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

Going Gently into that Good Night

A good and bad thing about Dar is that there are often people there preparing to leave Tanzania for good and go back to the states.  This is sad, but usually these people have money to throw around at tropical beaches with fried octopus stands close by.  Because apparently fried octopus street food is a thing.  I approve.  

ship moored specifically for tourists to swim to and play on.

algae and crab covered rocks

ship that looks like a lego block

departing volunteer (the shirtless one) imparts his wisdom to those remaining

Peacocks of Peacemongering

The Peace Corps office in Dar es Salaam is infested by peacocks.  They are cool and amazingly pretty and sound like dying cats and land heavily on the roof and scare people. They are protected by law from being killed, but there's nothing in the laws that suggest we can't harass and annoy  them.

The peacock tries to hide from the crowd of volunteers who have
never been this close to a peacock. 

Checking to see if the coast is clear.

Stalking off in unmolested splendor when someone reminds us
that these birds are aggressive. 

In Which I Engage in Classroom Discipline

I recently saw this surprisingly nuanced article suggesting, among other things, that cheating among students tends to become more rampant as more emphasis is placed on tests.  This seems a reasonable conclusion to draw.  I teach kids whose entire future is determined by a set of terribly written tests.  Cheating is an issue on exams.  But on a recent homework assignment I gave, some of the papers turned in bore a resemblance to one another that defied probability.  I was disappointed, and actually a little surprised.   It wasn't  a difficult assignment;  I'd told them all to write a test, worth 100 marks, for the subject of their choice.  It seemed a better thing to do for teaching pedagogy than a lecture about selecting the proper domain of learning (cognitive, affective, or psychomotor, and please don't ask me what this means) when preparing a test.  As long as they put in a reasonable effort on this they were going to get full marks.

I am not a teacher, I have never been a teacher, occasional TA stints at lecturing undergrads are not sufficient preparation to be a teacher, so I am mostly making this up as I go along.  Their next pedagogy period, I started out talking about cheating, had them give me some examples they had encountered in their teaching practice, and asked them why it was bad to cheat.  (They seemed a little confused and responded that it led to an incorrect evaluation of the student.  Fair enough, it does.)  Then I picked up the offending papers, announced that their authors had cheated, and launched into, if I do say so myself, one of my best impassioned speeches ever.  I told them that by cheating they were insulting me, their classmates, and ultimately themselves.  I reminded them that, the resource situation of secondary schools being as it is, they as future teachers might be the only source of information their classes have, so if they aren't honest, god help us all.  I called the offenders by name and ordered them to stand up and asked if any of them had anything to say to me.  The offenders were three men and a woman.  The woman claimed that one of the men had asked to see her paper, she thought for the formatting, and that was all.  It sounded a little fishy, but after some quick thought I decided to accept this.   Maybe she was lying and I shouldn't have believed her, but she was the only person to offer a defense, and I have never been the teacher (and therefore judge jury and executioner) in such a situation, and if she was lying maybe the public humiliation should be enough.  I don't really know.  Anyway, I ordered my other cheaters out of my class and told them not to come back until they each wrote me a letter of apology, and then I set their papers on fire.   The things you can do as a teacher in a school without fire codes.   One of them had actually written his letter of apology during his time kicked out of class and gave it to me on my way back to the office after the class.   That made me a little happy.  That boy seriously wants to come back to my class.  Or else he just has really good time management skills.

My other class got to hear a little about cheating for their pedagogy period as well, mostly because I  don't bother having two different lesson plans, even though the lessons always go significantly differently because the classes are very dissimilar.  Since no one in this class cheated (they got the same assignment) at least as far as their not-always-observant teacher can tell, we had a discussion about how to prevent cheating in secondary schools.  I mentioned character education, which is a very buzzwordy way of trying to convince children that they should be good people and talking about what makes a person good before you start beating them for not being good people, which I think is probably worth a try.  It's not like the punishings and beatings and patrolling of the exam rooms seem to be working all that well.  But then, it might help to just not treat the students as slaves whose job is to alternate between cleaning the school (important as it is for landscaping purposes to have students paint rocks white), running errands for the teachers, and sometimes mindlessly copying things off blackboards to memorize them for exams.

My Dressmaker

I love this lady.  For all I can never remember her name  She's sweet, she does good work.  She has always charged me less than the going rate, and is very tolerant of my pointing and inept drawing for explaining my wants.  She is also very tolerant of my recent desire for really slutty clothes (what else do I do when I'm irritated with the dress code except order stuff that shows my knees)?   

The lady herself, with the pictures I point at to explain my wants in
the background, as well as some fabric on the wall waiting to be made into clothes.
The bright orange fabric will be mine, and it will show scandalous cleavage.

Her sewing machine, with one of her children pretending to sew.
The fabric on the table will also be mine, and it will be traditional and conservative.

In which I am too Logical

'Tis the season of university students showing up at the college for their student teaching practice, an annoying time during the which I have already received one emailed declaration of undying love.  Another university student keeps stopping me wanting to talk about politics, which I would rather not, if only because my first meeting with him gave me severe panic, as he yelled at me "your embassy is being attacked!"  I jumped to the conclusion that it was the embassy in Dar, and the time frame was right now.  Even had he phrased this to more clearly mean the embassy in Libya a week ago, this is still not as pleasant an introduction as, oh I don't know, "hello, how are you?"

After he told me that "you Americans you have a problem with Muslims" to which I could only protest that there are 350 million of us Americans, more or less, and while I personally am not pleased with the existence of such a dumb movie as the trailer of The Innocence of Muslims made the movie appear to be, I will defend to the death the right of people to make dumb movies that offend people, and the proper response to such a thing is never ever to kill people.  There is, of course, a caveat that I will regard with anger and scorn these filmmakers for using their rights of speech in such a way that they personally do not have to suffer the consequences.  Other people died, while they sat smug and safe with their rights and clearly no ability to use that safety and those rights to any good purpose.

That seemed to be a satisfactory way to dispose of the subject and the young man then started complimenting me on my clothes.  I wear fairly traditional Tanzanian clothing, mostly because fabric shopping and bringing it to a dressmaker is fun, easy, cheap, and since a dressmaker who routinely charges me less than the usual price opened a shop very close to my house, far too convenient.  This, combined with other teachers who have started noticing how much I like clothes and bringing me fabric that they think would look nice on me, means that I now have enough clothes that packing to move to Mbeya is going to be a little difficult.   To return to the narrative, our student teacher wanted to express his displeasure that, while women visiting from Europe (they all think I'm from Europe) adopt Tanzanian clothes, women from Tanzania who visit Europe often return wearing miniskirts, and as a man who will never be judged as a slut based on what he does or does not wear, he disapproves.  I told him that I did not understand the extreme attention paid to women's clothing, and really, as a man who will not be affected by this, he should try to have empathy and not restrict the freedom of others to wear what they like.  He then tried explaining to me that "morphologically, our African women should wear clothes that are long and tight around the thighs and" [trail off into confused embarrassment.]

Let me explain here that the typical traditional skirt is long but extremely tight at the top.  The reasoning being that every movement of the woman's rear should be clearly visible but should she show her knees, she is a whore.  I have noticed this, but this is the first time I have had it blatantly explained to me that this is because men in this culture want to see a butt more than a knee.

I decided to ignore this, however, as I am not quite up to calmly saying to an entitled man that the job of a woman is not to look attractive to men.  The job of a woman is to be a person, and that entails things that differ depending on personal preference, ideology, and religion if applicable.  Do no harm, however, might be a fairly good universal starting principle.   For example, treat people as people, more important than what they wear or what they look like.  Which is the part that  I said.  This was countered with claims about men's sexual arousal, which apparently always trumps women's freedom.  To which I gave my favorite rousing speech on how men are better than that, they are better than animals who cannot control themselves and certainly better than to need to restrict the freedom of others for their selfishness.

My interlocutor told me my problem was that I was too logical, and I couldn't understand things like culture.   Umm, okay, so what now?   Once logic is off the table for a discussion, what do I do?  Say "giraffe" and walk away?  Claim that god or the ghost of Alan Turing told me to think like this and therefore I'm correct?   Say that women have been dressing immodestly in other cultures since the dawn of time and therefore it's good (probably true by at least 1 person's standards of immodesty)?  I ended up excusing myself from the conversation on the grounds of having to prepare myself for class.

In happier news, this.  I monger peace, not violence, but since no lasting damages were done to any involved parties, I'm willing to call this awesome.  Take that for policing women's bodies and clothes instead of greeting them and then minding his own business like a non-sanctimonious person!

In Praise of the Parachichi

In general, I regard Tanzanian cooks as lovely people, more patient and hardworking than I will ever be*, who need to be introduced to a spice rack.  Salt, watery tomato sauce, and possibly some chili peppers on the side are the only garnishes one can usually hope for.  In the case of the avocado, also known as the parachichi to them that speak the Kiswahili, salt is the only thing you actually need to make it perfectly palatable raw.  They make great snacks that one can sometimes just buy off the street in slices.  Fortunately they also tend to be huge and succulent.  If you happen to have ground black pepper (surprisingly hard to come by, thank you darling aunt and uncle in the states) and some barbecue sauce and Jack Daniel's mustard (thank you stateside girlfriend of a volunteer in the region) the avocado makes for a perfectly delightful dish and one large enough to count, for me, as a meal.  Serious Eats offers a recipe for an avocado pie, but that might be going a bit far.

*and less clumsy.  I have never ever been able to scrape out a coconut without cutting the heel of my hand open.

The giant avocados of Tanzania.  If you are like me and can't easily figure out ripeness,
when in the market you just tell the mama you are buying from when you want to eat the
avocado and she will pick appropriate ones for you.


A Small Step for Women

Today the college was selecting teachers for some committee.  I was pleased to note that during the selection, one of the main concerns seemed to be to ensure equal numbers of men and women.  Good on them.

In Which America is Awesome

Ok, so it's still a cesspit of classist, sexist, racist, hypocritical warmongering irrational policies, but I have Noam Chomsky to explain these things in detail.  The point is, as far as the infrastructure and privilege available in America (for those with privilege, let's not pretend everyone has equal access), it is unbelievably amazing.  I received a care package recently filled with candy, which is the sort of care package that makes my little heart flutter and other volunteers flock to my house with hopeful hangdog looks.  As a friend of mine said, on being offered a white chocolate Reese's, "I didn't even know these existed, America is awesome!"

Indeed.  And one of the things I am dreaming about in moving to a new site is a kitchen that is more like an American kitchen, because I cannot cook in a traditional way at all.  I do the spoiled volunteer thing of using an electric hotplate.  Which possibly explains why when I ran across this article, I choked on the inherent privilege of the author claiming she cooked in a low tech way.   She has colanders, which I've only ever seen in country in the really expensive places in Dar, likewise whisks, and I'm willing to bet she has a stove that she can just turn on and it will just work regardless of electricity problems and if it's gas she never has to figure out how to get the propane tank refilled, and it's a stove on which she can cook more than one thing at a time.  That steel knife she lovingly talks about is probably stainless steel and neither rusts nor loses an edge quickly.   Her pots and skillets are probably not battered, thin aluminum and quite possibly non-stick and easy to clean.  Now if she was cooking over charcoal, and not the nice treated American charcoal that lights easily, and had one dull knife, no cutting boards, or counters for that matter, and was just having to sit on a stool outside with the charcoal stove, old aluminum pots and using whatever thin piece of cloth is available as a hot pad, and she has to do this every single day because she doesn't have a refrigerator to store food, she would probably not be quite so fast to dismiss modern cooking technology.  Actually, she probably wouldn't be so fast to dismiss it if she was even making her noodles herself; I've heard that's kind of hard.

I like cooking, I really do.  I also like having the option of not cooking, or of reducing my cooking time by storing foods in a refrigerator.  Having to cook every day, even in a modern kitchen (old-fashioned does not mean "lack of $600 gadgets," our author's kitchen is modern) takes a lot of time and energy and is one of the many reasons that strict gender roles hurt women.  When cooking in the home is non-negotiable women's work, women then are forced to spend their time rather than being able to spend time socializing or going to school, or having hobbies, or staring at the internet, or whatever.  For those who are cooking because they have the leisure and inclination, that's great.  If they can make money off it, even better.  I read cooking blogs, and I sometimes watch cooking shows.  But let's not descend into snobbery where not taking the time to grind things with a mortar and pestle means abandoning the household god of cooking, whatever that means.   (Just to continue bragging about how much worse I have it than the author, I'm betting that her mortar and pestle doesn't have termites living in it.)

I am actually kind of excited by the modern cooking that our author so casually dismisses. Using cold as a way to fry things without grease?  That sounds like it could make the lives of fast food workers so much better, since standing over a fryer sounds disgusting and not that much fun.  Granted I am getting this impression from the season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer where Buffy goes to work for minimum wage in a generic fast food burger place, and one of her coworkers tells her that he periodically has to have the balled up grease in his ears removed so he can even hear, and after she works there for a while vampires refuse to even try biting her because she smells bad.  Regardless of the not overly credible nature of my source, cooking with cold instead of heat sounds, just offhand, safer, both through reduced risk of grease fires and by not tempting people to keep reusing frying oil because oil is expensive.   The diarrhea I get from fried foods here is just disgusting.  The fact that cooking without heat is even an option (albeit for the very rich, who is she friends with that has this stuff? or for evil corporations offering food-like substances for low prices, which is where I could really see this technology being used), is awesome.

Finally, the digital age does offer us a lot with cooking, it offers us knowledge!  When cooking is something passed down from mother to daughter only, there aren't going to be many innovations in food.  For example, something that is not part of the cultural knowledge in Tanzanian cooking is preprocessing beans, by which I mean letting them soak for a while rather than trying to just cook them.  Just doing that makes cooking beans so much quicker, but how does one know that if it isn't part of the transmitted cultural knowledge?  Likewise, I've discussed my love of cheese with a Tanzanian lady, who told me that it isn't that people don't like cheese, they just don't know what to do with it, because no one ever cooks with it, so how are they supposed to learn?  In the US I tried a lot of new recipes, some of which I got from books, but most of which I found on the internet. While here, I can figure out how to do things like make wine in buckets and roast my own coffee because I have the internet. That in itself is a huge privilege not to be underestimated.  With food preparation, as with so many other things, the digital age gives us access to more information than some people see in their entire lifetimes, and that can't and shouldn't be casually dismissed for the sake of a kitchen that smells exactly the same as one's progenitor's.  

In Which I Live in the Future

Wednesday evening or Thursday morning, depending on which time zone you are in, my graduate institution hosted a distinguished lecturer in the person of Gene Kranz, the NASA flight director for the Apollo missions.   More excitingly, a live stream was provided so that those not physically present could watch.   I welcome the future of technology.  Webcasts for everyone!  This would have been more exciting still had it not required me to get up at 3am, but it is sometimes necessary to make sacrifices of sleep.   Besides which, Mr. Kranz was mentioning things like the NASA satellite tracking station on Zanzibar in the 60s, and how back in the day the term "computer" referred to a woman with a calculator, and computing machines were as big as rooms, so I was completely justified in spending class time talking about this lecture, right?   Also, while my students are more than willing to repeat after me that one should keep learning even after graduating and becoming a teacher, if they are like many teachers I have encountered, they won't, so I should at least set a good example and let them know that I am attending a lecture.  

Ok fine, I just wanted to talk about this because moon missions are cool.  Especially from the point of view of the man in the control room who heard the screams of the crew of Apollo 1 as they died and remembered how good the cigars tasted after the crew of Apollo 13 was recovered safely.   For all that the lecture was occasionally sidetracked with platitudes (because I think Gene Kranz had been told to make the lecture about the importance of teamwork so he would abruptly go into talking about how mission control had had to learn teamwork and about themselves without providing any detail beyond buzzwords), just hearing the flight director tell us the story of the Apollo missions was well worth the price of 3am sleep.   

Stories of Magic: Fire on the Mountain

In Morogoro region, as the dry season drags on and we start rationing water and power, people start setting forest fires on the Uluguru mountains because they believe that setting the mountain on fire will bring the rain.  This isn't completely unreasonable due to the rising of the hot air into the colder air of the mountains, but that is not part of the justification for starting fires.

Teaching Despite a Forest Full of Snakes

The other day I was happy to have attended a staff meeting.  This was a first, I hate staff meetings.  They are long and boring and generally unnecessary and the free tea and bread does not make that hour (or 2, if the headmaster is feeling particularly long-winded) any better.  What made this particular staff meeting different was that several enterprising young men with a guitar asked to come and entertain us by performing a song that they had written entitled "I am a Competent and Responsible Teacher."  This song contained lyrics about how the speaker would teach even if it was necessary to climb a mountain or go through a forest full of snakes.  It was adorable and conveyed warm fuzzy feelings about teaching that, like so many warm fuzzy feelings, could not stand up to the realities and frustrations of actual teaching.

There are the normal frustrations, as when I give my students lab exercises identical to what we have done together in class and discover that they cannot get through simple computer tasks without me holding their hands because many of my students very clearly do not give a damn about my class and do not pay attention.  I vacillate between not caring about them either and trying to only teach to the students who do care, and feeling incredible guilt about this because back as a TAing grad student I had it drilled into me, by the bad-tempered professor who hated students no less (a friend of mine would draw this professor as an action figure in a box that came with dismissive comments and an intimidating glare), that one does not simply abandon the bottom of a class.

Then there are the abnormal frustrations, which come up during my pedagogy class.  This is the period in which I simply have the students take turns doing microteaching and evaluating one another because it's fun and I can't really think of anything more useful to do with this time.  I refuse to teach them how to do the unnecessary paperwork which is the subject of the pedagogy syllabus.   The problem, of course, with giving students such free rein to speak to one another is that I sometimes hear things I really wish I didn't.  Such as students who criticize one another for "being unstable.  He would hear from a student that something he said was wrong and immediately correct it."  In other words, students shouldn't correct teachers even if teachers are wrong, and it is more important to be an authority figure than to have intellectual credibility.  I argue with my students about this a lot.  They will agree with me because I am the teacher and continue to criticize their fellows for being receptive to the possibility that they are wrong.   I am starting to consider telling them that god wants them to not accept authority unquestioningly, but that might make some heads explode.  Also, I'm attached to my own intellectual credibility.  I know a volunteer in Songea who convinced people to start composting by telling them that god gave them even the trash for their use and was sad that people were just burning it without using it.   So claiming authority can work, but I don't need to create another generation of teachers who are right because they are the teachers.

Network Down Due to Acts of Dog

One of the bureaucratic challenges I face in helping an agricultural university get a grant to renovate their computer labs and network infrastructure is in convincing USAID that things are really bad enough to warrant this much work and money.  Fortunately, I can now relate that at the university, the original network cable was laid in such a way that a student attempting to bury a dead dog cut into the cable and interrupted network service to one of the buildings.  This is also possibly the funniest network problem ever.

In Which I am Called Upon to Explain HIV/AIDS

Yesterday one of the other teachers asked me why AIDS is so much more of a problem in Africa than in America.  Well, because Africa was where it originated is the obvious answer.  Apparently this was news.  Public education fail.  This may also explain why I keep hearing conspiracy theories about how America engineered AIDS and introduced it to Africa.   There is also the point that HIV seems to have been introduced to America via the homosexual community, which is typically only around 5% of the population, so founder effect and all that.  But homosexuality is a touchy subject that I try to avoid unless I can divert the conversation into how we owe computers to a homosexual therefore we shouldn't hate (and/or kill) them.  The other thing I brought up was that there is a stigma against condoms and some people think that women who have condoms are automatically prostitutes.*

As it developed, this teacher friend of mine is shortly going to be hosting for some long period of time a woman living with HIV/AIDS.  He called her a victim, which I don't necessarily approve of, but he doesn't speak English well enough for me to want to argue semantics of implicit reductionism.  Besides which, his question was how to safely live with this lady.  My response was largely focused on how to not give her any germs if possible, don't share eating utensils, bathing water, etc.  With a side note of trying to make it clear that this is because he is worried about giving her opportunistic infections and not stigmatizing her (society does that quite well enough without help, alas).

I guess that was a reasonable response on my part.  I am not sure what else I should have should have said at that moment.  But it is in situations such as that that I worry that I am just not doing a good enough job of spreading the education and making the world a better place.

*side note, I doubt that a prostitute in Tanzania would make enough to afford condoms.  Sure condoms are cheap, but the volunteer who found himself in the very weird situation of having his coworkers take him to a brothel reported that the price was 2,000 TSH.  Typically when one encounters sex workers in bars (which is not an atypical experience here) they are underage girls with a price of 500 TSH.  For reference, $1 is usually somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 TSH.  A soda costs about 500 TSH, a meal of rice and beans is about 2,000 TSH. A typical laptop is 1,000,000 TSH.  I think a pack of condoms is 3,000 TSH and there is a condom company called Salama that advertises with the truly delightful slogan "kama kweli utampenda, utamlinda" which comes out in English, a little awkwardly due to English's lack of a gender neutral third person pronoun, "if you truly love someone, you will protect that person. "

Tech for a Low Tech World

Ars Technica, still one of the most informative sites out there and my source for up-to-date information on the Megaupload takedown, has published an article on tech for low tech situations listing stuff that sounds amazing such as solar panel backpacks and with reference to Peace Corps Nicaragua and the usage of the Kindle.

Peace Corps loves their Kindles.  A bit less so now that they have a data cap of, I think, 50mb per month, but that should still be sufficient for Google and Facebook as long as the Kindle browser has an option to turn off image display.  Kindles would also be better were they not so prone to breaking.

Also, Ars Technica is still under the impression that phones can only be makeshift flashlights, when a lot of the phones available in a developing country, at least Tanzania, have a built in flashlight.  This is insanely convenient and I love it and don't know why phone manufacturers in the US don't do it since already everyone tries to use their phones as flashlights.

The other thing Ars Technica isn't mentioning is solid state drives.  I really really want people to start using SSDs in their computers.  This isn't just a snobbish nerd thing, it's that the power here is really dirty and I am tired of getting calls from volunteers who, despite being told numerous times (and I know because I do a lot of this telling) not to plug their computers straight into the wall, will do it anyway and then complain that their hard drives are dead.  

One thing they do mention is cute little USB sticks that look like keys.  All well and good, I suppose, but don't encourage people to go to internet cafes and start plugging things in willy nilly.  In this way are viruses spread.  If you are going to plug anything into an internet cafe computer, make sure it is an SD card set to read only mode.  If there is no direct SD reader on the internet cafe computer, you can get USB SD card readers.   They are small and cheap, and while not cute and key shaped, still allow for SD cards in read only mode for uploading into untrusted computers.  Of course, entering a password into an untrusted computer still may not be the greatest idea ever, but since no one sans computer or internet will refrain from using internet cafes, at least some of the dangers of that can be averted by not plugging writable disks into such computers.

*fluctuating voltage.  Very bad for things with moving parts.  Spinning disks, for example.

In Which I Smell a Rat

Or actually, a scam.  I chased my rat, which turned out to be a mouse, out of my home a while back, and it shows no sign of returning.   Which is good since chasing the thing required all my courage and I'm not sure I could deal with killing it, freshly sharpened machete notwithstanding.

So: I keep seeing this thing cropping up, and some people take the time to ask me if it is genuine, to which the answer is "I would be very surprised if it was."   First of all, the site does not list the name of this Evil Corporation (TM)* nor does a quick, though not an exhaustive, internet search turn up any specifics on this proposed deal.  Nor are the "experts" claiming the deal is imminent identified.  In fact, the entire write up is a remarkable thing of vague assertions which don't seem to be supported on the internet by anything that doesn't link to this Avaaz site for the source.  As for how credible Avaaz is, I have no information about that, but that they do not list their sources is a major major red flag.  Given furthermore what they are I would be a little (okay more than a little) suspicious that they have a profitable side business of selling email addresses to spammers.   As for a Serengeti landgrab going down, it's not unthinkable, but the Tanzanian government already makes a $500 per tourist profit off the Serengeti and that's just the park entrance fee.   They, and all the cottage industries that revolve around selling stuff to tourists, also make quite a bit of money marketing the image of the Maasai.   Based on the tourist shops, it's the only tribe in country.  In other words, it's hard to imagine why the government would even consider selling the Serengeti.  But I'm probably not the unnamed and unsourced experts that you should be mindlessly listening to in order to sign online petitions of questionable veracity.  For great moral superiority.

If someone does have credible and specific information about this, please share.

*I'm all about denouncing evil corporations, especially now that they are people, but be specific and don't rely on kneejerk hippy reactions to corporations to make your case.

*Edited to add*

So there are some issues with a safari company grabbing land to make it a nature preserve, well documented by this blog but Avaaz seems to have an almost complete disconnect from facts, so maybe still ignore them as probable email harvesters.

Stories of Magic: How Can you Tell She is a Witch?

A volunteer in the Mbeya region informed me that at her school there is an increase of demon possession around exam time (funny how that works) and the students are accusing the school's matron of being a witch.  The headmaster actually allowed a forum (not to say witch trial) in which students were allowed to present their evidence for the matron being a witch.  Evidence provided included:

  • special village medicines which allow some students to see evil spirits
  • the matron prefers one of the toilets above any of the other
  • if approaching two people talking to one another, the matron walks around rather than between these people
For her own safety (some of the students would chase her with knives) the matron is switching schools.

In Which I Decide a Decision

I am taking the plunge and moving to Mbeya.  Pending approval of my Peace Corps overlords who, should they refuse me, will cause me to embark upon great sulking, but as I have current approval barring unforeseen complications and they are now calling official type people and talking about getting a new work permit for me, I do not expect to embark upon sulking but rather to move sometime in early October.

I visited Mbeya last week to meet with the counterpart of our fabulous TJ, a man named Edwin who is the fastest walking Tanzanian I have ever encountered and I love him for it.  In addition to providing a balm for my chronic sidewalk rage in this country he showed me around campus, and on hearing that I have a master's degree his response was "oh, could you teach programming?"

Yes!  Absolutely yes!  Compare this to the teacher's college, who received the news of my higher education with a list of things they wished me to fix, and this may explain why I was immediately sold on the Mbeya job. And Edwin went out of his way to explain that unlike at a teacher's college, the teachers at the Mbeya Institute of Science and Technology cannot always be found on campus.  They are present for their classes and any work they need to do only and are under no compulsion to engage in the soul-crushing activity of sitting in an office with nothing to do.  The head of the computer department at MIST is a woman who likes to promote women in technology, so I have visions of a little Ada Lovelace Day celebration dancing in my head.  According to TJ, the students are generally motivated and interested, and so will probably not start whining that I only teach them how to actually do stuff and don't spend enough time teaching theoretically.  (I was a little upset by that.)

Mbeya town is a step down in luxury from Morogoro, but still luxurious enough.   I rode buses randomly about town, did a little shopping, a little exploring, a little eating of western food, and received a marriage proposal.  It's nice enough.  As far as living conditions go, I will still be the spoiled ICT volunteer a little way from town on a campus that I don't really need to leave because there are markets and shops and bars close by.  Also, I will be in an apartment on a fourth floor.  I have a balcony where I can sit and read and drink coffee unplagued by children and amorous young men!  More importantly there is an abandoned and climbable crane on which I can rig my silks.   
The view from my future balcony.   A step down from my scenery, but nice enough.
Try to look at the mountains more than the garbage.

The mountains aren't as pretty as the Ulugurus, though I've
been told they get greener when the rains come.

Climbable crane for silks.

unidentifiable thing on campus 

Furthermore, the apartment comes with an oven, a fridge, a washing machine and electricity that I don't have to pay for!  Chickpeas are easily available in Mbeya, there is a fridge, I can learn to make hummus!

So the washing machine leaks like a sieve, so what?  No other PCV has one!
I'd rather clean the floor than my clothes anyway. 
I will rather regret leaving the agricultural university to their own devices in working out the logistics of the $4 million grant I helped them get, but I will leave them with a volunteer request application and I've persuaded USAID to help me pressure my Peace Corps overlords into creating a response volunteer position to work with that university because I think they could benefit from a volunteer, I found it a fun place to work, and the USAID folk would be a lot happier to have a volunteer on the ground who could go to Dar to meet with them.  Also, I'm reasonably certain that is really needed having just gotten back from a meeting with USAID at the embassy* where I had to explain to folk who've never taught in Tanzania that curtains and chairs are not padding the budget.  Dust is a huge problem in computer labs here, but unless there is really good ventilation in the building you cannot close the windows due to heat.  Curtains help.  The McDonald's type chairs attached to tables are because whenever there is an event or unexpectedly large class, teachers send students to take chairs wherever they can be found, so you get to your class and have to send your students to steal chairs back, and a lot of time can be wasted in this sort of musical chairs.  

*It was weird to be on American soil, particularly since the Americans there react to news that their on-embassy restaurant is closed with "oh well, we should probably lose weight anyway."  Americans are weird.   And too busy assuming all people are obsessed with weight to go to the trouble of leaving the embassy to feed the food-obsessed volunteer who missed her free Peace Corps meal (I was at a training conference) that day specifically in order to come to the embassy.   And half the people there are RPCVs!  They should understand!