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 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.


Monday, December 13, 2010

Instant Noodle Advertisement

 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.

Saturday, December 11, 2010


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


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.