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:

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


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


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


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.