September 29, 2008

Small Things

The girls I am teaching- about 45 of them right now, split into 2 classes- are wonderful. I mean they work so hard, and they are so respectful, and when I get them to laugh, we are all so happy. I'm only teaching English 2 hours a day, so I'm trying to find other things to do to really pour into them everything I can- after all I'm only here 3 months, and I want to give it all I've got. So I'm trying to tutor the ones who are struggling, and we also play sports twice a week and do crafts and singing at other times. Plus, it's nice to spend more time with them because otherwise I can start to get lonely in the evenings and afternoons, living alone. It's hard to figure out boundaries, because I'm their English teacher, so I really shouldn't speak to them in Swahili, but I want so badly to get to know them and their English is terrible! So I have to speak Swahili sometimes. But I'm also their teacher, not their confidante, so I can't expect to get to know them the same way I'd get to know girls at camp, for example. Meanwhile, in Monduli, I am starting to make friends, so that is nice. And it is beautiful here, going running up the Monduli mountains for a view of what seems like the whole world, plains and mountains and Maasai with their cattle. And John and I hiked up a hill in Arusha this weekend and looked out across the city and to Mount Meru. It's funny how people always say "Pole" (sorry) when they see you hiking, walking, or running--as if it's a chore and not one of the most beautiful things you could be doing! But then, why would they, who carry water long distances and drive cattle even further, want to go for a run for fun? Silly Americans. And I continue to adjust to life abroad. I'd forgotten how much patience, bearing through the boredom and loneliness and waiting and waiting and waiting, it takes to get to the exciting stuff. You have to wait hours for the daladala (bus) to get into Arusha and get to your friend's place, and then they're late, and the classroom you thought you were going to teach in is locked, and some random student has the key, but wait while this other student goes to fetch them. Similarly, dating in a country that doesn't have a culture of dating has also been a bit of a challenge. But all this just takes patience and the end results have been so worthwhile, and it forces me as always to loosen up and not sweat the small things, and take it slow, and when I do, that's when I see the expansive and beautiful life that is coming so readily to me, and hopefully to a few others, through me. I mean, I want to MATTER so badly, I want for my presence here to not just be for me but for others and for how I can love them, and when I buy street kids lunch or something, it seems like such a small and hopeless gesture, and when I teach these kids, some of whom are so far behind already there's no way they'll make it in secondary school, not even knowing the alphabet...sometimes I feel like I don't matter. But John says, yeah, we probably won't CHANGE things in Tanzania, it won't be any or a whole lot different when we leave, but that doesn't mean it doesn't matter. So I continue to wait hoping I will find more and more ways to love these girls and this place and God in them.

September 22, 2008

Maasae Girls Lutheran Secondary School

AKA heaven. I've finally arrived in the place I'm going to be living for the next 3.5 months, and 3.5 months just doesn't seem long enough. Monduli is about 45 minutes to an hour outside of Arusha, in the middle of a Maasai plain surrounded by mountains. It's beautiful, not TOO hot (yet), and the small-town feel is a welcome refuge from Arusha, which isn't all that big but which is full of people expecting that if you're white you're a stupid tourist. Today I got a tour of Monduli town and went to the market to buy veggies- so cheap and delicious. I'm excited to cook tonight. It sounds like for buying meat, I'll either have to slaughter my own chickens or go to Arusha to a supermarket. For now I think I'll opt for the second, but we'll see down the road... The school is great. I live in a house that\'s a duplex and I'm on one side. The family next door (from Washington state) is the ideal next door neighbors. Abby is the head teacher for the program I'm teaching, and her husband Eric showed us around town today, and their 5 and 6 year old daughters are going to be lots of fun. The place is really nice, I think the proper balance of conveniences (running water, electricity- most of the time- and refrigerator) and simplicity (no TV, i'll have to do my own laundry and dishes by hand). And most of all, today was the first day of classes. We have 60 girls who speak very little English, and I think what we're going to do is split them into 2 groups. Abby will do formal lessons with them and I'll do reinforcing games, drama, practice, songs, etc. Today I had help from 2 other women, so that was nice. And we managed all right. I am going to learn a lot about life, about teaching, about having a sort-of job. And most of all I already love the girls so much and can't wait to really get to know them. They are all Maasai and range from 12-18 (entering 8th grade, basically). Some of their parents are totally against their education and if they ever go home they'll probably be married off. Others are so excited that women have the chance to be educated. I can't wait to hear their stories and see them grow. If their laughter today is any sign of what's to come, Tanzania will continue to bring me much joy and meaning.

September 19, 2008

Visiting Monika's village in Moshi

Well, I got the chance for the last 2 days to experience Tanzanian hospitality at its finest. On my way from Dar es Salaam to Arusha, where I'll be teaching, I stopped in Moshi, which is in the foothills of mount Kilimanjaro. I stayed way up in the mountain village with my dear friend Monika, who was the maid at my homestay last year. I slept in a bed with Monika and her adorable 5 year old son Loshi, in a mud and stick house where her mother lives (Monika still lives in the city but was visiting). I learned some Kichagga, the local langauge, became instantaneous best friends with her whole family, and walked around a lot looking at the beautiful views. They kept apologizing that it was so cold (maybe 60 at night?) and I had to explain to them that in America it is as cold as the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. I also had to explain a lot that there are black people in America, most of the farms are big and there aren't a lot of farmers, and that I had to take 2 planes to get here. They killed a chicken and a goat the day I got there, and I felt so honored and so terrible at the same time. But I think they're doing ok, I think they were killing lots of animals anyway because they were excited Monika and her brother had come back to visit. And eating the intestines of a goat was just not something I could do but it sure was lovely up there anyway. My mom was saying it's awesome I'm getting on the inside of culture, but in a way, although I'm so thankful to stay with these people and only speak sWahili for days and see their homes and lives, I still am on the outside, I'm the guest, they'll take me and show me where they fetch water but won't even let me try to carry it, and certainly not do the dishes or help cook. Meanwhile, everything I've ever thought is being turned upside down. My ideas abvout poverty, about simplicity. Even the things I thought I knew about Monika and maids in Tanzania and my host family. I wrote a non-fiction piece about that issue, of domestic help, which some of you read. And I thought I had it figured out, in a complicated, not-really-figured-out kind of way. But now Monika has left the family, now I've learned a few new details, now I've seen different sides of Monika and of Mama and of the other maid. And I just feel like I have to throw out that whole piece I wrote. It's far too much about my perceptions and not really the reality. I just can't know the reality yet. I'm still too much on the outside. But Tanzanian hospitality is amazing. And I'm in Arusha now, staying with my Tanzanian american friend Joyce, and she is so welcoming and wonderful, and Sunday I move into my school and I cannot wait to meet those girls. I'm so unequipped to teach, but it's going to be awesome.

The real question

But all that last post was not meant to be negative, and I know it was more self centered than it should be. The real question, once I get past this what is guess we call culture shock, is How can I respond in love to these people? How can I make my time here not for me?

September 13, 2008

A new view

Well, I've returned to Tanzania. And in a way, nothing has changed. I was afraid the magic, the people I loved, all this would have changed a bit, but it hasn't really. It's still beautiful as ever (though drier? bad year?), the stars are to die for, and my Swahili is coming back and i love the people i've been missing. But I'm also seeing things in a new way. I'm realizing how weak I am, how much I was privileged last time I was here, and how lovely it is to have the escape hatch. The past 2 nights I stayed with 2 different women who are my friends. Their homes are not quite the same as my host family from the university with satellite TV and a real shower. It was hard, I was always hungry and then full because the food is basically just starch and grease. As soon as I started eating I would be so full but when I was done, a bit later, I'd be so hungry. The sanitation at times made me feel disgusted, although I've gotten used to the squatter toilets, and I was so tired. I saw what a hard life Tanzanian women have. My one friend, she basically cooked and cleaned and washed her baby and carried her baby around at the market all day until late at night. And then the next morning she got up so early. And when I left she told me her husband beats her. For the first time I realized how much I take for granted. I always thought environmentally and simplicity wise its better not to have washing machines and dishwashers and stuff. But it's weird to see how much easier my friend's life would be if she had only one of those things. A real stove, or a dishwasher. No wonder they love TV and music so much, it's something to enjoy without thought, something to rest. I don't know what to think anymore. For sure though, it was better at my other friend's (Monika). They lived out almost in a village outside of dar. And they were helping each other, so it wasn't like Monika had to do everything herself. Even the kids helped. But again, the food and the simplicity got to was too much to handle. And I was so tired of only speaking Swahili for so long, that I just wanted to come back to the mall by the university. And I felt so ashamed for wanting that, for having the capacity of an escape, for wanting to pee in a toilet with toilet paper and be in air conditioning. I feel so weak. But I am learning and seeing a lot of new things, and I think it will be good. So I am so glad John is here with me, I don't know how I'd do this alone. I asked God to challenge me and I've already begun to see that Tanzania this time, as much as I love the people and the hospitality and everything and as much as I know this will be wonderful and I will love it, especially once I go to Arusha and get settled in my own plac,e will be quite a challenge. I love and miss you all.