Wednesday, October 29, 2014

1234 days in.

So I forgot I had this blog. The thing about living overseas is that at a certain point, you get used to things and they stop being an adventure that you want to tell everyone about and they start just being your life. And even when something (like being in Peace Corps Tanzania) seems exciting to other people, when it's what you do day in day out all year every year, it usually feels pretty dull from the inside. In fact, the only reason I remembered I had this blog (and that I told people back home I'd try to update it when I visited last month) is that I was writing up a blurb about Peace Corps' Community Action Theatre training and googled the phrase to see if I could find the name of the theatre group that runs it and my own blog came up in the hits (without the information I was looking for, by the way). And I noticed that my "days since staging" widget on the side said 1234, which was a pleasing number, so I decided to dust it off and post something.

So, what' happened since I last posted? A lot. I extended my service with Peace Corps (twice), moved to Moshi town and now work for VETA, a vocational college. I got married, travelled, went to a bunch of my sibling-in-laws' weddings. I taught a bunch of classes (although not as many as I would've liked. VETA definitely oversold their need for an English teacher). I finished the library, started a project with Huru International distributing reusable menstrual pads to the girls at my school, trained some more incoming volunteers, went back and subbed for my old teacher training group, which is not only still going, but expanding. I finally reached the point where I have only one of each day left in country, and then went on past it. (I've got just over 8 months left now.) I decided I needed a new self-directed project because VETA just isn't that receptive to extracurricular activities, thought of an idea, started it, abandoned it and started over with a new one. I decided what I want to do with the rest of my life, and am in the process of applying to grad school to help me get there. And a bunch of other things too. I've been very bored and took up running just to kill time and wound up training for and running a half marathon and am now contemplating a second. I've read a ton of books. And cooked a lot of meals. And dealt with having a broken fridge and trying to get it repaired for months on end until we just gave in and bought a new one. See, there's a lot of normal life stuff too. Anyways, I'll try to not let over a year go by before I update this again. Because, a year from now it won't be "Riah in Tanzania" anymore. :)

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Library progress.

Things are coming along incredibly smoothly for the library project. We gave our fundi (carpenter) 2 million shillings upfront to go buy supplies and start work, and he took that and finished the first half of the work in half the time we'd scheduled for him. We've got the electricity done, the room mostly painted, the new door installed, the wire mesh ready to be installed on the windows, 58 chairs and 5 tables done. So now he's got his last 1.8 million, and is working on the shelves. We've also written a letter to the regional library in Moshi about taking the students of the library committee to visit and see how a library works. We also have a meeting with the committee on Tuesday to begin putting the catalogue together. It's really exciting to see everything coming together, and I love walking by and looking at all the chairs. It's so cool that its actually happening and everyone at the school is even more excited than me. Our second master came to the meeting with the fundi, to sign the contract when we gave him the second payment, and it was really touching to hear him talk about how rare it is for government schools to have libraries and how good it is for us to be getting one.
Beyond that I've been teaching and running my clubs. My counterparts have taken over primary responsibility for Life Skills club (yay sustainability!) but I'm still equally responsible for English club and I'm just showing my counterpart the ropes for Theatre club. The kids decided that the issue they wanted to explore was early marriage, cuz everyone knows at least a couple people who got married before 18 (usually cuz they got knocked up or something like that) and so that's what we're focusing on. We did our research and discussion and data analysis and they chose characters, so next week we start getting on our feet and putting scenes together. It should be fun.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Start of the Year

It’s a new school year here at Mboni. It’s kind of funny how the school years actually correspond to calendar years here, unlike in America or Korea. Anyway, Dad was here for the first week of kind of classes, which was really nice. I say kind of classes because so few students were here for them, since they get sent home until their school fees are paid and their school fees are never actually paid on time. I’m teaching Form 1 again, for a whole bunch of reasons, and I’m really happy about it. But this year the Ministry of Education only sent us 2 streams of Form 1, instead of the usual 3, so I only have 12 periods this semester, instead of last year’s 18. Which is technically fewer than I’m supposed to have, but I have a ton of secondary projects going on, and it’s just for one term, so I don’t think it’ll be a problem. Plus my school has more teachers and fewer students this semester, so everyone across the board is teaching less. At least for the Arts teachers (English, Swahili, Civics, History, etc.) I’m not sure about the sciences. That’s where we tend to lack teachers. (Seriously. My school does not need any more Arts teachers. We have 7 qualified English teachers right now. Only 4 of us, including me, are teaching English, one for each Form. It’s sort of silly that this is where I am.)
Anyways, on Tuesday (after school in theory opened on Monday), there were only 15-20 or so Form 1 students, sitting awkwardly in a room by themselves, with nothing to do. I went in and greeted them and introduced myself. On Wednesday, we had 40, which was enough for a class on greetings. (The fact that I teach 80 solid minutes of greetings each year is ridiculous, but I think it’s actually important. Not so much for the greetings themselves (although Tanzanians love greetings and regularly use “Good morning sir” for all genders at all time of the day, so many of them really do need the practice) but because it’s easy and it’s comfortable. And I think the most important thing about the Baseline curriculum is that it’s easy, so the students feel like they can handle it, and it isn’t scary having a class that’s taught only in English. (Although this year I did decide to use maybe 2 sentences of Swahili for one set of instructions. I’m a renegade.) And then on Thursday we were up to a whopping 57, for classroom instructions, which is fun. 80 minutes of “Close your books. Show me your pen. Stand up.” Etc. But it’s them using actual English for communicative purposes, plus I taught them Salama Says (Tanzanian Simon Says) and they love that. And again, I used about a sentence of Swahili, cuz that game’s really hard to explain just in English. Having seen the amount of time and confusion that results from that, I decided it wasn’t worth it. So two nice easy classes, and since there were so few students, I only taught each one once and had more time to hang out with my dad, so yay!
I also got a start on my secondary projects for the year. We had our first library meeting since getting the money deposited into my account, and we talked to the fundi (carpenter) and figured out how much he needed as an advance to buy the materials, and so now he’s actually working on making all our chairs and tables, which is really exciting. My counterparts also explained about the project to the rest of the staff at the first teachers’ meeting of the year, and it was really well received. Next is having the students choose their representatives for the committee. I’ll keep you guys posted as things go along.
I’m also continuing with my clubs. I’m starting a Community Theatre group, based on the training in Iringa last November, which we got the Headmaster’s permission for. Apparently we can’t have extracurricular activities every day of the week, though, cuz the students need to have one free day to do work (which seems silly, since as far as I can tell, whenever they want the students to do work, they just have them do it, usually in the middle of the school day.) But since Tuesdays and Fridays are sports and Mondays have to remain free, that leaves just Wednesdays and Thursdays. Now this wasn’t a problem last year, when I just had 2 clubs, but now I have 3 (English, Life Skills, Theatre). So what we decided to do was give Wednesdays to Theatre, and then alternate weeks for English and Life Skills. Not ideal, but ok. We’re also thinking about doing some teacher training with the primary school teachers in the area, which would be cool, but getting the projects here at Mboni off the ground is the first thing on the agenda.
So then dad left, and I was sad, but I hung out with Bill for a couple days and then headed to Dar for VAC. (Which for those of you who don’t remember is the Volunteer Advisory Council, like the student government of Peace Corps, which I am president of.) We had a particularly good VAC meeting this time. We had fewer issues, so we had more time to discuss each, and everyone on VAC had experience this time, and are just awesome members who take our job seriously, so that was cool. And also, the staff had some things they wanted to get our feedback on too. The biggest one on that front is that they’re considering changing the intake times, so that Ed volunteers would come in July, not June, and Health and Enviroment volunteers would come in February, not September. We had a really great working group to discuss the issues that would be involved in the change, and the staff and volunteers thought of totally different types of things. So if they wind up doing it (and it sounds like they’re leaning that way, although it isn’t for sure yet), they’ll have a pretty good sense of the things they need to pay attention to. So that’s good. And also, I just like hanging out at the office and catching up with all the staff members. I also submitted my formal notice of intent to marry to EB, and she said it looked good and was sending it along to Washington, so once they send it back, we’ll be approved. So yay! I can get married and not get kicked out of Peace Corps for it.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! I've been doing a bunch of super awesome things and then not posting about them, so apologies for that. My dad and sister (who are visiting) have both complained at me for that. So here goes some catch up.

First off, thanks to all of you who contributed to my grant, especially you, Grandpa Pep! We got even more than we actually requested and so we got to revise our budget to incorporate the extra. But since things in Tanzania are all sorts of inflationy, that just went to covering the rising price of wood. The money got deposited into my account right before school closed for the holiday break, though, so we are waiting til school starts up again to kick things off.

Two, I went to a community action theatre training in iringa. The idea is to use community theatre to create behavior change, specifically about HIV. This sounds like it would be right up my alley, but there were some things about the training that kinda pissed me off, I think because I have a theatre background. In general, they were too simplistic for my taste. There was a lot of "your play needs to have one good character who the audience likes because they do everything right and have good behavior and one bad character who the audience doesn't like because they make mistakes and have bad behavior." And real life doesn't work that way and neither does good theatre. Plus I think it's a destructive attitude to perpetuate, because it leads to the idea that people who make mistakes (like getting HIV by having unprotected sec, for example) are bad people and that increases stgma and is just generally harmful, to my mind. So that, and some other similar "you must do it only this one way" things were frustrating for me. But there were a few useful things I picked up and I can use the techniques to make pieces that aren't so simplistic. And I brought a new counterpart, Miss Sanga, to this one, and so she'll be able to work with me and Ms. Njau and Mr. Alex a lot better after having been through this training. So that's in many ways the most important thing to come out of the training.

Then my mom came to visit, and she got to meet Bill, and we hung out on the beach and celebrated thanksgiving with turkey jerky, dried cranberries and a whole ton of seafood. For thanksgiving dinner, mom and Bill each got a lobster and I got something called the seafood feaster (but the waiter pronounced it like fiesta) which turned out to be two different kinds of lobster, squid, octopus, cuttlefish and fish served on a turkey sized silver platter so big they needed to bring another table over to fit everything. Plus veggies and salad and chips (and usually rice too, but we told them to skip it) and a bunch of grapefruit slices. An enormous amount of food. Another highlight of mom's visit was seeing rescued sea turtles and getting to feed them seaweed by hand. So cool.

Then school finished for the term, and I went to mafia shortly thereafter to do a teacher training sponsored by the us embassy. This was possibly my single favorite thing I've done as a peace corps volunteer. We were at an absolutely gorgeous resort on the beach, with perfect little huts and amazing food, but we were also doing really fulfilling actual work during the day. Plus Mel, one of my very best friends here, was doing it with me, so we led all our sessions together and she had the room connected to mine on the other side of the tent so we got to both work together and hang out, which was perfect. For the training we had about 50 teachers from the island (they originally told us they were all from the 6 secondary schools on mafia, but it turns out 12 of them were primary school teachers, and a couple were from the district education office). The training was five days (although over half of both the first and last days were lost to stupid ceremonial bullshit) and we split them into two groups for sessions, and they switched after chai. Day one we reviewed lesson plan stages/development, which we referred back to a lot during the week. Day two me and Mel taught "the language of teaching," which was about doing class business in English and creating a positive learning environment and we also threw in a bit about teaching aids/resources and learning styles. However combining the sessions felt a bit rushed/like it was too much, so lesson learned for next time. In general I feel like we learned a ton about training Tanzanians (as opposed to peace corps volunteers) and could do it much better next time. Not that it was bad, but we were definitely figuring things out as we went. Day three was a session on assessment that I was really proud of. Day four was creative teaching strategies, ie using games, which is kind of my specialty, which went super well and was a blast. Then day five I got to go swim with the whale sharks (so huge! 7 meters, the one I saw. So close! So awesome!) while Mel and Flavia did action planning and then the closing stuff. A sign of how good this training was was that I was actually contemplating skipping the whale sharks (which is mafia's thing) in favor of l speeches and certificates. I just loved the people involved, both the mafia teachers and Flavia, who's a Tanzanian who lived and taught in America for a long time and now works for the regional English language office at the embassy and is super cool. All in all, an amazing week.

Then the embassy flew me to tanga (that's right, I got to take tiny 13 seat planes instead of buses, and even got to sit next to the pilot in one, which was cool) and Bill picked me up and we drove to just south of Pangani where we rented a beach house and hung out and swan and cooked good food and celebrated Christmas together. It was lovely and relaxing.

Then back to moshi, where we picked up my dad and sister and hung out for a day before heading out on safari. We went to Tarangire national park first, where we saw literally hundreds of elephants, of all different sizes, way way close up. It was incredible. Then we went to the Serengeti, where my sister got to see pretty much literally any animal she requested, which was pretty cool. All sorts of cool way up close things. Lions and hyenas and giraffes and zebras and dik diks and a bunch of baby ones too. We even saw a leopard actually doing things two days in a row. Plus the place we were staying was gorgeous. It was literally built around the rocks of a kopje, and rock hyrax were running around on all the paths. (Also baboons.) Plus, they brought me Pandemic as a Christmas present, so we played every night. New Year's Eve they served a fancier meal, and we played a game of pandemic and then kaylee got tired and went to bed, so me and dads and bill stayed up talking til midnight, when they turned the power out for a second and started popping balloons. But no one had a watch so we weren't at first sure if it was midnight yet. But it was. A good way to ring in the new year, just sitting around talking with two of my very favorite people. Then today we got up and drove back to moshi. The whole thing was even cooler than I expected. We saw all sorts of things and it was fun hanging out and we had an excellent guide. My sister couldn't have been happier, and a the rest of us were too. Her main thing was wanting to see big kitties, and we probably saw 20 lions, some of them super close in, so that was a success. Plus it's the wet season, so the weather was cool and nice, and we got to see the wildebeest migration. We saw literally tens of thousands of wildebeest, from horizon to horizon.

So I've had all sorts of amazingness. I'm so lucky, really I am.

Friday, September 28, 2012

2 Super Exciting Things!

1. I got engaged! Bill asked me to marry him during the super regional last week, and I really couldn't be happier. It was really lovely and spontaneous, and partially in Swahili. :) So we're getting married! It's funny, during PST they do the whole "if you get married, you need to tell your country director" thing, and I was like "yeah, right, like that's gonna happen," but lo and behold, it did. I went and talked to EB and got the list of things that she needs to sign off on to approve me still being a PCV once I'm married. (They're very insistent that they're not giving you permission to get married, they're giving you permission to continue being a volunteer once you're married, which actually is a pretty important distinction.) But in my case, with Bill being a recently COSed Tanzania volunteer, there's nothing to worry about with that. He can clearly handle the language and culture and his job is in line with the goals of the Peace Corps. So if everything works out right, I'll extend for a third year with Peace Corps here in Tanzania, and me and Bill will get married during my home leave between my normal service and my extension and then we'll come back to Tanzania. I couldn't be happier. Really pretty much everything is going right for me right now.

2. My grant got approved! This means that it's up on the Peace Corps' website, and now it's up to people on the internet in America to donate and give us money, so that we can build the library and get my kids a place to study and books to read! So go here, and contribute!

Beyond that things are good. We had our super regional (finally, after more than a year at site) and that was awesome. They used an Open Spaces training format, which I loved. Basically, it was led by us, so people came up with things they wanted to talk about, and we made a schedule, and then the people who were interested in a topic showed up for those sessions and those who weren't did other things, and it was great because everyone who was there was engaged and interested and actually wanted to be there for that thing. And the rest of the time I got to spend with my new fiance. :) Also, I think I've found where I want to do my extension, and I'm really hoping that works out. (It's in Moshi, where Bill lives.) And I've been invited to do some English teacher trainings, which I'm looking forward to. And now I'm in Dar for my first meeting as VAC president, which went smoothly, and seemed pretty productive, and some good things came out of. And next week I'll be back to school, which hopefully will be back to normal after this week's graduation, and can really get into the bulk of the semester and actually teaching. So yay!

Thursday, August 30, 2012


So in the hope of not habitually going ages in between posts, I'm gonna write a super brief update. I'm in dar for our mid service conference, which involves a bit of medical, a bit of sessions and a bunch of seeing other volunteers. I don't have tb or new cavities, or anything medical going on these days. So yay! And then we spent two days listening to various people talk about various things, like grants and ict and possible 3rd year extensions. Plus a lot of going and talking to staff people about what's going on at site and my plans for my life and things like that. And then tomorrow, I'm leading an English session with Mel and Hannah. Which we haven't really planned yet. We should sort that out.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Things that have happened in July.

So I haven't written since I was in South Africa. Sorry about that. I did, in fact, make it back to Tanzania successfully, and I also (mostly) enjoyed the rest of the trip to Durban. While there was some annoying being cooped up in the hotel room, there was also great food and seeing my mom and zip lining and ice skating and swimming in the ocean and a particularly awesome toucan and a movies in theaters and a restaurant with a shark tank in it. So all worthwhile things. Thanks mom, I had a good time and it was great to see you. :)
Then I flew back to Tanzania. It was really satisfying to be able to use the Tanzanian residents line and not have to fill out any forms. When I got back I went straight to Moro and spent a couple of days there, hanging out with the newbies and leading some sessions. I like the new training class. I think they'll be a good addition to the country. Also, I was especially pleased with the response to my listening skills session. During TOT I'd designed it for the English trainees only, but when I presented it, Marilyn liked it so much that she said the math/science trainees should have it too, so it became a session for everyone. At first I was anxious about this, but I think it went well and learning to speak special English so your students (and other Tanzanians) can understand you is super important. So I was pleased when I got so much positive feedback on it. Plus just being around the training was fun.
Then it was break so I headed back to Moshi, where I hung out with Bill, which was nice after not seeing him, and we belatedly celebrated my birthday (he cooked me dinner and gave me a rose he'd framed and I made my own cupcakes). We also celebrated the fourth of July. Yay American food! (we had buffalo chicken, potato salad, veggies with bleu cheese dip, rhubarb crisp and lemonade. It was delicious.) And also grading. I graded all my final exams over the break too. I had one kid get an absolutely perfect score, 2 98s and. 96 too. Which in Tanzania is ridiculously excellent. (at my school 100-81 is an A, 80-61 is B, 60-41 is C, 40-30 is D and anything below 29 is failing. Which is actually tougher than other schools where only 20 and under is an F. And a ton of students manage to fail anyways. I explained how numbers line up to letter grades in America to my counterpart. She just laughed.
So things were good, however when I got back to site I discovered my computer had died in my absence, taking all my music and my midterm grades along with it. I'd had my music backed up on the hard drive the robbers stole and hadn't had room to back it up again once I only had one hard drive, but not having backed up my grades anywhere was just stupidity on my part. So I gave my kids another rest, retroactively declaring it the midterm, and that was that. It didn't seem an entirely fair way of doing things, but it's what my counterpart said would be best so it's what I did. Then back at school things have been all kinds of shaghalabhagala. (Which means chaotic. Genius word.) because of the census next month this year's school calendar is all kinds of screwy. After two weeks of break (which was 4 for me cuz of South Africa) we have 4 weeks of class to start the second term, then 5 more weeks of break before continuing. But since it's the start of the term, half the students haven't been at school cuz they haven't paid their school fees yet, so it's extra frustrating, cuz while there are classes, they sort of aren't real classes and I don't want to teach anything too important because half of them will miss it, but if I'm not teaching important things, why bother at all? It's been a super frustrating dynamic. And then 2 weeks into the mini term, I left again to go to Moro for a couple more sessions. They were on a Saturday so it was a short trip and I didn't have to miss any school for it, but leaving definitely didn't help me get back into the school rhythm. Anyways, now there's one week left and I just want it to be done already so we can come back for real after the break.
So that's what's going on here. Plus the usual reading and cooking and hanging out. Oh and also, they did site announcements for the newbies, and five of them are coming up to Kili, so that's exciting. Karibuni new Kili folk!