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.

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