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

In Which the School Headmaster Sees his Shadow

And we now have two more weeks of classes!

Either that or the government ran out of money.  For whatever reason, funds to send students on their practice teaching have not arrived, so we are still teaching.  I did what I should have done at the beginning of the term and brought a mouse and keyboard to class, explained left clicking versus right clicking and the location of the enter/return key.

Also, there is an end in sight to our unsustainable-due-to-monkeys practice of stringing network cable between buildings to spread the internet.  All I need to do is write a nice proposal to the headmaster in which I say that the fiber optic cable that is starting to make an appearance will be better than a satellite link and cat6 cable because monkeys.

Parade of Womanhood at the Expense of Education. Or Something

Yesterday a parade of people waving tree branches and beating drums walked past my house.  I didn't know why this was happening, but I approved.  It seemed a very approvable sort of thing.  Then I found out this parade is an ngoma, which means drum, but is also, according to a friend who works in Kolero, a Luguru (the local tribe) traditional coming of age ceremony for a girl who has begun to menstruate.  Fine, but part of this ceremony includes the girl being ceremonied having to stay in her house for at least a month, sometimes longer.  Add to this that in more remote villages women don't really have access to sanitary supplies, and girls stay home from school when they have their periods.  And we wonder why girls don't necessarily do so well in school here.  It was still a cool parade, though.

In Which I go to a Party

I got home from Dar just in time for the teachers' party that happens at the college before the students all leave for teaching practice.  Which actually they aren't doing yet because funding has yet to appear from the ministry of education, so there's not really any reason to party, but then, there's not any reason not to.  The college hired a coaster to take the teachers down to a touristy club and also provided drinks and goats, and there was much dancing.  

Mama Halima would be my fashion icon had I the panache and skin color for this.

This is just kind of impressive.

Exhibit C of why I am turning vegetarian.

Performing the only line dance in Tanzania: the electric slide.


Peace Corps Tanzania, until recently, had no centralized website for volunteers.  Recognizing this as a problem, an ICT volunteer down in Njombe responded in the most logical way possible: by beginning to build one.  Myself and another ICT volunteer up in Kilimanjaro got into the project, the three of us declared ourselves an ICT committee, or possibly a triumvirate of technological superiority, and now we have a functioning website that is live and ready for business at pctanzania.org.    Tomorrow I'm going into Dar-es-Salaam in order to make a presentation about it to the staff at the Volunteer Advisory Council meeting.  I'm somewhat excited about this.  Not so much about going into Dar, which is far from being my favorite place ever*, but that we built a website and it works.

*I was selected to make the presentation on the basis of geographic proximity.

Postal Systems, How do They Work?

A PCV I don't know named Julie has a package en route.  It started in the US, her mother mailed it to the mother of George, who then came visit George at his site in Tanzania.  She stopped by my site and left the package in my spare room for several weeks.  I took it down to the bus stand and passed it in through the bus window to a PCV I don't actually know who was traveling to somewhere closer to Julie's site.  Presumably, the package will eventually get to it's destination after some more hand-offs between PCVs.

This seems drawn out and overly complicated, but at the same point, everyone passing the package along has some connection to Julie through Peace Corps, and all of us know how important it is for volunteers to get their packages.  We love our packages.  What seems more complicated is how one can overnight packages from one end of the US to the other via people you will never meet or care to meet.

Stories of Magic: Sacrificing Virgins

A volunteer at Mbeya recounts stories of the beliefs revolving around virgin, by which we mean virgin women*.  First, the idea that sex with a virgin cures HIV/AIDS, which is not that unheard of despite the somewhat inescapable problem that if sex cured anything, there would be a lot less disease in the world.

Second, some people are sacrificing virgins to bring good outcomes in business.  I need one of my favorite fictional characters, Dean Winchester from Supernatural, to declare in all his good-looking and well-muscled hero-ness that no one will be sacrificing any virgins.

* because we don't police men's sexuality; men are acknowledged to be more than the sum of what they do between their legs.  Bloody patriarchy.

In Which I Actually Do a Little Teaching

I've actually, finally, managed to start teaching.  As an occupation, it wallows in a confusion of scheduling.  I have half my classes in actual classrooms, in which the students sit all day and various teachers come to them, and the other half in the computer lab, to which students come at least 10 minutes late if they remember they are supposed to come at all, so I usually have to fetch them.  And sometimes the students get confused, the wrong class shows up in the lab, and I teach them for about 30 minutes before any of them tell me they aren't my class.  Oops.  In between periods, I am, unfortunately, being called upon to assist the school headmaster in his Grand Quest for More Paperwork.   Really.  He wants attendance sheets for all the teachers, and some extra permission sheets for teachers who might possibly want to go to town during the day, and he wants these sheets in nice spreadsheet format with drop down boxes and other things that no one in the ICT department, including me, actually knows how to do.  I do not support this.  Learning how to make drop boxes in spreadsheets is not such the important life skill that it makes up for contributing to a world with more paperwork.  If he just wanted to use rubber stamps on a lot of things, I could get behind that, but not paperwork.*

Some days of teaching are really great, though.  Like yesterday, when I found out 1) there is a computer club, 2) I am in charge of it, and 3) some of the students want to learn about computer maintenance, so I grabbed a dead desktop and had the kids start taking it apart.  That's fun.  At least for me.  Today my classes on networking have been fun because I can talk about the SOPA blackout and take them on a field trip to the server room to look at switches, routers, modems, servers, and everything else that has blinking lights and is therefore cool.  I have no idea what the students think, but I'm entertained.

The rest of the time, I sit in my office, read things on the internet, desultorily study my Kiswahili, entertain quiet, nagging doubts about the worthiness of my job, and am tech support if anyone needs a flash drive scanned for viruses, a yahoo group created for an AIDS club, or a Linux installation.

I have a week and a half left before the students leave again.  I may possibly be doing something to increase education, but I'm not counting on it.

*As a side note, I was watching US movies recently, and I am amazed at the ubiquity of pens in the US. Everyone has pens!  A lot of pens!

Stories of Magic: Brands of Disease Aversion

There is a tribe in Tanzania, possibly the Manyati, but I forget exactly, which will treat sickly children by burning a circular mark into their foreheads in order to ward off disease.


In Which I Visit a Friend in Babati and Hang Balloons on Things While a Small Annoying Child Sits on a Tractor Yelling "Beep"

Because it was festive.  

Also, there was food.

And we sat in trees, gazing at mountains.

In Which I Feel Sorry for Myself

Which is dumb, all things considered.  But I'm Peace Corps, and if we don't spend obscene amounts of time worrying about whether we are doing sufficient to Make the World a Better Place, we shrivel up and melt into gooey piles of crushing insecurity.  Classes just resumed at the college.  This week consisted of one day of no classes due to meetings, one day of no classes due to funeral, and one day of half classes due to college assembly. Tomorrow is a national holiday and Friday is always a half day.   There may be classes happening on schedule for the two weeks to follow, and after that it doesn't matter because all the students leave to do their student teaching for two months.  I finally actually have classes I can teach, and today I managed to teach them, and got chalk dust all over myself and everything, and I am just not doing sufficient to Make the World a Better Place.   I have thus far instructed several members of a small village on how to make wine (sustainable income-generating project!), helped one of my fellow teachers with his homework, because he is now a university student wanting a degree in computer science so he can do cool stuff like build databases for the school, and encouraged some teachers to go to a Google conference in Dar es Salaam.  Other than that, I just keep a bunch of Sun x2200 servers running through sheer force of personality.  Angst.

Oh, just to keep my whining in perspective, funeral.  It wasn't actually a funeral here, we were just sending off the body, because the man had been from Tanga.  He was a teacher at the primary school associated with the college, and in Tanzania it is an employer's responsibility to take care of the funeral arrangements.  Also in Tanzania, everything stops the day of the funeral.  The community, which in the case of a teacher, is all the other teachers, go to the house of the deceased.  The men sit around at the front of the house, my colleagues and friends at the college, who are mostly men, assured me that I would not be comfortable sitting with the men* and so I went around to the back of the house to sit with the women.  Here I was lectured sharply for not showing up wrapped in a kanga.  Fortunately, the British volunteer who teaches English had brought a spare for me, because she thought I might not have one for the situation, which I didn't.  I don't entirely understand wearing kangas for funerals when wearing kangas to work is considered unkempt and not appropriate. Anyway, after a while of sitting around the car arrived, and I stood with the group of women in the background while the men surrounded the car and ushered the family, their luggage, and the coffin into the car and then we all watched silently in our segregated groups until the car departed.

I rather like this approach to funeral arrangements.  Not the gender segregation, but that this is a day when the entire community stops what they to send off one of their own.

*Translation: they are not comfortable with me violating gender norms in this situation

Stories of Magic: Bananas of Mythological Realism

It sometimes happens that two bananas embryos become conjoined and inside one banana peel there will be twin bananas stuck together.  According to a beautiful lady of the Chagga tribe, people used to believe that such bananas should only be eaten by men and women just about to give birth, because women who habitually ate them would twin.  When twins were born one should be thrown away into the bush, or else the twins would have a curse.  For example, a twin might steal someone's wife and cause a war that destroys Troy after 10 years.  True story.

In Which I Finally See Mount Kilimanjaro

The glaciers on top will be gone by around 2050 due to global warming.

Slightly before dawn, while waiting for a bus and reading Tamburlaine the Great, which is a truly epic play to read in the shadow of such a mountain with its dying glaciers.  Were I Basho, I would write really good haiku about this.  I am not happy with what I wrote, which is thus:

World conquering sword,
Glaciers of a thousand years,
Ice, at least, won't rot.

Even glaciers melt.  
You, who chased stars, dimmed their eyes,
your kingdom is gone.