away.  With her invitation, I paid a visit.

Chuno is a new school, and so it feels like the skeletal version of Saba Saba.  Its facilities are bare, classrooms and offices are still under construction, teachers are few, and finances are dire.  Chuno also does not have any faculty housing.

Mama told me that she was looking for houses in the area, but the rent of 150,000 TSH ($100), was a bit too high for her.  I asked whether she would get any stipend from the government, as she had free housing prior to her move.  She said no.  I chuckled, and so did she.  Through the small laughter, I think we telepathically said the following:

"Wow, your new job sucks."

"Tell me about it."

And then I learned a bit more about the students.  The students come from all over town, as designated by the government.  There are Saba Saba students who live near Chuno, and vice versa.  This random allocation may be life changing.  There are no science and math teachers in Chuno, so it's easier for its students to fail their national exam, while it's not so bad for Saba Saba students.

The level of arbitrariness is abundant in all aspects of Tanzanian life, and to my surprise, there is little resistance.  These sub-standard elements, often stemming from the government, are treated as normal courses of life.  Toward things that I may say "that's not fair," people here react "oh thus is life."

What a strange life.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Rafiki

The word 'rafiki' has many meanings.  While the dictionary may fool you by saying that it means 'friend,' other variations exist.  They include:

1. Dude
2. Person
3. You, as in "Hey you"
4. There, as in "Hey there"
5. Rich foreigner

Way back during training, in response to a lecture regarding the identity of a volunteer, I asked "how can I overcome the tradition that identifies me as the helper/ pseudo-savior, and the local people as those who absolutely need my help?"  And in response, she recommended me to think about the meaning of KOICA's new brand "World Friends Korea."  Instead of such dichotomy, think of myself and the locals as friends.

Friends, as in dude, person, you, there, or rich foreigner?  Despite the new warm and cuddly PR initiative, volunteers struggle to break free from the asymmetric relationships and conceptions formulated by the people around us.

Saba Saba Secondary has a new headmaster.  I've met him twice and at both times, he called me rafiki.  In fact, he said "ooooooooooh rafikiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii."  It's an odd feeling, especially when there is a strict hierarchy in the school system.  Hearing the word rafiki made me feel both foreign and uncomfortable.  On the second occasion, after greeting me "ooooooooooh rafikiiiiiiiiii" again, he asked me whether there was anything my organization (ie the government of Korea) could do to assist him in painting and cleaning up the school.  Volunteers dread questions like this because we're dispatched more as human capital rather than santa clauses with huge gift bags.  Am I being classified as definition number five?

Hey let me introduce you to my bathroom!


There are a couple of rules in regards to using my bathroom.

1. Never flush the toilet.  Water comes from the pipes once every 3 - 30 days, so I need to be strategic with my 500 L water tank.  Use the water from the buckets instead.  In most cases, 1-2L will be enough.  In case of number 2, see below.

2. Collect the shower water.  It'll be enough to flush the morning business.  Plus it cleans the toilet, every day. 

I think that's about it. To summarize, why let the water go down the drain, when you could use it to flush your toilet?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Dry Season

there are two nicknames for the dry season:

1. the hot season (as opposed to the really hot season)

2. want some sandstorm in your house babe?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Movies

Would it shock you if I told you that the largest movie screen in East Africa is located in Tanzania?

Would it shock you even more that my first movie in the theater in 6 months happened to be Date Night?!

I'm sure if you had seen the movie you would agree with me that Tina Fey is good looking, and that the movie wasn't very good.

So I decided to redeem myself by watching Toy Story 3 before I came down to Mtwara.  And at this moment, I proclaim to the world that my dear friend Tory cried towards the end.

And perhaps if you're thinking "really?" or "who's tory?" well, the Blind Side is the only movie that i have ever cried to, and Tory's my testicle buddy (a korean not-so-vulgar slang for good-old-friend, or the korean equivalent of BESTI).

Is spontaneity necessarily creative or confusing? 

And with that, I end this post.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Vacation!!!

Damn that was a good break.  For the past three weeks, I had a sweet vacation, watching some of the sights of Tanzania, and just having a good time meeting new volunteers and becoming closer to some old ones.  It was nice to have a giant increase in social interactions, and now it's a bit eerie to be back in the somewhat solitary life.  To make matters a bit more difficult, I have received terrible news that my headmistress will be transferring to another school.  After relying so much on her in both social and work aspects of Saba Saba, I feel like I am up for a new start.

And so a picture is worth a thousand words, but a thousand more bites (or byte? whatever the plural for the unit of computer memory is).  Here's a parsimonious selection:


This is my travel companion, Lim Sunguang (aka Julius).  Julius works in a sweet ass office in Dar es Salaam, in an institution that trains important people.  He helps out with various IT and computer work.  We became travel buddies for both wanting to spend less and not plan too much.  A trip inside Julius' head was also a trip in itself.


There is a famous resort in Zanzibar amongst the volunteers for its special discount ($75 a night).  Not too cheap, but with unlimited booze and food, plus all the nice five star resort service, it is quite popular.  Julius and I decided at the last minute to follow our friends there, but was persuaded Miyoung, our host for one night, to have a thriftier trip in Zanzibar.  So we did, and we spent 4 days eating cheap food and exploring this free beach.


Julius and I did manage to meet up with the rest of our friends, when we all decided to crash at a volunteer's house in the heart of Stonetown.  The streets of Stonetown is a complete maze, and I lost all sense of direction.


And then we left on the first ferry, which was so bumpy that about 10% of the passengers vomit.  The weird French animation shown in the ferry with a lot of boobs and annoying sounds did not help with the sea sickness.


For our next destination, we went to Mbeya, where Youngsin lived.  He was spending his last days in Mbeya, saying good bye and packing, so we thought, what a perfect time to crash.  We took the 24 hour long train, which wasn't as comfortable as we thought, and we both had diarrehea.  We ended up missing all the signs of Mbeya (not too many tough), pooping a lot, and playing Monopoly on the computer.


After full recuperation, we went up to the Usambara mountains, known for its hiking and views.  We first thought of doing the three day trekking from Lushoto to Mtae, but that I soon realized that I wasn't fit enough, so we just took a bus instead.


The view was stunning, with clouds rising during the day, and falling below our feet towarrds the evening.


A volunteer from Zanzibar visited Mtwara before, and took some photos of the school.  


Oh teaching sometimes is such an uphill struggle.


And this is Kyungbok, my dear neighbor/friend/mentor/co-worker.  She left, and I will forever miss her.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Vacation

VACATION TIME!!!

Starting tomorrow I go on my 2 week vacation.  For many volunteers, the ENTIRE TWO YEARS is like an extended vacation, doing work half-time or quarter-time, taking really long breaks, traveling every possible damn corner of Tanzania. 

What a life!  Well, for me, it's a bit different.  I'm doing doing volunteer service instead of my mandatory military service, so I have a zillion restrictions.  One of them is that I am not permitted to exit my "work place" without a holiday or work-related-trip, much like a soldier in a barrack.  What the hell, I work at the school, and it's 200m away from my house.  I'm supposed to not leave a 200m radius?  How am I supposed to go buy food?

Oh, don't worry, the KOICA has been generous enough to expand the definition of the "work place" to the Mtwara region.  Well, thanks because Newala and Masasi are really must-see places, and they are really related to my job here.

Well, it's still a vacation.  So good bye for now.

Friday, June 25, 2010

National Identity.... and Soccer!

It's the World Cup season!  But the games are lackluster, and the French team is knocked out so that drama is over.  I wish they actually had qualified for the second round so that their implosion could implode again.

With the World Cup all about country vs. country, the question of national identity has attacked my life again.  Earlier, North Korea lost to Portugal by 7-0, and I received so many condolences.  So I had to tell them one by one that I'm from South, and kill the conversation.  And then they tell me how happy I must be that South Korea qualified.  A bit, but not so much.  It was just mildly pleasant. 

Having lived in so many places in my life, I have no national identity.  I was actually interviewed about this in my college newspaper.  Being glad about the attention I got, I sent my parents a copy, only for them to give me a worrying phone call. Here's the in-house-controversial article:

http://media.www.themacweekly.com/media/storage/paper1230/news/2009/02/27/Spotlight/Tommy.Kim-3649748.shtml. 

Anyways, back to national identity and soccer, I've just read an article that shows how it's quite of a jungle.  It lists all these players who must have confused national identities.  Two thirds of the Swiss team are second-generation immigrants.  Four years ago, the Kalou brothers were about to play each other in different national teams, until Saloman's Dutch citizenship request was denied.  But to no avail, only four years later, the Boateng brothers have achieved it.  Just when the world thought, what an anomaly, it only took one more tournament for it to happen.  One of my favorite example is Owen Hargreaves, who was born in Canada, rose to fame in Germany, but plays for England because of parental heritage.

This globalization of soccer is multiplied by a ridiculous amount when we consider club football.  The money, sponsors, owners, viewers, not enough English players in England, Tanzanians fighting over who's going to win the top four, etc.  And now, globalization is deeply embedded in the sphere of national soccer teams, who are often the symbol of national pride.  It seems that Luis Figo complaining that the Brazilian born Deco was in the Portugese side, or Harry Redknapp vehemently opposing the chance of Manuel Almunia in the English national squad is anachronistic and absurd.

Being who I am, without a clear national identity, this is one of the most exciting part about the rather boring 2010 World Cup: finding out who is the product of globalization.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Familiarity

Familiarity is a very important concept for a volunteer.  It sometimes feels as if an overseas volunteer is abruptly placed at one of the most unnatural settings in the world.  They are separated from their normal lives, including: family, friends, casual acquaintances, etc., and are placed where they know no one, and no very little about local customs nor language.

But as time passes by most manage, and most get accustomed to their lives.  They make new relations.  Looking back, the key concept of this rather mystical process of escaping the unnatural setting is familiarity.  At first, nothing is familiar.  The people and the places are all novel and rather strange.  But as time passes, things begin to be more familiar.  The onion seller at the market, the fruit stand on the road, Dubai restaurant after Sunday church, teaching routine, the office tea, the neighbors; the list goes on.  Thus, in the process of the unfamiliar becoming familiar, a volunteer begins to feel the unnatural turn natural.  Familiarity is perhaps the most important concept for a volunteer.

Okay whatever, picture time.

The entire school staff minus three or four, plus three student government representatives.  This was taken during Kyungbok's farewell party, a rather interesting event indeed.  The above staff take care of 750 students.  Or more precisely, the above staff have a hard time taking care of 750 students


This is Dubai, the most popular restaurant among the Korean volunteers, and the weekly gathering place after church.  Quick service, friendly, cheap price, and decent quality makes this place the "Best Restaurant of Mtwara 2010."  It probably has retained the title since 1991, and will continue to do so until 2037, when Armageddon comes.


Inside Dubai.  I often talk about how it would be interesting to open a Dubai in Korea, or wherever.  The business will definitely tank, but the imagination of it thriving is a rather fun thought.


A highlight location for those touring Mtwara.  The Msemo / Southern Cross Hotel is the most luxurious place in Mtwara, offering meals that cost up to..... $10!! What a rip off!  The hotel and its restaurant does boast a remarkable beach view, along with high quality painting and sculpture shop.  It's also the only place to see Masai (a.k.a. cow thieves) in Mtwara.


My wonderful neighbor.  Oh my neighbors.  My neighborhood is rather dysfunctional.  All the fathers are poor fathers, most of them neglecting family duties, asking for divorces, going out without letting their families know, and in one extreme case, wife-beating!  Mr. Ninje is one of the milder cases, who has an angelic glow when he talks about how he buys meat for his three boys, or how they love to hear his stories (I've seen this in action, him sitting on a stool with the two older boys being absorbed in his stories, rather remarkable sight of father-sons relationship).  But to be honest, he's just another irresponsible Tanzanian father.  The mom is an angel too, being a wonderful neighbor.  And the boys are just so cute.  The first born, Lama, is pretty much a second mom.  He does all the chores, and even cooked for the family, including his dad, while his mom was away for a month.  The second, Ashlaf, is just like his dad, playful and cute.  And the last one, Daufiki, is the baby of the neighborhood.  Two months ago he could barely stand, but now he walks up to the stove and picks up the charcoal to eat it.  My favorite neighbors, but unfortunately, they'll be moving out soon, as their house will be occupied by the next Japanese volunteer.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Doing good

The thought that I am doing a good deed here is a powerful motivation.  To come here as someone totally different from the local population, and to serve them with whatever I have is something that makes me proud to be here.  The idea of “doing good” keeps me intact and to a certain degree sane, and the primacy of this thought is even multiplied when my friends and family express their pride in me, or even envy of what I do.

So what is this good thing that I do?  Well, in government documents, academic books, and economic theory, I am here to raise math literacy here.  There is a shortage of quantity and quality of mathematics teachers in Tanzania, and thus, I have been chosen to fill this gap.  On every single KOICA document I sign, I am labeled as a Math Educator.  In the eyes of politicians / economists, I am improving human capital by teaching math, and one day, they may show the development of Tanzania by transforming themselves into dollars and digits in certain statistical measurements.  Yet, if my doing good is evaluated in the language of the government, politicians, and economists, they might as well haven’t sent me at all.  As I grade my students' terminal exam, I am shocked at how miserably failing I am doing in terms for the language I have just mentioned.  It is rare that I see a student with a double digit score, with 100 being the maximum.  The students are simply in the same disgusting level as they were when I first came.  I have always thought and was confident in that I could improve some of these scores.  I didn't think it would be too hard.  I even had the arrogance to have a small "Dead Poet's Society" or "Stand Up and Deliver" moment.  I even made my students recite "a negative times a negative is positive," hoping that one day, one of them would come late to class, see the word “calculus” written on the board, and ask "what is this? Calcooloos?"

In the midst of this extremely depressing thought, I try to remind myself of what my friend Erica told me (as I have mentioned it before in this blog).  And to really butcher her words and paraphrase her a lot, I do think that the extent of the good that I do here is neither measurable nor observable.  Although some of the interactions that I have with my students may be just trivial daily matters, with me being both foreign and well, good-intended, I have a hunch that some of these interactions may mean more than they seem to be.  And if this hunch is true, there are very few ways that I can actually see and observe what I achieve, and thus the only thing I can do is hope that it is true.  Of course, all this thought, in the eyes of certain cynics, is level with sheer imagination.  And in their fairness, I have nothing concrete to substantiate my claims.  Yet, I cling on to them, because without them, I would feel miserable, desperate, and depressed. 
And thus to conclude, I am a hopeless romantic, clinging on to the belief that I am doing good here.  To confess, this joins the ranks with my other important personal convictions: the good, global citizenship, love, and Michael Jackson.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Defeat

I was in presence of a grand defeat today. 

Francisco John – a stellar student, well-behaved, class monitor, and most of all, friendly – was finishing up his exam and on his way out.  Madam Mambo – an interesting figure, rarely enters class to teach, flamboyant, and noticeably in love with enforcing discipline – was going to various classes to cut the hairs of students that were too long.  This is in fact a rather odd disciplinary rule, since all Tanzanians have woolly hair, meaning that they get natural afros, and that their hairs are rarely 1cm away from their scalp.  Just as the two met at the door, a tussle began.  Mambo, using her large body and equally loud voice, told him to sit so that she could cut his hair.  He, in response, tried to sweet talk his way, although his hands were in great motion to deter the attacking scissors of Mambo.  The tussle intensified, and it was as if a malicious knight and a noble peasant were in a clash that would eventually be the village’s legendary gossip.  But to no avail, Francisco succumbed to the mighty force of discipline and the giant asymmetry of teacher-student relation, and did as he was told.  As ordered, he knelt with one knee on the ground, but he also had his head bowed, his right hand holding on to a table, and his left covering his eyes.  It wasn’t so obvious at first but eventually it was clear that he was crying, but in such silence that he seemed more like a statue titled: the crying man.  The smell of his defeat spread throughout the class, and the students were in awe of this great battle that was eventually lost by their village man.  Mambo left the classroom, and Francisco remained a statue despite the condolences from his fellows who narrowly escaped Mambo only because Francisco was an unlucky sacrifice.

I let all this happen because the work of discipline does not belong to me.  I have neither the skills nor the will.  While I believe it is not my right to intervene, I wish that Mambo had just let him go and just teach all the damn classes she’s supposed to.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Baltazaly

Kids at Saba Saba are real kind souls.  They have low grades and low expectations on life, but most are angels.  On one of my first weeks, Yasin constantly skipped my class.  In fact, he skipped many many classes. In response to his claim that he wants to be a police officer, I asked a rhetorical question: do you think the head of the police is a dumb shit?  His change in attitude since then has been rather impressive.

Yesterday, I was about to proctor an exam, but once the students were seated, four didn't have seats.  It turns out they were the perennial skippers, and thus, had no chair nor table.  Bartazaly, unfortunately, had to join these students because Francesca only had a table, and Bartazaly only had a chair, and I asked him to be a gentleman and offer Francesca the chair.  As I was trying to figure out what to do with the seatless students, I eventually asked the help of Madam Mambo.  She is a keen enforcer of discipline, and manages to whip the students with vigor that comes from her rather large body and despite the flashy, lacy, tailor made dresses she wears.  She saw these students, and scolded them for being terrible students, and told them to take the exam on the floor.  A rather simple solution, I thought, but Bartazaly was obviously upset for being wrongfully accused, and all of this happened because of Mr. Kim who speaks like a five year old!  Bartazaly eventually got his chair back and the exam commenced.  I felt bad for Bartazaly, so I went over to him, fixed his collar, and gave him a pat on the back and a little squeeze on the shoulder just to feel a little less guilty.  As I was walking away, he called me, and handed me my small bag that holds a my blackboard eraser and a couple of chalks.

I was a bit upset that he stole my stuff, but was more shocked at the promptness of its return.  Bartazaly is a good egg.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Follow the Yellow Brick Road

The hot topic of the week is: how to get to Dar es Salaam.

Of all the places the Korean volunteers get dispatched to, Mtwara is notorious for providing the tough life.  Infrequent water, electricity, and the lack of things to do have made Dar es Salaam the second home for past Mtwara volunteers.  As the student vacation approaches, we are all planning to head to our second home.  Some are physically ill, all are mentally ill, and some just want to have a dang shower.

The problem is that the KOICA office has now designated Mtwara an unsafe place to travel, and thus, all bus transportation between Dar es Salaam and Mtwara is prohibited.  The decision is in fact rather just, as it takes 15+ hours to cover just 450 km after rain.  Sometimes, a bus gets stuck in the muddy road, and the passengers have to spend the night until something larger comes along to pull the bus out of the ditch.

Here are some of the options that we've discussed so far:

1. Take the plane (expensive, but the most likely option)

2. Go up to Kilwa, then take a boat to Mafia, and then to Dar.  It'll take two days, but at least you'll visit the hotspots of the "Swahili Coast," or whatever.

3. Go to Songea via Tunduru, and then take a bus to Dar.  It'll take two days as well, but the cheapest legal option.  It's also a rather stupid idea.

4. Ask a lift on a cargo boat.

5. Email a cruise ship company to plead our case, and hope it drops by Mtwara port on its way to Dar es Salaam / Zanzibar.

6. Follow the Yellow Brick Road.