I've been here a month!

Trip Start Sep 08, 2003
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Tanzania  ,
Wednesday, October 8, 2003

Back at school on Monday morning and I was starting to feel more at home. Lessons began promptly; all the children and teachers turned up. Class 6 English began, and I settled down to mark their homework. This came as a surprise to some of the children - their homework is not normally checked, and consequently and not unsurprisingly most of it was poor. So I decided that I would make their classes more fun - but in return they had to do my homework. No homework would = no more fun. I looked out of the window as two children from another class were being marched across the playing field by Vicky. They were made to stand in the middle of the field in full view of the school with their hands on their heads for the whole lesson!! I smothered a smile. The children in my class started to laugh, and I was told that one of the children was actually the headboy! Vicky and I had discussed alternative punishments the night before, as neither of us wanted to resort to the cane, but we could also see that we would need to gain the respect of the children in another way. We had tried lines in a previous week, with hilarious results - all the children wanted them!! It was seen as additional attention from the teacher, and all the children were desperate for us to spend as much time with them as possible. I had decided to work on this theory - sending the naughty children out of the classroom, so that they didn't get any extra attention for misbehaving. The added bonus of sending them outside was the whole school knew they were in trouble. Africans are very proud - any shame on the family is taken seriously and they hate to be laughed at, particularly by their peer group.

I looked back at my class and asked who hadn't done their homework. A stunned silence... punctuated by Joseph, "please..... hic...Miss Emma could, .... hic ....- hic, sob ....he have the cane rather than be sent outside!!" I looked down at him and couldn't bring myself to do it. It seemed unfair; too severe for his first offense. But I made them all look again at the children on the playing field as an example of what would happen if any of them didn't do their homework next week. I also made Joseph miss his break-time and he didn't get a sticker for his exercise book (more tears!).

Class over, I travelled into Arusha - needed to buy more stickers! It was the first time I had wondered around Arusha on my own, and the first thing I was struck by was how much less hassle I got as a single Mzungu! Rather than trying to hassle and sell me grotty African batiks, the street sellers greeted me, asked how I was, how the teaching was going. I smiled, waved back and crossed over to shake countless hands feeling more confident than I had for a while - perhaps I had misjudged the people here.

I went into the post office, just as it was closing. I was amused to be sent through the back door, as the post vans were being loaded. There was furious activity in the back room: each letter has to be stamped before it goes in the bag - no 'state of the art' sorting machines here, each letter was stamped by hand, and then put in piles representing local or overseas post. I was asked if I would like to stamp my own letter, such fun as I inked the rubber stamp, and hoped that it would still get home! I was sending some photographs to mum and dad. I am very conscious that nothing is safe here, and if my bag gets stolen, or my room ransacked, I want to keep my diary and my photos for when I get home. The rest is replaceable, I have developed a sense of what is important, and don't covet possessions anymore. most of my pens, art materials (even the stamps that come on my letters, which the children love!!) are passed on to the boarding children as presents or 'rewards' for good work. I cannot imagine a child in England being pleased with a used a stamp as a present for achieving the highest mark in class!

Tuesday, and I arrived in class to find all the children had not only done their homework, but had it already laid out on my desk for marking! Progress! After school had finished I wondered down to market with two of the children Brenda and Lou-Lou. I tried some of the local maize (corn on the cob) that is cooked on a campfire along the roadside, musing to myself that Tanzanians had an amazing capability to make everything taste like carrot! Still it fell in the 'edible' but 'cardboard' food category, so I will probably try it again.

Brenda was telling me about her home life, I find it very interesting to hear the different backgrounds of the childrenS some live in homes with maids - others are the maids after school, carrying the water from the river for their school chums to bathe in.
Brenda surprised me by telling me that she had a twin brother, however he had fallen ill and nearly died as a young child so didn't go to school. It was therefore her responsibility to do well at school so that she could support the family and her brother in a few years' time, when her parents got too old to work. I looked down at the young 12 year old girl, so mature in her attitude, and good in class. In some ways she seemed so old compared to English children. She knew how to cook and clean and look after children, but at the same time still loves fairy stories and dolls, that children in England would have long since grown out of. Her grownup innocence touched me, and I asked what she hoped to be when she left school. I was already aware that the English answer of 'popstar' or 'film actress' was not going to be high on the list of a child that didn't have access to television, so was expecting teacher or nurse. No, she has set her sights much higher, wanting to be a doctor. I jokingly asked why not a teacher, like me! - and suddenly the penny dropped. Teachers here do not have that much respect, Brenda explained that they are also very poorly paid, the equivalent of 30 pounds a month, which would not be enough to support her family. I found myself regretting my earlier attitude towards the teachers at FK Academy - who was I to judge! No wonder they lacked enthusiasm: they had no resources such as paper and pens to teach with, and were not rewarded with a wage big enough to live comfortably on. It also struck me that if Brenda, one of the brightest children in the class, would shun becoming a teacher, the teaching profession was not attracting those who had the capabilities to be good teachers - only those who didn't make it in another profession. More gentle probing also revealed that the Tanzanian teachers thought Vicky and I were receiving payment for teaching (actually they still do, as the concept of charity work is alien, and they find it unbelievable, even when we protest!) and this had created resentment towards us.

I left Brenda at the market and returned to school deep in thought What was I doing here, treading on the toes of the other teachers, turning up to class with stickers, coloured pens, a tonne of paper? No wonder they didn't approve - they couldn't compete. I felt deflated; I couldn't achieve anything here. When I leave the children will just go back to copying off the board, and in the meantime was it worse to show them how it could be? Was it better to never know any different?

I got back to the school and found the 'new' headteacher waiting for me, her name is Judith and she is from Uganda. She asked if I would like to join her for dinner in a local bar. I cast my eye over to my notice board where I had pinned the school dinner time table - rice for tea. Yep dinner out was a definite YES!

Judith is one of the better teachers at the school. She has attended university and she jokingly told me that she had the same problems with the other teachers as I did when she first arrived. She explained that in Uganda people are more open with their feelings, so she finds it easy to be welcoming. However the tradition in Tanzania is to wait and see if the person is worth it! I laughed when she also admitted to having the same tummy-trouble! She suggested avoiding anything cooked in oil! As it is less refined than in western countries - so there is a travel tip for the rest you! Now just try and find a local bar that serves anything but............ chips!

She said the real reason for taking me out for dinner was that she wanted my help. I paused fork mid-air. My help? After my conversation with Brenda, I felt that my assistance to the school was minimal. Judith laughed and said she had been watching with interest our punishment methods, and said that sending the children outside had even been noted by Allan, the school director, who had implemented a new rule of trying to find alternative methods for punishment. Blimy, even the director had noticed. My heart lightened - the school wanted us there and also wanted us to all work together. I felt a new respect for the other teachers, and a belief that perhaps, just perhaps......... I could achieve something here in Tanzania after all.
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