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.