Then We Came to the End

“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.” – Frank Herbert

“I went ahead and ordered some for the table.” – Tony Soprano

“I have had it with this mother****ing cat on this mother****ing plane!”
-
Various passengers, KLM flight #567 / Dar Es Salaam to Amsterdam / Oct. 16, 2014

Well, I can’t blame technical challenges for the delay in posting this. I’ve been back in the U.S. for over 4 months now and I have been putting off posting my final entry to this blog for too long. I think I resisted because wrapping up the blog means that my Peace Corps experience is really over. As much as I am happy to be back in the U.S., enjoying all the luxuries of life in a First World country, there is a part of me that doesn’t want to acknowledge that my time in Ilembo has come to an end. As my fellow RPCV and friend, Alice, pointed out the hardest part of being back is how far away Tanzania feels. There are times, especially now that I’m back in my old apartment in Los Angeles, when it feels like I never left here and the past two and a half years were just a very vivid dream.   There are moments where I feel like I’ve abandoned my students and worry that they’ll think that I have forgotten about them. Now that I’m trying to keep in touch with Tanzania myself, I’m realizing how hard it was for family and friends in the U.S. to keep in contact with me while I was there. But, despite all these uncertainties and misgivings, it wouldn’t feel right to end this experience without writing about the end of my time in Ilembo and the process of leaving Tanzania. So here we go…

When I posted in September, I still had no idea when the Form II national examinations were going to happen. The Ministry of Education had originally scheduled them for October and then finally announced at the end of September that they had been postponed until November. I can’t really complain about my students having more time to prepare for a test that has an enormous impact on their future but I really wish that the change in date had been announced earlier. I extended my service an extra month past our class’s last regular COS date because I wanted to teach my students right up until the test. Had I known it would be in November, I would have liked to stay until then. Or at least I like to think that I would have. I was quite burned out by village life towards the end so who knows if I would have actually made it to November even if I had known? I had planned my lessons to cover everything the students needed to know for the NECTA (or I thought they needed to know, based on previous years’ tests and the syllabus) and to finish all of the topics by the beginning of October anyway so I just stayed with my original plan. I managed to get everything they needed to know in, but I wish I had more time to spend on some of the topics.

I was hoping my replacement, Gabe, would be able to teach my English classes after I left and up until the test but the school desperately needed more science teachers so they wanted him to start teaching Biology right away. They hired a Tanzanian teacher to replace me and he seemed pretty competent. I gave him a list of all the topics I’d covered with the students over the past 2 years and told him all he needed to do for the next 6 weeks was review old NECTA questions with the students. He also suggested that he could read another English language book with them, which I thought was a great idea. (I only had time to read one title with them and the syllabus dictates they cover several of them, even though they really only need to write about one of them on the NECTA.) So, even though I was reluctant to hand off the teaching baton for these students I had taught for most of my service, I felt I was leaving them in capable hands. My replacement was out sick the first week he started teaching. Oh, Tanzania.

Speaking of Gabe, he moved in with me in early September. It was kind of fun having a roommate for a while. Nulty only peed on his stuff a couple of times, so I considered that a big success. I don’t know how fun it was for Gabe because I made him act as my official photographer for my last few weeks at site, talked him into helping me try to wrangle my neighbor’s baby goat so I could get a picture holding it (we tried for over an hour and only succeeded in freaking the poor goats out) and then basically wandered around in an agitated state the entire last month muttering, “I can get everything done before I leave. I know I can. I have a list!  I have a LIST!!” I got progressively more hysterical as the days wore on.   I’m sure he heaved a sigh of relief when Nulty and I finally left and who can really blame him?

My neighbor's baby goat (who is growing fast) managed to evade Gabe and my capture attempts for over an hour.  You win this round, baby goat.

My neighbor’s baby goat (who is growing fast) managed to evade Gabe and my capture attempts for over an hour. You win this round, baby goat.

Mama watched anxiously as we tried to catch the baby.  I tried to assure her by saying (in Swahili) "I only want a picture!"  She wasn't buying it.

Mama watched anxiously as we tried to catch the baby. I tried to assure her by saying (in Kiswahili) “I only want a picture!” She wasn’t buying it.

Auntie was not impressed by any of it.

Auntie was not impressed by any of it.

Gabe was kind enough to get photographic evidence of me teaching.  (And he took about 2/3rds of the photos in the post.  Thanks, Gabe!)

Gabe was kind enough to get photographic evidence of me teaching. (And he took about 2/3rds of the photos in the post. Thanks, Gabe!)

Here I am, writing on the board.  You can tell this is early in the period because I'm not yet covered in chalk dust from head to toe.

Here I am, writing on the board. You can tell this is early in the period because I’m not yet covered in chalk dust from head to toe.

As my days remaining at site counted down, I became more and more frantic about completing my cataloging project in the school library. My goal was to create as simple a catalog of books as possible, giving each book a unique ID number and entering them into an Excel spreadsheet.   This makes it easier to keep track of which copy of a book was borrowed by which student, as well as give the school an idea of what titles that already had enough of and which ones they needed to order more of when buying books each year. This was an ongoing project throughout my service but I tended to work on it in fits and starts. Once I started pulling each book from the shelf to enter it, I started to realize the school had lots of books that were out of date (editions created for old versions of the national syllabus, outdated science manuals, etc.) and started to weed out the books that were no longer used by students in order to make more space on shelves for the books the kids wanted and needed to use. There were probably about 5,000 books in the library when I started and I ended up entering about 4,100 of them into the spreadsheet. This was repetitive, mind-numbing work and I had to pull an all-nighter in the library just to get it all done. (There is electricity but no lights in the library, so I required the aid of Gabe’s solar lanterns, my headlamp and a couple of candles.) You would think I would have learned my lesson about procrastinating from this experience but the lateness of this post is proof that I haven’t.

It took me about a week to get this stack of newly purchased books into the "catalog".  A drop in the proverbial bucket.

It took me about a week to get this stack of newly purchased books into the “catalog”. A drop in the proverbial bucket.

Thank you to my friends, Harold & Beth Nelson, for their generous donation of books for the school library.  One of the books they contributed was a butchering manual, which I think should be required reading for any Tanzanian with chickens, goats, cows, etc.  I'm a vegetarian but even I know indiscriminately hacking up a chicken into large chunks of meat full of splintered bones is not the most efficient method.

Thank you to my friends, Harold & Beth Nelson, for their generous donation of books for the school library. One of the books they contributed was a butchering manual, which I think should be required reading for any Tanzanian with chickens, goats, cows, etc. I’m a vegetarian but even I know indiscriminately hacking up a chicken into large chunks of meat full of splintered bones is not the most efficient method.

As it got closer and closer to my COS date, I grew more and more paranoid that Nulty was going to escape and not come back and I’d have to leave without her. I felt like it had taken all of my energy just to keep this cat alive for the past two years and I could vividly imagine some terrible fate befalling her right before it was time to leave for us to get on the plane for America. So starting in September, I put Nulty on what I called “24-Hour Vest Lockdown”. Her harness/vest seriously inhibits her running and jumping abilities so I figured it would be harder for her to escape if she was wearing it. All the time. She didn’t actually have it on 24 hours a day but it was on her from the moment I got up in the morning to the moment I went to sleep at night. And all of her courtyard time was done under my strict supervision. I became obsessed once again with the idea that a giant bird could swoop down in the courtyard and carry her away. It was nerve wracking trying to keep her safe. Meanwhile, Nulty was oblivious to all the potential hazards that lurked and was clearly annoyed by all my attempts to keep her alive.

Nulty longingly gazes out at the world she used to roam free in.

Nulty longingly gazes out at the world she used to roam free in.

Nulty is allowed some rec time in the yard, under the watchful eye of the guard.

Nulty is allowed some rec time in the yard, under the watchful eye of the guard.

When a teacher leaves the school, it is traditional to have a farewell ceremony during the day (which the whole school attends) and a party in the evening (which is for teachers, school staff and invited guests).  I have been to several of these ceremonies during my time here so I knew what to expect: scouts escort the guest of honor and staff into the ceremony, various groups of students perform dances, songs & skits, gifts are presented and speeches are given.  My ceremony was held in the newly completed assembly hall. (Thank you all for your contributions!)  It was both fun and a bit strange to be the guest of honor at one of these.  Tanzanians are big on giving gifts so I wanted to be sure I gave the staff something they would appreciate and actually use.  Generally, most of the manufactured stuff you can buy in Tanzania is very cheaply made and breaks after a brief period of use.  When I went home last year, I’d brought back some office supplies with me because it was such a hassle trying to use the ones the school had to staple tests, etc.  The Tanzanian teachers were always asking to borrow mine so I asked my parents to send a variety of items from the U.S. that I could give to the school.  (Thanks Mom & Dad!)  I packed it all up in a basket and presented it to them during a chai break in my final week there.  Tanzanians don’t just open a gift, poke around in it a bit and say thank you.  Instead, each item is pulled out, displayed to everyone and a short description is provided.  They didn’t just do this once, they did it several times: during chai, during the ceremony, during the party and I feel like they showed it off a couple other times.  It was hilarious after a while, but also really satisfying to give something that you feel is genuinely appreciated.

Here I am with my mkuu and some of the other teachers, waiting to enter the assembly hall for my farewell cermony.  The two students in front are carrying the gift I gave to the staff.

Here I am with my mkuu and some of the other teachers, waiting to enter the assembly hall for my farewell ceremony. The two students in front are carrying the gift I gave to the staff.

The scouts (sort of a cross between a drill team and step team) prepare to escort us into the assembly hall.  The two scouts facing the camera are my Form II students.

The scouts (sort of a cross between a drill team and step team) prepare to escort us into the assembly hall. The scouts facing the camera are two of my Form II students.

The whole school attended the ceremony.  The assembly hall was big enough to hold everyone and there was still room on the floor for the students to perform.

The whole school attended the ceremony. The assembly hall was big enough to hold everyone and there was still room on the floor for the students to perform.

The Form II students doing their group dance.  It's hard to get a non blurry picture of them because they were always in motion.

The Form II students doing their group dance. It’s hard to get a non-blurry picture of them because they were always in motion.

Some of the Form II students enter the hall for their gift presentation.  The all chipped in to buy me a beautiful necklace and an outfit. The actual items did not arrive in time for the ceremony so they presented me with a box at the ceremony and then presented the actual gifts  later that evening at the party.

Some of the Form II students enter the hall for their gift presentation. The all chipped in to buy me a beautiful necklace and an outfit. The actual items did not arrive in time for the ceremony so they presented me with a box at the ceremony and then gave me the actual gifts later that evening at the party.

The mkuu and a few of the teachers spoke during the ceremony.  This is my counterpart, Mr. Komba, saying a few words.

The mkuu and a few of the teachers spoke during the ceremony. This is my counterpart, Mr. Komba, saying a few words.

And then I had to give a short speech in my much improved ) but still not advanced) Kiswahili. I thanked them for their kindness, patience and understanding over the past two years and told them that Nulty and I both appreciated their hospitality.  They thought that was hilarious.  Mzungu talking about their cat as if it's a child = comedy gold.

And then I had to give a short speech in my much improved (but still not advanced) Kiswahili. I thanked them for their kindness, patience and understanding over the past two years and told them that Nulty and I both appreciated their hospitality. They thought that was hilarious. Mzungu talking about their cat as if it’s a child = comedy gold.

Later that evening, Gabe and I went back to the school for my farewell party. Most of the teachers and staff were there, along with some invited guests from the village and surrounding area. There were a few people there that were involved in local government,  some teachers from nearby schools and some of the villagers who had helped me out in various ways. The party is held in the teacher’s lounge, which is much smaller than the assembly hall, but they still go all out with the AV system. After a fancy dinner (all formal meals in Tanzania seem to involve pilau rice, which I’m actually not a fan of – Tanzanians think I’m nuts for preferring plain old white rice), there were more speeches and gifts (some Form II students came to present me with my gifts) and then lots of dancing and posing for photographs. It was a late evening, but lots of fun and a nice way to say goodbye to everyone at the school.

As the guest of honor, I got to sit at the head table with (from right) a local official, my mkuu and Patrick, the diwani (like a council person) for Ilembo.

As the guest of honor, I got to sit at the head table with (from right) a local official, my mkuu and Patrick, the diwani (like a council person) for Ilembo.

During the party they pass the mic around and everyone introduces themselves and greets the guest of honor.  I think I'm giving someone a "Ilembo Ho Yay!" which is call and response thing they do.  (And yes I know how Ho Yay is used in the U.S. and yes, it is ironic and hilarious.)

During the party they pass the mic around and everyone introduces themselves and greets the guest of honor. I think I’m giving someone a “Ilembo Ho Yay!” which is call and response thing they do. (And yes I know how Ho Yay is used in the U.S. and yes, it is ironic and hilarious.)

Form II students presenting me with one of their gifts, a beautiful beaded necklace.

Form II students presenting me with one of their gifts, a beautiful beaded necklace.

Vaselisa, one of my Form IID students, dresses me in the traditional outfit the students gave me.

Vaselisa, one of my Form IID students, dresses me in the traditional outfit the students gave me.

Work supermodel! I show off the blouse the students gave me for the party guests.

Work supermodel! I show off the blouse the students gave me for the party guests.

The teachers and staff also gave me gifts: the beautiful kitenge that I'm wrapped in here (they know about my addiction issues) and some gorgeous beaded sandals that I wear all the time in the U.S.

The teachers and staff also gave me gifts: the beautiful kitenge that I’m wrapped in here (they know about my addiction issues) and some gorgeous beaded sandals that I wear all the time in the U.S.

After the gifts and the food and the speeches are through, it's time to dance.  Dancing with my fellow teachers is always fun.  Everyone is completely enthusiastic, non-judgmental and no one takes themselves too seriously.

After the gifts and the food and the speeches are through, it was time to dance! Dancing with my fellow teachers is always fun. Everyone is completely enthusiastic, non-judgmental and no one takes themselves too seriously.

And there was plenty of posing for photos during the party.  I wish I could post all my pictures here but at some point I’ll get my act together and upload them all to Flickr.

From left: Gabe, me (in a dress my fundi Rita made me), my mkuu, Mr. Babuleghe and Madame Ombene, one of the teachers and one of the best dressed ladies in Ilembo.

From left: Gabe, me (in a dress my fundi Rita made me), my mkuu (Mr. Babuleghe) and Madame Ombene, a teacher and one of the best dressed ladies in Ilembo.

Me and Madame Ombene.  She was super kind and generous to me during my time in Ilembo.  A really cool, fun lady.

Me with Madame Ombene. She was super kind and generous to me during my time in Ilembo. A really cool, fun lady.

Here I am with one of my neighbors, Mr. Shilabi (on the left) and another teacher who was always super nice and funny and whose name I can't remember for the life of me. I suck.

Here I am with one of my neighbors, Mr. Shilabi (on the left) and another teacher who was always super nice and funny and whose name I can’t remember for the life of me. I suck.

Me with Mr. Mwongoka, my library counterpart.  A nice guy and a total sharabara (sharp dresser).

Me with Mr. Mwongoka, my library counterpart. A nice guy and a total sharabara (sharp dresser).

Here I am with my counterpart, Mr. Komba.  It is apparently next to impossible to get a picture of us where we both have our eyes open.

Here I am with my counterpart, Mr. Komba. It is apparently next to impossible to get a picture of us where we both have our eyes open.

Madame Chaula and I.  She was kind to me from the very first day when I came to the school on my site visit.  She is a sweet and beautiful lady.

Madame Chaula and I. She was kind to me from the very first day when I came to the school on my site visit. She is a sweet and beautiful lady.

Everyone wants a picture with the mzungu!  Here I am posing for a photo with the DJ and his keyboard.  I love this picture more than I can possibly express.

Everyone wants a picture with the mzungu! Here I am posing for a photo with the DJ and his keyboard. I love this picture more than I can possibly express.

Unfortunately, I didn't get to take a picture with Madame Paul at the party.  She was a fellow English teacher at the school and a smart, tough lady.  Whenever the students would try to play the "but you're a rich mzungu" card with me, I'd ask them, "Would you ask Madame Paul to do that?" Their response would always be something to the effect of "Hell, no.  She wouldn't put up with this crap."   She also had an artistic side and was always on the decorating committee for every school event. She could drape plain sheets into elaborate patterns that turned the teacher's lounge into a space fit for any festive event.   Sadly, one of the teachers messaged me on Facebook and informed me that she passed away this week.  She was so young and had a child, it is incredibly sad.   Rest in peace, Madame Paul.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to take a picture with Madame Paul at the party. She was a fellow English teacher at the school and a smart, tough lady. Whenever the students would try to play the “but you’re a rich mzungu” card with me, I’d ask them, “Would you ask Madame Paul to do that?” Their response would always be something to the effect of “Hell, no. She wouldn’t put up with this crap.”
She also had an artistic side and was always on the decorating committee for every school event. She could drape plain sheets into elaborate patterns that turned the teacher’s lounge into a space fit for any festive event.
Sadly, one of the teachers messaged me on Facebook and informed me that she passed away this week. She was so young and had a child, it is incredibly sad.
Rest in peace, Madame Paul.

The hardest part of leaving was saying goodbye to my students. I was surprised how choked up I got when I taught my Form IIA kids for the last time. Teaching was incredibly difficult, frustrating, maddening, heartbreaking and, at times, rage inducing. I can’t say I handled myself with dignity and grace the whole time but I really, really loved teaching these kids and I tried to do the best I could for them given the circumstances. There are so many students with so much potential and the education system in Tanzania flat out fails them on an epic scale.  I started out in Tanzania trying to put a positive spin on the situation but by the end of my service when people asked me how I thought the system could be improved I usually said, “First, you’re going to have to burn down the Ministry of Education…” (Now seems a good time to reiterate that the views expressed here are not those of the U.S. Peace Corps. And I am kidding. Sort of.) I am going to miss all my students but I told them that I was going to do my best to try to return to Ilembo in October/November 2016 for their Form IV graduation.  Gabe took tons of photos of me with the students but, again, there are too many to post here.  Here are some highlights:

Form IIA Group Photo

Form IIA group photo

Form IIB group photo

Form IIB group photo

Form IIC group photo

Form IIC group photo

Form II D group photo

Form II D group photo

Here I am with some of the Form IIA boys.  Although the streams were not grouped by skill level, the IIA students were probably the highest scoring stream.  They also were pretty well behaved which was pretty amazing for a bunch of teenagers who are regularly left alone in a room unsupervised for hours at a time.

Here I am with some of the Form IIA boys. Although the streams were not divided by skill level, the IIA students were probably the highest scoring as a group. They also were  well behaved, which was pretty amazing for a bunch of teenagers who are regularly left alone in a room unsupervised for hours at a time.

A couple of my highest achieving IIA girls.  The girl on the left surprised me by kissing me when Gabe took the photo.  So sweet!

A couple of my highest achieving IIA girls. The girl on the left surprised me by kissing me when Gabe took the photo. So sweet!

Christabel!  My star student!  I am so pulling for this girl.  She's super smart, hard working, has a supportive family and is incredibly well behaved and focused.  If she's presented with the right opportunities, she can achieve amazing things.   I tried not to play favorites with the students but she stood out from the beginning.  She asked me about astronomy once, so I gave her a book that I found in Dar with essays by Tanzanian scientists, talking about how they got to where they are now.  I wish every school had a copy of that book.  In Kiswahili.

Christabel! My star student! I am so pulling for this girl. She’s super smart, hard working, has a supportive family and is incredibly well behaved and focused. If she’s presented with the right opportunities, she can achieve amazing things.
I tried not to play favorites with the students but she stood out from the beginning. She asked me about astronomy once, so I gave her a book that I found in Dar with essays by Tanzanian scientists, talking about how they got to where they are now. I wish every school had a copy of that book. In Kiswahili.

Some of my Form IIB kids.  There were a lot of students in that stream who worked hard and were enthusiastic about learning but their grades didn't always reflect that, which is so frustrating.  I hate to think that there futures are dictated by scores on RIDICULOUS tests that are no reflection of their actual capabilities.  Said every teacher everywhere.

Some of my Form IIB kids. There were a lot of students in that stream who worked hard and were enthusiastic about learning but their grades didn’t always reflect that, which is so frustrating. I hate to think that their futures are entirely dictated by scores on RIDICULOUS tests that are no reflection of their actual capabilities. Said every teacher everywhere.

Some more of my IIB students.

Some more of my IIB students.

With 200+ students, it's hard to learn all their names, even after 2 years.  I would say I knew about 30% of the kids by names and faces, 65% by faces and there were 5% of the chronically truant types that I couldn't pick out from a crowd.  This girl was a sweetheart but I'm sorry to say she fell into the 65% group.

With 200+ students, it’s hard to learn all their names, even after 2 years. I would say I knew about 30% of the kids by names and faces, 65% by faces and there were 5% of the chronically truant types that I couldn’t pick out from a crowd. This girl was a sweetheart but I’m sorry to say she fell into the 65% group.

This group of boys were Form IIC & IID.  There might be a IIB in there somewhere too.  Sometimes the kids would switch classrooms on me but I generally could remember which face went with which room/stream.  There were a couple times I called a kid out for switching streams and was wrong.  Whoops. My bad.

This group of boys were Form IIC & IID. There might be a IIB in there somewhere too. Sometimes the kids would switch classrooms on me but I generally could remember which face went with which room/stream. There were a couple times I called a kid out for switching streams and was wrong. Whoops. My bad.

Oh Jackobu!  There's no student that drove me crazier than this guy but he was also smart, funny and incredibly entertaining.  I mock strangle him with great affection.

Oh Jackobu! There’s no student that drove me crazier than this guy but he was also smart, funny and incredibly entertaining. I mock strangle him with great affection.

Some of my Form IID girls.  Their stream was the biggest struggle for me- just keeping them awake was tough, never mind motivating them to learn.  There were some kids who I knew really wanted to learn but didn't always know where to even start.

Some of my Form IID girls. Their stream was the biggest struggle for me- just keeping them awake was tough, never mind motivating them to work. There were some kids who I knew really wanted to learn but they didn’t know where to even start.

Form IID boys.  The range of skill level just within this small group was staggering.  They were all good kids but some of them would probably benefited from another year in primary school.  With teachers that actually entered the classroom occasionally. (End rant)

Form IID boys. The range of skill level just within this small group was staggering. They were all good kids but some of them probably would have benefited from another year in primary school. With teachers that actually entered the classroom occasionally. (End rant)

Of course, Raphael was in Form IID also.  He competed with Christabel for the highest grade in Form II.  He was incredibly unassuming and modest about it.  Even when we were taking photos all the other kids were lining up but I had to call Raphael to come up because he was just hanging back.  I had to tell him that of course I wanted a photo with the boy with the highest grades.  He just blushed.  That kid!

Of course, Raphael was also in Form IID. He competed with Christabel for the highest grade in Form II but was incredibly unassuming and modest about it. Even when we were taking photos, all the other kids were lining up but I had to call Raphael to come up because he was just hanging back. I told him that of course I wanted a photo with the boy with the highest grades. He just blushed. That kid!

Vaselisa was the Head Girl in Form II and a born leader.  She totally blossomed from a boy crazy chatterbox to a serious student during the two years I taught her.

Vaselisa was the Head Girl in Form II and a born leader. She totally blossomed from a boy crazy chatterbox to a serious student during the two years I taught her.

I didn't even try to pretend that Samson wasn't one of my favorites.  He was just such a little gentleman, so serious and sweet.  All of the other IID students knew I had a soft spot for him.  When we were taking pictures they thought it was hilarious when I asked to take a photo with my mpenzi (boyfriend).  But they all knew who I was talking about.

I didn’t even try to pretend that Samson wasn’t one of my favorites. He was just such a little gentleman, so serious and sweet. All of the other IID students knew I had a soft spot for him. When we were taking pictures they thought it was hilarious when I asked to take a photo with my mpenzi (boyfriend). But they all knew who I was talking about.

One of my favorite parts of teaching was hearing the students sing during morning assembly.  I had been meaning to get video of them for the past year and finally got my act together and planned to do it on the last day.  Of course, I ended up getting distracted by something and didn’t arrive at school until after they had finished singing.  Mr. Babuleghe, the mkuu, saw I was disappointed and said, “Don’t worry.  I will just have them do it again!”  And they did, just for me.  My camera work isn’t great and they ended a little abruptly but they sound great, so enjoy!

After all the goodbyes, it was finally time to start preparing for departure.  As I mentioned in September, I had learned that Fastjet didn’t allow animals on their planes and I was reluctant to try to take a 15 hour bus ride with Nulty if I didn’t absolutely have to.  I was all set to disguise her as a baby and sneak her through airport security but I decided to get a second opinion.  As always, I turned to Mr. Komba for advice.  When I explained my dilemma, first he expressed the typical Tanzanian response which was, “They won’t let you travel with animals?  That is terrible.  What are you supposed to do with your chickens?”  Then he thought about it for a moment; he’s a pretty religious man so I wasn’t sure if he was going to telling me that lying is wrong in every situation.  Instead he said, “If they catch you with the cat dressed up like a baby, they will know you were trying to fool them.  If you just pretend you thought it was okay then they might let you do it.  Just tell them that you were told it was not against the rules.”  I’ve said it before, but I really hit the jackpot having Mr. Komba as my counterpart.  He is the absolute best.  With his advice in mind, I started concocting my story.  I figured the worst that could happen is they would turn me away at the airport and I’d still have a day to take the bus up to Dar and be there in time to start my COS process.  I had purchased my plane ticket on sale, so the worst case scenario was that I’d be out $35.  Of course, things never go as planned in Tanzania.

I was up late packing the night before I was scheduled to leave.  My plan was to get up early and take a minivan into Mbalizi in the morning.  The flight to Dar didn’t leave until 4pm so I would have plenty of time to get to the airport and I’d arrive in Dar in the evening.  My phone rang at 11pm, which was strange in itself.  It was an automated message telling me that my flight had be cancelled (no explanation at that point) and would leave the day after it was originally scheduled.  Had they informed me of this earlier, I might have had time to get to town to buy a bus ticket for the next day.  Instead, I was stuck because all of the buses leave Mbeya at 5:30am and there was no way I could get to town that early.  Call me paranoid and bitter but I’m pretty sure Fastjet was aware of this and intentionally announced the flight cancellation late so they wouldn’t have to refund everybody’s tickets.  I was already starting to freak out at that point because if they refused to let me on the flight, I would end up being at least a day late arriving in Dar and it would throw the whole COS process out of whack.

Instead, I finished packing, spent the next morning giving away the stuff Gabe didn’t want (mostly women’s clothing and shoes) to teachers and some of the Mary Ryan Foundation girls.  Gabe and I were able to get the house pretty well cleaned out of my stuff and organized for him, with the exception of my stash of wine bottles.  As I have mentioned before, women and alcohol do not mix in my village.  A woman who drinks is thought to be “easy” (this does not apply to the bibis in the pombe huts – bibis have put up with so much crap during their lives that they pretty much do whatever the hell they want in their old age) and, as a teacher, I didn’t want my students to see me drinking and lose respect for me.  So, I would buy a bottle of wine when I went into town and smuggle it back up to the village in my backpack.  At first, I used the empty bottles as candle holders and then any other utilitarian purpose I could think of (TP holder?) but after a few months, the bottles were starting to accumulate.  I couldn’t burn them, I didn’t want the little kids to see me dumping them in my giant choo tank (the noise alone would have alerted the villagers that the mzungu was up to something) and I didn’t want to carry a large, clanking bag into town withe me and arouse suspicion so I just let them accumulate.  I told Gabe he could dump them all after I left.  I’m sure the drunken mzungu lady was the talk of the village for a while.

Before you get judgmental, I would like to remind you that I was there for 26 months!  When you do the math, that's pretty much one bottle for every 10 days or so.  And it gets cold up on that mountain.

Before you get judgmental, I would like to remind you that I was there for 26 months! When you do the math, that’s pretty much one bottle for every 10 days or so. And it gets cold up on that mountain.

I tried to use my extra time in the village to get some more work done in the library but just ended up stressing myself and everyone else out, trying to cram a million last things in.   I wish my exit could have been a little more graceful but eventually Mr. Komba and my mkuu talked me down off the ledge and convinced me it was time to relinquish some control (Nooooooo!!)  I was afraid I wouldn’t get to see Rozy before I left because her mother had gone to town the previous week but my whole mood improved when she popped her little head into the library.  We walked back to my house together and I gave her some coloring books and crayons and some other things I’d put aside for her.  Some students came by to help me with my bags, my neighbor, Mwanaidi, stopped in to say goodbye and then, suddenly, it was time to go.

Rozy with all her loot.  It was hard to part with my sock monkey hat but I couldn't think of a better person to pass it on to.

Rozy with all her loot. It was hard to part with my sock monkey hat but I couldn’t think of a better person to pass it on to.

I don't know if she quite realized what was going on but I kept hugging her and trying not to cry.  I miss her little face so much!

I don’t know if she quite realized what was going on but I kept hugging her and trying not to cry. I miss her little face so much!

I came to be very fond of my neighbor, Mwanaidi.  I think Nulty and I eventually grew on her too.  We just had to get past the awkwardness of me almost burning her house down.

I came to be very fond of my neighbor, Mwanaidi. I think Nulty and I eventually grew on her too. We just had to get past the awkwardness of me almost burning her house down.

I went back to the school to say goodbye one last time.  All of the students were standing outside of their classrooms or lined up at the windows, waving.  They could not believe I was actually going to bring my cat to America with me in a bag.  They were just amazed that anyone would do such a thing.  But a few of them yelled, “Goodbye, Nulty!”, which was hilarious and adorable.  Gabe had to teach so we said goodbye at the school.  Then Mr. Babuleghe, Mr. Komba, Madame Ombene (who was going to travel with me to make sure I made it safely to Mbalizi), a couple of other teachers, the students carrying my bags and Rozy, Nulty and I formed a small parade, heading up the hill to the village.  When we got to the top, Rozy had to split off and go home, so I gave her a big hug and a kiss.  We finally made it to the spot where everyone waits for rides and Mr. Babuleghe started negotiating with the driver to get me a reasonable fare.  Nulty was quite confused at this point, she was meowing and looking around but didn’t seem too freaked out, which I took as a good sign.

Nulty, in her carrier, amidst my baggage.  I can't imagine what was going on in her little brain at that point.

Nulty, in her carrier, amidst my baggage. I can’t imagine what was going on in her little brain at that point.

Mr. Herman was relatively new to the school, but I think he'll be a big asset. He's a smart guy, his English is excellent and he really seems to care about teaching.  I lucked out being at a school with so many great teachers.

Mr. Herman was relatively new to the school, but I think he’ll be a big asset. He’s a smart guy, his English is excellent and he really seems to care about teaching. I lucked out being at a school with so many great teachers.

My mkuu, Mr. Babuleghe, went above and beyond for me.  When they announced he was going to be the new mkuu after Mr. Mbylini retired in 2013, I was not sure what to expect but he absolutely rose to the challenge and then some.  He's done a great job with the school and implemented some practical policies that seem to be improving the quality of education at the school.

My mkuu, Mr. Babuleghe, went above and beyond for me. When they announced he was going to be the new mkuu after Mr. Mbylini retired in 2013, I was not sure what to expect but he absolutely rose to the challenge and then some. He’s done a great job with the school and implemented some practical policies that seem to be improving the quality of education for the students.

Mr. Komba and I finally took a photo together with both of our eyes open.  Of course, there's the awkward pose but you can't win them all.  I could never repay all of the kindness Mr. Komba paid me during my service.  He is the absolute best person I met in Tanzania and a person I hope to keep in touch with forever.

Mr. Komba and I finally managed to take a photo together with both of our eyes open. Of course, there’s still the awkward pose, but you can’t win them all. I could never repay all of the kindness Mr. Komba showed me during my service. He is the absolute best person I met in Tanzania and someone I hope to keep in touch with forever.

The Form II girls that carried my bags.  I also gave one of them a stack of my old fashion magazines to bring to the female teachers in the lounge because I'd forgotten to do it earlier.  I noticed most of the stack disappeared by the time we reached the top of the hill.  Of course, I  was leaving and wouldn't be around to hear people complain that I was corrupting girls' morals with pictures of women wearing pants and whatnot so I didn't really care at that point.  Plus, it's the least I could do for them after they carried my heavy bags up the hill.

The Form II girls that carried my bags. I also gave one of them a stack of my old fashion magazines to bring to the female teachers in the lounge because I’d forgotten to do it earlier. I noticed most of the stack disappeared by the time we reached the top of the hill. Of course, I was leaving and wouldn’t be around to hear people complain that I was corrupting girls’ morals by showing them pictures of women wearing pants and whatnot so I didn’t really care at that point. Plus, it’s the least I could do for them after they carried my heavy bags up the hill.

Eventually, a fair price was reached for the journey and Madame Ombene and I were off.  It was getting late at that point, so when we got to town, I went straight to a guestie in Mbalizi (which is relatively close to the Mbeya airport) and Madame Ombene went home, but promised to return in the morning to see me off.  While Nulty amused herself exploring the room, I got some food and called George, my favorite taxi driver, to arrange a ride to the airport the next day, as the flight left in the early morning.  There are some shuttles to the airport that are slightly cheaper but I always pay a little extra and have George take me because he’s reliable and honest and keeps his car super clean.  Well, thank goodness I did because the alarm on my phone didn’t go off and the only reason I woke up the next morning was because George kept calling me over and over again.  I quickly packed up the few things I’d taken out for the night, tossed Nulty in her carrier and ran downstairs to meet George and Madame Ombene, who also had been frantically trying to reach me.  We were running late so, after a quick hug and goodbye with Madame Ombene, we headed to the airport.

In addition to having the Nulty issue, I also had 2 extra bags that exceeded the airline limit.  If I checked them myself it was going to be super expensive so my plan was to find someone who was traveling without baggage (lots of people travel to Dar just for the day on business) and pay them to check them for me.  The line for security was already quite long when I arrived, so I got a cart and started to scope out potential mules.  I finally just walked down the line and asked various people if they had baggage with them. (None of this would ever work in the U.S., for obvious reasons.)  There were a group of professional looking ladies that said they did not have any bags and I asked if they would be willing to take a couple of mine and told them I’d pay for the checked bag fee and give them each 50,000 Tsh (about $30 USD) for their trouble.  They said they would only take the money for the checked bag fee and didn’t need any other money.  I offered to buy them chai and food when we were inside but they couldn’t have been kinder and said they were happy to help out.  I decided that this was a good omen for the trip and, after I dropped the extra bags with the ladies, I got back into line.  There was a female ex-pat in line in front of me and she (very nicely) asked if I had gotten permission to fly with the cat. I said, “Um, sort of?”  She understood right away and told me that she had tried to fly with her cat and Fastjet wouldn’t let her on the plane.  She said she had heard of some people doing it before (as I had) but that they had absolutely denied her the one time she tried it. I started to get nervous.

When we finally reached the x-ray machines, a security guard asked me to hand him Nulty’s carrier, not realizing it wasn’t just another bag.  I asked him if he wanted me to remove the cat so the bag could go through the x-ray and told him that’s what I usually did.  (Which is true!  That’s what they want you to do. In America.)  At this point, he waved a supervisor over and I knew I was in trouble.  The supervisor was very nice but clearly took his job seriously.  He said he had to double-check with the head office but he was pretty sure animals weren’t allowed on the plane.  At this point, I just started lying my ass off.  I made sure to remain very pleasant and polite but I insisted that I’d asked at the office the last time I was in Dar (I kept the date vague) and that I was told I could absolutely bring the cat on the plane.  I also tried the old, “I don’t think we need to get headquarters involved” angle but the supervisor was totally by the book and said he would have to get permission before he could let me on the plane.

Nulty and I made our way through security and got in the line to check in, while the supervisor tried to get in touch with someone in the Dar office on his phone.  By this point, everyone else in the airport had figured out that I was their entertainment for the day ad they were all hanging on every word that the supervisor and I exchanged.  I managed to check in my bag and get my boarding pass, thinking I could just slip into the boarding lounge while the supervisor was on hold.  I was hoping that he’d eventually get frustrated waiting, hang up and just forget the whole thing.  But this guy was actually a very dedicated employee, which 9 times out of 10 is a great thing.  The 10th time is when you’re illegally trying to smuggle a cat on a plane.  Still, he was extremely friendly and polite the entire time and I just kept up my, “Gosh, I would have never spent money on a plane ticket if I knew that I couldn’t fly with the cat” routine.  Eventually, the supervisor got someone on the line and my stomach started to sink.  But in for a penny, in for a pound so when he told me that pets were definitely forbidden on Fastjet, I asked him if I could speak to the man at headquarters directly.  He handed me his phone and I tried to explain (in a mix of English and Kiswahili) that I had specifically gone into the office in Dar, the one behind the post office, and asked “a woman” who was behind a desk if I was able to bring a cat on the plane with me and she said that I definitely could.  (I’m actually a really bad liar but I’ve read enough detective novels and watched enough TV to know that you want to keep lies as vague as possible and avoid over-explaining things and offering too much information.)  The guy on the other end of the phone just kept repeating that it was company policy and there was nothing he could do.  However, he made the fatal error of thinking he could out-talk me.  I remained polite but would not give up.  I said that I had to leave for the U.S. “right away” and that if they hadn’t waited until the last minute to inform me that my previous flight was cancelled, I would have had the option of taking a bus but now it was much too late for that.  I knew I was losing the argument, so I went for a Hail Mary and started speaking loudly in bad Swahili (so I could claim I misunderstood later, if necessary) and repeating, “Okay, so you are giving me permission? Oh, thank you so much!” while the guy continued to drone on about airline policy.  Then I hung up the phone, handed it back to the supervisor and said, “He said it’s okay!” and pretty much ran into the passenger lounge.  I tried to be as nonchalant as possible as I ordered a coffee and then sat down in a seat in the corner, praying that my pathetic attempt had worked.  Meanwhile, every other passenger is watching everything I’m doing, many of them with their mouths hanging open.

I was just starting to calm down when I saw the supervisor walk in with another man in a suit.  Uh oh.  As they walked over to me and indicated that I should get up I said, “But I have permission!  He said it was okay.  Why would he change his mind?”  I was still being pleasant at this point, just pretending to be exasperated and confused why everyone was making such a big deal of things.  I’d say 90% of the people there realized I was lying through my teeth but the supervisor was still giving me the benefit of the doubt and saying, “I don’t know why he said that.  But you’ll have to come to the office to sort this all out.”  The man was very, very nice and a part of my felt terrible for lying to him.  But the larger part of me really wanted to avoid a 15 hour bus trip with Nulty.  I got up and we all went into what turned out to be the man in the suit’s office.  When they closed the door, I started crying (at that point, it was real) and said, “I need to get to America.  What am I going to do?  I’m already a day late because the flight was cancelled. I would have never bought a ticket if I’d known.  I could have taken a bus yesterday and I’d already be in Dar…”  I went on like this for a while and both of the gentleman clearly felt bad that I was crying.  At that point, Nulty apparently decided she’d had enough of this dog and pony show and I smelled the distinctive odor of cat pee emanating from her carrier.

To distract from the smell, I started on a new angle, “I’ve been in this country for two and a half years as a volunteer.  I’m going to be leaving the country in the next couple of days.  It’s not like I’m going to be doing this all the time.  It’s just a one time thing, I swear.”

At this point I tried to float the possibility of a bribe but didn’t want to insult them by being explicit so I said, “In the U.S. you have to pay extra to bring a cat on the plane.  I am totally willing to pay the money if that is the problem.”  Hint, hint.  To their enormous credit, both men said that it wasn’t a money issue and did not take me up on what was a golden opportunity for both of them to make some easy cash.

“If it were up to me, I’d let you bring the cat.  But I have to do what headquarters tells me,” the supervisor said.  Then his phone rang and he had to step out of the office to answer it.

As soon as the door was closed behind him, the guy in the suit turned to me and said, “Listen, I don’t work for the airline, I work for the government.  There is no law against animals flying on a plane.  It’s just the policy of the airline.”  He said this in a way that was respectful but still conveyed that he knew I was lying through my teeth and didn’t really care.

“Here’s what you’ve got to do.  When he comes back in, tell him you want to speak to the pilot.  If the pilot gives you permission, it doesn’t matter what the people at the office in Dar say.  What the pilot says, goes.  No matter what he tells you when he comes back in here, just say you need to speak to the pilot.”  He shrugged and sat back in his chair.  There was something in his tone that made me think that he knew the pilot was a white guy.  He sent the message “you wazungu can sort this mess out amongst yourselves” without actually saying it.

Fortunately, when the supervisor walked in a few minutes later, he had the same solution.  “They said you can wait and ask the pilot.  But if he says no, there is nothing else we can do. I’m very sorry.”  He said this so nicely, I felt about 3 inches tall.  I really did feel bad about lying but I knew I was doing attempting to do something that was perfectly safe and wouldn’t harm anyone.  And, yes, I am trying to justify my bad actions here.

I thanked both gentleman profusely, apologized for causing so much trouble and said I’d accept whatever the pilot’s decision was.  At this point, I was happy to take any reprieve, even if it was possibly a temporary one.  The supervisor escorted me to the boarding lounge at that point.  Apparently, the plane had just arrived from Dar because the pilot came in a few minutes later.  He was an older South African guy.  I was pretty happy about this because South Africans tend to have more of an international perspective.  Surely this guy had flown for airlines where pets were allowed at some point!  My hopes were soon dashed.

“You want to take the cat on the plane?  In this bag?  You’re never going to be able to get her on a plane to America,” he squinted at me, as if I’d just told him I wanted to board with an elephant.

“Oh, I’ve flown with cats many times before. I’ve already booked the reservation on KLM and Delta for her.  See, this is a Delta approved pet carrier.”  I pointed to the insignia on Nulty’s now stinky bag, hoping the cat pee smell wouldn’t kill the whole deal.  I really wanted to scream, “Everyone flies with pets in America and Europe!  How can you not be aware that this is a thing?!?”

He sort of squinted at me for a while and then said, “A cat on a plane?  I don’t understand.  But I guess it’s fine.  I’ve just got to put you in a special seat.  But it’s fine.  You can get on.”

I thanked him profusely and as I got into the end of the boarding line, the female ex-pat from the security line winked at me and congratulated me quietly. Of course, as I was boarding the male flight attendant had to get his two cents in.

“You’re not allowed to bring animals on a plane,” he said, snottily.

I didn’t want to blow all the progress I’d made but I couldn’t resist saying, “Well, I guess someone should inform Delta of that because they do it all the time.”

Of course, when the captain pointed out the “special seat” he had selected for me, it was in the exit row.  This is the one place airlines NEVER let you sit when traveling with a pet.  But I was not going to push my luck by arguing the point so I just said, “Thank you,” and buckled my seat belt.

Five minutes later a female flight attendant came by the row and said, “You can’t sit there with a cat!  That’s an exit row!”

I leaned over to her and said in a quiet voice, “You know that and I know that.  But the captain, he doesn’t know that.”

She nodded and waited until the door to the cockpit was closed before she very quickly swapped my seat out with someone in another row. Once we were in the air, the flight was a breeze. I was still reeling from the fact that I’d actually gotten away with it.  Nulty was well behaved and quiet, which I thought boded well for our flights back to the U.S.

We made it!!

We made it!!

Unfortunately, when I got to Dar all of my COS plans went out the window because somehow the medical office forgot that I was COSing that week.  Dr. Sulamanji (the PC doctor that I saw normally) was on vacation and it was too late to schedule new appointments.  So they did what they could for me in the office and I had to get most of my medical done when I got back to the U.S. (A warning for any PCVs that might encounter this situation in the future: DO NOT DO IT!  It is a headache wrapped in a nightmare. I’m still waiting to get my dental exam reimbursed.)

I still had a few days before I had to leave so I worked on a few administrative things that I had to get done for my close of service.  And that weekend, I headed to Zanzibar with my friend, Alice (who was also finishing up her service that week), and my former site mate, Andrew, who came in from Dodoma for the occasion.  Click here to to see photos from the trip.

Of course, the trip was not without a hiccup.  While I was in Dar, I stayed at a nice, reasonably affordable hotel that allowed pets and was just a few blocks from the EconoLodge.  But it was at least twice as expensive as Econo.  I sucked the extra cost up because it was one of the few hotels that allowed pets that was not either staggeringly expensive or just plain frightening.  Things were going well- Nulty was happy to have a real litterbox in the room (which Alice bought for me and had waiting for me when we arrived – thanks, Alice!) and she was content to stay in the room and snooze or look out the window.  I planned to take the ferry to Zanzibar on Friday afternoon and return on Sunday afternoon, which I knew wouldn’t be a problem for her because she’s stayed alone in Ilembo for longer than that.  I filled up her food bowl, left her plenty of water and planned to hang the “Do not disturb” sign on the door when I left but thought I’d just check in with the front desk to make sure no one entered the room while I was gone.  Big mistake.  Huge.  The guy at the front desk was another “by the book” type and he got all worked up by the potential breach of hotel policy.  At this point, I didn’t have any patience for it so I just said, “Don’t worry.  It’s not a problem.  Pretend I never said anything,” and went back upstairs to get my bag before heading out.  As soon as my key was in the door, the phone in the room started ringing.  I ignored it and proceeded to ignore the next five calls as I packed up my last few items, gave Nulty a smooch and hung the “Do not disturb” sign on my way out.  I attempted to sneak out a back staircase, but ran into a bellboy that not-so-helpfully escorted me to the lobby.  Apparently he didn’t understand the “sneaking out” concept.  The front desk clerk was still all worked up and kept saying, “You can’t leave your cat in the room!  You can’t leave your cat in the room!”

Again,  I would have loved to handle the situation with more grace and diplomacy but instead I said, “For the money you’re charging me, I can leave the cat.  I’m going, I’ll be back Sunday.  Do not screw with my cat and it will be fine.”  I employed the classic 90’s “Talk to the hand” posture and hurried out.  Of course, then I worried about Nulty being seized from the room by the gendarme but Alice assured me she was having more of an “Eloise at the Plaza” experience, so I relaxed.  When I returned on Sunday, Nulty was fine.  The air conditioning was off, so I assumed that someone from the hotel staff entered the room as some point, looked around and realized everything was under control.  In classic Tanzanian style, we all pretended none of it had ever happened during the rest of my stay.

The last couple of days were a whirlwind of COS paperwork and running around Dar to buy last minute gifts and get Nulty’s health and export certificate squared away. Then a bell rang and just like that, my Peace Corps service was over.

I like to call this one "Woo hoo!"

I like to call this one “Woo hoo!”

One of the last things I had to do was buy some Valium for Nulty.  The veterinarian in Dar told me it was what he recommended to keep animals calm for travel.  He gave me a formula for calculating the correct dosage and I felt confident that I could figure it out.  I stopped by a duka la dawa (pharmacy) and when I told the woman working behind the counter it was for a cat she said, “Make sure you don’t overdose her!”  When it was time to leave for the airport, I gave Nulty the prescribed dosage and figured it would kick in by the time we arrived.  The taxi ride was long and loud and stressful so neither of us were feeling calm when we checked in.  I gave Nulty another dose to make sure she would be relaxed for our red eye flight.  There was some scrambling to repack bags and pay some overage fees and by the time we arrived at the gate, it was almost time to board and Nulty was starting to meow.  With the pharmacist’s warning in my mind, I decided to give her one more dose but no more than that.  At this point, she had ingested three times the recommended dosage for her size.  And she was still meowing. And it kept getting louder.  By the time we got on the plane, the meowing was nonstop, about every 2 seconds.  I tried petting her, talking to her, giving her treats but she was not having any of it.  The people seated around me started to throw looks my way and I assured them, “She just got 3 doses of anxiety medicine.  It will kick in any minute now.”

It did not.  For the next 9 hours, I did not sleep.  Nulty did not sleep.  And I’m pretty sure no one sitting around me slept.  It was literally 9 straight hours of her meowing incessantly.  At one point, someone suggested I feed her the chicken that came with my meal (apparently chicken is part of the “vegetarian” meal on KLM now) and she got super excited and bit my finger hard.  So now I was exhausted, sweaty, stressed out, on the verge of tears and bleeding.  What would help the situation?  A crabby flight attendant coming over and yelling at me about keeping the cat in her carrier on the floor and quiet.  Then the other passengers started to come up to me and tell me how much they hated both me and the cat (they used slightly more polite phrasing but that was what they were really saying).  A few compassionate people also stopped by to commiserate with me and tell me they felt badly for poor Nulty but they were outnumbered by the haters.  And I didn’t blame them at that point.  By the time we landed in Amsterdam, Nulty had reached maximum volume.  While I was rolling my cart through the terminal, the sound of her yowling was bouncing off the cement floor and walls and people were looking around for the small child that was being beaten.  Finally, I was exhausted and crying and the possibility of Nulty overdosing was not looking as bad as it had the night before so I found a quiet corner and managed to wrestle an a couple more pills down her throat (the recommended dosage was about a quarter of a pill).  Almost instantly, it kicked in and Nulty got quiet and glassy eyed and very, very mellow.  Thankfully, the effect lasted for most of my flight to the U.S.; it started to wear off a little towards the end but it was night and day from the first leg of our trip.  By the time we reached Boston, I was ready to kiss the ground but was so tired, I knew I wouldn’t be able to get back up once I got down on my hands and knees.

So now we’re back in America.  Nulty has really taken to life in a First World country.  I finally got her fixed correctly and her urge to escape disappeared.  She’s content to stay in my apartment in Los Angeles and entertain herself by looking out the windows.  I attempted to take her outside on her leash so she could sit in the sun for a while but she started crying as soon as we were out the front door so we never made it past the stairwell.

I am currently job hunting and I think I’m almost totally acclimated back to life in the U.S.  I am still processing my Peace Corps experience.  I feel grateful that I was able to live in another culture and get some insight into how most of the world actually lives.  I’m thankful for the perspective I gained and I hope I never lose it. I’m nostalgic for my time in Ilembo but also revel in taking hot baths, and getting in my car to drive myself to stores stocked with what seem like a ridiculous quantity of goods.  I miss my Peace Corps friends, who are now scattered all over the world and wish I could check in on my former students on a regular basis.  The best news is that Mr. Komba emailed me to tell me that the Form II students did well on their NECTA exams.  175 of 192 students passed and the highest scores were in English and History.  Christabel got an A in English and a few other subjects, so she’s well on her way to a bright future. (Knock on wood)  I’m still planning to return for the graduation in 2016, which doesn’t seem that far away.

I will close this post, and this blog, with a huge thank you to everyone out there who read this blog or posted encouraging comments or sent emails, cards, letters, care packages and/or good wishes to me during my time in Tanzania.  I was so touched and completely overwhelmed by the amount of support and warmth I received from friends, old and new, and even a few strangers. It is not an overstatement to say that having so many people out there rooting for me is what got me through the lowest points of my service.  I can’t fully express how much it meant to me so I will just say a heartfelt THANK YOU!

And it wouldn’t be fitting to end without a few pictures of Nulty enjoying her new life in America:

Nulty spent her first month in the U.S. at my parents' house in Connecticut.  She took to the easy life right away.

Nulty spent her first month in the U.S. at my parents’ house in Connecticut. She took to the easy life right away.

We had a few warm days and she got to sit in the window and watch squirrels, which I'm pretty sure she had never seen before.

We had a few warm days in Connecticut and she got to sit in the window and watch squirrels, which I’m pretty sure she had never seen before.

Things got confusing for her when we got to L.A.  She is still not sure what that talking, glowing box on the wall is.  If she could just get inside that one corner....

Things got more confusing for her when we got to L.A. She is still not sure what that talking, glowing box on the wall is. If she could just get inside that one corner….

And then she realized that life in America was very, very different for cats than it was in Tanzania.  And being forced to wear a pink stole was not a good kind of "different".

And then she realized that life in America was very, very different for cats than it was in Tanzania. And being forced to wear a pink stole was not a good kind of “different”.

Things hit a new low at Christmastime.

Things hit a new low at Christmastime.

But, despite the challenges, she has settled into life in Los Angeles pretty well.  She's already putting feelers out for an agent and building her reel.  A star is born! (Thanks to my friend Rachel for going all out with her Photoshop skills on this!)

But, despite the challenges, she has settled into life in Los Angeles pretty well. She’s already putting feelers out for an agent and building her reel. A star is born!
(Thanks to my friend Rachel for going all out with her Photoshop skills on this!)

Madame Mwinga Goes To Town or (My Home Away From My Home Away From Home)

The Peace Corps allows PCVs to travel to their banking town every other weekend to do their banking (duh), pick up mail at the post office, purchase things not available in the village and socialize with other PCVs . Going into town is what kept me sane for the last two and a half years. Compared to Los Angeles, Mbeya might seem like a small town but compared to Ilembo, it feels like the big city.

It takes about 3 hours to get from Ilembo to Mbeya Town (on a good day) but after two weeks at site, it feels like you’re traveling to another world.  Mbeya has electricity (usually), hot running water (a lot of the time), good internet access and many other modern things that I did not have at my home in Ilembo. There were several different guesties in town but my favorite place to stay was The Catholic Youth Center. Rooms were cheap: a single is 15,000 Tsh (about $9 USD) and if you shared a room with another volunteer, it was 10,000 Tsh (about $6.50 USD). It is clean, safe, extremely well taken care of and the staff is wonderful.

The gates into the Catholic Center:

CatholicCenter-GatesI never failed to breath a sigh of relief after arriving after the long journey into town and seeing the lovely grounds:

CatholicCenter-EnterCatholicCenter-SignpostCatholicCenter-GroundsTreeCatholicCenter-BackCornerCatholicCenter-BlossomThey also have an amazing vegetable garden in the back:

CatholicCenter-VeggieGardenCatholicCenter-VeggieGarden2All of the staff at the Catholic Center is great but Martin is particularly helpful and wonderful:

CatholicCenter-MartinHe does a little bit of everything: tends the grounds, takes reservations, fixes broken things, and takes care of the sheep.  Yes, there are sheep!

CatholicCenter-SheepCatholicCenter-BrownSheepCatholicCenter-BabySheepWhile Mbeya Town itself is rather large and sprawling (I heard an ex-pat refer to it once as “the Los Angeles of Tanzanzia”), the “downtown” area is actually pretty small and easy to get around.  One of my first stops when I make it to town is always the post office.

PostaThe window where I picked up all of my packages was usually manned by the loveliest mama (I can’t believe I’ve already forgotten her name!  Ugh!)  Unfortunately, she was not in the day I took these photos.

Posta-PackagesBut the stamp lady was!  She always looked the other way when I crammed items that I probably should have written out a shipping invoice for into an envelope and slapped a bunch of stamps on it.

Posta-StampsAnd outside are the mailboxes:

Posta-MailboxesEvery time I stuck my key in the lock, I would say a little prayer that there would be a letter or a slip telling me a package was waiting for me inside:

Posta-Box2227The post office is right around the corner from the library (“maktaba” is Swahili for “library”):

MaktabaStreet

There’s always lots of stuff to buy in town.  The best shoes were always on the corner between the Catholic Center and posta.  I bought sooo many shoes from this guy:

MbeyaShoeStoreAnd I’d always stock up on food at the two safi dukas in town.  Baba Kubwa’s was where I bought all my wine – they sold this Chilean stuff that was reasonably priced and quite good.  When I left, I jokingly told the guy behind the counter that their wine sales were about to plummet because I was going back to America.  His response was, “You’re not kidding.  And this stuff is hard to get.”   Around the corner from Baba Kubwa’s is Azra’s, which was run by the nicest family.  Fazila, the daughter, was always so kind to PCVs and usually would give us a free treat when we bought something there (once she gave 6 of us cheese Doritos. Doritos!!)  She even agreed to pose for a photo with me on my last visit there:

AzrasDukaAlso located downtown was Rita, my fundi nguo (seamstress/tailor), who is probably the best fundi in Mbeya (and maybe all of Tanzania).  She made me so many beautiful clothes and always did an amazing job on them.  When I finally lose some of my post-Peace Corps Cheetos weight, I will be wearing all of them in the U.S.!  (I forgot my camera when I went to see her so I am borrowing a photo that a friend and fellow PCV posted on her Facebook page. Thanks, Sarah!)

FundiRita(Sarah'sPhoto)I also had another fundi, Jesca, who was in Mwanjelwa (just a short dala ride away from the downtown area).  She made some skirts and dresses for me and also made those tote bags I’ve given a lot of you as gifts (or will give you, if I haven’t seen you yet!)  I’ve posted before about Mwanjelwa’s awesome pile shopping but it’s also sells food, housewares and just about everything else you can think of.  In the middle of the market, there is a maze of little stalls where fundis work and vendors sell their goods:

MwanjelwaStallsJesca is adorable:

FundiJescaAnd here she is with her equally adorable niece:

FundiJesca&NieceSome mamas hard at work, sewing linens:

MwanjelwaFundisAtWorkAfter a long day of shopping, I would usually grab lunch at one of my two favorite eating establishments in town.  If I was being budget conscious, I’d go for the cheap and delicious rice and beans plate at Drunk Mama’s.  It’s really called Mama Komba’s but a former class of PCVs christened it Drunk Mama’s because there is a woman that always seems to be very drunk who hangs out there and will chat you up.  (Although I believe someone eventually figured out that the drunk mama was not only drunk but may have also had some shock treatment in the past that left her not quite right.  However, this may be a Peace Corps myth.)

The mama who owns the place (who may or may not actually be Mama Komba) is a big fan of Peace Corps volunteers (and, no doubt, all the money they spend on rice and beans and beer in her establishment).  She is NOT the titular Drunk Mama.

DrunkMamasMamaBut if I’m in a mood to treat myself and/or the Peace Corps’ deposit of my monthly living allowance coincided with my arrival in town, I would head to the Hill View hotel.

HillViewFrontGateHillViewGroundsWalking through the gates at the Hill View was like walking through a portal to a magical land.  With Wi-Fi.  I would often arrive in to town on Friday evenings, dusty and dirty from the trip into town in the back in a lorry (not to mention two weeks of minimal bathing, at best), check into the Catholic Center and head to Hill View for dinner.  I’d sit in their bar and order food, dessert and have a couple glasses of wine while I slowly downloaded the entire contents of the internet using their network.  The waiters were always super nice to me and I made sure to tip well so everyone was happy.

The bar at Hill View:

HillViewBarMy friend Sarah and I at Hill View after their delicious Sunday brunch, something I learned about far too late in my service.SarahM&MeHillViewAnd when there were a group of PCVs in town, we would almost always end up at Ballers, which is a bar that seems to have been air lifted from America and dropped into Mbeya Town.  Walking in feels kind of like walking in to a chain restaurant somewhere in the Midwest.  And I say that with absolutely no snark whatsoever.  (Live in a developing country for a couple of years and you develop a real sense of nostalgia for chain restaurants.)  The bar at Ballers is amazing and has all the alcohol brands you’d expect to find in a U.S. bar:

BallersBarBallersKlassyBoozeThey also make amazing sambusas (AKA samosas) that are served with a hot sauce that’s amazingly spicy and delicious.  And very, very hot.  But the centerpiece of Ballers is their giant projector television which plays American music videos (when there’s not a soccer/futball game on).  I spent many hours in Ballers just staring, transfixed by that screen.  Here is a rare moment where I managed to tear my eyes away from it:

BallersTVI leave you with a few random shots of Mbeya Town:

The jacarandas are gorgeous and seem to stay in bloom much longer than they do in Los Angeles:

JacarandasInBloomI love this mural at the fancy preschool in the area where all the ex-pats and safi Tanzanians live:

PreSchoolSign1And who knew that The Breeding Ground of Greatness was located in Mbeya Town?

TheBreedingGroundofGreatnessI’m getting more and more sentimental as I’m going through my photos and creating these posts.  I know I probably complained a lot about all the limitations of life in Tanzania but I really grew to love the place and will always have a special place in my heart for the Mbeya region.

3/4/15 UPDATE:  Per my mother’s request, I made a video that shows a small portion of my trip into town.  It is 15 minutes of “highlights” of the journey from Ilembo to my junction town of Mbalizi. The total trip is a little over 2 hours in one of the minivans that now go up the mountain and a little under 3 hours in a bus but can be much longer in a lorry, depending on weather and various detours.  I shot the video during 2 different trips in a minivan and edited the clips together (the first couple of minutes are from the one trip and the rest is from another).  It’s pretty boring to watch in it’s entirety but it does give you a little bit of a sense of what the trip is like:

This Nguruwe Ndogo Went To The Soko…

At long last, I’m going to attempt to wrap up this blog in the next few days.  I’m a couple months overdue on this, but wanted to share some photos that I took on my last market day in Ilembo. Every Friday there is a market (soko) in my former village and what is usually a fairly empty main street suddenly becomes a hive of activity. Vendors sell their goods, mamas open mgahawas (restaurants) for the day to cook and serve food and there is a general party-like atmosphere in the village.  The road gets crowded with people early in the day:

BusyStreetGoingTowardsMbawiPeople come from the villages surrounding Ilembo to sell their crops, shop and socialize with their friends:

LadiesSmilingMarketDayKidsinKitengeElderGentleman&BoysLadiesGossipingSmilingLadyHeadwrapSatisfiedCustomerDukaLaDawaGuywithKidsSellingYou can buy a wide array of items at the sokoni.  There a variety of vegetables and other foods available.  There are always mamas and their children selling lettuce:

LadiesSellingLettuceAnd potatoes (or yams?):

LadiesSellingYamsAnd onions:

LadiesSellingOnionsThere is never a shortage of dried fish:

LadySellingDriedFishDriedFishAnd I used to buy dagaa for Nulty (before she was spoiled by her care packages with American cat food) from this mama:

MyDagaaLadyThere’s also a variety of housewares available.  No Tanzanian household is complete without a variety of basins and buckets for hauling and storing water:

BasinsBucketsDishesThere are always men selling spoons, baskets and brooms:

ManSellingSpoonsBroomsAnd there’s a hardware table which sells locks, tools and knives, among other things:

MenSellingKnivesHardwareYou can get strands of fake flowers to decorate your home, your pikipiki or your bijaj.  This is also the place that Rozy would usually talk me into buying her a small toy or trinket whenever we would walk up to the market together:

FakeFlowersEtcAre you in the market for some soap and/or stuffed animals?  They have that too!

StuffedAnimals&SoapIf you need a bag for your purchases, there are vendors selling those too.  Tanzanians call them “Rambos” because there is often a picture of Sylvester Stallone as Rambo on one side (and the Marlboro Man on the other).  Why wouldn’t there be?

KnickKnacks&RambosRamboBagYou can also find a variety of used clothing for sale.  It does not come close to the extravaganza that is pile shopping in Mwanjelwa but I have definitely found a few quality items.  There are school uniforms (these are for primary school students):

PrimarySchoolUniformsPants, skirts and dresses:

PantsDressesI could never resist a flip-flop pile.  I think I must have bought at least 25 pairs during my service, but only had about 5 that remaining intact by the end.

FlipFlopsThere’s also a whole section where people set up makeshift stalls to sell new clothing and a wide variety of kitenge (fabric):

InsideStallsInsideStallsKitengeKitengeMy name is Siobhan, and I am a kitenge addict.

KitengeStashMy favorite part of the market is the used clothes auction.  A bunch of guys come with bundles of used clothing and then 5 or 6 of them stand on a table and auction each item off.  At the same time.  It’s loud, chaotic and somehow makes buying some stranger’s old pants exciting.

ClothesAuction1ClothesAuction2CloseAuction3ClothesAuction4ClothesAuction5In addition to the vendors who sell their wares on the street and in the stalls, the dukas are all open and do brisk business on market day too.  The classiest duka in Ilembo is owned by a man named Raphael, who is always warm and friendly and helpful.  He works in back selling housewares and other goods while a woman (I’m 90% sure it’s his wife) mans the cooking oil station and sells health and beauty items in the front.  A view of Raphael’s from the front:

RaphaelsDukaThe man himself, Raphael:

RaphaelInsideAnd the lovely Mrs. Raphael (I think):

MrsRaphaelIt might not seem like much to people in the U.S. that have the option of running out to the grocery store or Target whenever they need/want something, but to have such a big market in my village was a real perk for me.  On the weekends that I stayed at site, I would buy luxury items like cucumbers, oranges and get a small Rambo full of chipsi (fries) at the market and it would feel like an incredible indulgence.  I could really go for a bag of hot chipsi with garlic ketchup and tons of salt right about now…

Coming Soon To A Blog Near You…

I am working on a final update to this blog to wrap up my whole Peace Corps experience, post some photos and update everyone on Nulty’s new life in America. My goal was to have it posted by today in keeping with the but whole “out with the old, in with the new” year-end theme but it’s New Year’s Eve, I’ve had a bad cold this past week and tonight I have a party to go to so my plan is to update this post in the next couple of days. (I no longer have the limitations of Tanzanian technology as my excuse for late postings. Damn!) In the meantime, I leave you with a picture of my neighbor’s baby goat:

BabyGoatHeadshot

Happy New Year, Folks!

I Don’t Get No Heshima

So, a few days turned into 11 but I finally have time to sit down and write this. Time is flying by the closer I get to the end of my service. As of today, I’ve only got 36 days left in country, which seems unbelievable to me. I vividly remember arriving in Mbeya over two years ago and meeting the volunteers who were finishing their service then and thinking I would never make it to that point, but here I am.

It’s been a busy and exciting past few months. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to meet the first PCV that was in Ilembo, a Health volunteer named Michelle (AKA Meesh). When Meesh was here, she started an NGO called the Mary Ryan Foundation that helps the orphaned and vulnerable children of Ilembo. The HIV infection rate used to be quite high here (the number I heard was 50% of the villagers were HIV+) and a lot of children lost one or both of their parents to AIDS. Fortunately, educating people about the disease and how to prevent its spread has brought the infection rate down significantly and more people are living longer because health services and medicines are widely available now. But that still leaves a lot of parentless children who live with other family members (who take varying degrees of responsibility for looking after them) or who have to try to get by on their own from a very young age. MRF runs a school for fundi nguo (dressmakers/tailors) and fundi seremala (carpenters), as well as provides secondary school scholarships for many students.

Health volunteers tend to work more closely with their villagers. As an Education volunteer, I view the school as my primary community and the village is more of a secondary community. In places like Ilembo, where secondary education is generally regarded with suspicion, there is a distinct division between my school and the village. Teachers are viewed as wealthy outsiders and are often treated differently from villagers. For example, I purchased some rope for my house in the village and was charged a much higher price than I usually pay in town. I mentioned to some of the Tanzanian teachers that I thought I had been charged the mzungu price and they told me, “It’s actually the teacher price, they charge us a different price too.” Which actually made me feel some what better; being treated as one of a larger group of “others” feels better than being treated as the only one of my kind, as I often am as the sole remaining mzungu on the mountain.

There are legitimate reasons for this- the secondary school only opened about 12 or so years ago, so many of the parents of our students only attended primary school. If students did exceptionally well in primary school and they could afford it, they might attend one of the secondary schools in one of the larger towns but very few secondary schools existed in rural areas at that time. Then, the government decided that secondary education was mandatory and parents suddenly were required to pay school fees, buy uniforms and school supplies and pay various other school fees throughout the year. When the school first opened, only the most motivated students attended and there was a lower student-to-teacher ratio that resulted in tests scores being relatively high. Then, as the government cracked down on attendance and threatened to fine parents whose children did not attend, class sizes ballooned, there was a shortage of trained teachers for all of the new students and test scores started falling steadily. These problems caused low morale amongst both students and teachers, which still exists today. So parents are paying money for something that very rarely yields any positive results. Very few students move up to A-level (Advanced) studies. Some of them never make it past Form II and the ones that finish Form IV often have very few practical skills to show for their years of education. When we have parent meetings at the school, attendance is low and most of the questions are about eliminating portions of school fees. I once heard a parent ask the question, “Do you really need to buy paper?” I thought I misunderstood but my neighbor told me, “Nope, they really don’t understand why a school needs paper.” I used to be less understanding of this attitude, but after seeing the quality of education that most students get and knowing that the people in the government who are telling parents that they have to pay school fees are usually very wealthy and probably corrupt to varying degrees, I get it. I don’t like it, but I get it.

This is a long-winded way of saying that my relationship with the villagers is very different from what Meesh’s was. Health volunteers do a lot of work, but they have a flexible schedule: one day they might weigh babies at the health center, the next day they are giving out supplies to new mothers, and the next they might be working with a widow’s group, helping them with an income-generating project, etc. As a teacher, I have an actual 9 to 5 (really 7/8 to 6 most days) job that I have to be at Monday through Friday. When I interact with the villagers, it is usually because I’m buying something from them or just greeting them in passing. Therefore, my Kimelila (tribal language) is limited to about 5 words, all greeting related. My Kiswahili has improved a lot since I arrived at site, but it’s still not great. Meesh not only spoke excellent Kiswahili but her Kimelila was also very good. I know this because for the past two years, villagers have been telling me that Shali (Meesh’s tribal name) spoke very well and asking me why I didn’t speak as well as she did. This was, of course, when they weren’t actually confusing me with her, calling me Shali and launching into long monologues in Kimelila, none of which I actually understood. Eventually, I learned to just start nodding and saying, “Ninza” (“Good”) while slowly backing away from them.

So, when you put Meesh’s language skills together with the fact that she also started an organization that is still actively helping the village and contrast that with me, speaking Kiswahili like an 8 year old and working for an organization that villagers are extremely suspicious of, if not outright hostile towards, it’s not hard to imagine who is going to win a popularity contest: it’s going to be Meesh in a landslide. I accept this and have no problem with it, but I still managed to be surprised when we walked around the village together. First of all, since there are quite a few villagers who think there is only one mzungu who has been living in Ilembo for the past 6+ years (there’s actually been 3 of us: Meesh, Anna, and now me), I thought some of their minds might be blown seeing us together. Instead, the normal reaction was something like this:

Villager: Shali! Shali! Welcome! I am so happy to see you! (etc., etc.)

Meesh: Thank you! How are you? How is the family? (etc., etc.)

Villager: (turning to me) And who is this?

REALLY, PEOPLE? I’ve been here for over two years! TWO YEARS! Now I know how Rodney Dangerfield felt.

But I had a great time with Meesh. She stayed with me for about a week and was my first real visitor since I’ve been here. Apparently all the talking I’ve done about temperatures in the 30s, shoveling poop and bats flying around my house hasn’t prompted people to come experience Ilembo for themselves. Strange. I also learned a lot from her about the village and the villagers that I have been wondering about since I arrived. She introduced me to what I now refer to as “the pombe mall”. Pombe means alcohol in general but it usually is referring to home brewed alcohol which is made from crazy amounts of yeast, smells god awful (I’ve never actually tasted it, the smell alone makes me retch), comes in large yellow jugs that are also sometimes used to hold gasoline and apparently packs quite a punch. I don’t think it’s inaccurate to call it Tanzanian moonshine. (Two kids in a neighboring village apparently went blind from a particularly strong/bad batch of it.) Now, most villages have a pombe hut or two. Ilembo has a whole labyrinth of them, hidden away from the main business district of the village. Meesh went in to look for a villager and I followed her, marveling at the sheer number of places that served pombe, as well as the wide range of customers. There were men and women of all ages (with the exception of young children, thank God). I saw several bibis, which shocked me, but kind of explains some of the more confusing conversations I’ve had with them in the past. Actually, seeing the whole pombe mall explains a lot of things I’ve seen in the village over the past two years. Especially that old guy yelling and then passing out in the middle of the street at 2:30 in the afternoon.

Meesh at the ceremony they held for her.  My mkuu, Mr. Babuleghe, is on the far left (half cut off) and the village diwani (basically like a councilman) is to Meesh's immediate left.

Meesh at the ceremony they held for her. My mkuu, Mr. Babuleghe, is on the far left (half cut off) and the village diwani (basically like a councilman) is to Meesh’s immediate left.

Michael, who works with the Mary Ryan Foundation (and is one of the villagers who has helped me out the most while I've been here), and his mini-me son.  So adorable!

Michael, who works with the Mary Ryan Foundation (and is one of the villagers who has helped me out the most while I’ve been here), and his mini-me son. So adorable!

Some of the village mamas in the audience at Meesh's ceremony.

Some of the village mamas in the audience at Meesh’s ceremony.

A view of the mamas' head scarves.  One of my favorite things about Tanzania is that everyone wears bright colors and they mix and match patterns.  It's such a boost on a blah day during the rainy season in the village.

A view of the mamas’ head scarves. One of my favorite things about Tanzania is that everyone wears bright colors and they mix and match patterns. It’s such a boost on a blah day during the rainy season in the village.

Meesh with Laurence, one of the village kids she worked with during her service.

Meesh with Laurence, one of the village kids she worked with during her service.

Meesh poses with some of the village mamas and students.

Meesh poses with some of the village mamas and students.

Meesh & I after her ceremony.  You can see why the villagers confuse us: we're practically twins!  Twins born 15 years apart.  With different coloring and facial features.  But, other than that, separated at birth!

Meesh & I after her ceremony. You can see why the villagers confuse us: we’re practically twins! Twins born 15 years apart. With different coloring and facial features. But, other than that, separated at birth!

Some of the Mary Ryan Foundation girls carrying water.  I can carry a basket with a few things in it on my head but I haven't yet mastered the bucket full of water.

Some of the Mary Ryan Foundation girls carrying water. I can carry a basket with a few things in it on my head but I haven’t yet mastered the bucket full of water.

In addition to meeting a former volunteer, I also met a group of new volunteers that will be coming to Mbeya in a matter of weeks. The new Education class (many of whom will be replacing volunteers that were in my class) is currently finishing up training and they had their shadow visits last week. The number of PCVs in Mbeya has been declining for the past couple of years, for a few different reasons, but the Peace Corps is trying to rectify that by sending 15 new volunteers to the region! I’m super happy to know that there will be so many new people who will get to enjoy all the great things with have in Mbeya. It’s a little cold for me but, all in all, I’ve really enjoyed living here and I was happy to be one of the older PCVs who showed them around Mbeya Town and introduced them to some of our favorite haunts.

Because there are so many new volunteers and so few current PCVs in Mbeya, I had 3 people shadowing me. One of them, Gabe, will be replacing me in Ilembo, which I am thrilled about! He is young and super enthusiastic and plays soccer, which all of the male teachers at my school are thrilled about. I think he’ll do well here. He’s going to be teaching Biology, not English, but that’s a good thing because the school has a real shortage of Math and Science teachers. The two other volunteers, Sharon and John, had sites that were much closer to town and have quite a few more amenities than mine does so I made sure to bring them to Ilembo first. That way, Gabe wouldn’t have any other, fancier sites to compare it to and Sharon and John would really appreciate how good they had it when they finally got to see their sites. I think it worked but I could definitely tell that Gabe was starting the question the fairness of the Peace Corps placement process when we saw that John had a shower with actual HOT WATER in his house. (Which, fair enough. I’ve been doing the same every time I visit another Ed volunteer’s site and see that they have electricity or a bomba in their courtyard or find out that they don’t have to shovel their own poop. Lucky bastards.)

The trainees stayed in Ilembo with me for 2 nights and, unfortunately, had to endure some unusually cold, windy and wet weather for this time of year. But, we got to walk all around the village, spend some time at my school (I think I have successfully recruited Gabe into taking over the library duties for me, which I’m very happy about) and they basically got to see how I live as a volunteer. I also forced them to watch “Beavis and Butthead Do America” when I realized none of them had ever actually watched Beavis and Butthead. (Kids today!) They kind of enjoyed it but I think I may have oversold it a little when I referred to it as “the Citizen Kane of my generation”. But seriously people, it’s a classic for the ages.

Nulty enjoyed having visitors in the house. She seemed to be on her best behavior the entire time and was super friendly with everyone. However, when the school came to pick up one of beds I had borrowed for the guys to sleep in, I discovered she had apparently been pooping on the floor underneath it the entire time. There was a lot of cat poop. A lot. She’s like some kind of pooping ninja, that one. (Sorry about the smell, John.)

The trainees who shadowed me pose with my mkuu. (From left: Gabe, Mr. Babuleghe, Sharon and John.)

The trainees who shadowed me pose with my mkuu. (From left: Gabe, Mr. Babuleghe, Sharon and John.)

At school, the days are racing by. I can’t believe I have less than a month of teaching left. I still have so many topics I want/need to cover with my students before their big NECTA exam! Of course, in keeping with Tanzanians’ loose relationship with time and schedules, the Ministry of Education has not announced the date of the Form II NECTA yet, so I don’t actually know how much time there actually is before the exam. At the beginning of the school year, they said that the exam would be at some point in October, exact date TBD. I assumed we’d hear about the date at some point in June or July but there was no news and I had to pick an official COS date so I went with October 15th, thinking the NECTA would have to start the first or second Monday of the month. (There are a variety of different subjects the exams cover, some of which are only taught at certain schools, so the whole testing process takes about 3 weeks total.) The date for the Form IV NECTA exam, which is supposed to be after the Form II exam, was announced in late July/early August and it is scheduled to begin in early November. By the end of August, when the Form II date still had not been announced, I was starting to get concerned because I wanted to make sure I had budgeted enough time to cover all the topics I need to teach. Plus, my Type A personality just wanted there to be an official date so there was at least one thing settled that I didn’t have to keep thinking about. And by the first week of September, I was pretty much a raving lunatic. The worst part is, I seem to be the only person that is concerned about it. The Tanzanian teachers just assume they’ll set a date at some point and there’s nothing they can do about it so why worry about it? And, okay, that’s the healthy and normal way of approaching it BUT I STILL WANT TO KNOW THE DAMN DATE!

I’ve heard rumblings that if they haven’t scheduled it by now, the Form II test might take place AFTER the Form IV exam in late November or even possibly in December. This would irritate me greatly, to put it mildly. If I leave the country before the NECTAs begin, I am not only losing additional time for teaching and review with my students but also I am seriously worried that they will forget a lot of the material that we’ve covered so far. This is not an unreasonable concern: long-term retention is a huge problem with students here (I blame it, at least partially, on poor nutrition). Unless I constantly review previous material and link new material to previous topics, my students have a tendency to completely forget entire topics. Of course, at this point, it is out of my control because I’ve already purchased my plane ticket to return to the U.S. so my Plan B is, if they delay the Form II NECTA, I’m going to have Gabe, the new PCV, to take over my English classes for me after I leave. I’m going to provide him with lesson plans and just have him review old NECTA questions with the students over and over and over and over again until they can’t possibly forget them. I have my fingers crossed that things will work out one way or the other but I can’t help by curse the Ministry of Education even more than I usually do (which is quite a lot).

In happier news, my neighbor’s goat had a baby! Mwanaidi had 2 goats, both female, and I started to realize one of them was pregnant in early August. Female goats get HUGE when they are pregnant. There bodies bulge out on both sides and it almost looks like they are carrying another fully grown adult goat inside them. Every morning, I greeted Mwanaidi’s goats on the way to school (she usually puts them out to graze by the path between our houses and the school) and I watched the pregnant goat get larger and larger. I have no idea how long goats are pregnant for, so I was just hoping she’d deliver before I left Ilembo. One day in mid-August, I saw the pregnant goat laying down one morning, which is extremely unusual, so I knew the big day had to be close. Sure enough, one Friday afternoon after I finished teaching, I was walking back to my house and I saw that the baby had arrived. I think I missed the actual birth by just a few minutes, as the baby was still wet with amniotic fluid and the mother had what appeared to be a placenta still hanging off of her. They were with the other female goat, in the partially built house next to mine. The baby goat was so cute! And mama was making it a priority to lick her baby clean, much to the baby’s apparent consternation. It was an adorable scene that was only ruined by the barking of dogs in the distance.

Given Nulty’s past run-in with a pack of dogs, I immediately became concerned that the dogs would go after the baby goat. Mama Goat looked worried to, and she’d look up every time she heard barking and would try to figure out how far away the dogs were. I wanted to keep the baby safe, so I knocked on Mwanaidi’s door to let her know the baby had arrived and to tell her to open her courtyard door so the goats could come inside and be safe. Unfortunately, no one was home at her house so I opened my courtyard door and tried to herd all three of the goats into my courtyard. Herding goats is way harder than it looks, especially when one of them is a new born, another is an anxious mama and the third is a very concerned and involved auntie. I saw a couple of the dogs in the field in front of my house and they were starting to move closer so, in desperation, I picked up the baby goat and urged the mama and auntie to follow me.

Well, things didn’t work out quite as I thought they would. Mama FREAKED OUT as soon as the baby goat was off the ground. I kept holding up the baby to show it to her and tried to get her and the auntie to follow me but they were completely discombobulated by the whole course of events. I ran the baby goat into my courtyard, put it safely on some grass, closed the courtyard door and went back to get the other two. They had completely lost it by this point and were just running all over the surrounding area at top speed. At one point, I was sure Mama was charging at me and I was sure I was going to be impaled by a couple of goat horns. Instead, she whirled around at the last second and headed off in the opposite direction.

I went back, got the baby goat and took it back out to show it to Mama, in an attempt to get her to follow us into the courtyard. I kept running around yelling “Njoo!” (“Come!”) and trying to get the goat on board with my great plan. Some of the village mamas who were doing laundry at the hand pump well near my house were watching the whole thing and laughing hysterically. Now, I don’t know if the Mama goat was blind or was just undone by hormones but she could not get it. She would see the baby in my hands, run towards me and then, just as she was getting close, she’d turn and run in another direction. I must have tried 10 times to get her to follow me in the courtyard with no luck. She was getting more and more agitated and I was feeling worse and worse, so I just put the baby goat back in the unfinished house, told some of the little kids to chase away the dogs if they got close and headed back to the school to find Mwanaidi.

When I got to the school, a few of the teachers were sitting outside of the teacher’s lounge and enjoying the sun. I ran up to them, probably looking like a lunatic and smelling very strongly of goat and announced loudly in Kiswahili, “I have very important news!” Now that I’ve been here for two years, the teachers have realized that the mzungu’s idea of “important news” and their idea of “important news” are pretty far apart. Still, they almost all managed not to roll their eyes as they asked me what was going on.

“Mwanaidi’s baby goat has arrived!” I said, thinking they might actually be as excited about it as I was. They weren’t. But they did tell me Mwanaidi was up at the big market and told me where I could find her. I’m happy to say her reaction was way more enthusiastic than the other teachers. She was also worried about the dogs so she went back to her house and put the goats in her courtyard. Mission accomplished!

I was sorry I missed the actual birth (only by a few minutes).  By the time I arrived, Mama had already started on the important work of cleaning her little one.

I was sorry I missed the actual birth (only by a few minutes). By the time I arrived, Mama had already started on the important work of cleaning her little one.

The baby was still trying to get used to standing up and walking.  It was adorable!

The baby was still trying to get used to standing up and walking. It was adorable!

More Mama clean up.

More Mama clean up.

Aw, come on Ma!  I'm clean already!

Aw, come on Ma! I’m clean already!

As usual, I’ll close with a Nulty update. I got Nulty fixed over a year ago but unfortunately, they apparently didn’t remove all of her ladyparts (this also happens in the U.S. sometimes, too) because I realized a few months ago that all the caterwauling she had been doing at night was actually because she was still going into heat. (Unfortunately, she was in heat when Meesh was staying with me, which made for some sleepless nights.) Finally, she managed to escape and, as worried as I was when she didn’t come back for a couple of days, she was a whole new cat when she returned. I don’t know what kind of bender she went on, but she wasn’t in heat anymore and life has been relatively peaceful (and quiet) since then. She can’t get pregnant, thankfully, and I’m going to get her all fixed up when we arrive in the U.S. Fingers crossed that she doesn’t go into heat again in the next 36-37 days…

The one challenge that I’m facing is trying to get her up to Dar when it’s time for me to COS. My original plan was to fly up with her on Fastjet, which is the only airline that currently flies from Mbeya to Dar. However, when I read the fine print on their web site, I realized that they do not allow animals (except for seeing eye dogs) on their planes. They won’t even allow them in the hold. The bus ride to Dar is about 14 hours and neither of us want to deal with that so, as I mentioned in a previous Facebook post, my current plan is to slip her a little Valium, put a knit hat on her and wrap her up in kangas and blankets like all mamas do with their babies here. Usually, you only see the top of the hat and a big roll of blankets when a mama is carrying a baby so I’m thinking I can pass Nulty off as my baby, breeze right through security and be in Dar in an hour and a half. I’m not sure if I just think this is doable because I’ve been here too long or if it’s actually a realistic plan. I’m still looking for a better Plan B (the current one involves a car jacking – the less you know, the better) so I’ll let you all know how it develops.

Nulty was quite excited to have a visitor.  Here she is checking Meesh's suitcase (I was worried she would pee on it or spray it but she managed to control herself.)

Nulty was quite excited to have a visitor. Here she is checking Meesh’s suitcase (I was worried she would pee on it or spray it but she managed to control herself.)

Nulty snoozes in the sun.

Nulty snoozes in the sun.

Nulty's eyes are pleading for someone to rescue her from my clutches.

Nulty’s eyes are pleading for someone to rescue her from my clutches.

Nulty barely tolerates a smooch from me.

Nulty barely tolerates a smooch from me.

I’m going to try to do a couple more blog posts before I leave (and perhaps one or two once I’m back in the U.S.) but I thought I’d try something different now that I’m nearing the end of my time here. If there are any questions you have about things I haven’t covered in any of my posts, or if there’s anything you are curious about, please put your questions/requests in the comments below (those of you that are blog shy can email them to me at my yahoo account) and I’ll do a post where I answer your questions and/or try to fulfill any requests for photos, etc. that you all might have.

I hope you are all having a great September!

The Cute Kids of Ilembo

The last month or so has been full of exciting thing (visits from old PCVs, intros to new PCVs, baby goats!) and I am working on a longer update that I’ll post later this week, but in keeping with my goal of one post a month, I am going to do a quick photo entry featuring some of the cute kids of Ilembo. I hope you enjoy!

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CuteBaby

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These Kids Put the “Fun” in “Wanafunzi”*

(*”Wanafunzi” is Swahili for “students”)

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…)