These Kids Put the “Fun” in “Wanafunzi”

First and foremost I want to thank everyone who contributed to my fundraising project for the school assembly hall. I was thrilled to reach my goal and I’m confident that the school will be able to finish the project before the students start their NECTA exams in October. I just received the official list of donors last week and I am working on putting together personal emails to thank everyone who donated. Asante sana! (That’s Kiswahili for “Thank you very much!”)

Second, I want to apologize for not posting more regularly lately. It’s been a whirlwind couple of months and I’ve been dropping the ball a bit here. This will be kind of a long-ish update but I may start posting shorter, more frequent updates, technology permitting. It’s also tough because I’ve been here for over 2 years now and a lot of the things that were new and different for me when I got here now seem commonplace and don’t feel like they are compelling enough as a topic for a blog post. I remember taking my first bus trip for the shadow visit at my site and thinking it was absolutely crazy that a man boarded our bus with a giant bag of bread to sell. Now if I’m on a bus and there’s no bread guy I say, “What do you mean there’s no bread guy? How am I supposed to get a bread if someone doesn’t sell it on the bus?” It’s times like that when I realize the readjustment to American life might actually be as difficult as people say it is.

The big event of the past couple of months was my COS (Close of Service) conference. COS is the last time our entire volunteer class comes together and the Peace Corps provides us with information about finishing our service, leaving Tanzania and readjusting to our personal and professional lives in the U.S. It was a bittersweet experience: it was lovely to see my fellow PCVs again and we stayed at a really nice hotel and ate great food, but it was also sad to realize that it was the last time we’d all be together as a group, as there are already a few volunteers in our class who are back in the U.S. as I write this and several more will be leaving in the next few weeks.

In addition to all of the information sessions we had at the conference, the volunteers also put together some fun events, including a PCV “awards” ceremony, where the categories included “Most Likely To Be Seen Naked” and “Most Likely To Interrupt During Conferences” (which I thought I was a shoo-in for, but lost to my friend, Alice). My mom won “Most Well Known Before Coming To Country” aka the “Most Active On Facebook” award. It is well deserved, as almost every American I meet here in country, whether they are volunteers in other classes or friends and/or family visiting from the U.S. always say to me, “Oh, you’re the one whose mom is always on Facebook!” I’m just waiting for the day when a Tanzanian tells me they friended my Mom on Facebook. I know it’s coming.

Here is our entire class at COS conference, wearing our shirts that were designed by super talented artist & PCV, Kristine (she's the one in the middle, holding the shirt up).  She drew a cartoon of everyone in our class, even the folks who had to leave before the end of service.  Mine is me in a bus going down a mountain, with Nulty clinging to the top.  At my urging, Kristine added "@*#$!" coming out of my mouth to really make things realistic.

Here is our entire class at COS conference, wearing our shirts that were designed by super talented artist & PCV, Kristine (she’s the one in the middle, holding the shirt up). She drew a cartoon of everyone in our class, even the folks who had to leave before the end of service. Mine is me in a bus going down a mountain, with Nulty clinging to the top. At my urging, Kristine added “@*#$!” coming out of my mouth to really make things realistic.

One last group shot of the Education 2012 Mbeya PCVs (from left, Rachel, Tracy, me, Willie, Emily, Mandy, Stephanie and Belle).  Some of these folks have already left Mbeya and more are leaving in the next few weeks.  I will miss them all!

One last group shot of the Education 2012 Mbeya PCVs (from left, Rachel, Tracy, me, Willie, Emily, Mandy, Stephanie and Belle). Some of these folks have already left Mbeya and more are leaving in the next few weeks. I will miss them all!

The nominees for "Most Well Known Before Coming to Tanzania" (aka the Facebook award) are announced.  And the winner is...my mom!

The nominees for “Most Well Known Before Coming to Tanzania” (aka the Facebook award) are announced. And the winner is…my mom!

All in all, COS was a great time, which was only slightly dampened (literally) by the fact that when I returned to site, I discovered that Nulty had peed on almost everything in my house, including all of my shoes. She was apparently not pleased about having been left alone for so long. I am still trying to figure out how she contorted herself to pee on some of the more difficult to reach items. She managed to hit every single pair of my shoes, including a bunch of flip flops that were in a basket- she was definitely fully committed to her shoe peeing project, bless her heart.

Also, at the end of April I finally got my act together and did a movie event in the library. I have been meaning to do one since I brought my projector from the U.S. last summer, but things kept getting in the way. I used the movie as a reward for students that got a 50 or higher (or really close to a 50) on their midterm exam. Students came to the library during remedial class time (which is 4-6pm most weekdays) and I gave them lollipops and we watched a schoolhouse Rock video (“A noun is a person, place or thing”) and The Lion King. I think the language of SR was above their level, but I’m hoping they’ll remember some of the chorus. They thought some of the animation was hilarious. (The very current line “playing Chubby Checker on the record machine” and accompanying dancing was a big hit.) And they seemed to love The Lion King. These are my best students, so they understood a good portion of the dialogue but we did have to stop a few times to make sure they understood some of the important plot points. I think it was a big hit. They loved “Hakuna Matata” – I think it was exciting for them to hear Kiswahili in an American movie. I heard a couple of them singing it on the way out.

I showed another movie in May and extended it to students that make an effort in class (it’s really hard to get some of my shyer students to even try to answer a question) or that help me or their fellow students and not just limit it to good grades. For that one, I showed the The Princess and The Frog and handed out bags of popcorn, which they were really excited about. It was a little more challenging because a lot of the students had more difficulty understanding English, I had to repeatedly pause the movie and translate what was happening in Kiswahili, but I still think most of them enjoyed it. I welcome any suggestions for movies that I can show next term that are suitable for kids and have simple English or not a lot of dialogue.

The library, all set up for the movie screening.  I tried a variety of screen options (sheets, paper, etc.) before finding a white board that the school had tucked away somewhere.

The library, all set up for the movie screening. I tried a variety of screen options (sheets, paper, etc.) before finding a white board that the school had tucked away somewhere.

Some of my Form II students wait for the movie to begin.  The bags of popcorn were a bit hit.

Some of my Form II students wait for the movie to begin. The bags of popcorn were a bit hit.

June is usually a month off for students here but my school announced that the first 3 weeks of June would be mandatory classes. On one hand, it was a good thing because my students need all the class time they can get before their NECTA exams in October. On the other hand, no one actually informed me of this until the Tuesday before break was supposed to start and I was already in pre-vacation mode in my mind. Also, there was no class schedule prepared until late on Friday (and only then because I couldn’t take it anymore and got the handwritten draft of the schedule, typed it up and posted it) so I had no idea when I had to teach or how many periods I would have to make lesson plans for. One of the more frustrating aspects of life here is that there is not a lot of planning or organization before things happen. As someone who loves to create a spreadsheet and/or project timeline before even the most minor of events, this drives me crazy. During exams, copies of tests are made beforehand but no one bothers to collate or staple or even proofread anything and there is always at least 20 minutes of test time wasted trying to sort everything out, run around and make additional copies and during the test, students have tons of questions about typos or words that didn’t print clearly, etc. I try to made a big show of proofreading, collating and stapling my exam in the teacher’s lounge at least a day or two before I give a test, but I don’t think any of the other teachers are getting the hint.

In the end, the summer session ended up being quite painless. I had to teach 6 days a week but we spent the time reading a book called Hawa the Bus Driver, which is a story about a strong woman who is one of the few female bus drivers in Dar es Salaam. It was a good excuse for me to talk to the kids about gender roles and feminism and try to present a different perspective from the standard “women make babies and obey their husbands and only do work that doesn’t threaten men and never complain about any of this” view that is so prevalent here in the village. It wasn’t only for the girls; I also tried to stress to the boys the idea that a man who is truly strong does not hurt women or children or animals and isn’t threatened by his wife or any other woman’s success. I don’t know how much of this they are actually buying, but I hope that the idea is at least planted in their mind somewhere.

The worst part of the whole 3 weeks was that one evening when I was carrying a bucket of water out to the choo, Nulty ran between my legs and, before I could stop her, somehow jumped/climbed up the one spot on the courtyard wall that didn’t have a tarp covering it and jumped over. By the time I got the key and opened the courtyard door, she had already run into my neighbor’s courtyard, attempted to abscond with a chicken (“attempt” being the key word – the chickens are bigger than her) and then ran into a giant patch of pricker bushes behind my neighbor’s house. She knows when she runs into the bushes, I can’t get to her so she hides out there and does her best Nelson Muntz impression. Usually she will come back inside when she gets hungry or if she hears a dog or kids in the area but sometimes she will just stay out all night and come back in the morning looking sheepish and wanting to climb under the covers and sleep it off. She used to do the staying out all night thing more frequently but I’ve better figured out how to thwart her escapes recently (hanging tarps on the walls, making her put on her vest, which inhibits her jumping ability, before she goes out in the courtyard, etc.) so they don’t happen as much these days. I made several attempts to call her inside and went out looking for her that night with no success and I heard some dogs fighting in the distance, which panicked me a little, but I assumed she would return in the morning as usual and went to bed. When she wasn’t waiting in the courtyard when I got up the next morning, I was concerned but went to school and taught my morning classes, assuming she’d be there when I returned. When she wasn’t back that afternoon, I really started to worry. I walked all around the surrounding area of my house, checking out her usual hiding places with no luck. By the time the sun went down, I was in a total panic. When she still wasn’t back the next morning, I went to school to tell them I wouldn’t be able to teach and proceeded to walk all over my village, asking people if they’d seen her and basically acting like a hysterical lunatic.

One man that lives on the hill across from my house told me that he’d seen a man hit her with a stick and that she ran away. Well, I thought he said she ran away, when I told my counterpart what he’d said and used the same Kiswahili term he had, my counterpart said, “Ah, when we say that, it means fell down, not ran away.” And I could tell he didn’t think that was a good sign. When the Tanzanians were starting to get worried, I knew things were bad. Usually, they tell me “don’t worry, the cat will come back on her own” but by the second day they were just saying, “Ahh…” and avoiding my gaze. One of the brand new part-time teachers told me, “Your cat, it is dead” before one of the other teachers shushed him. My neighbor, Mwanaidi, was preparing to leave for her wedding in Tanga and had a million things to do but even she stopped to ask if Nulty had returned when she saw me. A few of the children who come by my house to ask for stickers stopped by and said they had seen here hiding in a bush behind the school, or near the little stream by the water pipe where people fill their buckets. I wasn’t sure if they were telling the truth or just saying what they thought I wanted to hear to make me feel better. When I told some of the other teachers this, they said that the man who told me about her getting hit with a stick might be lying but that the little children would absolutely tell the truth, which was both sweet and made me feel better.

Later that day, I went back to the school and spoke to all of the students at the afternoon assembly, telling them I would give a reward to anyone who helped me find Nulty or had information about what happened to her. I said that if someone hurt her or eaten by dogs, that I needed to know and that her collar would still be somewhere even if the rest of her wasn’t. Some of the students thought it was funny when I said that she was like a child to me, but my mkuu helped me out and explained that I was planning to take the cat back to America with me and that she was very important to me. A little later, a group of students came by my house and said they’d look for her and one of the older students who I don’t teach but who is a regular in the library said he was going to go talk to all of the people who lived in the houses near me and try to find out everything he could. I was really touched by everyone pitching in and helping me but at that point I had almost lost hope. I was sure she’d been beaten to death by a villager or eaten by dogs.

I was sitting in my living room, trying to figure out what, if anything, else I could do when I heard a noise coming from the courtyard. I went outside and saw something sitting on the other side of the courtyard door. I didn’t think it was Nulty as first because all I saw was a mound of dark hair but when I walked closer, she turned around and meowed at me. She was nervously looking around and was very eager to get inside, which makes me think that the man might have been telling the truth about her having been hit by someone. She looked a little skinny and her fur was a little messy, but she seemed to be healthy and unhurt (although she didn’t like me touching her back at first). She ran to the kitchen to gobble down some food and I was so happy, I just ran to my front door and yelled out, “She has returned!” in Kiswahili. There were a few students down at one of the the hand pump wells, filling buckets and they said, “Hongera!” (basically, “Congratulations!”) and seemed genuinely happy for me so I ran down and gave them all lollipops to celebrate. The next morning, I told all of the students that Nulty had returned and was alive and healthy and they all cheered. Like the time I lost Nulty on the way to town and all of the people in another village helped me find her, I was really touched that everyone cared and supported me, even if they didn’t quite understand why I was so upset over losing a cat. And just a couple of weeks ago, when my neighbor Mwanaidi returned from her wedding, I went over to congratulate her and her new husband and before I could get a “Hongera” out, she was like, “Did the cat come back? Is she all right?” which was both hilarious and extremely sweet.

This is a pre-big escape photo, but shows how she managed to find the one small bit of wall that wasn't covered with tarp and climb up it.  I grabbed her before she made it to the top this time.

This is a pre-big escape photo, but shows how she managed to find the one small bit of wall that wasn’t covered with tarp and climb up it. I grabbed her before she made it to the top this time.

Nulty in the courtyard, contemplating life on the other side of the wall.

Nulty in the courtyard, contemplating life on the other side of the wall.

Nulty snoozing in some baskets (that are outside in the sun because she peed on them).  Notice she is wearing her kitty harness/vest.  She know has to wear the vest whenever she's outside or when I'm going in and out of the house because it makes it difficult for her to jump and/or climb the walls.  I also put a tarp up over the one spot on the wall that wasn't covered before that she used for her big escape.  If she gets a running start, she can still make it over the tarps so I had to rub soap on them to make them more slippery.  I think my courtyard is equivalent to a maximum security prison at this point.

Nulty snoozing in some baskets (that are outside in the sun because she peed on them). Notice she is wearing her kitty harness/vest. She know has to wear the vest whenever she’s outside or when I’m going in and out of the house because it makes it difficult for her to jump and/or climb the walls. I also put a tarp up over the one spot on the wall that wasn’t covered before that she used for her big escape. If she gets a running start, she can still make it over the tarps so I had to rub soap on them to make them more slippery. I think my courtyard is equivalent to a maximum security prison at this point.

Nulty on the couch with her favorite toy, which was sent to her by the Nelson family.  (Thank you, Harold, Beth, Benjamin & Noah!)

Nulty on the couch with her favorite toy, which was sent to her by the Nelson family. (Thank you, Harold, Beth, Benjamin & Noah!)

A few months ago, I mentioned that I was going to take some pictures of some of my students so you could all get to know them a little. I have over 200 students and I don’t know all of their names, but I know most of them (the ones that come regularly) by their faces and personalities. Here are some of the kids that are standouts, in one way or another, and that make all the hard stuff here worthwhile:

This is Christabel, who is my best student.  She always gets A's (real A's, over 90 points) and clearly comes from a family that values education and supports her, which is a huge advantage for any kid here.  Last year, she started to ask to leave class and be gone for long stretches of time, which worried me.  I asked my counterpart to speak to her with me (for translation help) and we figured out that she was getting bored in class because she understood the material quickly but I'd have to spend lots of time explaining it to the other students so she was going into other classes to visit her friends.  "Are these friends boys?" I asked, worried.  "No, they are girls," she answered.  "Good!  No boys for you until you're done with college!" I told her, which she thought was hilarious.  I was not joking.

This is Christabel, who is my best student. She always gets A’s (real A’s, over 90 points) and clearly comes from a family that values education and supports her, which is a huge advantage for any kid here. Last year, she started to ask to leave class and be gone for long stretches of time, which worried me. I asked my counterpart to speak to her with me (for translation help) and we figured out that she was getting bored in class because she understood the material quickly but I’d have to spend lots of time explaining it to the other students so she was going into other classes to visit her friends. “Are these friends boys?” I asked, worried. “No, they are girls,” she answered. “Good! No boys for you until you’re done with college!” I told her, which she thought was hilarious. I was not joking.

Here's a picture of Christabel telling the other kids what's what.  She's a really sweet kid and not conceited at all, but she's not afraid to correct another student when they translate a word for me incorrectly or tell them to be quiet if they start acting up in class.  On some of my darker days here, she was the student that got me out of bed and into the classroom in the morning.  When I'm marking tests, I save hers for last so I know I'll end on a high note.

Here’s a picture of Christabel telling the other kids what’s what. She’s a really sweet kid and not conceited at all, but she’s not afraid to correct another student when they translate a word for me incorrectly or tell them to be quiet if they start acting up in class. On some of my darker days here, she was the student that got me out of bed and into the classroom in the morning. When I’m marking tests, I save hers for last so I know I’ll end on a high note.

A couple of my Form IIA girls.  The girl who is laughing is another really good student.

A couple of my Form IIA girls. The girl who is laughing is another really good student.

One of my IIA students, who is a sweet kid who always tries hard.  It's so frustrating to know that these kids would be able to do so much better if they had received a better primary school education and/or had a family who valued and supported their education.

One of my IIA students, who is a sweet kid who always tries hard. It’s so frustrating to know that these kids would be able to do so much better if they had received a better primary school education and/or had a family who valued and supported their education.

Some of my IIA boys.  The student on the right has a soft spot in my heart because he doesn't always get the highest grades but he works really hard, always tries to answer questions and helps me erase the board, which students are expected to do for a teacher but only a handful ever actually offer to do.

Some of my IIA boys. The student on the right has a soft spot in my heart because he doesn’t always get the highest grades but he works really hard, always tries to answer questions and helps me erase the board, which students are expected to do for a teacher but only a handful ever actually offer to do.

These are a couple of my IIB (I think) students. The kid on top is a total class clown, but always does pretty well on tests.

These are a couple of my IIB (I think) students. The kid on top is a total class clown, but always does pretty well on tests.

A couple of my IIB girls.  Some of these kids are so beautiful and sweet, it kills me.

A couple of my IIB girls. Some of these kids are so beautiful and sweet, it kills me.

This is Ibrahim, who is the best student in my IIB class. He's a really smart kid, but he definitely thinks he's too cool for school.  He is always correcting my Kiswahili, so it felt particularly good last term when he told me I was saying something wrong and I said it was correct because I was using the past tense, not the present tense.  He was completely shocked when he realized that I was right.  I only feel a little bad that I thought myself, "In your face, kid!"

This is Ibrahim, who is the best student in my IIB class. He’s a really smart kid, but he definitely thinks he’s too cool for school. He is always correcting my Kiswahili, so it felt particularly good last term when he told me I was saying something wrong and I said it was correct because I was using the past tense, not the present tense. He was completely shocked when he realized that I was right. I only feel a little bad that I thought myself, “In your face, kid!”

More of my IIB students.  The boy on the right always sits up front and raises his hand and volunteers to answer questions, which is a huge deal.  So many of my students will only speak if I call on them and even then, it's like pulling teeth to get them to repeat something in English.

More of my IIB students. The boy on the right always sits up front and raises his hand and volunteers to answer questions, which is a huge deal. So many of my students will only speak if I call on them and even then, it’s like pulling teeth to get them to repeat something in English.

This is my IIC class.  They can be a handful but they are definitely the most fun to teach.  There are some big personalities in that room!

This is my IIC class. They can be a handful but they are definitely the most fun to teach. There are some big personalities in that room!

A group of IIC students. They are having a ball, as usual.

A group of IIC students. They are having a ball, as usual.

Some of the IIC girls.  The boys tend to dominate the conversations in IIC and it can be frustrating because I know the girls are just as smart and do just as well on the tests but they don't like to speak up in class.  I try to balance things as much as possible by going girl/boy/girl/boy when having students write on the board or give answers, but it can be difficult to get the girls to volunteer.

Some of the IIC girls. The boys tend to dominate the conversations in IIC and it can be frustrating because I know the girls are just as smart and do just as well on the tests but they don’t like to speak up in class. I try to balance things as much as possible by going girl/boy/girl/boy when having students write on the board or give answers, but it can be difficult to get the girls to volunteer.

One of my IIC boys.  He's super quiet and sits in the back of the room, but always has the answer when I call on him.  I love the light in this picture.

One of my IIC boys. He’s super quiet and sits in the back of the room, but always has the answer when I call on him. I love the light in this picture.

This is Jackobu, one of my IIC students.  Jackobu is the universe's revenge for all of my former teachers because he asks a million questions, just like I did, which makes it hard to get through a complete lesson plan in a period.   He loves to correct me, but always does it in a respectful way ("Madam, I don't think you mean to use that word.")  He's a super smart kid, asks really good questions (tons of them), loves to do word puzzles and games and comes to the library for help outside of class.  In addition, he is one of the biggest class clowns and has a pretty good sense of humor (and its a little weird, which I appreciate). He drives me absolutely crazy, but he is definitely one of my very favorite students and is fun to teach because I can see the moment when something clicks for him and he gets it.

This is Jackobu, one of my IIC students. Jackobu is the universe’s revenge for all of my former teachers because he asks a million questions, just like I did, which makes it hard to get through a complete lesson plan in a period. He loves to correct me, but always does it in a respectful way (“Madam, I don’t think you mean to use that word.”) He’s a super smart kid, asks really good questions (tons of them), loves to do word puzzles and games and comes to the library for help outside of class. In addition, he is one of the biggest class clowns and has a pretty good sense of humor (and its a little weird, which I appreciate). He drives me absolutely crazy, but he is definitely one of my very favorite students and is fun to teach because I can see the moment when something clicks for him and he gets it.

The guy on the left is Matatizo, who is the Dean Martin to Jackobu's Jerry Lewis (on the right) in IIC.  Matatizo means "problems" in Kiswahili which, on one hand, is a terrible and sad name for a kid but, on the other hand, can be quite apt and has not hurt his self esteem at all, as he is definitely the Big Man on Campus for Form II.  He's a class leader and the other kids love him, but he has a tendency to look for short cuts and doesn't always apply himself to school as much as he could.  Last term, he skipped the final exam to play in a soccer tournament. (Why the school allowed students to attend a soccer tournament during exams is still a mystery to me, never mind the fact that they gave the other teachers no heads up about this at all.)  But, he's a good enough student that he passed the term even getting a zero on the final, so I'm not sure if he actually learned his lesson.  He has lots of charisma and would make a great politician some day, and I mean that in both the best and worst way.  He's one of the kids that I worry about the most because he has the potential to do great things but I could easily see him wasting that potential, which I think would be a huge loss for everyone.

The guy on the left is Matatizo, who is the Dean Martin to Jackobu’s Jerry Lewis (on the right) in IIC. Matatizo means “problems” in Kiswahili which, on one hand, is a terrible and sad name for a kid but, on the other hand, can be quite apt and has not hurt his self esteem at all, as he is definitely the Big Man on Campus for Form II. He’s a class leader and the other kids love him, but he has a tendency to look for short cuts and doesn’t always apply himself to school as much as he could. Last term, he skipped the final exam to play in a soccer tournament. (Why the school allowed students to attend a soccer tournament during exams is still a mystery to me, never mind the fact that they gave the other teachers no heads up about this at all.) But, he’s a good enough student that he passed the term even getting a zero on the final, so I’m not sure if he actually learned his lesson. He has lots of charisma and would make a great politician some day, and I mean that in both the best and worst way. He’s one of the kids that I worry about the most because he has the potential to do great things but I could easily see him wasting that potential, which I think would be a huge loss for everyone.

This is Joshua, another IIC student.  He hangs out with Matatizo and Jackobu, but is much mellower and is a really good student.  He usually gets overshadowed by his friends but he got the highest score on one of my tests once and couldn't stop grinning the whole class.

This is Joshua, another IIC student. He hangs out with Matatizo and Jackobu, but is much mellower and is a really good student. He usually gets overshadowed by his friends but he got the highest score on one of my tests once and couldn’t stop grinning the whole class.

Some of my IID students.  This is my most challenging class, because a lot of the students don't seem committed to learning and there is a lot of truancy.  Their attitude improves greatly when they do well on an exercise so I'm trying to tailor more and more questions to their ability level (which is, unfortunately, below the rest of my Form II students), which seems to be working better.  (The girl on the left cracks me up - she makes the best faces!)

Some of my IID students. This is my most challenging class, because a lot of the students don’t seem committed to learning and there is a lot of truancy. Their attitude improves greatly when they do well on an exercise so I’m trying to tailor more and more questions to their ability level (which is, unfortunately, below the rest of my Form II students), which seems to be working better. (The girl on the left cracks me up – she makes the best faces!)

A couple of my IID boys.  The kid on the right totally cracks me up - he looks like he's posing for GQ here.

A couple of my IID boys. The kid on the right totally cracks me up – he looks like he’s posing for GQ here.

More IID students.  I'm pretty sure the boy on the left is named Osward - he sits in the back (until I make him move to the front) and definitely has a "too cool for school" attitude, which drives me nuts, but he's not a bad kid.  The girl on the right is Vaselisa, who is one of the student leaders for Form II.  She is a really good student, but doesn't always work as hard as she could. I told her she needed to spend as much time on her school work as she did on boys, which I think actually meant something to her because she's been really stepping up in class lately.

More IID students. I’m pretty sure the boy on the left is named Osward – he sits in the back (until I make him move to the front) and definitely has a “too cool for school” attitude, which drives me nuts, but he’s not a bad kid. The girl on the right is Vaselisa, who is one of the student leaders for Form II. She is a really good student, but doesn’t always work as hard as she could. I told her she needed to spend as much time on her school work as she did on boys, which I think actually meant something to her because she’s been really stepping up in class lately.

This is Safari, another of my IID students.  He is such a bright kid and asks really good, smart questions and tries so hard but his English skills are below where they should be, again due to him receiving a substandard education in primary school.  He's a real sweetheart and sensitive and I think he got really frustrated last term because he started skipping school for weeks at a time.  I asked Vaselisa about him and she told me he would just go and sit in the forest instead of coming to school.  I thought I was misunderstanding her because of my Kiswahili but she laughed and said, "Nope, he just goes and hangs out in the forest all day because he doesn't like to come to school."  That made me sad so I told her to tell him that I thought he was a really smart kid and that he needed to come to school every day.  I think it worked because he started showing up regularly again (although it might not have been entirely my words that did it - Vaselisa's pretty tough so she might have just strong-armed him into coming).  He did well on the terminal exam so I'm optimistic but I worry he might slip between the cracks after I'm gone.  He's the classic example of the way the Tanzanian education system wastes intelligent minds because of their whole "let's pretend that things are the way we want them to be and not actually deal with the reality of the way things are" approach .  It is so frustrating.

This is Safari, another of my IID students. He is such a bright kid and asks really good, smart questions and tries so hard but his English skills are below where they should be, again due to him receiving a substandard education in primary school. He’s a real sweetheart and sensitive and I think he got really frustrated last term because he started skipping school for weeks at a time. I asked Vaselisa about him and she told me he would just go and sit in the forest instead of coming to school. I thought I was misunderstanding her because of my Kiswahili but she laughed and said, “Nope, he just goes and hangs out in the forest all day because he doesn’t like to come to school.” That made me sad so I told her to tell him that I thought he was a really smart kid and that he needed to come to school every day. I think it worked because he started showing up regularly again (although it might not have been entirely my words that did it – Vaselisa’s pretty tough so she might have just strong-armed him into coming). He did well on the terminal exam so I’m optimistic but I worry he might slip between the cracks after I’m gone. He’s the classic example of the way the Tanzanian education system wastes intelligent minds because of their whole “let’s pretend that things are the way we want them to be and not actually deal with the reality of the way things are” approach . It is so frustrating.

This is Raphael, who vies with Christabel for the highest grades in the Form.  He's very stealth smart, because he doesn't talk a lot in class and sits in the back and then, out of no where, gets a 98 on the midterm.  He's super humble too because when I was returning the midterms, before I handed his back I was kidding around and asked him if he thought he did well. I felt bad because he just shrugged his shoulders and honestly looked like he had no idea if he failed or passed, so I made a big deal of the fact that he got the highest grade in the whole form.  He works hard but I also think he is just blessed with a high level of intelligence that he doesn't always know what to do with.  He's in my IID class, which makes me nuts because there are only 1 or 2 students in there that come anywhere close to his level and I've tried and tried to get the school to switch him to one of the more competitive forms with no luck.  Yet.

This is Raphael, who vies with Christabel for the highest grades in the Form. He’s very stealth smart, because he doesn’t talk a lot in class and sits in the back and then, out of no where, gets a 98 on the midterm. He’s super humble too because when I was returning the midterms, before I handed his back I was kidding around and asked him if he thought he did well. I felt bad because he just shrugged his shoulders and honestly looked like he had no idea if he failed or passed, so I made a big deal of the fact that he got the highest grade in the whole form. He works hard but I also think he is just blessed with a high level of intelligence that he doesn’t always know what to do with. He’s in my IID class, which makes me nuts because there are only 1 or 2 students in there that come anywhere close to his level and I’ve tried and tried to get the school to switch him to one of the more competitive forms with no luck. Yet.

This is Samson, another one of my IID students.  Samson is not just the smallest kid in Form II, he's the smallest kid in the whole school.  (I'm guessing there are medical issues there but no one has told me about them and I don't feel like it's my place to pry.)  He has some problems with truancy but when he comes to school, he is just the sweetest, most respectful kid in the world.  He looks like a little boy but he has the voice and demeanor of an old man, which just kills me.  I just love this kid.

This is Samson, another one of my IID students. Samson is not just the smallest kid in Form II, he’s the smallest kid in the whole school. (I’m guessing there are medical issues there but no one has told me about them and I don’t feel like it’s my place to pry.) He has some problems with truancy but when he comes to school, he is just the sweetest, most respectful kid in the world. He looks like a little boy but he has the voice and demeanor of an old man, which just kills me. I just love this kid.

I'm still not completely used to seeing teenage boys walking around holding hands in school but I think it's kind of wonderful that they can do that and it's completely acceptable culturally.  (For the sake of keeping the mood upbeat, I'm conveniently ignoring the staggering amount of homophobia in this culture which makes the whole thing bitterly ironic.)

I’m still not completely used to seeing teenage boys walking around holding hands in school but I think it’s kind of wonderful that they can do that and it’s completely acceptable culturally. (For the sake of keeping the mood upbeat, I’m conveniently ignoring the staggering amount of homophobia in this culture which makes the whole thing bitterly ironic.)

There is always a mass exodus of students in the mid-afternoon, as they head home for their lunch break.  They are supposed to return for remedial classes later in the day, but it's hard to get them all back once they've broken free from the school grounds.

There is always a mass exodus of students in the mid-afternoon, as they head home for their lunch break. They are supposed to return for remedial classes later in the day, but it’s hard to get them all back once they’ve broken free from the school grounds.

I did have two weeks off in late June/early July and was able to do a little traveling and meet up with some of my fellow PCVs. I’ll post more on that next time. Until then, I hope everyone is having a great summer! I’ll be back in the U.S. in less than 100 days! (Not that I’m counting or anything…)

This One’s For You, Noah!

When I posted the tour of my house last June, I had a request from my friend’s son, Noah, to do a similar tour of my village. It took me a while, but I finally managed to pull it off. I hope you all enjoy!

Also, a HUGE thank you to everyone who has donated to my assembly hall project. I have not received a list of donors from the Peace Corps yet so I apologize for not thanking you all individually- as soon as I get a list, I will contact you all directly. As of today, I’m only $900 away from my goal so I’m extending the deadline until all the funds are raised. I really appreciate everyone’s contributions and help publicizing my fund raising effort. As they say here in Tanzania, asante sana!

This is the part where I ask you for money…

As I mentioned a few months ago, my school is trying to complete construction on a new assembly hall. Currently, the school does not have a space large enough to hold all of the students, so it is difficult to have school assemblies and events during the long rainy season here. In addition, the school needs a room that can hold an entire form of students while they take their national examinations. The assembly hall would fulfill both of these needs.

Last year, the school started construction on an assembly hall by expanding one of the larger classrooms. They cut down trees and sold the lumber from them to raise funds to start construction, but they ran out of money before they could complete the project. So a few months ago, I submitted a grant application to Peace Corps that would allow me to raise funds from family and friends to pay for the materials (concrete, lime, etc.) necessary to complete construction. The school will pay for the remaining labor costs and other incidental materials. My goal is to raise approximately $2300.00 by June 1st so that the hall can be finished in time for my Form II students to take their NECTA exams in October.

This is the current, mid-construction state of the assembly hall.  This is from the front of the hall, looking towards the back.

This is the current, mid-construction state of the assembly hall. This is from the front of the hall, looking towards the back.

Looking towards the front of the assembly hall.

Looking towards the front of the assembly hall.

They have dug a trench for a channel that will allow water to flow underneath the hall.  This will prevent flooding during the rainy season.

They have dug a trench for a channel that will allow water to flow underneath the hall. This will prevent flooding during the rainy season.

Any help you can provide would be greatly appreciated by not only me, but the teachers, students and staff of Ilembo Secondary School. You can go here to make your tax-deductible contribution.

Thank you for your support!

P.S.: I’m finally on Facebook! Send me a friend request if I haven’t friend-ed you yet (I’m still trying to figure out how the whole thing works- it’s going to take a while.)

Woman On The Verge of Kurukwa Na Akili

Sorry for the delay in posting this month*, but I’m not going to lie to you, folks – March was a tough month for me. There was the usual, daily torrential rains and the subsequent discovery of several new leaks in my roof- small ones, but there is one over my bed and a part of my mattress got all soggy one weekend which I only discovered when I sat on it and my pants got all wet. In addition, the electricity was particularly unreliable last month and was out for several long (4-5 days) stretches. Not having electricity (and daily rains that seriously limit the school’s solar system) makes it hard to keep my phone charged, which makes it hard to keep up with email and news from the outside world, which makes me feel more isolated than usual. Add to that a series of colds, a bout with food poisoning and a stomach bug and it’s fair to say that I was not at my best in March.

With all that going on, it’s been hard to stay motivated and remain patient with my students. The majority of the Form II students – 3 of the 4 streams/classes that I teach- are great. They can act up and get a little crazy sometimes but, generally speaking, they are all good kids and they are making their best effort to learn. My fourth stream is another story. There are a few motivated and well behaved students but I also have several students who are repeating Form II because they did not pass the NECTA last year. (Please bear in mind that they lowered the passing score to 20 points and made the test really easy last year. And these kids still didn’t pass, either because they were not at all prepared to enter secondary school to begin with and/or chronic truancy- I’m talking they didn’t come for months at a time truancy.) I taught many of the repeating students for a few months when I first got to site in 2012, when they were still in Form I. You may remember my tales of them misbehaving, disrespecting me and generally acting like the spawn of Satan. These are kids that would probably best be served by some form of vocational education but, thanks to politicians (rather than actual educators), they are now taking a host of subjects they are not prepared for in a language they have no real knowledge of. Clearly a recipe for success!

But, instead of turning this post into another diatribe against the Tanzanian education system, for a change I’m going to follow the advice of the Peace Corps administration and focus on the things I am thankful for. These are the things that make life not just bearable here but enjoyable, and are the things that I will miss the most when I return to the U.S.:

My courtyard

Having a courtyard definitely is a huge bonus for Tanzania PCVs. It’s lovely to have a place where I can sit outside and enjoy the occasional sunny day in Ilembo. And when I’m not feeling sociable, it’s nice to enjoy fresh air without being bombarded by requests for stickers, questions about why I talk to goats and the always charming greeting, “Give me my money”. (Possessive pronouns, and pronouns in general, are something Tanzanians seem to have difficultly with.) It also gives me a place to do my laundry and dry it (or try to dry it). One of my fellow PCVs that does not have a courtyard has had 3 pairs of jeans stolen off of her clothes line since she’s been here. And, of course, Nulty loves to hang out in the courtyard, eating grass, chasing lizards and lying in the sun. I think it’s fair to say that I would have ET’d a long time ago if I was at a site without a courtyard.

A shot of the courtyard from not long after I got to site (when Nulty was still free to wall sit at her leisure.)

A shot of the courtyard from not long after I got to site (when Nulty was still free to wall sit at her leisure.)

Nulty snoozing in the courtyard, enjoying the sun on her belly.  I don't know how that was a comfortable position for her, but she stayed that way for about an hour, the kook.

Nulty snoozing in the courtyard, enjoying the sun on her belly. I don’t know how that was a comfortable position for her, but she stayed that way for about an hour, the kook.

The library

I am happy to say the school library has become quite a hit with the students. It’s gotten to the point where some days I have to put a time limit on the amount of time students can stay so others can come in and study too. In hindsight, it might have been a good idea to go with the school’s idea of switching it to a larger room but I was very suspect of their talk about a “storage room for the books”. It’s not uncommon for Tanzanian schools to lock the books away in a store room and never let them see the light of day. Our school used to do this, but they at least let the students borrow the books occasionally. Even so, students had to know to ask for the book they wanted, without seeing what the options were. I’m a big believer in browsing. I can still spend hours in a library or book store, just exploring what’s on the shelves. I’ve noticed that having everything out in the open encourages the students to check out books they might not normally look at. The school had a whole bunch of donated fiction and non-fiction books locked away that I’ve put out and the kids love to look through them. Before I arrived in Tanzania, I read online that there is was a library crisis here but it’s really more about low literacy rates (in English for sure but also in Kiswahili- there are lots of students that are only really comfortable speaking their tribal languages) and little or no access to books outside of schools (it’s apparently unusual for public libraries here- which are only in the large towns- to loan out books). I’m always happy to see students come in to read some of the storybooks, rather than just to copy notes out of the textbooks.

A typical day in the library- I wish I could spend more time in there so students had more study time but I'm trying to recruit some other teachers to come in and supervise during their free periods.

A typical day in the library- I wish I could spend more time in there so students had more study time but I’m trying to recruit some other teachers to come in and supervise during their free periods.

A couple of my Form II girls study in the library.  I love my Form II students- maybe I'm biased, but I think they're the best behaved kids in the school.

A couple of my Form II girls study in the library. I love my Form II students- maybe I’m biased, but I think they’re the best behaved kids in the school.

My students

They drive me crazy sometimes (most of the time) but I’ve become really attached to the students here, especially my Form IIs that I’ve been teaching for the past two years. They definitely feel more comfortable with me this year and I have seen more of their personalities come out. I’m currently trying to take photos of my students so I can introduce you to some of the standouts.

The students gather for afternoon assembly after a(nother) rainstorm.

The students gather for afternoon assembly after a(nother) rainstorm.

Kids start carrying stuff on their heads early here, (I regularly see little children with smaller buckets of water on their head.)  I've tried it and it's hard on your neck muscles if they're not in shape!

Kids start carrying stuff on their heads early here, (I regularly see little children with smaller buckets of water on their head.) I’ve tried it and it’s hard on your neck muscles if they’re not in shape!

My counterpart

When I first got to site, I was determined to have a female counterpart because I didn’t really want to have to deal with the whole male/female dynamic here and I wanted to give a female teacher an opportunity to travel and learn that they might not normally get. (Peace Corps counterparts travel with volunteers to their In Service Training Conference, get paid a stipend and get to participate in training sessions with PC staff.) But, from when I first arrived at site, one of the most helpful people has been the head of the English department, Mr. Komba. He made sure I knew what was going on, translated for me at staff meetings and school events and was happy to answer any questions I had. But there were also a couple of female teachers that were also helpful so I was a bit torn. When I talked to my former mkuu about it, he said it was my choice but that he thought Mr. Komba was the most qualified and would be the best fit and I agreed. I really couldn’t have made a better choice. I’m lucky that my school has some really good teachers who care about the students and do the best they can despite all of the challenges of teaching here but Mr. Komba (his first name is Bert, but all of the teachers call each other by their last name) is definitely one of the best, if not the best. He always comes to school, he teaches all of his classes, he’s getting a Master’s degree but never lets that get in the way of his teaching responsibilities and he is always available and willing to help the crazy mzungu. And even when he’s trying to help me with something that might seem somewhat trivial to a typical Tanzanian (i.e., bats in my house) he always makes an effort to be empathetic and understanding. Also, he’s a devout Catholic and has never been anything but respectful and appropriate in his behavior so I feel totally comfortable with him, which is huge here (or anywhere really, am I right ladies?)

Mr. Komba outside the teacher's lounge at school.

Mr. Komba outside the teacher’s lounge at school.

My little neighbor

My closest neighbor (jarani), Mwanaidi, is a teacher at my school but she also has a family living with her. The wife works as a housekeeper and the husband helps her with her chickens and her new goats. They also have a son, who is adorable and sweet. He comes over every day after I’m done with school and, if I’m in the middle of something and don’t get to the door right away, he has no problem piga hodi-ing (the Tanzanian equivalent of “Hello? Anybody home?”) loudly. But as soon as I open the door, he gets shy and turns into a man of few words. I can’t even get his name out of him. It’s become our usual routine for him to request a sticker by saying, “Bandika” and then I’ll rattle off a bunch of questions at him, to which he just nods solemnly in return. Whenever Nulty escapes, he’ll help me out by pointing in the direction she went but there’s not a peep out of him. Once after a rainstorm, I was fixing the plastic I have jammed into the corner of my roof to keep out the bats out and we had the following “conversation”:

Me: I think the bats are back! I keep hearing them trying to get in at night! Do you think they’re already inside?

Jarani: (Nods)

Me: Really? Do you think they’ll come after me when I’m sleeping?

Jarani: (Nods)

Me: Oh no! So you’re saying the bats are going to attack me? And there’s nothing I can do?

Jarani: (Nods)

Me: Maybe I should try stuffing more plastic inside? Do you think that will help?

Jarani: (Nods)

This usually goes on for a while, until his mom calls him inside or he just gets bored with me. In any case, there’s something about his little nod that always cracks me up. He’s the perfect straight man.

My neighbor comes by for his daily sticker fix.

My neighbor comes by for his daily sticker fix.

Rozy

And, of course, my day always gets better when Rozy comes to visit her mother after the primary school has finished for the day. Some days, she’ll come hang out in the library with me and work on her penmanship or addition and subtraction (she’s a really good student and loves to learn, which I credit to her parents who are both really dedicated teachers) or she’ll ask to watch “cartooni” on my laptop, her favorite of which is still The Lion King. I think we’ve watched it at least 100 times together by now. She’s a really smart and special kid and I’m sure she’s going to be an excellent secondary school student one day.

Rozy, the assistant librarian, mans the circulation desk in my absence.

Rozy, the assistant librarian, mans the circulation desk in my absence.

Sometimes Rozy and I visit the current inmates in the school's "animal jail".  This time, it was a very friendly goat.

Sometimes Rozy and I visit the current inmates in the school’s “animal jail”. This time, it was a very friendly goat.

I love this picture!  That goat was a total ham.

I love this picture! That goat was a total ham.

Rozy drew this picture of me.  Or at least I think she said it was of me.  It was either me or her baby brother.  I'm still trying to figure out what the spots on the sleeve are - if it's me, it's probably coffee stains.  I bring a cup from home most mornings and invariably spill some on myself.

Rozy drew this picture of me. Or at least I think she said it was of me. It was either me or her baby brother. I’m still trying to figure out what the spots on the sleeve are – if it’s me, it’s probably coffee stains. I bring a cup from home most mornings and invariably spill some on myself.

Bajaji

For all my complaining about the transportation situation here, there is one area in which Tanzania totally beats the U.S. and that is the bajaj! Not unlike a Thai tuk-tuk, the bajaj is basically the best form of transportation ever created. We are lucky in Mbeya because there are tons of bajaji, but some towns only have 1 or 2, which is just sad. There is nothing that can turn around a long day of shopping and trudging around Mbeya Town like a bajaj ride. They’re usually painted in bright colors – greens, reds, blues and yellows- and they are often accessorized with fake flowers on the dashboard, stickers on the sides and poor translated and/or anachronistic English expressions written across the top of the windshield (such as the classic “No Jealous Mama”). There’s something about riding in a bajaj that makes you feel like you’re in a parade. Sure, they’re basically a tin can stuck on a motorcycle and there’s some kind of Peace Corps policy about not using them in certain areas of Dar es Salaam because of almost certain death, but everything has it’s drawbacks! I’m still trying to figure out how I can stuff one in my luggage so I can tool around my neighborhood in L.A. in one.

A bajaj, outfitted for the rainy season.  Usually the back, where the passengers sit, is open like the front.

A bajaj, outfitted for the rainy season. Usually the back, where the passengers sit, is open like the front.

A Serpico  themed bajaj.  Believe it or not, I've seen more than one.  I love Tanzania!

A Serpico themed bajaj. Believe it or not, I’ve seen more than one. I love Tanzania!

Goats!

The animal version of a bajaj is a goat. No matter how grumpy I am, if I see a goat munching on grass and giving me one of their classic blank stares, I can’t help but laugh. The cutest thing to watch is the Mama Goat/Baby Goat paging system, which kicks in when they are farther apart than either of their comfort zones allows. One of them will just start baa-ing non stop until they hear a response from their beloved. Supposedly, mothers and babies can identify each other by their unique sound. I can’t really hear the difference but I believe it because I’ve seen it in action so many times. I’m also trying to figure out how to get one of them into my luggage. Maybe it can sit in the bajaj?

I love the look this guy is giving me.  And I'm concerned that he might have swallowed a big rock- or is that a goiter on his neck?

I love the look this guy is giving me. And I’m concerned that he might have swallowed a big rock- or is that a goiter on his neck?

This is one of the better known goat citizens of Ilembo.  Andrew and I used to call him Stampy because he had something wrong with his hoof (it looked more like a flipper) and he had a very distinctive gait.

This is one of the better known goat citizens of Ilembo. Andrew and I used to call him Stampy because he had something wrong with his hoof (it looked more like a flipper) and he had a very distinctive gait.

A mother and baby goat.  As I was taking this photo, I could hear some of the mamas in the village saying that they could not understand why I would want to piga picha a goat.  I think they think there's something wrong with me.

A mother and baby goat. As I was taking this photo, I could hear some of the mamas in the village saying that they could not understand why I would want to piga picha a goat. I think they think there’s something wrong with me.

The generosity of friends & family back home

I have been so surprised, delighted and touched by how many people (some of whom I haven’t even met) have sent me cards, letters and care packages here. I’m something of a “the glass is half empty and has a small crack in the bottom” kind of person so it has been a real eye opener for me to see how kind and generous people have been. Everyone at the Mbeya post office knows me and I’ve developed a lovely relationship with the lady who handles the packages there. My old site mate Andrew guessed that I had already surpassed the record for number of packages received by PCV in country, and that was only after about a year. (I don’t actually think that’s true but I’ve got to be up in the top 10 somewhere.) I have appreciated every single thing people have sent, every good thought and kind word that has been extended to me. I know I may never be able repay all of your kindness so I say a very sincere and hearty thank you.

And, of course, Nulty!

I'm not the only one who's tired of rainy season.  Nulty waits all day for me to come home so she can spend some time in the courtyard, only to realize there's no sunshine out there, either.  Pole Nulty.

I’m not the only one who’s tired of rainy season. Nulty waits all day for me to come home so she can spend some time in the courtyard, only to realize there’s no sunshine out there, either. Pole Nulty.

Nulty grooming herself on my bed.  I don't think she's ever going to get those feet totally clean.  I can't wait until we get to the U.S. so I can see what color her feet really are under all that dirt.

Nulty grooming herself on my bed. I don’t think she’s ever going to get those feet totally clean. I can’t wait until we get to the U.S. so I can see what color her feet really are under all that dirt.

Something- I'm guessing it's one of the many lizard residents of Ilembo- captures Nulty's attention in the courtyard.  She doesn't like the taste of them, but she loves chasing lizards.

Something- I’m guessing it’s one of the many lizard residents of Ilembo- captures Nulty’s attention in the courtyard. She doesn’t like the taste of them, but she loves chasing lizards.

Even when it's raining, she likes to run out into the courtyard and sit under the eaves so she doesn't get wet.

Even when it’s raining, she likes to run out into the courtyard and sit under the eaves so she doesn’t get wet.

Mdudu's eye view of Nulty.

Mdudu’s eye view of Nulty.

A belated Happy Easter to everyone!

*I have been trying to get this post up for the past several weeks but I was super busy writing, and then marking, midterms. That was followed by a small catastrophe- the hard drive on my laptop died. By some miracle, I was actually able to find a place that could repair Macs and they were able to replace the hard drive for me but it took me a few days to load all of my data back onto it and get up and running again. Pole for my tardiness!

A Message From Nulty

AMessagefromNulty

I know you are expecting a real post here, but Siobhan is sick (a cold plus a stomach bug) and there’s no electricity in Ilembo (something about a transformer being down) so we are operating on minimal battery life. Siobhan will do her best to post an update in the next few days, depending on power availability. Pole sana.

PS – Siobhan keeps making me wear that damn pink vest. Any ideas on how I can get her to ditch that thing? I have my dignity, you know.

And Then There Was The Time I Peed On A Praying Mantis…

Like most people, before I came to Tanzania, I really didn’t have a clear picture of what life here was really like for most people. I understood that Africa had some large cities, like Johannesburg and Nairobi, but I think I pictured the majority of the continent as something straight out of an old copy of National Geographic: lots of dry, hot desert areas, people living in grass huts, etc. Some of that really does exist here but Tanzania in particular is tremendously diverse in terms of environment. The middle of the country is hot and dry, the coast is hot and humid, there are deserts and rainforests and cold, rainy mountains like the one I live on. There are modern cities and small villages that lack all modern conveniences. As a general rule, the farther away from a paved road you lived, the harder your life is.

The majority of ex-pats (foreign residents) live in towns. I’m sure their life sounds terribly foreign and difficult to their friends and family back home but the reality is most of them live in houses that have electricity, running (hot) water, Western flush toilets, modern appliances and reliable internet access and, perhaps most importantly, they can drive cars. Many of them work in villages, but they travel to and from them in the relative comfort of private automobiles. This is a developing country so even in towns, the electricity can be unreliable and the roads can be bad so there are definitely adjustments that have to be made but compared to the average Peace Corps Volunteer (and volunteers from other, similar international groups such as KOICA and VSO), their life is a picnic.

Most Peace Corps Volunteers life in villages for two years, so we get to experience what life is like for some of the poorest host country nationals (HCNS = the people native to the country you are serving in; in my case, Tanzanians) on a daily basis. A lot of Education volunteers have electricity in their villages, but certainly not all. I am lucky that Ilembo got electricity last year, but it is still incredibly unreliable and goes out for days, even a week or more, at a time. PCVs have varying degrees of access to water – very few have running water in their homes, some have access to bombas (shared pipes with running, sometimes unreliably, water) or, like me, they have to carry water from some type of well or water source (or have students do it for them). Most cooking is done on jikos (charcoal stoves) although many have propane stove-tops – I just inherited a single propane burner when my site mate left, and it has changed my life. I have to haul the (relatively small) propane tank to and from my village when it needs to be refilled, but it is absolutely worth all of the effort involved. I’m still too lazy and untalented to do any complex cooking, but boiling water now takes 5-10 minutes instead of an hour or longer. And I can actually turn down the flame when I am making pasta or soup, rather than having to lift the pot higher off the flame and hold it there. (Yes, I know I could just remove some of the charcoal but those suckers are hot and I like to limit the likelihood of starting a fire outside of the stove whenever possible.) Also, PCVs are not allowed to drive so we have to rely on whatever local transportation is available. The only other wazungu I’ve ever seen on a daladala have all been other PCVs.

In my more reflective moments, I know I am very lucky to be having the unique experience of living in a village for this long. But the reality is life in a village is really hard and unpleasant. And I’m only doing it for two years – I’m a dilettante in comparison to the people who spend their entire lives here. In the spirit of remembering to appreciate all of the luxuries we have in the U.S., here are some of the more challenging aspects of village life:

Laundry
When I lived in Los Angeles, my apartment building did not have a laundry room so I had to use a laundromat that was a block away. At the time, I considered this a huge inconvenience and dreaded my weekly trips to wash clothes. To say that I would now happily walk that block on broken glass to use an actual washer and dryer again is only a slight exaggeration. All of my laundry here is done by hand (the only exceptions are if I am staying at a hotel or guestie that has laundry service, which happens about once every 6 months or so). This includes underwear, clothes, towels, sheets, blankets and anything else that needs washing. Underwear and most clothing are relatively easy, but jeans, sweatshirts, and anything made from heavier material are a pain. Sheets are awkward because of their size, towels can take a while to dry and blankets (especially the heavy wool ones they sell here) are a nightmare.

The laundry process begins with getting lots of water. During rainy season this is easy (it rains so much I usually have at least a full 40 liter bucket of water on hand), but during the dry season it is much more difficult. I either have to haul water back to my house (assuming the hand pump wells are in working order working and/or there is enough water that it doesn’t take an hour to fill a small bucket) or bring all my laundry and basins down to the water source, which I tend not to do because there is no place to put the recently clean laundry where it will stay clean. On the flip side, drying clothes is much easier during the dry season (when there is plenty of sunshine) but is a long, drawn out process that is never really completely successful in the rainy season.

I start with 2 large basins and 1 smaller one. I add soap to basin #1 and use it as for the actual washing. Once an item has soaked for a few minutes, I get to scrubbing out any stains by rubbing the fabric together between my knuckles until the stain is gone or my hands are raw. Then I try to squeeze out all of the soap and water (which is particularly difficult with heavy or large items – I swear I’ve sprained my arm trying to wring out wool blankets) and transport it into basin #2, which is the initial rinsing station. After rinsing, I again have to wring out all of the excess water (and there’s almost always more soap that comes out at this point) and if I’m satisfied it’s clean and soap-free at this point, I’ll hang it on the line. Otherwise, I put it into basin #3 for a final rinse cycle, which is followed by more wringing and squeezing. After finishing a few items, a lot of the soap has transferred to basin #2 so I add more soap and make it the new washing station. The dirty water from basin #1 goes down the choo (or in a bucket for later choo flushing) and I put the used rinsing water from basin #3 into basin #1 and add a little more water, before refilling basin #3 with clean water. This process continues again and again until I’m done with all my laundry and/or out of space to hang things for drying. I don’t think clothes ever really get totally clean via this method but I resigned myself a while ago to just be happy if my clothes end up smelling more like soap than sweat and dirt when I’m done. (I should say, stuff doesn’t get totally clean when I’m doing it but the Tanzanians who use this method manage to get things spotless, either because they have had years of practice and/or because they use tons of soap and never really worry about rinsing all of it out. Rinsing in general doesn’t seem to be a priority here – the prevailing attitude seems to be “a little soap never hurt anyone”.)

My 3 basin system in action.  The large beige thing in the blue bucket are a set of sheets that I was washing.  After I rinsed them and hung them on the line, the line fell into the dirt and I had to start the whole process over again.  Good times.

My 3 basin system in action. The large beige thing in the blue bucket are a set of sheets that I was washing. After I rinsed them and hung them on the line, the line fell into the dirt and I had to start the whole process over again. Good times.

As I said, during the dry season there is plenty of sunshine and, if I start my laundry first thing in the morning, most everything is dry by the time it gets dark. But in the rainy season, it’s a whole different story. On most days in the rainy season, we get some sun (or at least fewer clouds) for an hour or two in the morning. I put the clothes out on the three clotheslines in my courtyard to get them as dry as possible before the rain starts. Once the rain begins in the late morning/early afternoon, I have to put up the two clotheslines in my living room (and by “put up”, I mean tie the other end of the line to the nail on the other side of the room) and them hurry to get all of the clothes from outside before the torrential downpour begins. There’s also a smaller, permanent line in Nulty’s litter room, so I usually have the same amount of space inside that I do outside. Generally, I have to leave everything hanging up for a day or two before it gets dry-ish (nothing is every completely dry during the rainy season because the air is so damp all of the time) and, hopefully, before anything starts to get moldy. Usually, I don’t wash any of my blankets in the rainy season but this year Nulty tracked a whole bunch of mud on the blanket I cover the bed with so I had to figure out a way to clean it. It was raining even harder and steadier than usual that week so, in the interest of laziness, I just left it outside for a few days and let the rain wash everything off. It took about a week to dry, but it was way easier than trying to wash it in a basin and wring all the water out of it. Score one for laziness!

Nulty watches over my sloooooooowly drying clothes.  (This is an old photo, before she was attacked by the dogs and permanently banned from wall jumping.)

Nulty watches over my sloooooooowly drying clothes. (This is an old photo, before she was attacked by the dogs and permanently banned from wall jumping.)

A typical afternoon downpour in Ilembo (this was taken at the school).  Not exactly optimal jeans-drying weather but great for "washing" blankets!

A typical afternoon downpour in Ilembo (this was taken at the school). Not exactly optimal jeans-drying weather but great for “washing” blankets!

Bugs
I’ve mentioned the mice/rats and bats that have come into the house in previous posts but I don’t know if I’ve ever talked about the menagerie of insects that are a part of village life. First of all, my house has huge gaps under the doors, there isn’t any sealant around the windows and there are plain old holes in my roof and on the bottom of some of my walls, so the bugs are getting in no matter what I do. Some of the bugs are year round visitors, but others are only around in the rainy season (this horrible, flying termites that come out after a rain and drop their wings all over the place) or the dry season (big, flying roaches that come out at dusk and insist on dive-bombing into my hair). But year round, there is always a wide variety of creepy-crawly, flying, buzzing and/or glowing creatures that invade my home every day. For the smaller ones, I’ve just taken to killing them with my bare hands but for some of the larger, squishier ones I rely on a pair of Andrew’s old shoes to do my wet work. When people ask me what the biggest difference is between here and the U.S., I usually tell them that in the U.S., if you feel something tickling your arm or leg or another body part it almost always ends up being a piece of hair but in Tanzania it’s ALWAYS a bug. Sometimes you don’t even feel it, you just look down and there’s a roach or a big old spider hanging out on your shirt or skirt. They provide Nulty with hours of entertainment (she loves to chase them, especially the flying ones) but I am in a state of constant fear and unease, never knowing when I will find one nestled in the bun in my hair or under my bed sheets. The worst part is getting up in the middle of the night to use the choo and finding a bug in there. Let’s be clear, there are always bugs in the room that holds the choo (there is a family of spiders hanging out in there now) but I’m talking about in the choo itself. Currently, there are little black fly type things that fly up as soon as you start doing your business, which always makes me worry that I’m going to get bitten in a particularly vulnerable location. One night, I had to pee pretty badly so I went out to the choo and found a giant, green praying mantis hanging out in there. I tried to shush it away but it didn’t want to move and time was of the essence so I now have a story about the time I peed on a praying mantis to share at future social events. If that doesn’t start the invitations rolling in, I don’t know what will.

This dude was hanging out waiting for me when I got home one day.  I found out after I killed it that it was a completely harmless stick bug.  I felt bad but I wasn't going to take the chance that something that large might bite and/or poison me.

This dude was hanging out waiting for me when I got home one day. I found out after I killed it that it was a completely harmless stick bug. I felt bad but I wasn’t going to take the chance that something that large might bite and/or poison me.

Booze
As a teacher, I try to set a good example for my students so I don’t drink in public in my village. I always keep some emergency vodka on hand (just in case I have to operate on someone and don’t have anything to sterilize the scalpel; or when I have to settle my nerves while grading student tests) and I regularly smuggle a bottle of wine back from town and have a glass inside my house after all of the sticker seeking children have gone home for the night. At one point, a new duka opened up in the village and started selling some higher end items (they have since realized the error of that thinking and now sell the same selection of bar soap and biskuti that every other duka stocks) and actually sold wine. As a teacher and as a woman (woman who drinks alcohol in the village= prostitute, another example of the patriarchal bullshit I deal with here), I don’t feel comfortable being seen buying alcohol in the village so I used Andrew, who was still living in Mbawi at the time, as my front. Andrew, bless his heart, does not have to worry about writing his Academy Award acceptance speech just yet because the transaction usually went like this:

Shopkeeper: Habari Mwile? Habari Auntie? (I’m not a mama, which is the generic greeting used for most women so I’m “auntie”) What can I do for you?

Andrew: Uhhhh… I want wine, right? Do I want wine, Siobhan?

Me: Yes, Andrew, you said you wanted to buy a bottle of wine.

Shopkeeper: What kind? The white? The red?

Andrew: Uhhhh… I don’t know. What kind of wine do I want, Siobhan?

Me: You want the red wine. The stuff from South Africa.

Andrew: Yeah, give me that one.

Shopkeeper: The price is 15,000 shillings.

Andrew: Can I borrow some money, Siobhan?

Me: I already loaned you 20,000 shillings, remember? It’s in your pocket.

Andrew: Oh, right. Here you go. (Gives the money to the shopkeeper, takes the wine.) Hey, Siobhan, can you hold this in your bag for me?

Me: Seriously? You can’t wait until we’re outside?

Needless to say, I’m pretty sure the shopkeeper saw through our little ruse because when I would go into the duka without Andrew, he’d always say, “Do you want to buy some wine today?” And I would have to fake being totally offended and say, “Of course not! I don’t drink alcohol!” And they would respond with the Kiswahili equivalent of “Riiiiiiiight….”

Last month, I finally got my act together and whipped up a batch of bucket wine, which is something of a Peace Corps tradition. It involves fruit, sugar, yeast, water and (duh) a couple of large buckets. I made some pineapple wine, which is pretty easy but I still managed to mess it up because I tossed in the yeast before I read the part where it said you had to activate bread yeast before you add it. So I just activated it and added more, which may or may not turn it into pineapple moonshine. After 3 weeks of fermenting, you have to scoop out all of the fruit and gunk out and ladle the wine into a clean, yeast-free bucket. After that, it takes a minimum of 3 weeks to age. I’ve been aging mine for almost 4 weeks now and will do a taste test this weekend. Fingers crossed I get something that is actually drinkable….

This is the sludge that you have to remove after the fermenting process is complete.  (Most of it is chunks of pineapple.)

This is the sludge that you have to remove after the fermenting process is complete. (Most of it is chunks of pineapple.)

After the sludge was removed, I had to ladle the contents of the blue bucket into another bucket.  I used a kanga (the purple fabric) to strain out any left over bits of sludge.

After the sludge was removed, I had to ladle the contents of the blue bucket into another bucket. I used a kanga (the purple fabric) to strain out any left over bits of sludge.

An action shot of me ladling the wine into the new bucket.  You can see some of the bits of fruit, etc. that were strained out by the kanga.

An action shot of me ladling the wine into the new bucket. You can see some of the bits of fruit, etc. that were strained out by the kanga.

And here is all of the strained wine, ready to start the aging process.  It's actually more than it looks like- I ended up filling a 10 liter bucket more than half way.  (That's me you see in the reflection, taking the picture.)

And here is all of the strained wine, ready to start the aging process. It’s actually more than it looks like- I ended up filling a 10 liter bucket more than half way. (That’s me you see in the reflection, taking the picture.)

Pet Supplies
As you can probably imagine, the pet care industry here is not quite as big as it is in the U.S., so there’s not a PetCo in every village. Most Tanzanians tell me I shouldn’t feed Nulty because that will keep her hungry so she continues to chase panya (mice/rats). They do have a point- these days, if a mouse does get in the house, Nulty will just torture it for a while, keeping it alive so she can play with it for as long as possible. When she does finally kill it, she chews on it a bit, and then leaves the carcass on the floor next to my bed so I’ll be able to see it (or step on it) first thing in the morning. Thanks, Nulty!

Last year, Nulty started refusing to eat the dagaa (tiny, dried fish) that I fed her so I switched her to actual cat food. The problem is that it is very difficult to find cat food in Mbeya. There is one store in town that will occasionally sell dry food, but they don’t have a steady supply of it so they’ll have it one month and then it’s gone for the next six months. So, whenever I travel to Dar, I make a trip to one of the large grocery stores there and stock up. Normally when I fly, I bring one bag of clothing and bring another bag to fill up with cat food and bring back. I am aware how ridiculous this is but I have spoiled Nulty way too much so there’s no going back now. And I also have to thank all of you who have sent food and treats and toys for her- she loves everything and whenever I return home from town with a care package, she always sticks her nose in to check for her gifts.

The other big challenge is litter. There is no litter available in Mbeya, ever. You can buy this silica-based litter in Dar that is supposed to last for one month but I tried it once and Nulty went through a bag in about a week and a half, which made it too expensive and impossible to keep an adequate supply on hand. There is not enough newspaper available in the village to try to make my own, I don’t have access to grass clippings and sawdust is bad for cats so I have to use dirt. Nulty is happy to use the dirt, but dirt doesn’t have any of the odor-absorbing qualities that regular litter does so it doesn’t exactly smell great. Also, Nulty is quite prolific in her litter box use and if I don’t clean it out fast enough for her, she’ll just go ahead and poop on the floor. Which really helps with the odor problem, let me tell you. The other big problem is finding enough dry dirt to use during the long rainy season. Fortunately, my school had a bunch of sand they were using for a construction project (more on that later) that they store under a shelter to keep it out of the rain, so I’ve been able to “borrow” some from their stash. This still involves me filling up a small bucket full of dirt every week or so and carrying it from the school to my house. It’s only a 5 liter bucket, but 5 liters of dirt is HEAVY, let me tell you. I’m just waiting for my students to do something really bad so I can punish them by making them carry dirt for me.

With a face like this, how can I resist flying suitcases full of cat food back to her?

With a face like this, how can I resist flying suitcases full of cat food back to her?

Garbage
It’s not as if garbage is fun in the U.S., but at least there you can bag it, drop it in a can or a dumpster and pretty much forget about it. But here, I have a much more intimate relationship with my garbage. I keep one small plastic bag in the kitchen where I dump everything and then take it out to the pit once a week. But if I leave food scraps in there it is not unusual to come home to an army of ants invading the bag. Now, there are ants in the U.S. but the ants here are more what you would expect to see on an episode of Hoarders (RIP). There are never just one or two ants– if you see one ant, there is usually a line of thousands trailing behind it. I have seen an unbroken line of ants, four or five deep, starting from the bottom of my back door, going up the door, across the hall wall and three-quarters of the way around the kitchen, terminating in my garbage bag. And just a couple of weeks ago, I discovered that they had built some sort of colony type structure in my kitchen, behind the bookcase. I only found it because I dropped a pot lid there. Even the largest mass of them can usually be eliminated with a few liberal sprays from a can of HIT!, a product which is only slightly less potent than DDT and I seriously doubt would pass muster with the EPA.

Every week, when I take my trash out to the garbage pit I have to burn it immediately, or the locals (I’m assuming they are kids, but I’m not sure) will go through it and fling it all over the back of my house and over a half mile perimeter area. This includes the bags of used dirt from Nulty’s litter box, which is just gross all the way around. When I first got here, I would just throw my trash in the pit and I thought I could burn it all at a later date. I realized my mistake when I came back from town one day and found my personal, embarrassing garbage strewn all over the path in front of the mkuu’s house. Living in a village is not all that different from being a celebrity – everyone knows you, they shout your name (or, in my case, “Mzungu!”) at you wherever you go and they go through your trash. Plus, we kind of have a backwards paparazzi system here – most villagers don’t have cameras so if they see you with a camera, they start yelling, “Piga picha! Piga picha!” (“Take a picture! Take a picture!”) and will not leave you alone until you comply. I’ve never actually printed any of these pictures for anyone, but they just like to look at them on my camera. I may print some pictures in town give them to people as parting gifts towards the end of my service here but that’s just one item on my long list of things to do in the next 7-8 months.

I was taking pictures outside my courtyard one day when these ladies wandered by and "Piga Picha!"-ed me.  The baby was a cutie pie!

I was taking pictures outside my courtyard one day when these ladies wandered by and “Piga Picha!”-ed me. The baby was a cutie pie!

In other news, I am giving you all a heads up that at some point in the next couple of months, I will be hitting you up for cash. I just completed a grant application that will allow me to raise funds from friends and family in order to help the school complete construction on an assembly hall. The school doesn’t have an indoor space large enough to hold all of the students, so often they are not able to hold morning and afternoon assemblies during the rainy season. In addition, they need a space where an entire Form of students can take the regional and national examinations at the same time. The school started building the hall last year with funds raised from selling lumber from all of the trees they chopped down, but they ran out of money before it was completed. I want to raise approximately $2300 to pay for construction materials (concrete, plaster) and the school will pay for labor and other incidental materials (sand to mix with the concrete, stones to level the floor) so they can finish construction before the NECTA tests start in October. I will be posting more information and sending out a mass email if/when my grant application is approved with all of the details.

The assembly hall in its current state of mid-construction.  They still have to finish the exterior walls, finish/plaster the interior walls and level the floor and pour the cement for the floor.

The assembly hall in its current state of mid-construction. They still have to finish the exterior walls, finish/plaster the interior walls and level the floor and pour the cement for the floor.

As usual, I will close with some more Nulty photos in a shameless ploy to drive up page hits:

Nulty keeps a watch on the outside world by peering through the sizable gap under my front door.  Sometimes I'll come home and see her arm/paw sticking out from under there, trying to grab at something in the outside world.  I think she really believes she'll be able to grab one of my neighbor's chickens that way.

Nulty keeps a watch on the outside world by peering through the sizable gap under my front door. Sometimes I’ll come home and see her arm/paw sticking out from under there, trying to grab at something in the outside world. I think she really believes she’ll be able to grab one of my neighbor’s chickens that way.

Nulty models her new kitty holster/harness.  We've already taken a few walks near my house with great success.  I took her near the school once but my timing was off because all of the students were leaving for the day and Nulty was freaked out by the crowd.  The students (and teachers) thought it was the most hilarious thing they had ever seen.  They will be talking about the crazy mzungu who thought a cat was her baby for years after I return to America.

Nulty models her new kitty holster/harness. We’ve already taken a few walks near my house with great success. I took her near the school once but my timing was off because all of the students were leaving for the day and Nulty was freaked out by the crowd. The students (and teachers) thought it was the most hilarious thing they had ever seen. They will be talking about the crazy mzungu who thought a cat was her baby for years after I return to America.

Nulty snoozes in the courtyard, wearing her fabulous new kitty harness.  I think she actually likes wearing it.  I should knit her a sweater to wear because it's going to get super cold here in about 3 months.

Nulty snoozes in the courtyard, wearing her fabulous new kitty harness. I think she actually likes wearing it. I should knit her a sweater to wear because it’s going to get super cold here in about 3 months.

I hope everyone is happy and healthy and staying warm and dry, with the exception of the Californians who desperately need rain now. Have a great month!

A Chicken In Every Pot And A Passing NECTA Score For Every Student

(I have been battling a cold for the past few days so I’m not sure how long this will be, but I’m determined to stick to my one post a month schedule so I’m going to give it my best shot….)

It’s hard to believe that I celebrated my second New Year’s Eve here in Tanzania. I have been in country for 20 months now, which means I will be finishing up my service and returning home later this year. Officially, our COS (Close of Service) date is some time in August, but I am teaching Form II English this year so I am going to try to stay until my students have to take their NECTA exams in October. Nothing will be official until later this Spring (probably May) but I am the only Form II English teacher at my school and I’d only be extending for two months so I don’t think there will be a problem with my staying until then.

Speaking of the NECTA exam, our school got our Form II results last week and over 200 students passed. It sounds like this would be good news but, unfortunately, it’s more a reflection of the fact that they lowered the passing score to a 20 and, on top of that, I think they were very liberal in their marking. (There are some contingencies – students who score a 20-29 have to take remedial classes but the students in my school are already taking remedial classes, so I don’t really think they’re going to be taking additional remedial classes on top of those – there are only so many hours in the day.) Students have to take a regional exam every year before they take the NECTA and at my school the results of the regional exam and the NECTA are usually very similar. But last year, only 25 Form II students passed the regional exam, which is quite a disparity with the 200 who passed the NECTA. Also, the students who took the NECTA for the second time and still did not pass will move up to Form III, regardless. The teachers at my school are not happy with this as, once again, they will be held responsible for teaching students that are not qualified to be at the level they are. This is especially strange because the past couple of years, the Ministry of Education has been making an effort to not move up students who can’t pass their NECTA exams. I could not figure out what was going on until one of my fellow teachers pointed out that it is an election year here in Tanzania and parents who are forced to pay school fees for their children, only to see them fail their exams repeatedly, would probably not feel inclined to re-elect the people that are currently in power. Obviously, I can’t know this is true for sure but I’ve been here long enough to suspect that it probably is. But the elections will be over by the time my Form II students have to take the exam, so they’re going to need all the help they can get until then.

Other than that frustration, the school year is going pretty well so far. I’m teaching the same students that I taught last year so they already know what to expect from me and vice versa. They have not divided up the streams by ability level yet (there is still the possibility that it may happen, but I’m not counting on it) but at least they are divided into 4 separate streams (rather than the 3 they were in last year) so the class sizes are much more manageable, which is something. I have less time to teach this year (because the school year really ends in early October, rather than late November) but I have fewer topics to cover so I think it is manageable.

My Kiswahili has definitely improved in the past 6 months or so. Part of this is because I’ve been trying to study on my own and part of it is because my students are helping me. The Peace Corps discourages us from using Kiswahili in the classroom, but most of my students’ English is below where it should be so I use Kiswahili frequently to make sure my students understand what I’m asking them to do, etc. Also, when I’m teaching English vocabulary words, it’s much easier for the students to understand if I give them the Kiswahili translation rather than trying to cobble together a definition from the simple English words they know. Usually, when I look for translations in the dictionary there are several words listed, but my students will let me know which of those is used most often or which ones mean something completely different. I still have difficulties with pronunciation, but they help me with those too. I remember when I first got to Tanzania and was staying with my host family, I was trying to tell my host brother that there were lots of mosquitoes in my room that were biting me but I couldn’t figure out why he was reacting so strangely. When I asked my LCF (my language teacher during Pre-Service Training) about it, he thought it was hilarious and explained to me that the Kiswahili word for mosquito is “mbu” and the word for penis is “mboo”, but they sound pretty similar (especially when spoken by someone who is just learning the language). So basically, I had been telling my 15-year-old host brother that there were a lot of penises in my bedroom last night. Whoops. Now, I just say “mdudu” (insect) to avoid any future embarrassment, especially with my students.

Before school started in early January, I was able to enjoy an entire month off from teaching. I spent Christmas close to home, in a guestie that served grilled cheese that tasted exactly like American grilled cheese sandwiches. It was a real Christmas miracle! I think I ate four of them while I was there. In addition, I hung out with my fellow PCVs, Tracy and Kristine, and we got into the Christmas season by buying furry animal hats:

Me, Kristine and Tracy modeling our "wolf in sheep's clothing" hats that we bought in Mwanjelwa. (Where else?)

Me, Kristine and Tracy modeling our “wolf in sheep’s clothing” hats that we bought in Mwanjelwa. (Where else?)

In addition to the safari I blogged about earlier, I also went to Zanzibar for New Year’s Eve, which was incredible. There were a bunch of other PCVs there, so it was great to catch up with people from my class that I hadn’t seen in a while. And the beaches there are amazing:

This is a shot of the beach in front of the hotel where I stayed in Nungwi, on the North shore of Zanzibar.  It was gorgeous.

This is a shot of the beach in front of the hotel where I stayed in Nungwi, on the North shore of Zanzibar. It was gorgeous.

The water was so blue, it looked like a picture on a postcard.

The water was so blue, it looked like a picture on a postcard.

Unfortunately, Nulty’s stint with her new babysitters didn’t go too well as she was terribly behaved at Heather and Jason’s. She pooped on their floor repeatedly and then kept them up until all hours of the night howling at the top of her lungs. They graciously offered to keep her for the whole month, but I brought her back to Ilembo after I returned from safari and she stayed there alone (with lots of food, water and 3 litter boxes) while I was in Zanzibar. I think the trauma of the trip into town (and almost getting lost forever) might have stressed her out. She mellowed out a bit once she was back at my site, but didn’t really get back to normal until I was back in Ilembo and teaching every day again.

She had been escaping from the courtyard like crazy and after her second overnight escapade in one week, I figured out I could nail tarps to the inside of the courtyard wall, which would prevent her from being able to pull herself up the wall. It only took a year and a half for me to outsmart the cat.

Nulty is not pleased with the new tarps.  I'm sure she'll eventually figure out a way to climb the wall, but for now victory is mine!

Nulty is not pleased with the new tarps. I’m sure she’ll eventually figure out a way to climb the wall, but for now victory is mine!

And if the tarps don’t work, I also ordered her a little kitty harness from the U.S. This way I can keep her on a leash so she doesn’t escape when the doors are open. I can also take her on walks, which I’m sure the people of Ilembo will find hilarious. But she’s still getting used to the harness (when she has it on, she walks super close to the ground and moves very slowly), so the walks will have to wait a little while.

Nulty munches on some grass while modeling her new harness.  It's a little big - I think I'm going to have to take it in a little for her.

Nulty munches on some grass while modeling her new harness. It’s a little big – I think I’m going to have to take it in a little for her.

And I leave you with a glamour shot:

Nulty is the prettiest (and most delicious) cat in all of Ilembo!

Nulty is the prettiest (and most delicious) cat in all of Ilembo!

Happy 2014 everybody! I’ll see you all THIS YEAR!! (Woo hoo!)