Sarah's home

Trip Start Nov 19, 2002
Trip End Dec 13, 2002

Loading Map
Map Options
Show trip route
Hide lines

Flag of Tanzania  , Mtwara,
Wednesday, December 4, 2002

Hello all!

The safari was an incredible experience.  But pretty much confined to the tourist route.  After heading to Mtwara, I got to see what 99% of the tourists miss.

My sister Sarah teaches math and physics at an all-girls secondary level boarding school.  My first day in Mtwara I got to see her school and the students.  It was the last day of exams before break.  The girls are great fun.  They wear red and white uniforms when in class and green ones outside of class.  They are very happy, extremely polite and friendly.  Much better behaved than any American class I've ever seen.  I met a few teachers too.  Mostly they are local Tanzanians.

My sister told me a little bit about the educational system here which I wanted to share.  Many kids don't finish school here because there's no one else to tend the livestock.  I see that all the time along the country roads here.  Many families have to choose which kids go to school and which stay to work.  To advance in school, a student needs to have a qualifying score on the national exam every year and have enough money to fund tuition, books, etc.  At the end of primary school, about 15% advance to secondary school.  From there, roughly 15% advance to a second type of secondary school.  After that, only 5% advance to university.  If I remember correctly (in this heat, who knows) there's only about four programs offered three universities in the country.  To advance professionally through education just doesn't happen to many students here.

At school, many administrators only show up for work half the time.  And when they do, they're frequently intoxicated.  Many teachers leave the rooms during exams.  The students are already doubled up on desks so the temptation to cheat isn't too far away.  Here corporal punishment is used too.  There are supposedly rules about how many lashes and what kind of stick.  However, the headmistress lets the teachers use their own discretion.  The male teachers tend to take liberal advantage :(

Another story may help put some perspective on the lifestyle here.  I apologize for any cliches. It's probably not new, but it makes sense to me now.  My first day on safari, a teenage boy came up to the Land Rover. He was using a couple of sales techniques very effectively to get me to buy some necklaces.  What struck me was his persistence, over and over and over, for just one dollar.  And that was just the starting price.  Here, everything's negotiable.  I meet up with my sister and find out she gets paid $170 a month (taxable, of course) by the PC.  She's higher paid than everybody at her school, including the headmistress.  She's also probably higher paid than most everyone in Mtwara, except maybe a few white collar workers like bankers and police.  There's only a certain amount of jobs available throughout the country.  An unskilled laborer, paving roads outside in the heat for example, gets paid about $1 a day.  I tipped a waitress with all my loose change (about 20 cents) and it made her day.  So when that teenage boy sees a foreigner on safari, that one necklace can translate into a day's pay.  I told my safari guide and cook about the hotel I work at. Immigrants who speak less English than them, some almost none in fact, earn $7 an hour.  They were astonished.  And that was before I explained benefits to them.

The opportunities for education and employment just aren't the same.  I've heard the stories and seen the pictures before:  refugee camps, poverty and so on.  But after walking through villages here, I have to admit it strikes me a whole lot differently now.  The low-end 35mm camera hanging around my neck cost more than many of them will see in their lives.  Enough culture shock for now.

I arrived in Mtwara on Thanksgiving.  Some of the gifts I brought Sarah were packages of freeze-dried turkey, mashed potatoes, dressing, green beans and cranberries from a camping store.  So we celebrated with an easy meal that only required boiling water.  The first American food she'd eaten in a year.

The next day we went into town.  Sarah often writes about riding her bike there to do errands.  I, deciding to be a trooper, wanted to do the same.  Whew!!  Only 5 kilometers, mostly downhill and I almost died.  It was hard to keep up with her.  Did you know it's hot by the equator?  Even during the summertime?  Sweat, sweat, sweat.  It was fun to go to the market and see all the local artisans with their crafts.  Before long I talked my sister into getting a taxi around town.  And back up the hill to school.

I've got a whole new appreciation and respect for my sister now.  Around the house, the electricity and water are good only intermittently.  About 50% of the time.  When the fan goes on, she irons.  When the pipes rattle, she fills up all her empty buckets.  I can shampoo and shower with only 2/3 of a pitcher now.  In the morning, she does dishes and laundry by hand in plastic tubs.  They dry quickly, but have to be brought back in by night.  In the evening when the electricity goes off, she grades papers by lantern.  There are few phones on the school compound.  Whenever Sarah wants to communicate with a colleague, she relays the message through the nearest student.  The day before I came, after being here for almost a year, she finally got a functional refrigerator.  Now she can cook for more than a day at a time.

It's kind of disheartening to hear some of this.  I hope I haven't bored you with same-o same-o stuff.  But I wanted to give an idea of the culture and mentality here.  This was an important part of my experience that I wanted to share.  It's challenging for my sister at home and at school but I am impressed by how she handles it all.  It may be one of those things that you don't understand until you go through it.

On the lighter side, one of the things Mtwara is known for is wood carvings.  Some of the best in Tanzania.  So I loaded up with animal carvings in remembrance of my safari.  Sarah had a bunch for her Peace Corps friends.  On the flight to Dar es Salaam, we could take onboard as much as we could carry - about three large bags each.  After that, we each have 20 kilos of baggage allowance.  The problem...we're still 69 kilos over (over 150 pounds).  International flights charge a penalty of $10 per pound.  I was getting a little nervous.  So Sarah starts negotiating in Swahili.  Our penalty is only $35 dollars.  And she negotiates it down to $28.

Slideshow Report as Spam
  • Your comment has been posted. Click here or reload this page to see it below.

  • Please enter a comment.
  • Please provide your name.
  • Please avoid using symbols in your name.
  • This name is a bit long. Please shorten it, or avoid special characters.
  • Please enter your email address to receive notification
  • Please enter a valid email address


mark1968 on

Very Interesting
Hi Eric, Is your sister Sarah also doing any kind of missionary work there ?

Nancy on

Are there any International schools in Mtwara, or just local, national schools? What about expat housing? Did you see many other expats? From what countries?

Iris Smith on

Hi, My daughter Shirley travelling there end of Sept. with husband and two small children would love to meet Sarah. Sounds like Sarah is a missionary and where from? Daughter Shirley and husband will be working for a helicopter company from October 2010 onwards. Is there a sound Christian Bible based church in Mtwara? Thanks Iris

Diana on

Hi Sarah,

I used to work in Mtwara Girls school with VSO, in 1998/9. I was happily suprised to see this page and the picture as it looks as though you also stayed in the same cottage/bungalow that I did! I wonder if Mama Zenda is still there and Mr Uyalya. I very much enjoyed my experience there and hope you did/are also.

Use this image in your site

Copy and paste this html: