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.

Friday, May 28, 2010


is a rather common female name in Tanzania.

She is also a little girl that lives next door, and is known for not greeting people and crying a lot.

The walls (or maybe it's the roof/ceiling) here are thinner than those of Dupre Hall, so a moderately loud conversation next door is comfortably audible.

At the moment, Happy is crying like crazy, and it seems that her mom is so sick of it that she's making fun of her.  It's a pretty funny thing for a mom to do, but this is tonight's entertainment!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Memorable Quote

Several teachers of Saba Saba are indeed terrible educators.  Many of them simply do not go to their classes.

Today, there was a 6 hour long meeting about the matter.  Fortunately, being a foreigner, I receive zero damage slipping away in the middle.  I do, however, think that attending these meetings help me understand my school and the people I work with, and indeed it did!

The Second Master was reading the notes from student meetings, one of which rightly accused one of the teachers for not coming to class this year.  He replied,

"They're deceiving you!  It's only May, and thus this year is not finished yet!  How could I have not entered my classes for the whole year if the year is not over yet."

Sunday, May 23, 2010


Last week I had a severe case of a swollen throat.  Normally, life would continue, but being a teacher, I decided to take the week off from classes.  It was such a memorable time, as I received such wonderful attention.  First of all, Kyungbok, God bless her, bombarded me with tea, medicine, juice, fruits, and porridge.  Then my Headmistress came herself and gave me three chunks of kingfish.  Then a number of my students came to greet me.  They are all such wonderful people.  I was touched.

With a sudden influx of free time, I had this sudden impulse to solve a question that I wanted to answer while I was in college. The question at hand stems from an exercise in the Mathematical Statistics textbook.  It asked something along the lines of:

There are n numbers, from 1 to n, and a student chooses 50….

And then the question continues, but the question involved using the given 50 numbers to estimate the n.  There was a minor debate between me and the professor in regards to the method of estimation.  The professor suggested the most likelihood estimator to find n, which was basically the largest number in the sample of 50, while I suggested the method of moments, which was to find the average of the 50 numbers, and then multiplying by two.  It seemed that both were decent methods, but the quest for accuracy remained in my mind, until today.  The question, therefore, is

In order to find n, is it better to use the MLE or the MOM?

Wow, this post is extremely nerdy.  It turns out the MLE is better!  But seriously, who cares!  So with that, I end this post.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Today was Prosper's (what a name!) turn to be host.  After yesterday's shocking excursions, and after seeing Prosper's bag (a manila folder!), I thought, oh boy, another trip to the poverty.  But actually, it was quite the opposite.

Prosper (what a name!) is not a student that I teach, so I had to get to know him on the walk to his home.  I asked him mostly about his family, and how they earn a living.  He is the fourth of five.  The first two are attending Universities in Dar es Salaam (which is quite a WOW in Mtwara), one is attending teacher's college, and the youngest is in primary school.  After passing through a couple of houses and fields, we reached the top of a hill.  It was a city upon a hill!  Well, more like a neighborhood and a prison.  Prosper's father worked as a prison guard, and being a military man, he has been able to take care of his family without much trouble.  His house had electricity, cement walls, and even a fridge.  The problem is that his dad is 60, and will retire in two months.  He will have no job, and he will go back to his rural village with his wife, while the kids study at their respective locations.

I doubt Prosper would have difficulty paying his fees in forthcoming years, so as the person with half the votes on his eligibility, I am still thinking. 

Monday, May 17, 2010

Rose, Hadija, and Dua

Two weeks!  And now water is back!  But more importantly, today's about Rose, Hadija, and Dua.

I'm helping out Kyungbok with the KOICA scholarship applications.  Each year, some of the more determined education volunteers hand out scholarships to students in need.  Kyungbok had the will to do the work, and was able to collect 17 applicants.  In order to verify that the students are indeed in need of financial assistance, we decided to visit their homes.


Rose is a delight to teach.  She has a particularly loud and deep voice, and actually lets me know when she does not understand certain points in my lesson, and she yells at some students who are disturbing the class.  I often enjoy pronouncing her name with a deep voice, because there is a nice ring to the word "rose."  Her academics aren't great, but she seems to try somewhat.  Unlike others, she's a bit conservative with laughter, and perhaps there is to be.

In Dar es Salaam, there is a village museum, depicting how certain tribes build certain houses.  These houses, are mostly made of mud, with thatch roofs and a dirt floor.  I thought, surely, this is a depiction of the past.  Well, it's exactly where Rose lives.  Three small rooms, and a small kitchen.  No electricity, no water, of course.  I saw a small child-sized bed.  I wondered how rose could fit in it.  Well, she, her sister, and her cousin sleep there.  Her parents are farmers, but the word peasant seems to fit more. She, like the other two, eat two meals a day.  Breakfast, however, is just a cup of simple porridge.  She, and the other two cannot afford tea, which is a staple here.


Hadija is absolutely ridiculous.  A total clown.  Once she gave Kyungbok a mushroom as a gift, saying that it's edible.  Except, everyone else said that it was poisonous.  Hadija is loud, but midway through the lesson, she passes out like crazy.  She is just seconds away from drooling, and her mind is already somewhere else.  Hadija also owns an illicit business.  She sells keki, small donuts, for 50 shillings each at school, and students buy them.  I'm not sure she's allowed to sell them, but I got one for free in exchange for keeping it a secret.  Hadija isn't a stellar student nor does she try very hard.  But oh well, she's not the only one like that.  Her defining feature, I must add, is her tattered clothing.  Her hijab is so many tears, and her skirt has a giant whole as well.

Hadija's poverty is much like Rose's, except that she lacks parental care.  Her father passed out when she was a baby, and her mother is at another town to take care of her illness.  She is taken care by one of her sisters, who had no idea who I am, and why I came to visit.  Hadija, despite all this, seemed extra cheerful during the whole time.


I don't teach Dua, and it was the first time I saw her today.  She was rather calm, and had a lot of composure.  I managed to talk to her mother, who was very kind, and showed me her roof that almost collapsed when a tree fell on top.  Dua's poverty, is much like the others, but I was impressed how she had the poise of an adult.  This wasn't so surprising as she seemed to have certain responsibilities over her younger siblings.  Dua wants to be either a nurse or a teacher, and to do so, she needs to pass her exams this year.  She also has to attend A-level classes next year, but given her financial situation, I'm afraid that's going to be very hard.

The scholarship pays for the students' school fees, which amount to about $14 a year.  Seeing their homes, I can see how that is an exorbitant amount for these families.  The cost of dinner and tips, two souvenir mugs, a kilo of coffee beans... And come 2011, it's another headache for these three families.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Ten Days

If you had to choose between electricity and water, what would you choose?  This was a question that roused much interest when Zanzibar did not have both for a while.  If you choose electricity, you choose your lights at night, fridge, computer, fan, and whatever else you can think of.  If you choose water.. well...

The human mind and its ability to tolerate is quite astonishing.  It seems to have a memory of its own kind, remembering the most recent experience, and tolerating whatever upto that point.  Living in Mtwara, I've been able to observe this feature of the human mind.  First, it was my craving for a BLT sandwich that made me think, oh man, life in Mtwara is pretty hard.  And then it was the bugs, all assortments.  Then it was the dust.  Then it was, well, I think I'm okay with not having a BLT sandwich, living with bugs and dust.  I've been able to manage, and build up a tolerance for even nominal causes of stress.

And then today, it hit a new height.  Twelve days without water.  The talk in the neighborhood is about water.  Everyone is worried, everyone has only a bit left.  I changed my underwear in the morning, and realized that it was my penultimate underwear.  Yes, it's about time I do laundry, but no, I can't sacrifice water at this point.  Twelve days ago, I had about 200L of water.  That's a lot if you think that's drinking water.  But it's for washing, showering, laundry, flushing, and doing the dishes.  Showering without shampoo can save you a lot of water.  Then, flushing with the water you showered with saves you a lot of water.  Using the water you used to wash your hands can be used when doing the dishes.  Needless to say, this is affecting my work, as I'm stressed about this.  To make matters a tad bit worse, power cuts are happening every evening for quite an extended time. 

I am at my penultimate underwear, and I will have 0L of water tomorrow.  I think it'll be over by tomorrow morning after my morning crap.

So back to the initial question, electricity or water?  Water, because I do want to use the toilet everyday, and change my underwear too.

Fortunately, I'm done with teaching for the week tomorrow, so I'll be crashing at another volunteer's place, and washing my boxers there.  Not having water is not the end of the world.  People do seem to continue on living, somehow.  Another positive is that next time, ten days would not feel so bad, and the number to beat would be .... say 14.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


or more like a change in perspective.

Two thoughts have been bringing me down since I've came here.  One, is that I'll live longer than most my students.  Tanzania's life expectancy is 55.6 years, and my students are 15 years old.  I'm 23, South Korea's life expectancy is 79.8 years. Two, is how little result in terms of math education I might create.  A previous Japanese volunteer, Hideki, was a real character.  He was also excellent in Swahili, and quite dedicated to teaching.  His students, however, did terribly in the national exam.  He was actually softly but openly reprimanded by the Headmistress, which is a real rare treatment for a volunteer. I am only a quarter intense as Hideki was, speak like a 5 year old, and don't have a strong education background. 

I shared these thoughts with my friend Erica, who's a reading tutor and seems to have a similar experience as I do, except that her's is Americanized.  This is what she said:

"...I am pretty sure I'll be living longer than many of my kiddos, as well, or at least I'll have a more comfortable life. And that is depressing as hell. But I do know for a fact, just knowing you, that those kids are lucky to have you as a teacher. Even if you don't speak their language. Having your positive energy in their lives, in whatever form, is so important, especially for under-served kids growing up in such tough conditions. You're doing a wonderful thing, even if it doesn't always feel that way. I tell myself the same thing, actually, because I get pretty down thinking about the future of my kiddos, as well. They're fighting an uphill battle, in so many ways. But here is my answer to your question: What are we delivering? We are creating positive, meaningful human connections with young people who don't have all the opportunities they deserve. Hopefully we even share a little bit of information every now and then. I know we both do have high expectations for them, and when the test scores don't come out the way we want them to, it's disheartening. But that's not the only important part of our jobs. We're doing a good thing by being a part of their lives, just like they're doing a good thing for us by being a part of ours. We shouldn't doubt that we are making a difference, no matter how bad it looks sometimes. Like I said, I have to remind myself of these very same things almost on a daily basis. I know it's hard..."

Cheesy?  No it's not.  It's wonderful.  Absolutely.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Ruvuma River and the Hippos

Monday was a public holiday, and a couple of us decided to go check out the Ruvuma River and its Hippos.  The Ruvuma River is the border between Tanzania and Mozambique.  For all of those interested in how to get cross the border, here's how you do it.

From Mtwara, there is a minibus that goes to Kilambo.  Twice a day, 6am and 2pm, 4000 TSH.  It's ridiculously crowded.  The road to Kilambo is terrible, and it takes 1.5 hrs to get there.  The bus departs from this guesthouse, two blocks from the bus stand, so ask around the bus stand and meet the driver or the conductor.  The bus also gets crowded fairly easily, so it is a good idea to arrive 20-30 minutes earlier.

Once in Kilambo, if you're going to cross the border, make sure you do the whole immigration process.  The bus stops here for about 20 minutes to do all this, and then continues to the river.

From the river, it's quite a scary task.  You take a dugout canoe to get to the other side, and during the rainy season, it could be quite an adventure.  Boats regularly tip over, and people die.  There is the "Unity Bridge" that connects the two, but it connects the middle of nowhere Tanzania, to the middle of nowhere Mozambique.

The mighty seldom people-killing Ruvuma and its hippos

Checking out the hippos. There were very few hippos that day, which broke my heart.

The village by the river.

The minibus. Yo, do you have some seats?

Because if not, I have to ride this.

Well hey, how about a change of scenery?

It's the rainy season, and mid-morning, I contemplated about going to the market.  But I decided against it because of the heat.  Five minutes later, the rain clouds came.

My house on the left.  The house on the right is my neighbor Mama Happy's.

As I walked outside my house to take some pictures, I was approached by my two students from 2D.  

This scenic walkway is actually just a road that's in front of my house.  The trees here are just ridiculously HUGE.

And this is the housing complex that I reside in. Seven homes.