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

Seminar! Done!

Last session was last night.  The teaching was probably the worst, because I get flustered and lose my groove when the power goes out and I have to switch from slideshows to the one small and terrible whiteboard and I can no longer have people practice things on their computers.  Nonetheless, I'm really proud of this seminar.  I worked really hard on it, and I did it right.  It wasn't my idea to have a seminar, it was my counterpart's idea.  I am not telling people what they should learn, I am providing instruction in response to a specific request.  I did a lot of work, but there were several other lecturers involved.  I did the main teaching, but that's because I am the only one who has ever worked with a Linux server or who understands a terminal interface right now.  I could have gotten more women involved (there were 2 out of about 25).  That's the part I'm not proud of.  At the end of the seminar, I think this was really well received and my counterpart is considering having another seminar at the end of this coming semester.  I will be on my way out of the country, but he had a good start to his plan.  A university SHOULD provide the occasional free seminar to educate the public!

Group picture at the end.  Can you spot the white person?

One of the students gave me a pen with a hand-carved wooden shaft. Aww! 

Seminar! Now with Pictures!

Today, we moved to talking about server editions, and I did not give anyone a graphical interface.  All terminal, all the time!  Hahaha!  People still seemed into it!  It worries me that I get very few questions though.  Though one question was an incredibly good "how do we create a Linux culture here."  Umm, honestly?  I don't know.  Maybe tell your friends, try to help them (if you want), spread it from the grassroots level?   Two more days.  I'm really excited that this is happening and going well.

Award, another lecturer, helps out explaining to students. 

I have a weird face while teaching, but my dress is pretty. 

Giving people notes on their flash drives after the session. 

When you give students your camera and ask them to take pictures,
you get surprise photos. 


I have just finished day 2 of a five day 2 hr/day seminar on Linux that I'm doing with my counterpart.  (Yes, it's weird that it starts on Thursday and breaks over the weekend, but our original plan of starting on Monday was revised at the last minute because Pagan Fertility Festival aka Easter.)  So far we've had ~25 people/day, many if not most of whom are my students.  I'm ok with that.  Actually, I'm a lot less nervous talking to my students than I would be talking to complete strangers.   Today, I noticed some of my students had gotten the notes in advance and were helping the people around them.  I could not be more proud.

Day 1 didn't go as well as I had hoped.  One of the other lecturers offered to teach the very basics of day 1 so I wouldn't have to teach all 5 days, and I accepted because 1) I should be encouraging participation and doing as little as possible because sustainability and 2) I was very nervous because some sys admins from the offices in town are present as well as lecturers from other departments, and I get nervous about teaching people who are real adults.  I wish I had just taught it myself since this lecturer, while good at lecturing, ignored every place I had written demonstration in the notes (I prepared all the slideshows and notes) and then people rightly complained that the seminar didn't have enough practical instruction.  But it's ok, today, I totally made people do things along with me, my students helped, and no one told me I should be doing anything better by Monday, so either I'm hopeless or awesome, and I just got to stand in front of people and proclaim my undying love for wget -c, so I'm going with awesome.  

Voyage of the Peace Corps: The City of Decadence

I spent a day in lovely Tanga, with the lovely Nicole, who has a magical ability to get into every resort and swimming club along the beach without ever paying the cover fee.  So she and I spent a wonderful morning on the beach and then she went to work while I did laundry.  Which at that point was becoming a necessity.  Then I got on a bus and went north to Moshi.

I like Moshi.  I've been there several times before.  I still like the place.  I see it as akin to Mecca.  There are coffee houses.  I went to a coffee house and ordered coffee and sat around reading a book!  Because I can do that in Moshi.  I went to an art exhibition with wine and music!  The art exhibition had a little black kitten that kept sitting on the art, so I would scoop her off the art and she would be my shoulder cat.  I can do such things in Moshi.  And drink milkshakes.  Also order things with lots of cheese on them.  There is so much cheese in Moshi!  While eating cheese and drinking milkshakes strange things happen like parades for no discernible reason.

The parade leader.  

There's also a big mountain near Moshi but it's so overcast that half the time you can't see it.  I've seen it before.  It's cool.  This visit I was staying with RPCV now ex-pat Andrew at his nice house with kittens.  His cat sometimes gets out and has babies.  He has found homes for 3 of the 4 babies from the current litter, but the 4th was still there being cute.  We sat on the porch and drank wine in the twilight and watched the kitten stalk chickens.   Fortunately for kitten, the kitten could never work up courage to actually attack the chickens.  I also got a call asking me to do a Peace Corps training thing in less than a week, but after some guilty feelings about not doing all the work I possibly could, I refused on the grounds that I was on leave (that I had filled out all the forms and gotten them signed for, even!), traveling without a computer, and didn't have enough time to prepare anyway for a vaguely defined training session on something something computers for health and environment volunteers half of whom at least probably don't have electricity.   The Peace Corps bureaucrats then asked me if I could just send a powerpoint or other resources.  Uh, no.  I actually can't.  Apparently "I am traveling and don't have my computer" is not a concept easily grasped despite all the safety warning emails we get telling us not to travel with a computer.  Whatever, cute kitten is cute.

It was a delightful weekend with mine host.  He had downloaded a game called Kerbal Space Program so we got to build rockets (that mostly fell apart or exploded on the launch), and attempt to send a space craft from earth orbit to moon orbit without crashing, and we actually learned things about orbital mechanics.  We also spent some time with a group of British expats who explained to me the rules of rugby.  These made significantly less sense than orbital mechanics.  It's a pity that I could not stay until Monday, because the expats were getting a delivery of (I think) 3 dogs, 2 cats, and a cow.  They had no real idea of how they were going to handle all these animals and when I left were excited to learn that the cow actually comes with rope, so they didn't have to buy their own rope.  I wanted to see how the cow would be delivered, since to date my favorite cow transport method has been a cow in the back of a pickup truck with a single piece of twine over its shoulders. But all good things must come to an end.  For my last night, Andrew showed me how to actually make a bonfire (since in Morogoro he had been present for a bonfire built by myself + a bunch of people who also have no idea how to make fire.  Smoky the Bear made it sound a lot easier than it actually is.) and we had s'mores courtesy of a care package from my wonderful sister who knows exactly what to send a PCV.

Vacation, it is over, and starting this evening I and my counterpart are giving a 5 day (skipping the weekend) seminar on Linux.  2 hours each day.  I'm really excited, also slightly nervous, and have been really busy trying to get ready for this thing.  I'm not even quite done preparing the lectures, but I do have the weekend to finish the last 2 days.  Wish me a good and successful capacity-building time of it, darlings.

Voyage of the Peace Corps: Island of the Megabats

From Unguja, the largest island of Zanzibar, I took a ferry to the next largest island, Pemba.  Unlike Unguja, we have volunteers on Pemba, so that while my accommodations may not be air-conditioned, they are considerably more free than on Unguja.   Getting there was a little involved.  My destination was Wete, up on the north of the island, and the ferry comes in to Mkoani, at the very south of the island.  Normally this would not be an issue.  The island is small enough that going from south to north is about 1.5 hours by dala dala.  However, on Zanzibar, dalas are not the 15 passenger vans I am used to crammed full of 30 people and a chicken.  They are pickup trucks with benches along the side of the bed and an awning over the bed, crammed full of 30 people and a chicken.  Something about the different orientation of the seating, plus being a little dehydrated and hot, made me really motion sick, and I had to turn and throw up off the side a few times.  Throwing up out of the window or side of a moving vehicle should a Peace Corps merit badge.

I finally got to Wete and was collected by the volunteer, who is lucky enough to have a cold shower with good water pressure.  He also introduced me to the wonders of Zanzibari street food.  The fried squid and octopus I knew about.  The sugarcane juice I have been in love with for some time.  I did NOT know about arojo (sp?) this wonderful spicy broth/stew/soup stuff.  People have street stands and you tell them what you want in it (default is everything) and add lots of spices.   Travel guide books will tell you that Zanzibaris are better cooks than their mainland neighbors, and they are absolutely right.  One of the great disappointments of my service was that the food culture of Tanzania I did not find exciting (and in fact, generally comment that Tanzanian cooks are wonderful people who need to be introduced to a spice rack).  Zanzibar, however, lives up to my shallow and glutinous hopes.  Would only had my stomach been feeling a little better during Pemba!  Whatever, there is a movie theater in Wete!  In a town not large enough for a bank, there is a real actual movie theater!  With a balcony! A large, decent screen, a dark theater with chairs, a decent sound system, and different movies every night!  Mostly kung fu and Bollywood.  I am not complaining.  Also, instead of popcorn, right outside you can buy watermelon and fried octopus.  On the night I attended, there was some Wesley Snipes action film featuring Wesley Snipes beating up and shooting various black-clad people.  The action was so important there wasn't even time for a gratuitous sex scene, much less an actual plot.  The audience was into it and cheered when bad guys were shot, gasped when good guys were shot, and I really don't think I've ever had a better theatrical cinematic experience.

Other things to do on Pemba include looking at the Pemba Flying Foxes, a species of giant fruit bat.  You can go down to the pier, watch the sunset over the water, then turn around to see the trees where all the bats nest and watch the bats wake up and fly.

Tree full of bats.

Bird on top of tree full of bats.

I like sunsets.

My camera doesn't do well with darkness or with quick moving objects, picture wise, so here's a low quality video of the bats flying after the sun goes down.

From there, a cute little plane across the water to Tanga!  To date, the only form of transportation I have ever been on in Tanzania that has not included chickens.  Which is just weird.  Also, airport "security" took away my bottled water and left my bottle of rum.

Next: the milkshakes of Moshi.

Voyage of the Peace Corps: A Museum at the Parting of the Ways

There are museums on Zanzibar!  It is a great failing of a nation not to have good museums.  I believe this.  The House of Wonders was closed for construction, but the old palace, that is now The Palace Museum, it was open.  Surprisingly dingy and with disappointingly few things, but nonetheless, a museum.  I was most excited by the adorable little cannon in the entrance hall and the portrait of the Empress Elizabeth of Austria, whose assassination was a major plot point in the Georgette Heyer novel Envious Casca.

Isn't it cute?  

There were a few cool things, and a lot of portraits of either European rulers (apparently giving people your picture when you sign treaties is a thing) or the sultans.

The traditional saddle of the sultan is pink.  As it should be.

Because having mirrors in your chair leads to utility and comfort? 
Good-looking dead man with a sword. 

Seal of ex-princess Salme

Ex-Princess Salme

Princess Salme was a lady of great determination who ran away with a German guy, stopped being a princess, and wrote a tell-all memoir.  Good on her!  For those who don't live here, getting women to tell their stories can be difficult.  The older women will talk to me (sometimes) but in classrooms, female students often don't talk, cover their mouths with their hands or just talk so softly it's impossible to hear.

Side note: a really annoying thing about this culture is that loudness of speech seems to be directly correlated with social position.  Those who feel they have a more important position in the social hierarchy speak loudly, those who feel they have a less important position speak softly.  As a teacher this makes my job difficult.  Students are used to being essentially slaves, so if they speak in class at all I have to walk over and stand beside them in order to hear them.  Telling them to speak louder, in either English or Kiswahili, has to date been unsuccessful.  The women of my class speak even more quietly than the men of my class with one exception, but she's an exceptional lady with great confidence in herself and I love her.  In a Muslim society, women are supposed to be invisible, so part of that is that a lot of the Muslim women in my class just plain don't talk to me.    Respect to the Princess for telling her story boldly!

The palace itself was really lovely, being of open design with staircases.  I like staircases. We couldn't get into all the rooms because people were vacuuming.

I like staircases.

This was really our last group activity, because Jaro was going back to Dar and then Germany, Ron and Katie were going back to Dar and then their village, and I was going on to Pemba.  So we got some other tourist to take a group photo.

Coming next: Wesley Snipes, giant bats, and bodily functions.  

Voyage of the Peace Corps: Stuck on a Tropical Beach with Too Much Money

When I imagined a tropical island pre-Peace Corps, it looked just about exactly like the coasts of Tanzania and the Zanzibar Archipelago.  One might say that the beaches of Zanzibar are the platonic tropical beaches.  The Indian ocean is very blue and very clear.  The water is warm, the sand is sandy.  If you are a tourist, you can go sit at a resort beach, and they bring you comfy chairs, wine, and sushi, to while away the unbearable idleness of a tropical beach.

I spent a very productive hour trying to make a sandcastle with
neither shovel nor plastic bucket.  Coconut shell halves work sorta ok to dig with.

The crab shell at the top represents Cthulhu.
Jaro and I went on an entire dolphin tour, which involved getting ferried about the Indian ocean on a boat looking for dolphins.  We only got close to one and he didn't appear interested in swimming with people.  Such hardship!

The water actually does have these patches of aquamarine.

Boats full of white people trying to get close to the dolphin.
After chasing the dolphin around for a while we got to snorkel above coral patches.  I don't have pictures, not having an underwater camera, but I was unprepared for how lovely coral is.  There are these little mountains of coral rising above forests of seaweed.  The coral we saw was muted pinks and oranges with lots of little zebra striped or neon-colored fish swimming in and out.

After, we went for a walk on the beach at low tide.

Photogenic dead crab!

Peace Corps is NOT analogous to that stupid story about the
man throwing starfish back into the ocean.  By the time starfish wash
up on a beach, they are dead, and also some of them have poison spines
so you don't really want to touch them.  

Cool cliffs that seem to be formed of dead coral.

Next: we go to a museum and learn things!