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.
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.
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.
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:
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…)