Friday, June 27, 2008

Teaching, Week Two

This week, the LTP team collaborated as a group on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday to do projects with classes 7D, 5B, and 3B, respectively. With 7D and 5B we took photographs representing Swahili proverbs called misemo. On Thursday, the 7D students wrote stories that showed the importance of the misemo they had photographed, and today in class they used their photographs and stories to create an artistic display of their misemo.

Also this week, a few of us started teaching afterschool programs. Alia and Michelle are teaching two separate art classes, Lindsay is teaching dance, and I've been teaching songs in English. The kids really enjoy having somewhat structured activities after school - it is for the most part a new concept for them.

1) One group's results of the "French Verbs" project that a few of us did with 3B last week. They learned the French words for to swim, to walk, to jump, to fly, and to dance.
2) One pair's Misemo project from 7B.
3) The poster Alia made for my singing class.
4) View of Mt. Meru from near my homestay.

The Day of Infinite Mud

This past Saturday, June 21, we went on a "walking safari" around Mt. Meru. We were under the impression that we would spend just a few hours hiking through Masai villages and what not. I think I've mentioned that one common theme throughout this trip has been a constant sense of confusion - not once have we actually understood what exactly is going to happen when we head out for a day trip of any kind. So on Saturday, we met in town at 10:30 AM and set off together following our guide. Once we reached the rural areas, it became clear that we were going to spend the duration of the hike slipping and sliding in the mud due to the many rainy days in Arusha recently. We "hiked" (slid) uphill through village after village until around 1:30, at which point we stopped on the side of a large hill to eat our boxed lunches with a beautiful view of Arusha.

After lunch, our guide headed not back downhill as we expected but continued up the incline. Soon we were hiking through dense jungle-like foliage up a very steep incline, mostly staying in a kind of two-feet-deep mud-ditch that appeared to run the length of the mountain. Every two minutes or so someone would slip and go flying down into the mud, and as fits of laughter ensued most of us were soon covered in mud. Eventually, we all started wondering exactly why we were still heading uphill, and someone near the front questioned our guide. Word was passed through the line that we were heading to some kind of forest where we might see monkeys, which we would reach in 30-45 more minutes (we decided that this would probably translate into at least two or three hours). About five minutes later, though, word was passed down the line that we were turning around because we had come upon an impassable area full of killer ants. Make no mistake - the ants here are no ordinary ants. Any object or body part that disturbs them will be viciously attacked, and it is no easy task to remove even one of the little devils.

So, we turned around. Seeing as it was almost impossible to go uphill in the mud, you can imagine what it was like going down. The mud-ditch became a sort of slide, down which half of the group was sliding on their rear ends in a kind of train. We were laughing hysterically until we all unknowingly charged through a patch of stinging nettles, which resulted in a chorus of "OWW!"'s as our line moved through. After eventually reaching the bottom of the hill, we continued (seemingly aimlessly) on uphill terrain similar to that on which we had originally set out. At some point we deduced that we were heading toward a waterfall, and after a few hours we reached it. The hill going down to the base of the falls was the steepest we had encountered yet, but seeing as we were already covered in mud it really made no difference. With the help of giant walking sticks we slid down the incline and hung out at the bottom of the falls for a while.

On the way home, we (understandably, I think) elected to take a town bus back to Pelle's store as soon as we reached civilization. This cut out a good chunk of the hike home, and we arrived around 6 PM - covered in mud, exhausted, but definitely smiling. It sure is a good thing that everyone in our group has a sense of adventure.

1) A Masai hut with some kids (they were yelling "wazungu!") in one of the Masai villages we passed.
2) The view of Arusha and its surroundings from our lunch spot.

3) Minette and Shah sliding down the mud-ditch... hilarious.
4) Me at the base of the waterfall. Somehow, I was one of the two cleanest people at the end of the day... probably because I was avoiding getting one of my only three pairs of pants dirty at all costs.
5) Most of the group at the base of the waterfall.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Mimi ni mwalimu!

(I'm a teacher!)

Finally, on Monday, we started what we came here to do: teaching. Michelle, Minette, and I are working with a math & science class of thirty-two students in standard 7 (about 12-13 years old). On Monday, we entered our class at 8 AM and introduced ourselves and our program ("Literacy Through Photography" has somehow become called "Learning Through Photography" as we've been working with the Tanzanian teachers, but it works). We began, as is usual in LTP, with a "reading pictures" exercise. We asked the students to get into groups and gave them each a picture to examine. They first listed details that they saw and then wrote a story in first person, pretending that they were a person or object in the picture. All of this proved to be somewhat of a challenge - as the week progressed, we slowly realized that students here are rarely asked to be creative at all. They mainly learn what the teacher asks them to or what is in the book. Eventually, though, most of them managed to complete a short writing about the picture.

On Tuesday, we did a 80-minute special project with a standard 3 (around age 9) French class. There are 35 high-energy students in this class, and we really weren't sure what we were going to do with them. Luckily their regular French teacher showed up to help us (that has been rare) and told us that she had planned to teach a few French verbs that day: walk, jump, swim, fly, and dance. We then divided the class into four groups and used Polaroid cameras to take pictures to illustrate the five verbs. It was really cool - by the end of class, all the students seemed to have the verbs down pat.

On Wednesday, we had a total of four forty-minute periods to work with our standard seven class. During the first two, we divided the class into five groups and asked each group to come up with a list of six important concepts under their blanket topic (the five topics were circulatory system, endocrine system, skeletal system, first aid, and family planning + HIV/AIDS). Most groups went straight to their books and copied "important" sentences, so we spent quite a while helping the kids try to think of their topics more holistically so that they could think of six very important things on their own. After that, we asked them to think of a way to represent their concepts with a photo and to draw a sketch. This also proved to be a huge challenge, and in the end we found that we would be better off just going out to shoot and brainstorming along with the kids.

During the second two periods on Wednesday, our standard 7 class did all of their photo shooting. Most of our LTP DukeEngage group came to help us that day, so small groups of 2 or 3 students worked with one LTP teacher at a time. We've realized that this is the best way to do shooting - the kids can work together but they receive personalized instruction on the technical aspects of setting up pictures and using the camera. Finally, we were able to get most of the kids to think more creatively about how to represent their concepts, although with some groups we had to make a lot of suggestions during brainstorming. The kids seemed to have a great time directing their friends while setting up their pictures as well as learning how to use the cameras (framing, zoom, etc).

On Thursday morning, we gave the five groups in standard 7 the pictures they had taken. After allowing them to spend some obligatory time laughing at the pictures, we asked them to take one picture (each student had a picture they did not take) and write a story that showed the important of the concept that that picture illustrated. Then, later that afternoon, we gave the students time to make posters using their photos.

On Friday (today), the each group in standard 7 made a presentation in which each student was required to talk about at least one photo on the poster. Afterwards we had them do a writing describing something they learned from another group's presentation, and we were happy to observe that it seemed like they had actually learned a lot.

Walking into my first class on Monday morning, I was more than a little terrified. For one thing, teachers here for some reason are often not where they are supposed to be. They seem to have a lot going on outside of teaching, and a lot of the time a teacher won't show up for a class that he or she is supposed to teach and the students just kind of sit there... it's pretty much the opposite of America, where the teachers are always there and the kids skip class. The teacher of our standard 7 class was nowhere to be found throughout the days we were teaching, but we found out in the middle of the week that it was because he feared that his presence would hinder the students' creativity (which is a very valid concern). The result, though, was of course that we were on our own with thirty-two 12- and 13-year-olds.

Very quickly, however, I realized that I had little to worry about. From the beginning, the kids respected us a lot. They were very quiet during our first class, and I was a bit worried that they didn't like us at all. As soon as I said "class dismissed," however, they all came running up to the front of the room to ask us questions about ourselves and America and to get our contact information. In a way, the students are "trained" to do very specific things during class time - when we enter the room, they all stand up and simultaneously recite, "Good morning, teachers." Throughout the week, however, we succeeded in getting them to open up and become more creative while working with them. After our presentations today, the entire class decided to stay in the classroom and play "Heads Up, 7-Up" with us during their 30-minute tea break.

The enthusiasm I have observed in the students at Arusha School - kindergarten all the way up to standard seven - is remarkable. I was afraid that, because I am working mainly with 12- and 13-year-olds, my students would act like they were too "cool" for us or something to that effect. I've observed the exact opposite, though. They respected our instructions during class but also love spending time talking and playing with us - many wrote little notes to us on their writings about how they love us and are excited to be our friends. They show so much potential, and I only wish that they all had the same opportunities that I had as a child.

1) Me with some kids I worked with in standard 3. I helped Alia and Ami with a project they did on the five senses - we were the "taste" group, so we're pretending to be eating.
2) Two of my standard 7 students shooting a photo. They were in the "First Aid" group.
3 and 4) Standard 7 students putting together their final posters.
5) The finished product of the family planning & HIV/AIDS group. Each group did a short presentation during which each student had to explain one of the pictures on the poster.

The Hair Transformation and Homestay

So, I'm majorly behind on my blog posts (for various reasons). Sorry about that.

First off, it is COLD here! It's been cloudy, rainy, and cold, which is definitely not the picture I had in my head of equatorial Africa. My warmer clothes have definitely gotten a workout lately. We have to handwash and line-dry everything, which has been interesting when I'm constantly trying to wear the same clothes.

On Sunday (June 15), Alia, Michelle and I got our hair braided into a million tiny little braids at a hair salon in Arusha. Despite the fact that we had three women working on us (one working on each of us), it took from 9 AM to 1:30 PM (with no breaks) for them to finish. They tried to singe the ends of the braids to close them, but it didn't work on our hair. Then they tried tape, but that didn't work either. So in the end, all of us ended up with a million tiny little colorful rubber bands holding our braids. We look pretty ridiculous. It's been really nice not to have to wash my hair though, because later on Sunday evening we moved in with our homestay families.

My homestay mom is named Mama Mgaya, and I just call her "Mama" (as is custom here). She is probably the sweetest person I have ever met, and an amazing cook to boot. She runs a little restaurant under a tarp right outside her house. Each morning when I come downstairs around 7:15, breakfast (usually some combination of eggs, crepes, doughnuts, and bananas) and coffee are waiting for me on the table. When I return in the evening around 6, she makes me dinner and forces me to keep eating until my stomach is about to explode. I told her that everyone in America is going to be shocked when I return from Africa fatter than when I left (but seriously, it's going to happen). Her youngest son, who is 19, is in secondary school and still lives with her, and her sister arrived from Zanzibar last night. At the end of dinner last night I attemped to exclaim, "I'm full!" in Swahili ("Nimeshiba!"), but I managed to pick the wrong verb and instead exclaimed, "Nimechoka!" (I'm tired!). Mama and her sister were pretty amused by that. She keeps telling me, "I'm your mama now! You're my daughter! This is your home!" It's so sweet, and I really do feel at home and comfortable. There is running water but it's freezing cold, so I bathe at night with a bucket of hot water - that's why it's been nice to have my hair in braids, because obviously inside the house is just as cold as outside.

Here are the long-awaited (by some at least) pictures of the hair transformation:

Monday, June 16, 2008


On Saturday, our LTP group plus a couple of our Tanzanian friends went on a day trip to Arusha National Park, which is less than a half-hour drive from our apartments. We weren't really sure what we were going to do, what we were going to see, what to bring, or what to wear (that's been a reoccuring theme throughout this trip in general.) We took two cars that have tops that can open up so that they become safari cars. About three minutes after we drove through the entrance of the park, I was digging through my bag but looked up when I felt our car slowing down. I looked out the window right beside me and found myself staring a mid-sized giraffe (about 10 feet away from the car) in the face. It was at this point that I had my first very obvious stupid-American moment of the trip - before I could stop it, I yelled very excitedly, "GIRAFFE!!!!" Of course, I was immediately shushed by everyone in my car. Luckily, the windows and top of our car were still closed so the unsuspecting giraffe wasn't subject to my outburst. It simply looked at us calmly, crossed the road in front of us, and went on its way.

Over the course of the next 2-3 hours, we drove through a mountainous, green, lush area in our safari cars. We saw more giraffes as well as zebras, water buffalo, warthogs, water bucks, baboons, Colobus monkeys, and the like. We stopped to eat a boxed lunch overlooking a lake, and also at a lookout point where we could see a large crater below us. After the driving tour, we parked the cars and went on a walking tour. A guide joined us for this part of the trip, and he carried a very large gun with which to protect us from any unruly wildlife (at least I assume this was its purpose). We hiked around for another two and a half hours or so, during which we saw two herds of water buffalo, a few warthogs, and a group of 14 giraffes (mostly from afar). We also stopped at the bottom of a really neat waterfall, and I illegally stole a small volcanic rock from the river below it. The walking tour was in a flat, field-like area (as opposed to the forested mountains we explored during the driving tour). We all agreed that we felt like we had walked right into a scene from the Lion King, and as a result I was singing the entire Lion King soundtrack to myself for most of the hike. I'm pretty sure the guide thought I was crazy.

As we were driving out of the park, we were lucky to come upon a group of baboons, a group of giraffes, and a group of zebras all near each other. Each group then proceeded to cross the road in front of us, and our driver let us get out and stand right next to the car (which, of course, isn't allowed). One of the giraffes started running after it crossed the road - the thundering sound of a cantering giraffe is without a doubt the most awesome thing I've ever heard.
SO COOL. Giraffes are my new favorite animal, and if I didn't feel like I was in Africa before, I definitely do now.

1) The giraffe that inspired my outburst. SO AWESOME.
2) Colobus monkeys in a tree right above our safari car.
3) Me with my roommates sitting above the Ngordoto crater. What looks like the sky in the picture is actually fog.
4) Water buffalo, taken during the walking tour.

Friday, June 13, 2008

LTP Teacher Workshops

This week, we held LTP teacher workshops on Wednesday, Thursday, and today (Friday). On Wednesday, we did a "reading pictures" and writing exercise. We started with a photograph of an African tribal scene and made a list of all the details we could see in the picture. Then, we did a short writing in which each person pretended to be a person in a picture - essentially, everyone made up a story of the person based on the details in the picture. Then, we did our first LTP-themed activity, which was dreams. We used digital cameras for this exercise, and I was surprised at how difficult it was to teach the teachers to use the digital cameras - it was a pretty new thing for them. First, we a drew a picture of a scene from a dream we remembered, then we went out in groups of four (two teachers and two DukeEngage students in each group) to shoot pictures of everyone's dreams. This was pretty fun and allowed the teachers and students to be creative together. That night, Katie and Elena made prints of the dream pictures using digital camera printers that we brought.

On Thursday (yesterday) morning, we received the prints of our dream pictures and did a writing exercise with them. We then introduced the LTP alphabet theme. My group elected to do a science/math themed alphabet, since both of the teachers I was working with teach math and science. For each letter, A through Z, we came up with a science or math word that was appropriate for the grade levels that they teach (standards 5, 6, and 7). Then, we took a few hours to shoot the 26 photos illustrating different math and science concepts. For this, we used simple 35 mm film cameras. These cameras posed much less of a struggle, and the teachers did well with them. Katie and Elena took the four rolls of film from the four groups to be developed that evening.

Finally, today, we learned about the LTP self-portrait theme. We began by each drawing a simple picture of ourself, and labeling different parts of ourselves that for some reason define who we are. For instance, I labeled my mouth as a part of myself that I use for talking, laughing, and singing - three things that are very important to me. Then, we used this to plan self-portraits that highlighted certain parts of our bodies. One of the teachers I was working with wanted to focus on his legs, so he stood on a huge stump outside the school and we took the picture from below - this perspective made his legs look huge in comparison to the rest of his body. We shot these pictures with Polaroid cameras - by now, the teachers had become much more familiar with framing, shooting, etc. Finally, we received the prints of our alphabet pictures and made posters with captions describing each picture. At the very end of the workshop, we discussed with the teachers a plan for making LTP work in their individual classrooms over the next few weeks.

The most difficult thing about the LTP teacher workshops was probably communication, because there was a wide range of mastery of English among the teachers. All in all, though, they went well. Apart from having the workshops from 8:30 AM to 3 PM every day, we've still been having Swahili lessons from 4-5:30. We usually spend a couple of minutes playing with kids that are outside for recess before the workshops, and they are adorable. I can't wait to start actually teaching in a classroom.

Random Swahili words you will all recognize and enjoy:
simba - lion
rafiki - friend
hakuna matata - There are no worries. The people here like to say this in the street to foreigners, because they know we'll recognize it.

1) Hard at work in the LTP teacher workshops (Alia, Ami, Dija, and two teachers).
2) Shooting Lloyd's self-portrait (his legs looked HUGE!)
3) Two of the teachers admiring the results of one group's alphabet project.
4) Me with a bunch of kids at Arusha School before Swahili class. Lindsay is in there somewhere too, if you look carefully.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Getting Oriented: The First Weekend

This weekend was mostly free, which was really nice because it gave us a chance to explore and get oriented in a more relaxed setting. On Saturday night we actually went to a restaurant and dance club called Masai Camp with Pele's son Shah and his friend Hillary (they're both 19). That was definitely an interesting and at times hilarious experience. Despite our vast cultural differences and partial language barrier (Shah and Hillary both speak English quite well), we have managed to become good friends with them and have had the kind of conversations that I would have with my friends back at home.

On Sunday, Ami, Alia and I went to the Mt. Meru crafts market, which is between our apartments and town. We had a lot of fun and bought a few things of course - I bought a pretty scarf, two necklaces, a banana-plant art thing, and a tote bag. Everything is really cheap of course, although the vendors usually give us ridiculous initial prices from which to bargain because they assume we're ignorant "wazungu" (foreigners).

We've also had multiple long meetings with Katie and Elena (the LTP faculty members) to discuss our experiences, plan our projects, etc. Yesterday (Monday), we visited Arusha School for the first time. Arusha School is a private school in which all seven students will work for our first two-week-long LTP project. It's an English medium school, so most of the kids there speak at least some English. It will be a good way to ease into teaching before we teach in the government schools, where fewer students will speak English. There are about 700 students in the primary school at Arusha school (grades 1 to 7), and I was pleased to learn that at least in this case the school has reached an almost 50/50 mix of boys and girls. The kids were adorable and were very excited to meet us. They seemed to be amazed by my hair and kept trying to touch it, which was pretty funny with the younger ones.

Later last night, after our Swahili lesson, we tried to cook dinner in one of our apartments. We've been eating out for almost every meal and thought we should learn to be more self-sufficient. Luckily, one of our Tanzanian friends (Dija) was there to help us - unlike most of us, she is a really good cook. We made a vegetable-medley-thing to eat with spaghetti, but the spaghetti mostly turned out to be mush because we tried to make way too much in a not-big-enough pot. Overall, though, it was fun and at least edible. Tomorrow, Thursday, and Friday, we'll be holding our first LTP workshops with the teachers with whom we'll be working. Our hope is that the teachers will see LTP as something that will be helpful and can be easily integrated into existing curriculum. More to come!

The pictures:
1 and 2: Our apartment - a few people asked to see pictures of it. The second picture is our sort-of-kitchen.
3: Part of the "alphabet" project that our group worked on to get better acquainted with how LTP works. It's taped to the wall in Katie and Elena's apartment.
4: Some of the group in the classroom at Arusha School where we're having our Swahili lessons.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The First Week

Hi, everyone! I'm sorry I've been so bad about getting posts up - it's a little difficult. The internet cafe is a little far away from our apartments and we've been pretty busy. We haven't started much of the LTP stuff this week - it's just been a lot of adjusting and getting oriented. We have a 1.5-hour Swahili lesson each day, which I am enjoying a lot. Being able to speak some Swahili is definitely essential to functioning independently here, although most people speak at least a little English. We have someone here in Arusha who has been our main contact and organizer - his name is Pele. We've made some friends through two of Pele's sons (they're 15 year old or so). One of our friends is named Hillary, except he is a guy - we all found that pretty funny. Having Tanzanian friends has been essential as far as our safety and getting oriented to the culture here.

This week, we visited the Arusha Declaration Museum, which is a very simple display of some text, pictures, and items that helped us learn about the basic history of Tanzania. Yesterday, we drove two hours and spent the day at Mt. Kilimanjaro. We drove to the place where people who are going to climb Mt. Kili start hiking, and then we hiked back down to the town where we had met our guide. The hike was about three hours long, and it was really neat. The area is mountainous, green, and lush but the people living there are extremely poor. We visited a couple of waterfalls during the hike, ate lunch, visited a coffee "plantation" (basically a shack and some coffee plants in the woods), and returned to Arusha around 7:30 PM.
We're all slowly adjusting to life in Arusha, but we're having a great time. I'm really looking forward to getting to know some kids when we start teaching - the kids here are really cute. Next week we start LTP workshops with the teachers with whom we'll be working. By the way, if any of you have any questions, feel free to post them on here as comments! I hope you're all doing well.

The group outside of the Arusha Declaration Museum, from left to right: Pele (our contact here in Arusha), Alia, me, Michelle, Baldeep, Lindsay, Minette, Ami, and Pele's son Shahfi. The mural we're standing under was painted by Pele!

Some kids across the street from our apartment -so cute!

Here's a picture I took during our hike around Mt. Kilimanjaro.

We're Here!

Note - If I write a post on my laptop and post it later, I'll note when I wrote it.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008 – 1:00 AM

We’re here! Most of our group arrived in Arusha, Tanzania around 9 PM on Sunday night, with one more student arriving from Bangladesh this morning. Arusha is seven hours ahead of EST, so we’re all still a little jetlagged. The LTP group is made up of seven students and two faculty members for now - another student and the founder of LTP, Wendy Ewald, arrive later.

Our apartments are somewhat rustic, but comfortable. We’re all pretty excited to have both electricity and running water, although the electrical outlets are extremely finicky – some work inconsistently and the others don’t work at all. Today was a pretty relaxed day – we slept in until around 10 and then went out into the town to get some organizational stuff done. We e-mailed our parents at an internet café, withdrew cash from an ATM, bought phones, etc. The internet is reaaaally slow, but I’m really happy that it’s even available.

Our apartments are located on the outskirts of the main town, which seems to be a much poorer area than the town center. Michelle, Alia, and I went for a walk before dinner in the area around our apartments and managed to make a few friends using our very rudimentary Swahili (and only because most of the people we’ve met speak at least a little English). Tomorrow, we will start our Swahili lessons and visit the Arusha Declaration Museum. The following two pictures are two of my favorites that I took today.

The view from our apartment window.

Just a random picture I took a little ways down the street from our apartments.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

T minus 20 hours!

Tomorrow, I’m off to Tanzania! I’m flying from Charlotte to Detroit, then to Amsterdam, then to Mt. Kilimanjaro. I depart from Charlotte at 12:40 on Sunday and, if all goes well, I’ll arrive around 11 PM Monday night in Tanzania. Most of our group is meeting in Amsterdam, so at least I won’t be alone for two 7-8 hour flights in a row. Packing has been interesting. In the end, I ended up having to bring two suitcases – one full of supplies (I'll try to find some worthy cause to which to donate the suitcase after we get there) and one full of my own stuff.

< The supply suitcase, although unfortunately I can't put any of the film in my checked baggage because the X-ray machines will damage it. Thus, I get to carry all the film in my backpack... woohoo.

Once we get there, we’ll be staying in small apartments except for a two-week homestay with a Tanzanian family. I should have regular internet access in an internet café, which will allow me to update my blog and add pictures (barring any technological difficulties.) I’ll leave you with the following exchange that occurred between my mother and me today – if you know her, it probably won’t surprise you too much.

Mom: Are you excited to leave? Do you want us to play the Lion King or something?
Me: Do you know what "simba" means in Swahili?
Mom: Tiger?
Me: (blank stare)
Mom: Lion? What's the difference, anyway? Oh, tigers have stripes.