Published: March 20th 2009March 20th 2009
I have decided to write an update about my life here in Tanzania. Having had a bit of difficulty finding a computer that will upload my photos without my having to sit at it for several days, I have decided to post a quick entry without the photos, and then rectify the situation when I get home, as I just can't wait to show you all what it is like here in pictures as well as descriptions.
Life here is about as different as it could be from living in Chalk Farm! It is intense, a bit mad, and forever fascinating. Also tiring sometimes. Pretty much nothing is easy, but at the same time, everything is interesting, and the chance to become part of an African community is something special so I am doing my best to make the most of every moment.
I am living in an exceptionally remote village called Milingano which is in the West Usambara Mountains, a couple of hours drive away from Tanga (which is a coastal town). It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, with its clusters of mud huts nestled amongst huge mountains, the bright blue skies and the red dirt roads leading out of the village along the valley. It is also probably the most warm-hearted place I have been to. It is a cliche, but people here have so little and they really do give so much - and they have been overwhelmingly welcoming to us. I live in a basic house (no running water or electricity) in the centre of the village just off the market square (which becomes incredibly busy and colourful on Thursdays!) with three other girls - all around the same age as me - Polly, Yvonne and Avis. We have spent an enormous amount of time together and it has been great to be able to share the ups and downs of life with people who are experiencing exactly the same thing, and we share a lot of tips and ideas for the teaching too.
After fighting off an early bout of malaria, I was eventually able to throw myself into life here. During the week, I teach English at the local primary and secondary schools. At primary level, I teach Standard 1 (roughly 100 pupils of age 6-7) and Standard 2 (50 pupils of age 7-8). The sizes of the classes are ridiculous and the discipline in this school is not great so it has been a challenge of major proportions, but I can see that I have made some progress with them, so I know it has been worthwhile. Sometimes there are extremely rewarding moments, such as when a child gets something right and the rest of the class cheers with genuine enthusiasm. Even just seeing the beaming smile when I choose a kid to come up and stick something on the board makes it impossible not to grin back, however tricky they have been up until then! Even though I am not meant to have my favourites in the class, I definitely do - some of the kids are the cutest little things in the world. They come to school in their scruffy blue and white uniforms carrying their book and pencil in a sorry-looking plastic bag and they call me 'Teacher Laula' (because they don't have an 'r' in their tribal language and so find it difficult to pronounce). When we are not teaching, the four of us sit in the staff room doing lesson plans and evaluations (this was all drilled into us during our week-long teacher training), or creating flashcards and pictures. Drawing is not my strong point so this part has been a bit of a struggle, and if I never see a piece of bluetac again it will be too soon.... Even if you do make a decent stab at drawing an elephant (say) the picture finishes up looking as though it has been washed in a muddy pond by the time it has been handled by several pairs of mucky hands in the classroom. On the whole though I can say I have enjoyed the teaching (especially making up little songs for the kids to sing), and according to the feedback I have received from Caroline, who is in charge of the project and herself an experienced TEFL teacher, I have been doing a good job of it. In fact she has told us that, as a group of teachers, we are the strongest she has had so far on the project (which has been running for 3 years). Hoorah.
The secondary school is a little walk out of the village which can be hot work in the middle of the day, and the other teachers there sometimes find it hard to know how to compliment a woman: "It is hot today". "Yes, it is". "You are sweating a lot". "Yes, we are, thank you..". The scenery surrounding the school is beautiful though, and out of my classroom window (which isn't really a window, more a space in the wall) I can see a picture postcard view of dramatic mountains, luscious green foliage, maize plants as far as the eye can see, stunning birds (in particular bright red ones that I have never seen before) and the twisting red road leading back into the village. The Form 2 pupils at this school are great big teenagers, and there are about 60 of them, but they are quite polite on the whole (apart from when they failed to do their homework and I had to tell them off) and I figure that I know more about English than they do, so it hasn't been as daunting as I might have originally imagined it to be.
In the afternoons, it's back to the primary school for after-school activities, and for me this has involved taking a choir, helping out with a netball club and running a knitting circle for the local ladies. We have also set up a new village library and take it in turns to manage it. A lot of this stuff is so new to me that it has been interesting to find out whether a) I like doing it and b) I am actually any good at any of it. The answers are still in the making but I can say that I LOVE doing the choir, which consists of about 25 of the older primary school kids. They love it too, you can just tell by looking at all the eager faces, and we have great fun doing silly warm-ups, actions and learning a few rounds and songs. In our last practice they pretty much mastered 'In the Jungle' in 3 parts, and with added percussion instruments and simple dancing moves, it was a triumph!
The girls that have been chosen for netball have turned out to be quick learners (netball is completely new to them) and I reckon that with their athletic builds and octopus arms they could be excellent players, with a bit of practice. Polly and I teach them drills and exercises but have not graduated to a game yet, because the school does not have netball posts (actually, it does now, but they have yet to be varnished to protect them from the weather).
Knitting has proved to be a mixed blessing because it is actually an immensely frustrating thing to teach, but our last class was more of a success, and it was really something to see the 10 women in their flamboyantly-coloured dresses sitting in the classroom with their needles and wool, knitting away and laughing over their efforts. The idea is that they will continue to help each other and teach their friends, now that they have mastered the basics, so I am pleased that I have managed to kick-start a whole new hobby in Milingano - something that gives the women a new skill, gets them together in a group and even helps them earn money if they become good at it (because they can sell their products at the market, and people do like wearing knitted things, either as a fashion statement or because some of them come from the mountainous villages which are colder).
My own knitting has been going great guns, and I have completed several projects since being here. My housemates have also caught the knitting bug, and many an evening has been spent sat in the light of the kerosene lamps in our little house, knitting and chatting. We also do lots of reading and journal-writing. Even though we work hard, we also do much more relaxing than we do in our normal everyday lives, so you can imagine this is something I am savouring to the full. Our food is all cooked for us by the housegirls who are local women employed by the charity to look after us. (I have taught them to knit too!). It is all vegetarian, as meat is harder to get here, so I am in my element - rice, pasta, beans and lentils are the staples. Dairy products are very thin on the ground here and the thing I miss the most is cheese! Sometimes we can get marmite and nutella in Tanga so we ration these carefully when we do get hold of them!
Living right in the middle of the village means we are never far from the action, and there are always people about calling a cheery 'Onga' ('How are you' in the tribal language, Kisambaa), or children loitering in our doorway asking for a book or a football. It is a sociable place which feels hectic and laid-back at the same time - there seems to be something new and unexpected happening every day (such as when there is a local football match and hundreds of people suddenly run past our house afterwards, singing, clapping, shouting and dancing), but at the same time you feel that much of life here has remained the same for centuries - men sitting outside their houses watching the world go by (and quite often getting drunk), women carrying water back from the village or sweeping the ground outside their front door (note who is doing all the work there..!), chicken scratching in the back yard, pans clanking as people prepare their food. In the mornings we wake up to the smell of breakfast cooking and the sounds of radios crackling and people singing or calling to each other and bikes trundling past. Just before we leave the school, the children run past our house in groups, singing cheerily to the rhythm of their steps, as a kind of pre-school exercise. These are the kinds of things that I will miss hugely when it is time to leave.
The weekends are spent either relaxing at home and investigating the local hikes (last Saturday we walked for 6 hours to a viewpoint of Kenya), or going away for the weekend to Tanga or Pangani. At present I am with the rest of the group at a beach resort called Peponi, which is stunning. We sleep in a banda that is steps away from the Indian Ocean, and there are palm trees and vividly-coloured flowers all around, complete with hot sunshine and a gentle breeze. The idea is to do plenty of sitting in the shade, reading, drinking beer (a great treat for us) and perhaps a boat trip on the Pangani River tomorrow. The group I am with is great fun and we have been getting along with each other really well, chatting about nearly every topic under the sun and gathering some wonderful memories. It will be very strange to say our goodbyes in two weeks, when the project comes to an end.
The plan at that point is to meet my sister for a week on Zanzibar (yay!) and then to move on to Nairobi to meet Yvonne. Together we will spend two weeks travelling around Lake Victoria, doing some exciting stuff in Uganda such as white-water rafting and quad biking, before coming back into Tanzania. I am hoping to spend my last few days on safari in the Serengeti game park before catching my flight home on 30th April.
This was a longer entry than planned but it is hard to sum up the last 2.5 months in a nutshell! I hope everyone is well, and I look forward to hearing some news from home.
Lots of love xxx