The content of this blog does not reflect the positions of the Peace Corps and is solely the responsibility of the author.

In Which I Take Photos of the Cute Things Next Door

The neighbors have a kitten!  A tiny little thing that, when I saw it, was busy jumping around in a downed tree branch.  It was kind of adorable.  

And the neighbor's child: much less adorable, but when silly white girls are waving cameras around, children tend to pose. 

I was actually outside with my camera to take pictures of the storm clouds in the sunset, with the palm trees and mountains and all, but kitties, they are cute.

In Which I am at Least as Well Qualified to Dispense Advice on Children as that Pompous Ass Rousseau

I am not overly fond of children.  I find them, on the whole, nasty, brutish, and short.  I don't ever want them.  Naturally, I therefore have opinions on how other people should raise them, and I also think people are doing it wrong.

So: children in Tanzania.  They're slave labor.  In schools, any teacher can and often will order a child to drop whatever they are doing to perform manual labor or run errands.  All cleaning and a good bit of maintenance work is done by the students, who will not be provided with food or water, and one just has to hope they are provided with enough money to buy it for themselves.  This continues into the training  that students receive at teacher training colleges.  Students are not trusted to any degree ever, are regarded as cheaters looking for an opportunity, and must submit to humiliating school-wide inspections to ensure that they have all required textbooks and for the female students to be lectured on their hairstyles.*  This is in stark contrast to quite a few US universities I'm familiar with, in which students receive lectures on honor, sign some honor pledge, and have done with the baby-sitting.  I think this is a much better way of doing things because it teaches people that they are adults and should be responsible.  If people make mistakes being adults and responsible, well, institutions of higher education do a reasonable job of providing a reasonably safe environment to make mistakes in.

There will, of course, always be the outliers who never learn and probably are evil, lying cheating scoundrels, but this is not a reason to infantilize a majority of people.

The major reason I bring this up as a problem is because I worry about the teachers in training at the teacher training colleges.  They are very soon going to be full-fledged teachers with pretty much complete power over their students, and while this never seems very healthy emotionally for anyone, there is a peculiarly worrisome and demonstrable (though granted, only through anecdata) tendency for teachers' unlimited power to result in excessive corporal discipline verging on or becoming torture, and sexual harassment for the students.   This is probably due, at least in part, to abuse being the only model of teacherhood some students ever see, and while I have great faith in people being able to rise above bad circumstances through sheer force of will, I also sympathize with those who don't because it's really hard.  And I wish that students were treated like embryonic adults rather than like slaves.

*All through primary and secondary school, girls must have their hair either cropped very short or in simple plaits, but at teacher colleges, the women can, and do, have any hair they want.  African hairbraiding can do some seriously amazing things, and I love looking at the hairstyles of some of the female students here, but apparently the fancier hair violates cultural expectations of gender roles.  What is with cultural obsessions over hair?  How the monks were going to shave their heads was a major thing between England and Ireland back in the day, and in the Bible, you have the long-haired Nazarenes on one hand, and Paul declaring on the other that long hair-men are unnatural or something.   Some Muslims and some Christians both decree that strange men should not have a complete view of women's hair, and I just don't get it.  It's hair.  We've all got it.

Emotional Chocolate and Peanut Butter Cake


Not bad for fake butter and that weird long life milk stuff (that's at least better than powdered milk) and so-so hot chocolate drink mix.  The peanut butter, however, was awesome, as it came in a box from that magical land in which peanut butter is sweet and has all sorts of strange compounds added to keep the oil from separating out.  Only fancy, there are places in the world with different types of peanut butter!

The magical marvelous sufuria oven.

Stories of Magic: Alabama Edition

A volunteer told me that in her home state of Alabama, people say that the devil is beating his wife when the sun shines during rainstorms.

In Which I Step on a Sacred Bee

I stepped on a bee.  It hurt.  I almost caused panic in trying to explain what happened to some onlookers because I accidentally told them that I stepped on a snake [nyoka] rather than a bee [nyuki].  My Kiswahili, it is problematic.

Once we cleared up that minor language trouble, I had to introduce myself at length, because the onlookers at the college right now are all government workers who don't know who I am.  Naturally, among the things I was asked (after "will you fix my computer?" "No.") was about religion, specifically, whether I was Christian or Muslim.  This is a common question*.   It's also not one I like getting because in addition to disliking false dichotomies, I'm somewhat bitter about religion in general for many reasons, and in Tanzania as in the rest of the world, when it comes to religion, one cannot simply claim not to have one and get on with life the way one can with admitting to a lack of, say, vegetable peeler. My standard explanation is that religion, like love, must come from the heart, and if it doesn't there is no good reason to pretend and a lot of good reasons to not.  In this case, this did not work, because the man asked if I didn't believe in religion or didn't believe in god.

In most circumstances, I would be really happy to talk about this because it is an important distinction, but in a garbled conversation of partial English (that he doesn't really understand) and partial Kiswahili (that I don't really understand) I am not prepared for a conversation about metaphysics.  Particularly not after stepping on a bee.  Which hurt.  So I just said I didn't believe in god, because that's easy, at which he got all pantheistic (god is everywhere, even in that tree, or is that panintheism?) and then demanded explanations for the origin of everything or else QED god.  Somehow the upshot of this was his telling me that the origin of the bee that had just enjoyed my foot (that's a translation weirdness) was of god and caused by god as was stepping on it.

I smiled weakly and went home to take over the counter antihistamines and a generic pain killer, because I had stepped on a bee, and it hurt.

*My hypothesis is actually that this happens to women a lot more than men, and only to anyone in regions which don't have a fairly homogeneous religious distribution, but I don't have the data to support that claim.

About receiving on a regular basis the question "are you Christian or Muslim"
People in the sample: 12
men: 5
women: 7

men who say they don't get that question: 4
women who say they don't get that question: 3

Of the three women who are not asked this, all 3 of them qualify that they are in a place with a homogeneous religious distribution, and the 2 of those who are in Christian areas say they get asked which denomination they are a lot.

I need a larger sample size.

Dresses in Tanzania

To have clothes made in Tanzania, one goes to fabric stores, buys fabric, and takes it to another shop where nice people with sewing machines will make whatever you can draw for them or whatever you point to of the pictures they have on the walls.    These are the ones I have had made thus far.     

In Which I am Irritated by Tanzanian Security Theater

This has been bugging me for a while.  Below is a typical Tanzanian lock.  It can be defeated with a flat head screwdriver.

My house has a burglar-proof door.  I broke into it the first night at site, after locking myself out*, with a friendly neighbor who had a screwdriver and a claw-headed hammer.  While one could argue that it took long enough and made enough noise to be an easily defeatable break in, it is not burglar-proof.  Which is not to say that it is bad, since it ensures that I will be victimized by a better quality of more persistent criminal (what more can one ask?) but let's never forget that security is an unsolvable problem and approach it with intelligence and realism.  The best way to keep my house unbreached is to be friends with my neighbors.  

My current annoyances with security are caused by the Tanzanian Ministry of Education, which has actually been the cause of the majority of my annoyances, and typically centering around the national exams.  This is no exception.  Classes at the college are over, the students and most of the teachers have peaced out. The government has moved in to grade more national exams, this time using labor imported from outside the college (couldn't they have done that the last round of grading, rather than interrupt their future teachers' already far too brief training?).  All well and good, except they seem to think I am on retainer to help them troubleshoot their personal laptops.  I agree to giving their personal laptops wireless access.  Period.  I am working on making it clear that I only do this during normal working hours.  The reason this is security related is that the ministry workers are camping in the ICT office building and they have decided that their grading work is so super-sensitive that non-government personnel must be escorted at all times in this building.  This means that when I get text messages asking me to show up and distribute wireless access like the benevolent internet-dispensing deity that I so clearly am, I have to wait around for someone to escort me into the building I have the keys to, let me into the server room (that I also have the keys for) where there are all the servers and routers that I have the admin passwords for, and then they hand me their personal laptops, tell me their passwords for their personal laptops, and then have someone escort me out.

And have I mentioned there is wireless?  And I have admin and personal laptop passwords?  I don't even need to be physically in the building if I decide to be a security problem.  Really government people, the way to keep your sys admin staff (which is pretty much me**) from becoming a security risk is to be good friends with them and not infuriate them with demands for unpaid 24/7 tech support and submitting to pointless security theater.

*It was not my fault.  I had my keys with me.  One of the multiple latches on the inside of the door somehow latched itself while I was outside because it was really loose and I kinda have to slam this door to get it to shut.

**I have taught the ICT teacher who is there to turn the servers on for them how to give wireless access in the hopes that I wouldn't have to do this, but unfortunately, he doesn't have a computer, and the government people's computers pretty much uniformly don't have java installed, which is required to run the nice graphical interface for the router, and I really don't want to mess with the government people's virus-riddled Windows Vista boxes more than I have to.  

Stories of Magic: The Burns of Affection

A volunteer stationed in a village close to Same relates that a girl who was trying to get him to marry her (in Kiswahili, men marry, women are married) burned his name into her arm.  His hypothesis is that this is supposed to somehow bind him to her, but he doesn't know for sure.

On a related note, I have been reading War and Peace and one of the characters decides to prove her love for another by heating a ruler in a stove and then burning herself with it.  Is burning oneself for love a thing?  Did I miss something that would make this make sense?

In Which I am an Aerialist in Tanzania

I got silks and a rescue 8 rig in a box from the US, which was rescued from Customs after an epic battle of wills and official letters.  I hang my silks off an awesome jungle gym thing 

The Tanzanians aren't quite sure what to make of it.  The first few times I did this no one said a word to me.  People stopped and watched, but no one actually asked me what I was doing.  Then some of the male students began to peacock, energetically doing pushups (on the top of the jungle gym right above me no less) and taking off their shirts and climbing around.  A few people then ask me what the name of this mchezo is.  Mchezo means game, sport, entertainment, and the verb from -cheza means to play or to  dance.  At a staff meeting, the principal asked me this as well, I got a round of applause from the other teachers for answering in Kiswahili (they all seem to think it is hilarious and fun that I attempt to speak the language, since the VSO couple there and their former PCVs just spoke English) and now people just seem to accept that I am the odd person who does this odd fabric thing.

Bring me Your Ridiculous, Your Privileged, Your First World Problems

Listen, and I will tell you a story, as it was told to me by a volunteer on leave:

Far far away, in that magical land the US, where clothes are washed by machine and all the roads are paved, there once was a woman, and she had too much pound cake.  And lo!  There was a massive storm, and she was without electricity in her house for several days.  What of her pound cake, which, in the refrigerator that could no longer keep foods cold, might go bad?  Did she eat it?  Well, no, for she could only eat pound cake with strawberries, which she feared to buy in the absence of a powered refrigerator.  Instead then, she gave away all of her pound cake to her neighbors, for she had too much and could not eat it without strawberries.

There are few problems more delightful than those of developed nations.  The inhabitants of such places, they have trouble finding online the precise episodes of television shows they missed on air, they do have uneven coffee table legs, and they have too much pound cake.

The brilliant and wonderful people in the US with whom I converse have this depressing tendency to make self-deprecating comments when they tell me about their first world problems, and indeed, first world problems are first world problems and I have an unfair conversational advantage in that no matter how rough you have it I can probably one-up you, because really, I'm in Tanzania and you aren't.  However, I love first world problems.  They remind us all that civilization is doing something right.

In this is civilization, that we might have too much pound cake and share with our neighbors. Oh Youtube!  Give me me your opera, your flash cartoons, and your animals doing cute things!  And when you are done, I would like a cookie, made in an actual oven with lots of bells and whistles like temperature controls.

In Which I Make a Cake

It was a basic yellow cake, a little funny tasting because I do not buy real butter without a refrigerator, and I have yet to find a source of real milk, but I made frosting for it that was pretty much entirely liquid, and it's not a pretty cake, but it was a genuine actual cake, and it was for my birthday, and it was yummy.

In addition, I bought oranges, which are green not orange, but they are oranges, and hollowed them out jack-o-lantern wise and spooned cake batter into them and cooked them inside the oranges, to make itty bitty adorable citrusy cakelet things.  The downside being that it takes forever to cook, at least if you are doing it in a sufuria over a hot plate, and the juice tends to bubble over and burn and make a huge mess.

A Tanzanian Wedding

A wedding I attended with my host family during training.

The thing was outside under a canopy of lights.

The bride and groom leaving.
The back of the bride's dress.

The bride at a table full of booze and soda

Some members of the wedding party

I just followed these two women around with a camera while they were dancing because they were awesome.

Low quality video clip of people dancing while waving handkerchiefs:

Thank you Tuesday

I went to the big sokoni [market] in town yesterday looking for a mortar and pestle, unroasted coffee beams, and nail polish.  Which I found, no problems, but while I was there I decided I might as well pick up some of the vegetables I would normally get in one of the little villages close to my house.  This was a mistake.

I would love the sokoni in town so much were I not white, they have so much stuff, everywhere, and it's wonderful, except maybe for the piles of dead sardine-like fish that sit in the sun and become ever smellier. The problem with being white is that people harass me by following me around shoving stuff in my face (do you want this, do you want that?), and try to overcharge me.  Massively.  After some person attempted to tell me a handful of tomatoes was 2,000 Tsh (it should be about 200) I gave up and was heading out ignoring the tomato-price-gouging sellers running after me frantically offering to drop the price to around 1500 because he just loved foreigners so much.  This was when another man called out to me that he would give me tomatoes for the actual going price.  I thanked him, bought tomatoes from him, and told him what had gone on and started complaining about how every time I came here people give me foreigner prices.  He not listened sympathetically, he then asked me what else I needed, and went with me around the market, and helped me buy my groceries for me at market prices, without wanting a cut for himself, and without pressuring me to buy more stuff then I needed.  When I was done, he told me his name was Jumanne (which means Tuesday) and next time I came to market I should come to him, ask around if I can't find him, and he would continue to help me with my shopping.

This man named Tuesday noticed a complete stranger getting hassled and overcharged and stopped to help and ensured she got the fair price.  Were more of us like him, this would be a merrier world.  May you have diamonds and pearls at your head and your feet, Jumanne.

Stories of Magic: Sacrifices

An Mpwapwa volunteer has heard of man who either agreed or volunteered to be sacrificed to the gods for rain.

In Which it is Weird Even in Tanzania that I am a Woman in Computer-Related Fields

One of the questions on the exams I have been grading is "Do you think the overall affect of ICT on society has been positive or negative? Discuss."  (I believe if I have to grade essays I should at least ask questions I'm mildly interested in hearing opinions about.) One of the students wrote that it leads to gender segregation because people think computers are only for men and the youth, but computers are really for all of us.  That made me smile.

Like everywhere in the world (once we made it through the 1950s), the field of computing in Tanzania is largely dominated by men.  Tanzania in general is, of course, dominated by men, but there are some fields where one can find a lot of women.  There are other departments at this college with a lot more women than the ICT department, which has, besides me, one and I don't see her very often.  Since quite a few of the 9 ICT teachers here are university students from Dar doing there internship and there's a high turnover, one might expect temporary women teachers dropping in, but I have yet to see any.

I was questioned about this recently.  It seems to be more or less accepted that I can sit with my laptop typing, but if I actually do anything hardware related, it causes great comment, and oh my Turing, the fascination that ensues over my ability to use a screwdriver.

I was asked about it by a Tanzanian government official why there aren't more women in ICT at this teacher's college, and as usual when queried by Tanzanians on questions about culture I'm not entirely prepared to answer in English much less Kiswahili, I responded with "I'm not sure, why do you think that is?"  He gave the usual response that women make different choices from men. Sigh.

I really dislike the "women just make different choices" method of justifying gender segregation, since it ignores underlying factors, as, for example, a Tanzanian culture in which there is really strong pressure on women to marry, have children, and do all the cooking, cleaning, laundry, water-toting, farming, etc.

As a side note, I am a ripped aerialist and I am in awe of Tanzanian women.  Washing water in a bucket and cooking over charcoal (or kerosene, actually, since I have never been able to light a charcoal jiko without my neighbors coming over with coals and talking about what an idiot and bad cook I am right in front of me because they think I don't understand and I hate that) is hard, water is really heavy, I don't even try to farm, and cleaning my floors is kind of a big deal, because they are cement and I have to dump soapy water over them and squeegee it all off, and this is a really big house.  The Tanzanian women do all of this, usually way more than me, and they somehow have jobs and spend their chai breaks going home to breastfeed and don't seem to get tired.  I am tired all the time, and mostly all I do is just my job.  

Also, in Tanzanian culture women and men don't tend to hang together that much.  Even in as progressive an area as Morogoro (men and women who aren't lovers hold hands!  In public!) I can still go to a man's house for dinner and his wife stays in the kitchen and brings food out and serves us, because as a white woman expert from the US I seem to count as a man in social situations, which I think confuses everyone including me.

The weirdest thing I think about gender segregation here is that the culture says it is not safe for women to walk alone at night but it is for men, even though as a general thing Tanzanian women are  larger than Tanzanian men. in despite of women not liking to exercise their bodies (according to a 19 year old girl, at any rate.)   Of course, bigger here is more beautiful, so women encourage their daughters to eat, but not their sons.  Due to the food situation this has a real and dramatic effect.  I am as large or more so than quite a few Tanzanian men.  For purposes of scale I am 5 foot 3 and usually around 120lbs.  And yet it is safe for a man a head shorter than me to walk alone at night, but I get lectures on safety.    What gives?

In Which I Inquire about Aspects of the US Food Infrastructure that I Never Thought About Before

In the US, why:

  • Are there never dead bees in the honey?

  • Are there no rocks in the rice?

  • Are the eggs never covered in fecal material?

Stories of Magic: Popo Baa the One-Eyed One-Winged Batman

I've heard several versions of this story, all of which are short on details but all agree that it's a raping batman.

There is a man with one bat wing and one eye, and his name is Popo Baa, which means Disastrous/Calamitous Bat.  He is a rapist.   He only (or usually only?) rapes small boys.  If Popo Baa comes to rape you he may move into your house.  The only way to protect yourself or get rid of Popo Baa is to tell everyone you know about Popo Baa and possibly to invite everyone you know over to your house while Popo Baa is there, and eventually Popo Baa will move on to his next victim, which (I think) is usually either someone you've told or someone you invited to your house.

From the Emotional Cookbook: Baba Ghanouj of Optimism Served on the Chapatis of Inadequacy

(recipes taken from the Peace Corps cookbook, which is awesome).

Boil an eggplant into submission, then mash into a pulp while thinking of the children who yell 'give me money' when you pass.

Add some amount of salt that you think may be around a teaspoon.  Add the juice of however many lemons you happen to have around and as much garlic as possible.   If you have such a thing, add tahini paste, otherwise peanut butter is just ducky.  Mix until it looks and tastes the way you like your baba ghanouj, which is a personal matter.

Prepare the chapati.  Mix together flour, oil, and water with a little bit of salt, until it is a rollable dough, which you should roll into circles.

This is better with white flour, but I was out.

some people have actual rolling pins.  

spread oil over the top, roll up into little balls and then out into flat circles again.  Fry in butter substitute.

My frying skills are terrible.
 Spoon large amounts of baba ghanouj onto the chapatis.  Eat piggishly.

The School Term is Almost Over, and I Have Yet to Teach

I have, however, contributed to the writing of the terminal exam, and advised a student on a topic for his final project.  Other than that, the last month has been entirely taken up with students grading the national exams for the nations primary schools, tomorrow they start exams, and the days in between they were cleaning the college and I guess studying on their own.

I have discovered I think it is somewhat unethical to not teach students for a month and then demand they take an important test.

Today's important event was that the students had to pass an inspection in which they were told to show teachers that they had all the books required for the subject in which they specialize.  I have mixed feelings about this.  Yes, these are teachers.  They may be going to teach in rural areas in which their personal books may be the only textbooks around.  For the teachers to have these books is important.  It bothers me the infantilizing way the college goes about ensuring that these future teachers do have books.  It really bothers me that the college teachers will spend time humiliating a student who didn't have books--a student in clothes that didn't fit, and a jacket that was stained and had buttons close to falling off.  (Tanzanians take a lot of care in their appearance, so that's unusual.) I realize I have no useful contextual data, like the cost of the textbooks this student was supposed to purchase, I don't know what tuition fees for this college are like, I have no idea what this student is like as a student or a person, or his name even, but the episode still bothered me.

At least the other day one of my pressing job responsibilities was to chase an owl out of the computer lab.  An owl!  A very pretty barn owl (I think) with a lovely cute heart-shaped face.

Butterflies Flapping their Wings in Africa


I expect a tsunami back in Georgia, sasa hivi.

Kanga Line

One of my favorite aspects of Tanzanian clothing is the kanga, which is just a piece of cloth used as a woman's wrap.  Or curtain.  Or towel.  Or strainer.  Or baby sling.  Whatever a big piece of cloth can be conveniently used for.  They come in sets of two which must be cut apart and hemmed (there are many shops around featuring people with sewing machines more than happy to do this for you), and then you have two big convenient pretty pieces of cloth.  They all have a nice border and an inspirational saying in Kiswahili on them.  Thus far I have four:

Tunaomba salama/We ask for peace

Wema wako malipo utayakuta kwa Mungu/Your goodness pays for you will meet God. [-ish.  This one confuses me grammatically.  What's with the ya infix in utakuta?] I have just been informed that this means "the payment for your good deeds you will find in God."

Wema na ubaya upo lakini tusameheane/Goodness and badness are here but we forgive.  

Kila jambo jema hupangwa na Mungu/Every good thing is arranged by God. 

Stories of Magic Continued: Demon Possession

It is not uncommon for girls at secondary schools, particularly all-girl schools, to be afflicted with what is euphemistically dubbed the falling down sickness.  In this sickness, a girl will become possessed by a demon, and fall down dramatically, which prompts a flurry of hysterical praying and similar possession from other girls around.  Sometimes boys, who do not seem to have the falling down sickness, are called upon to forcibly remove the possessed girls.

On a lighter note, a 19-year-old girl told me that at her all-girls school they had a laughing sickness in which sometimes girls who hadn't seen men for a long time would start laughing uncontrollably at the sight of the male teachers and be unable to learn anything.  In order to prevent this, the school headmaster allows the girls to have a disco with the nearby all-boys school once a month.

Stories of Magic I Have Heard

Officially from everything I've heard Tanzania is 1/3 Christian, 1/3 Muslim, and 1/3 traditional beliefs.  The last 1/3 won't admit to it, and the Tanzanians I've asked have insisted the country is only Christian and Muslim, however, the topic of witches and witch doctors is there, and I recently had a student I don't know ask me how Europeans view witch doctors (they all think I'm from Europe).  Some things I've hear about witches are as follows. 

Things that are fairly well-known:

Loliondo--some healerman there has a magic cup that cures all sorts of things if you drink from it, which is all well and good until you stop taking your medication after the magic cup.  Trust but verify, yo.

Albino bits--getting a witch doctor to prepare you some special meal from some organ of an albino (the liver, I think?) will give you power.  Predictably enough, this has led sometimes to albinos being gruesomely murdered.  The government told the media to stop reporting dramatically on this phenomenon, which spawns all sorts of conspiracy theories.

Things I've personally heard and mostly second-hand, quoted as well as I can remember:

From a VSO couple:
There was an old woman found naked in a rice basket in the street of Dar-es-Salaam.   A crowd beat her to death because they assumed she must have been flying through the air in the rice basket, because how else would she have gotten there? 
From a PCV stationed in Lufinga:
Wizards have these magic beanstalks, you know, like F***ing Jack, and plant them in the ground beside a church and climb up to the roof.   In the morning, people see them on the church roof and know they are wizards.  People also say women with red eyes are witches and not, you know the result of bending over the jiko [stove] too long.

By the way, Kiswahili doesn't make a gender distinction between witch and wizard, the word you will hear translated both ways is mchawi.

From my brother in my homestay family, when I saw a man being beaten to death on tv and asked why, because this was a wee itty bit disturbing, and the explanation made it worse:
Because that man is a witch.  That's what we have to do to witches.  Witches can make a giant leap over a building.  They can come through walls and into your home.  Sometimes they sit on you while you are asleep.  If they sit on your head you wake up with headache, because they are doing this to your head all night [demonstrates mauling a pillow].  Sometimes, while you are sleeping they take your body and force you to dig on their farm all night, even though you are asleep, and then you wake up and you slept but you are so tired!  Can you imagine?  [Me: if they are so powerful, how can people hurt them?] Witches have rules.  They only have power between midnight and 4am.  If they are jumping over buildings and stay out too late, people can see them and know they are witches.  Also, there are people, witch doctors, and they know about witches.  They point to the people who are witches and then the witches are killed.   [Me: what if the witch doctors are wrong?]   The witch-doctors know how to find witches, I heard one witch doctor entered a man's house and told people to dig one part of the floor.  The people dug up the floor and found bones and knew the man was a witch.  Can you imagine?  Look there on the tv [where the image of the man being dragged bloody across the ground is being repeated], that man did not make a sound while they were beating him, can you imagine?   I can see by your eyes you are scared, you scientists, you think magic doesn't exist, but how do you explain this?  Once, with my own eyes, I saw magic.  I was at a graduation for a friend, it was outside and there was a storm coming.  An old man there in the audience stood up, faced the rain, and held out his hand.  The rain stopped, like it had hit a wall, and there was a clear line between the wet ground and the dry ground.  How do you explain that?  

Tanzanian Bus Bingo Card

Bus breaks down

Vomiting person
Reeking food item
4:1 person to seat ratio

Breast-feeding woman
Stopped by police
Chickens under seats,
Chicken in a plastic bag,

In which I have Thoughts, Opinions, and Possibly Attitudes about the Tanzanian Educational System

The Tanzanian government likes tests.  Likes them so much, in fact, that it has mandatory national exams, some of which determine whether or not a student graduates regardless of any other work that student has done and some of which are just for funsies.  I am at the college used for the marking of such, which means that all the people learning how to teach have just lost slightly more than a month out of only a 2 year curriculum.  This means I am not teaching or integrating into the community, but hanging out by myself in a room full of electronic equipment.  Sometimes monkeys stare at me.

I actually have way too much to do right now because I am pathologically incapable of saying no to requests to fix this, that, and the other thing, and I know you just left, but can you come back and do this urgent thing?  This is, however, not the point.

The government is pushing computer education in schools.  Good on them!  I think this is a highly worthy goal.  Computers and education are something that the government itself really needs.  Suppose, for example, you go to a police station to report a robbery, because you are a good responsible citizen interested in justice and also you need a police report in order to be issued a new atm card from the bank.  So you go to a police station, you answer the curt questions of name, age, religion, and tribe, stuff is written down in  a giant ledger, a small piece of notebook paper with cryptic numbers indicating your reports location (there are huge stacks of giant ledgers everywhere) is given to you, along with a police report form, which you take across the street and make copies of at your own expense, after which you bring the copies (and original) back to the police station and hand some person the forms and the small piece of notebook paper.  The person uses the numbers in the notebook paper to go look at the ledger, write down the information from the ledger on the copies of the police report form you just made, and then you pay an additional fee to get an official rubber stamp placed on the form.  As a good and responsible citizen, I would never consider just getting my own rubber stamp made and keeping an additional blank copy of the form just to save hassle on possible subsequent occasions.  The reason I bring all this up is because this is a system begging to be computerized.   If nothing else, hard drives take up a lot less space and are more sanitary than giant piles of moldering and cobwebby ledgers, and are easier to search.     Having computers easily available would help retail a great deal.  There are places in the world where making change is not a huge issue because there is a computerized thingie that tells people how much change to give and there is a well organized container of cash with which to make change.  This computerized thingie is also a convenient way of keeping records of cash flow, just kind of as a side thing, but I never realized until I came here just how amazing it is to have the infrastructure in places such that one can buy $1.36 worth of stuff with a $20 bill and be assured of getting the correct change, right then immediately.  If one even uses cash, which as a general rule, I don't in the US, because we live in the future where bits of plastic can be used instead because even small business owners have credit card readers.  

Anyway, computers are good.  The problem is not getting the physical computers--people love throwing money for computers at Africa, which is good, everything has to start with a little money being tossed around--the problem is having any kind of realistic computer education.  There was an Irish group that just gave 7 computers to a primary school close to me, good on them!  God love the Irish, but they left before teaching anyone at the school how to use, much less teach computers.  This is a problem.  There are schools around Tanzania with piles of unused and dusty computers because there is no one to take care of them or use them to teach.  There is an official computer curriculum which is, as far as I can tell, useless.  As in, the other day I got an urgent phone call from a teacher at my college wanting to know how to find the server's IP address, because, while he is a highly educated computer teacher, there is nothing in the computer education that would prepare anyone to do anything to do that.  (In all fairness,  looking up a server's IP is a little more confusing than looking up the IP on your personal computer.)  Not that I've actually had a chance to teach, but I did observe a few classes before all of them were canceled for the grading of national exams.  Great weight is placed on students' ability to memorize categories of computers (there are many ways to place computers into category, the official syllabus picked size), the definition of a computer (which I disagree with), and the difference between data and information (which I'm not sure I know either).  There is also great emphasis placed on being able to use Microsoft Office products.  And by use, I mean work technically.  Personally, I think time teaching office software would be better spent teaching people how to type and how to actually give presentations, but who am I to argue with the demands of power point?  

All education has to start somewhere, and it's not like the majority of power point users in developed countries know how to use it to give a good presentation either, but there needs to be more and different stuff than what there is.  I recommend:

  • Games.  Typing games would probably be the easiest to sell to the ministry of education, but I am a great believer in computer familiarity via Minesweeper, Solitaire, and Oregon Trail.  
  • Hardware/maintenance education.  Teach people what is inside a computer, how to take care of it, why dust and water should be kept away from them, troubleshooting, and general guides to keeping a computer just plain running.
  • What's inside the box.  How a computer actually works, by which I mean files, file systems, the navigation therethrough, the basics of the huge complicated mess which is networking, operating systems and how to reinstall them if you screw things all to Dijkstra in your dedication to learning through experimentation, etc.  The great thing about people who have never touched a computer before is they aren't scared of it.  Tell people in the US to open a console or a terminal and type ipconfig/ifconfig and they freak out about the scary black box, and having to, like, type actual commands. Tell people in Tanzania to do the same thing and they just do it, because they aren't scared of it, and also the culture of Tanzania is one in which people do not brag about a lack of math and computer skills the way they do in the US (what's with that, anyway?).    

That's pretty much it, because there is limited time in the curriculum and computer classes often don't happen, but I think this is probably the important stuff for being able to keep the computer functioning and being familiar enough with it to be able to kind of figure out the rest.    Discussions of security and ethics and information and photo editing and stuff are great, but let's leave that until we have a functional infrastructure of computer education.  There are people here who know how to get on facebook but have no idea how to turn a computer on, and this I find problematic.  

In Which I go Hiking and Take a Few Photos

I took a week mostly for vacation and mostly in Dodoma* but I also went up the mountain to explore the trails there, which seem to have been blazed by very short people with machetes so one has to be careful of low branches, but Mount Uluguru is beautiful and has waterfalls.

*Technically, Dodoma was for serious work by which I mean a Peace Corps conference, but practically, it was a chance to chat with other volunteers and take hot showers multiple times a day unnecessarily.

It's a Beautiful Game

Last Friday I was invited to attend a football* match between the tutors(what they call the teachers) and the students at the college.  Since no less than three of my fellow ICT department members play for the tutors, and play right well, it was made fairly clear that they would really really like me to show up.  The students seemed to think it was a little odd, and told me in a concerned way that "madam, there is also a netball match between the female tutors and students going on over there."  There are Tanzanian women at a football match, but not nearly as many as men, and most of them seem to be there to dance, drum, and run onto the field waving tree branches if a goal is scored, so by ignoring the women's game and sitting with the men, I may be being culturally insensitive, but whatever.  I want to watch the football and cheer on the ICT department.  Also, for reasons I don't entirely understand, I got to sit at the table with the important people, meaning that if people closer to the pitch got in the way of my view, the important people would yell at them to move, and they did, and watching the football match was amazing.

First, because it was really really good football.   Everyone was trying hard to score, not just kicking the ball around, and it was one of those games where I am on the edge of my seat about every play.  Better still, there was sportsmanship and none of this taking dives and pretending injury to get penalty kicks.  When people took tumbles, which given the largely dirt nature of the pitch was frequently, whoever was around would help them up.  People were just as willing to cheer the referee for popular decisions as they were to boo for unpopular decisions.

There was also the ambiance of the match.  The spectators bring drums to these things and people dance and drum throughout.  As well they should.  Also, after the match (which ended 1-1), everyone runs up the hill, dancing, drumming, and yelling chants that some nice woman leaned close and repeated very clearly so I could chant them as well.  Delightful.

*The game Americans call soccer

Campus Life: With Monkeys

Today, I wandered about campus with a camera.  It was a subject of great hilarity, particularly as regards  my fascination with monkeys.  The things fulfill the same ecological niche as squirrels do in places that have squirrels, so while the students found it ridiculous that I wanted pictures of the ubiquitous little beasts, at the same time I had a crowd of young men shepherding me about saying things like "over there, madam, that one is very photogenic!"  

Mt Uluguru, right behind the campus.

checkers with water bottle caps

volleyball court and women's dorms

dining hall

one of the many very scenic walks

view as I come in the front gate