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 Doubt the Reality of Current Events

Since this last week I am just having review classes I tell students they may attend if they have questions or anything they want me to talk about, and otherwise they are free to do other things.  Mostly because this being the last week means I am almost as tired of classes as they are and hoping they are all too lazy to want reviews.  Mostly this works, and then I get to take naps.  I am a bad teacher.  Yesterday, however, a small group of multimedia students showed up because they wanted to learn about websites and blogs.  By small, I mean 5 or 6, who actually wanted to learn things and were willing to take extra time to come ask me questions I actually don't know the answers to, such as "how do you embed audio?"*  I am, however, having trouble believing such motivated students are real.  I may be hallucinating.

In other events of dubious reality I have been contacted by a friend who is currently in Bangkok and has met a French world traveler named Fabien who does something computer-y (she, not knowing anything computer-y herself, was fuzzy on the details), and wants to come to Tanzania to volunteer somehow and wants to meet me for help on this, but not until some time in the future because he is conveniently staying in scenic places in Asia and can't contact me for a while.   Either I am trapped in the opening paragraph of a romance novel or my friend is having me on.  Seriously, an idealistic French computer-y traveler in Bangkok who might meet me in Tanzania? Also, a little research about the name Fabien tells me the English version of the name is a ridiculously sleazy publishing house.  Which might actually support the romance novel theory instead.  Either way, I don't believe this person exists.

Some samples from Fabian's catalogue**

 *Apparently html5 has audio tags, which is convenient of it.
**found at bookscans.com, which is an awesome website.

In Which Facebook, Destroyer of Productivity, Fulfills a Useful Purpose

So, over the weekend, this was happening.   I found out about it in real time by reading Facebook updates of volunteers caught in towns experiencing civil unrest and other volunteers in the region trying to figure out what was going on.  The revolution might not be televised, but it will be Facebooked.

For the record, all the volunteers in the region are safe, and I'm fairly far away from that region of the country.

In Which I Gain Notoriety Amidst (Amongst?) Peace Corps Volunteers

I went to town this weekend to spend some time with other volunteers, during which conversation we were talking about houses and supplies, amongst other things, and someone said "I heard there was a computer girl who made her own giant white board."  To which I replied proudly that this would be me, and explained that I had covered a piece of plywood with contact paper (courtesy of my mama in the states), which works perfectly well as a dry erase board.  I can't take credit for this idea, since my mama told me how to do it, but I am seldom if ever known for my prowess in making non-virtual things, so it's nice to know this tidbit of information is making the rounds.

Stories of Magic: Windmills

Or just stories of a complete lack of understanding of how the world works, which may amount to the same thing.  At any rate, a volunteer told me that one Tanzanian village completely rejected a wind farm on the grounds that such a thing would destroy the modesty of women by blowing their clothes off.  Insert here witticisms making reference to Don Quixote.

In Which I do not Talk about Porn

For my last programming class before reviewing and then finals, I gave a brief history of computers, complete with my short speeches on Discriminating Against Homosexuality is Wrong Because Alan Turing and Women Should Totally be in Tech Fields Because Ada Lovelace.   To my astonishment some of the kids were nodding in agreement when I talked about not discriminating against anyone, even homosexuals.   Then I braced myself and asked them what they thought about computers in Tanzania and the future of computing.  My Morogoro students would have immediately started talking about destruction of our African culture and porn.  In fact, even the students here ask me about porn when they are in small groups, and frankly, I'm tired of fielding the question of "does porn encourage immoral behaviour?" because I think it's a silly question based on a creepy preoccupation with other people's sexuality and a tendency to blame external sources for cultural phenomena which may or may not be either new or problematic.  To my delight, however, the students were actually raising far more valid points, not parroted from the official government talking points.  For example, one student said he didn't think that computerizing services in Tanzania would be a good idea until the electricity situation was better.  This would be difficult to gainsay.  A few students wanted to talk about how computers should be in secondary schools and how bad secondary schools are, which is always a fun topic.  One young man wanted to know what projects he could possibly work on since everything in the field of computing had already been done.  (I told him to look for things that don't work as well as they should and make them a little better.  Progress doesn't have to be big.)  So I'm happy with my programming class right now.  Of course, later that day I tried to go teach multimedia.  Had to wait for 15 minutes for the keys to be found so I could get into the lab, and then the power went out.  Well, I tried.

In Which I Almost Have a Good Experience with the Electric Company

One of the downsides to being the posh corps volunteer with the nice house and the electricity is that I have to pay my electric bill.  The problem is not the principle of the thing, nor even the money, but that the electric company is a government sponsored monopoly with no particular reason to ever invest in concepts such as efficiency, customer service, lack of corruption, or not wasting people's time. In Morogoro I received paper bills, from the receipt of whence I had a week to go to the electric company office and pay, after waiting in a line that can easily last 4+ hours.  Since many volunteers travel through Moro and would stay with me, I could often barter getting someone else to go pay my bill (I provided the money, I just hate waiting in lines) in exchange for free lodging, coffee, and sometimes food and cake and wine, depending on how domestically productive I felt like being.  This was a good system.  Then I moved to Mbeya and am mostly alone in my house.  Up until this month, I have not had to pay for my electricity.  Alas that all good things must come to an end.  Two weeks ago some electricians came and installed meter thingies outside all the apartments and also somehow messed up the wiring in my apartment.*  Apparently the system now is that instead of getting a paper bill, I get a credit card, and I take the credit card to the office in town and give them money, and they put money on the card, and then I can use the card to put units of electricity on this meter.  I started out with 50 units, free and gratis, which was actually nice of them because it meant everyone would have a grace period.  Since I have no intuitive grasp of how much electricity 50 units is or how fast I use units** I betook myself to the office rather promptly, because I dislike not having electricity and since I have a teaching schedule, with grading commitments I can't simply go to town anytime I feel like it.  I also have neither domestic staff nor children that I can make run my errands, which I think is how most Tanzanians rich enough to have electricity handle the electric company's terrible ways.   So I show up at the office only to be told that my card hasn't been activated yet, go to another person at the office to have that done.  This other person, though apparently just sitting in front of a computer not doing anything refuses to contemplate the notion that my card could possibly be activated any time before the next day.  Or the day after that.

If this were America, I could yell at people for wasting my time and expecting that I can be in town day in and day out.  Since it's Tanzania, I bought butterfly fabric and went to cry to my dressmaker, who understands my needs.    

Today, with some trepidation, I tried again to pay for some electricity.  To my shock, not only does the card now work, but there is no line to wait in before putting money on these meter cards.  It's still not as nice as internet bill pay, for which I pine, but it's a great improvement over the paper bill lines.    

*one of the outlets stopped working so now I can't plug in the refrigerator and the oven at the same time, and when the stove is on, touching anything on the stovetop gives me a fairly painful electric shock.  This means that I have first world problems!  I'm very excited about this.

**Seriously.  They are just called units.  What these units are, we do not know.  Though in all fairness, if I found out the units are something real like kilowatt hours, I still wouldn't have any intuitive grasp of how much electricity that is.

In Which the Paradigms of my Tea are Synergized

I bought some tea from one of the nice fancy expensive supermarkets.  

It has strange certifications.

Of all the things I could possibly care about in the plant in which my tea is manufactured, why would it be the management system?  Do I want to ensure that the proper buzzwords were used around my tea?  That paperwork was filled out and meetings were held?  Zounds, the systematized management integrated logistical projection for reciprocal compatibility with a paradigm flavoring! Tasty.  

I really hope the management system didn't involve floggings or wage slavery for great synergy.  

Rainbows in the Sunset

 The view from my balcony this evening.

Later in the evening

Stories of Magic: Enchickening the Spirits and Turning Loose the Mermaids

Back story here and here.  I have not received any burnt notes addressed to me.   This may, however, merely establish that, while dead, I am not a deity.  Or even an ancestor.  This is a hypothesis supported by my failure to control the weather by thinking about it and making weird faces.  After more consultation, however, it was established that "I drink, therefore I exist" is true, and if I am metabolically capable of inebriation, I must be alive.  QED.

Then to the lip of this poor earthen Urn
I lean'd, the Secret of my Life to learn: 
And Lip to Lip it murmur'd--"While you live 
Drink!--for, once dead, you never shall return." 

~Omar Khayyam, still solving our existential crises

In other news, not only are mermaids real, we can eat them.  A foodie friend recommends mermaid a la Meuniere, but with a mayonnaise sauce rather than browned butter.  I don't actually know what that means.

Teaching Nightmares that Come True in Tanzania


  • Going to the wrong classroom.
  • Having the wrong class come to your classroom 
    • (It was about 30 minutes into the lecture before anyone told me they weren't my class).
  • A complete failure of necessary technology.
    • Power cuts in the middle of a lecture.
    • White boards that are unwriteable due to no one erases them ever.
    • Internet connections that don't connect.
    • Computers rendered useless by viruses.
  • Completely forgetting everything I know about a subject.
    • I seriously could not figure out why some code wouldn't compile.  Naturally, after the class was over, I looked at it and instantly noticed I'd left the * off my pointer declaration.
  • Coming to school to find out there is some special occasion for which I am supposed to do something that no one bothered to tell me about beforehand.  (And then I am supposed to speak and participate in a ceremony not in my language  and I don't really know what is going on.) 

Today my multimedia class wanted to learn about blogs.  It turns out my Vodacom modem that is screamingly fast in my house can't get a connection inside the lab.  A wonderful student offered her modem, which just happened to be a Zantel modem, which is the one ISP that absolutely does not play with Linux under any circumstances.  Another wonderful student offered her computer, and then a third wonderful student had to show me how to get a modem to work on Windows.  I told the class that this is an illustration of how failure is always an option.   Particularly in science.  

Sonnets from the Peace Corps: A Plea for Peace

O noisome rat, who liveth in my kitchen,
Thou and I should dwell in peace together.
Not for me the thrill to hunt the hidden.
Not for you the thrill of present danger. 

A tailless ape am I, of late descended
Out of arboreal plane and leaving there
Brutish fury and a lust for hot blood scented
To live a sheltered life in bookish lair.

Stay from my sight, I'll stay as before.
I do not want to leave my settled ways
To spread your steaming guts upon my floor.
In quiet, harmless scuttling spend your days.

I wish for peace, my rat, but I am deadly.
Should you transgress, you'll meet with my machete.

For a Few Assignments More

Not to leave out my programming students, they made ASCII art!  Mostly because after nagging them through file I/O we all needed a break to do something fun, and they had to practice function declarations and additional functions rather than writing everything in main() so it was somewhat useful.   Also, it was fun to grade, some of them put a lot of work into it.

Barabara means road. 

Why there is a 207 printed, I don't know.
But I like the table. 

As a last multimedia project to share, apparently I made a cameo appearance in one video.  I look surprisingly teacherly and adult.  Also, I am jealous of the students.  Why do they get lab coats?  I never got a lab coat as a student!  I would look so much more science-y if I had a lab coat.

A Few More Student Projects

A few of my more favorite edited photos

And a video about Ikuti, which is the village right next to the university.  I do most of my shopping at the pictured market.   Also, I asked the students, and they said that they did not ask the small child to climb through the school window, they just happened to be present with a camera for the event.

My Birds are Rebuilding!


I'm so glad they do not seem to have been permanently evicted by the painters who left the building a silly yellow color.

Teaching, the Non-Frustrating Parts

I do actually enjoy what I am doing, beyond the moments of frustration.  In fact, besides programming (which is and should be a difficult class), I have a multimedia class which I sort of set up just to be enjoyable.  Well, at least for me.  I have no idea what the students think, but they have yet to complain.   And they try.  Their semester-long assignment is to produce music videos, consisting of both still images and video footage they have taken themselves, with audio they have at least edited themselves.    They are not amazingly wonderful videos or anything, and clearly very few of them listened to my talk about not overdoing it on the fancy transitions because it is unnecessary and distracting, but I know it's easy to get carried away with fun transitions the first time you play with a video editor.  And they went to some effort and different places to get their video footage, and did not produce the standard Tanzanian music video of a line of people doing the same dance moves over and over for 10 minutes but with costume changes every three seconds.  So I call this a win.

The project I had rather mixed feelings about was one in which the storyboard (I made them make storyboards!  Mostly because I wanted to see what they would do.  It was unquestionably the most fun thing to grade ever.) showed a Miss Elizabeth (I tell them to call me Madam Elizabeth because it is difficult for Kiswahili speakers to pronounce my last name) arriving from America, and she is drawn in a rather short skirt for cultural appropriateness and is also a rather curvily drawn woman. I'm not sure how I feel about this.

Fortunately for their actual video they had to use one of their group members (not named Elizabeth) as their Miss Elizabeth, because I decline to star in student videos.  While their leading lady is progressive enough to wear pants (go her!) she does not follow the storyboard wardrobe choices.   I am uploading their video but I edited it to remove the end credits with their names.   Also, the still title image is the picture they edited as the first part of their project, which was to use image editing software and a camera to produce a poster advertising what they were doing.  This group's poster was one of the better ones in the class, they did a good job blending together various photos.

Note: everything is used by permission.  I asked the class if it was alright for me to show their work to people in America who were interested in learning more about Tanzania.  Everyone said yes.  Or at least no one said no.

Stories of Magic: Enchickening the Spirits. Part Two!

I have some very smart and logical friends.   I was telling one such about my experience with the Icelandic gentleman who believes in the efficacy of chicken sacrifice.  This friend explained to me that burning things is afterlife mail, so those who burn chickens in sacrifice are giving spirits spirit chickens.  It is, however, a one way mail, meaning that if I start seeing random chickens either spirits can reverse entropy or I am dead.

I see random chickens all the time.  I do not believe that spirits or anything else can reverse entropy.

I have watched a great deal of horror anime.  I am well aware that it is possible for someone to be dead for many episodes (whole seasons, even!) without realizing that they are dead, during which time of revenancy they cause many inexplicable catastrophes to people and infrastructure.  If indeed I am dead, then Tanzania may be my fault.  I would hope that my friends would, you know, tell me if I was dead (and then salt and burn my bones) but I have this fear that they would just point and laugh at the stupid dead thing that thinks it's alive.  A lot of people point and laugh at me in this country.  I was assuming this was just because I am white, but I could be dead.

I asked another dear friend, with whom I have watched more anime than can be healthy, and she said since I haven't been moved to engage in haunting solo musical numbers recently I might actually be still alive, but just to check, she is going to start writing me notes and burning them.  If afterlife mail works as well as advertised, if I don't start seeing notes addressed to me appearing, I am probably alive.  Stay tuned.

Things Making me Happy Today

Packages from home!  Always wonderful.  

Another of the teachers at the university is working on making a police database which he plans to make lots of money selling to the police here.  The police are currently working off giant piles of grimy ledgers stacked everywhere.  It's about time someone attempted to computerize them!   May have all success. 

In which I Lament my Loss of Idealism in Education

I believe education should be about more than getting a good job.  Back during my brief stint of math tutoring, when my group of whiny fifth graders asked me why they had to learn math I told them that math is good for them, and then made them do calisthenics until they were too tired to argue with me.  (Never mistake me for a good teacher, darling readers.  I do what I can, but I really dislike children.)

Currently, I do not have the luxury of pretending that my job is about something other than trying to get my students decent jobs.  They don't have a welfare state that will do anything if they are starving or sick, and they will probably have children, maybe lots of them.   Anyone who is moderately skilled with a computer is pretty much guaranteed a job here, and if they can program, which I'm trying to teach them, they can get really great jobs.  I have two hours a week that I am supposed to teach them programming in, which is actually much less because they never arrive on time and I can seldom get the keys on time (grr). I try.  At the expense of being a mean hard teacher that they don't like, I try.  Recently they actually sent me the class representatives to complain to me that the homework was too hard and they wanted easier problems.  Not only did I tell them no, I told the class reps that I needed their cooperation.  I see some people sleeping in class, and I ask them if they have any questions and if they understand and are able to do the homework, and if no one tells me they have problems, I am not going to know.  So now I have people asking questions and wanting me to repeat things.  Progress!  Some people have even taking me to emailing me their code and asking for help.  They still don't like me, but they take me seriously.   And yes, I will make them do assignments where they have to open and close files and deal with the contents, because that is probably the most useful programming skill to have.  I wish I had the time to hold their hands a little more, but I don't.  I wish I had the tool-ish mentality to just teach them things like flowcharts (which I am reasonably sure the department head is going to yell at me about for not teaching them) but I have this attitude that a programming class should teach the students the rudiments of programming, and the only way to learn it is to do it.  I want them to be the most qualified computer professionals in Tanzania (which, unfortunately, is not a difficult aspiration) so that they can have a better quality of life for themselves and their children.  I'll readily agree that I am not a great teacher, but giving easier problems than what I know they can solve if they put the effort in isn't going to make me a better one.  

Teaching is frustrating.  At least I am actually teaching though, and I am not being forced to teach stupid things like the various types of network topologies to people who can't even type.