Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Bureaucracy Season

It's the bureaucracy season.

The teachers have to submit two documents to the ministry of education.  The scheme (pronouced SKIM - like the milk) and the log book.

The government has provided the course syllabus for all subjects, and it lists main topics, sub topics, teaching aids to be used, and many more.  The scheme is basically writing the same things word for word, adding the date that the teachers taught the topics, and writing short remarks.

The log book is basically the same thing as the above, but much less in content.

Apparently these documents are used to evaluate the teaching standards of each school.

As a big fan of efficient bureaucracy, this is totally ridiculous.

Friday, April 23, 2010


I never thought I would be so close to poverty.

A couple of weeks back, Ally Mohamed was not writing down any of my notes.  I asked him where his notebook went, and he said it was stolen.  I told him to buy one, which costs less than 25 cents, but he said he couldn't because his parents are farmers and are very poor.  Next week, he was still without a notebook, so I told him to ask his friends for a favor, or steal one himself.  The next week, he still didn't have his notebook, so I told him that if he got over 75% on the exam, I would give him three.  I think he worked pretty hard, but he got 35%.  I gave him two anyways, because I couldn't help feel so sorry for him.

The Korean volunteers in Tanzania run a scholarship committee, with our own money.  Kyungbok, my colleague here, has started the scholarship work in my school.  This morning, a student came up to me with a half finished application, and I took a look at it.  I was explaining to him how to write certain portions, and on the section of "explain your family's annual income," I told him to write what his parents do, and how much they make.  Then I explained the section that required him to write a personal history, including family events.  The second half of that page, on the section explaining why he needs the scholarship, it said that he lost both his parents.

Often outside of class, the students come up telling me half-jokingly that they're hungry.  I usually respond with a laughing "what'd you want me to do," or "how about I punch you in the stomach you won't feel hungry anymore."  I say this because I can't just buy some food for a student or two, because the students will hoard me and think of me as a rich foreign santa, and that I could not handle.  But at the same time, every time this happens, I do wish I could do more to help them.

I've learned this only on Wednesday: 

There are 750 students in Saba Saba.  More than half cannot pay the 20,000 TSH (about $15) yearly school fee.  Most of these students eat only one meal a day, and mostly an unsubstantial one.  And about 100 students are orphans, taken cared by guardians and not parents.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Today was a rather frustrating day.  This week has required me a lot of flexibility, as most of the classrooms have been unusable as the blackboard paints are still in the process of drying.  This made all the teachers combine classes and change schedules to fit ourselves in 2 labs + couple of classrooms we haven't worked on.  The stresses of today, however, are not related to this.  When I went to teach my first class, one teacher has sent them all to do "some work."  This entails cutting grass and other some friggin shit work that I don't give a damn.  And then 10 minutes before my second class, there was a staff meeting.  The electricity was cut for much of the day, and hence it was ridiculously hot.  I was even sweating in my thighs.  And to make matters worse, the meeting was all in Swahili, and I couldn't understand a thing.  And apparently, it was about how the teachers have not done their duties, and hence the department of education is not too impressed.  In conclusion, I taught no class today.  Instead, I fixed 6 punctures (or pan-cha in Swahili) in my bike, had lunch at Dubai, and bought bread.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A New Theory

I have a theory.  I think it can be categorized under anthropology.

Everybody knows that back in the day, people were so happy when it rained.  It wasn't because it helped the crops.  It was because they can finally take a shower!

Think about how much worse people smelled during the dry season. Gross.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


The electricity went out for the afternoon, and it wasn't coming back as early as I thought.  So David (my colleague at Mtwara Tech) and I went to "Dubai," our favorite restaurant.  Mid-meal, I get an urgent call from Kyungbok, my colleague at Saba-Saba to help her.  Turns out she was installing new blackboards in the classrooms.  Well, install isn't the right verb.  She was painting new blackboards.

Each volunteer is allowed to use upto $1000 a year on whatever that would help their work.  Many teachers order books, calculators, and stationary.  Most of the items have to be "perishable," although the definition is rather flexible.  Kyungbok decided to buy materials for new blackboards, and using only $300 of the allocation.  Using the blackboards here is quite an exercise.  It's really hard, and thus, hurts the wrists.  There are many cracks and small dips that make writing difficult.  Thus, Kyungbok used the money to buy some cement, wooden board, and paint.

And the leading technician is actually a 4th year student, whose family enterprise is closely related to this stuff.  In many ways, the school here operates like a military unit.  The students, much like soldiers, act as free labor for the school.

After finishing 2 blackboards, I was as black as my students, and I ended up using twice as much water than usual to clean myself (oh the pain..).  There're 16 more blackboards to go, and I foresee terror, but as for now, I think this is a good development project that only costs $300.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


At the moment, all the my electrical appliances are plugged off.  After a rather long period of power cut, the electricity has returned, but the voltage has been extremely unstable.  I heard about these catastrophic life threaning events that eventually messes up fridges, TVs, and others.  Upon my neighbor's suggestion I even unplugged my fridge with a kilo of pork inside :(.  And afterwards, I saw my outer light get short circuited, and then another one inside while I was brushing my teeth.

This isn't one of those "oh-this-is-Tanzanian-life" moment.  It's just really annoying.

Hey how about a diagram? It's the first one of my house!

As you can see the lights that got short-circuited are marked with a red X.  The outer light serves as a security tool that makes outsiders understand that somebody's home.  My outer light happens to be useful to my neighbors who use the communal bathroom nearby.  I, fortunately, have my own.  The outer light of my immediate neighbor went out as well, but this isn't bad as Ms. Shoje's home, who had all of her lights get short circuited.  So, multiply this by 4 and add 1 (all the lights in the school went out) to see how much damage the school got, and then, multiply by a very large number to see how this could be a national problem.

Bed Nets

mala-ria hai-ku-ba-ri-ki

is an extremely catchy anti-malarial campaign tune.  Needless to say, most beds here have bed nets.  The falciparum (or however it's spelled) strain of malaria is the most lethal kind, and it's most active between 10pm and 4am.  Hence, the bed net is an important health issue.  But also, it's just really annoying to get bitten all night long.

Anyways, one problem about beds here is that they're not very tall, and I'm at the moment grateful that I'm only 173cm (or 5.8 I think).  Here's why:

This is a diagram of my tall friend Kabir sleeping in the US.  He is so used to beds that don't fit him that he is accustomed to sleeping with his feet sticking out of the bed
And this is a diagram of him in Tanzania, if he came.

I wonder how Hasheem Thabeet did it.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


I made a fascinating discovery today!  Tanzania and Wisconsin look just like each other! Take a look!

Can you tell which one is which?

Also fascinating is that both states have mountains in the North, and a giant lake to the Northwest (Superior and Victoria).  Also fascinating is that there are large bodies of water toward the East (Lake Michigan and the Indian Ocean).  And the capitals are at the center too (Madison and Dodoma).  That’s pretty crazy!

Other than that, there aren't a lot more in common.

There are differences though!  The area of Wisconsin is actually one sixth of Tanzania.  People in Wisconsin are super white and people in Tanzania are super black.  The beer in Wisconsin is a lot better, but the fish in Tanzania is a lot better.  It’s super cold in Wisconsin, but it’s super hot in Tanzania. Wisconsin girls are real intense (i.e. Anne Johnson, Katie Whitmore, etc.) while Tanzanian girls are not, well except for Bibi Titi Mohamed.

I dedicate this post to all my friends from Wisconsin, who are truly wonderful.  I have had many great memories in Wisconsin, and I wish there was more of Wisconsin in Tanzania.