November 28, 2008

Thankful

I wish you knew how it felt to fall in love with 60 Maasai girls. Why it's taken me till thanksgiving to be truly thankful of all that this experience is, I don't know. I taught them 5 hours yesterday, although my usual is 2, because we've decided that if the other teachers aren't going to teach (we've been having a big problem with the Math teacher not showing up, and the Swahili teacher is on vacation now) then we're going to. I thought I'd be exhausted, but it was the best day yet. I wish you could feel it, when you go into class and they all yell "GOOD MORNING MADAM!" and run to carry your bag. When Lendoya, who's so lost, gives that silly grin of hers, and Theresia, whos' one of the brightest, hides her face because she's embarrassed about her mistake. And Nambayo and Zawadi just sit there with their hoods on because they're cold even though it's 75 degrees out. And after you've taught each section an hour, you walk down together to the chapel, and Naitoi, who looks like a little puppy, her sweatshirt twice as big as she is, says "Teacher, I miss mother." And you tell her you do too, and she cries, "oh, teacher ,I'm sorry!" And then you sing Joy to the World, and Silent Night, and then you work on letters to their sponsors, and they think it's funny when they get to the part about their family, because some of them have 6 "mothers"--or, their fathers have 6 wives. They can't even count the number of kids in their family. And then, you play volleyball for an hour, and come back later to tutor, and in the evening, just when you're getting ready to come play Bingo, the power goes out, so you all just sit in the classroom, in the dark, and sing every song you can think of. And when you're leaving, Naitoi is so worried about you going back all by yourself in the dark, even SLEEPING by yourself? You sleep in YOUR OWN BED? And you just want to cry when you think of leaving them in a month, possibly going to another Maasai girls school in arusha for a few months, but how can you replace these girls,it's like a term ending at camp and getting all new girls, only this time you've been with them 3 months. You can't know what will happen to them, where they will go, who they will marry, how far they'll get in school, how long they'll live, even. You can't know who will drop out and who will get sick and who will one day go to university in the US. You just love them, and are thankful. "We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God [and the English language] but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us" (1 Thessalonians 1:8)

Dependency

I visited a cool place in Arusha the other day. It's called Shanga House, and it's a sort of grassroots attempt to help out handicapped folks in tanzania, who have virtually no hope and no government or cultural support. A Dutch woman, Saskia, who's lived in Africa all her life, just started this place- the idea is they attract tourists with a nice lunch, and then bring them into their shop, where they sell beads, clothes and various other products all made by handicapped people. She just started up 3 months ago and has already been able to employ 15 people- either deaf, or mute, or disabled from polio...that sort of thing. The workers are really sweet and seem happy, and Saskia is so genuine- she has goals to expand to making their own beads, even allowing street kids and other groups to come in and learn trades, and even to serve as a trading post, at no cost, for products from other disadvantaged groups. It seems great. And yet- I don't know, does it seem still colonial and dependent to rely on tourists for the capital for this endeavor? They have to sell things to tourists, serve lunch to tourists, it's all motivated by a European, albeit a white African who has the best intentions. But I'm afraid of this kind of dependency. Because it breeds this sense that Tanzanians can't help themselves. Like when every Tanzanian I get to know asks me- Now that you've been in Tanzania, what are the problems? What do we need to change in order to develop? And I want to say- Don't ask me, it is your own place and I've only been here 5 months, and we're the ones that brought most of the problems to begin with. Or, it's like when I meet any Tanzanian man on the street, and he wants my number and he wants to learn English and to marry a white person. I mean, they have various good or bad excuses when I tell them "love doesn't know color/race"- they say they want to understand the world beyond their own country, or that it is good to "mix blood." But there's this one guy with a shop right by my school who always says- "I want so much white! I love white!" And I want to tell him he's racist, but how can I? I tell him Tanzanian women are beautiful, I tell him in America we say"black is beautiful." But I'm part of breeding the culture of dependency and quasi-superiority of white people. I want them to believe in themselves.

November 21, 2008

happy maasai

well, now that probably 5 people in various words and capacities have suggested to me that this is a time for me to be silent and patient and grow in a different way, i think it's true. it is quiet at my house, but i can be using it to read and meditate. my problem is that i want to feel useful and meaningful every second. but i was thinking about it, and i realized that sometimes, especially in Tanzania, we just have to be patient and let the beauty and the meaningful things come to us. when i studied in dar es salaam, it wasn't by seeking out volunteer work and cool experiences that the best and most meaningful things happened to me. the best things were adventures which most times my friends suggested-i just went with the flow- and most of all my relationships with people like monika and pauline and zach, most of whom came to me, not the other way around. i was just sitting around my host family's house and that's how i got to know monika. so, i'm trying to have that approach more this time, too. the girls are doing well. one girl got 100% on the quiz today. another one got a 25% and we found out that she's pregnant. it's a tough situation with her family and the father and everything, and she's going to have to leave MGLSS. she can come back again next year if she is able to have someone care for the child. i'[ve also been questioning whether education is really the best thing for every single one of them. the story goes that this school opened when Koko Ruth, a grandmother in the Maasai tribe, went to the elders and begged that they allow their women to be educated, because the Maasai way of life has been distrupted by modernity and national parks and tourism, and the men have been corrupted by money and alcohol, so the women are their only hope for the future of the tribe. it's an inspiring story, coming from within the culture and everything. and they bill often like "we are saving these girls from child marriage and submitting to a husband with 4 other wives for the rest of their life." but my unviersity educated friend Selina has a father with 2 wives, and she says its not a bad system in her view- there is solidarity and friendship between everyone who lives in the boma. she said she grew up as if she had 2 mothers and 10 siblings. and according to abby (my supervising teacher here), there was some happiness poll (how can you do a happiness poll) that put the amish and the maasai as the 2 happiest people groups in the world. so if their traditional way of life is happy, does that include the women? do they like being married and having lots of kids and drinking lots of chai? now that the school has expanded it feels more official, more distant from that original grandmother pleading with the Council of Elders. and yet, when i go to class and see how happy the girls get about the songs i teach them, any game i think of, from the hokey pokey to hangman, and how they get to have all kinds of opportunities here they'll never have again in their lives...it seems exciting, and good, and tragic that naponi has to leave because of pregnancy. or just colonial. i don't know. both. maybe it's the way of the future and we can't turn back, so we jsut have to make the best of it. but i think there's still a place for questioning everything. i love you all

November 18, 2008

Settling In

Things are nice these days. I'm almost at home in Monduli. It's beautiful here. I've started to go for sunset runs...I run down the hill just a bit and out into the plain. On the left you can see Mount Meru, and last night it had snow on its top. Plus it's always orange and purple at sunset time. And who knew that one week worth of rain, after days and days of dust, would be enough to make the fields bright green, and for flowers to just pop up and bloom right away. It's phenomenal the change. Before the rains came, if you walked on the road you were just inhaling dust all the time (in addition to the exhaust you inhale on every daladala ride), every step stirred up dust, everything was ridiculously dry. The fields were brown. And then the rains came, but only for a week which is too short, we need more, they say more might be coming, in fact it's funny just as i was typing this it started pouring. And after one week the dust turned to sticky sticky mud, you'd get a snowshoe sized mud on the bottom of your shoes and it smelled like rain all the time. i loved it. it gave a nice feel to class, it seemed like at school we just started to breathe a sigh of relief that the rains were finally here, instead of being anxious, hot, sunny, stressed all the time. In class, when the rain was beating on the tin roof and we were all huddled inside chanting and singing in English, I felt almost like i was at camp, just have a good old communal time with a bunch of girls. I just love my girls these days, they are finally able to udnerstand my classroom instructions and to speak a little bit. The night before the US election, I was at the school in the evening, singing with the girls. When we finished they asked me to stay a little longer and just chat in English. So about 18 of them huddled around me with chairs and asked me questions about America. Night in Tanzania is morning in America? What about Europe? China? Where do they see the light first? Are there aninmals in America? And we talked about the election, because I told them Obama and McCain were running, andt aht Obama's father was from Kenya, and they asked about black people in America, and about why Bush loves war, and they told me if America isn't peaceful then I should come to Tanzania, because it is a coutnry of peace. It was so much fun to just talk, as bad as their sentence construction was, they have the vocabulary now to talk about things. And then, the next morning when I told them Obama won, they were very happy. we sang He's Got the whole World in His HAnds that day, and they asked if we could add a verse: He's got Obama and Kikwete (the pres. of Tanzania) in his hands. So we did, and laughed a lot. I love it when they laugh.