All is Well in Tanzania (email)

Moshi Travel Blog

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My first looooong work week is over, and everything is great. Unfortunately
I've been sick... with not being able to rest and relax all day like I was
doing for the first 2 1/2 weeks of my time here, I think my body is angry at
me... but despite that, I'm having a great time. I’m just taking a break
from sitting out on our large upstairs balcony with all the other
volunteers. We have a habit of making our way out there every night to sit
around, talk about everything that happened that day, life in general, food
we wish we could have right now (our most recent obsession is microwave
taquitos and Bagel Bites), write in our journals and read books. We all
agree that this end of the day ritual is a nice change from our fast paced
lives at home and a good way to unwind after work.

As usual, weekends around here are relaxing because there isn’t really a
whole lot to do in Moshi besides walk around and take it all in. It is a
much needed break after all the work that we do at our project sites (and
all the walking needed to get to the sites!!) Today we just headed downtown,
lounged around in a cafe, met some other volunteers working with different
organizations and did a little bit of shopping. Tomorrow we plan to take a
cab out to a park at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro where there are a bunch of
waterfalls that you can jump off of. I have yet to decide if I will be up to
the challenge (I’m sure I’ll end up doing it, but only after hours of
standing at the top of the rock and thinking about how terrified I am), but
I’m sure it will be a beautiful place either way.

The other volunteers are AMAAAZING. It reminds me of college freshman year
when you are thrown into this new and sometimes uncomfortable situation,
while at the same time being forced to live with tons of people you don’t
know at all. We have all instantly become incredibly close, and I love
hearing about everyone else’s lives… most of the volunteers have done a
lot of crazy and random travelling in the past, and everyone is from a
different part of the world. One of our usual topics of conversation is how
our lives are different from each other. Every night before bed, me and my
two roommates, Sarah from Sydney and Fiona from London, lay in our bunk beds
and compare every detail of our daily lives. Sarah was amazed to hear how
big my graduating class was, and wanted to know if college life is really
how it is depicted in the movies. Fiona and Sarah are horrified that I use
the word “band-aids” instead of “plasters”, and I am still trying to
determine what exactly classifies a “jumper” �" is it a sweatshirt,
sweater, or hoodie?? And then there’s Megan (who lives in Michigan…
weird!) who can’t sit still for more than 5 seconds and is extremely
outgoing… I swear, every person in Moshi already knows who she is, and
Keith, who I bonded with over the fact that we are both from New York and
are both suffering from nightmares every night because of our Malaria meds,
and Karen who is here with her best friend Tina while they are taking a long
vacation to forget the fact that they are turning 30… Karen has quickly
become my motherly figure away from home and I love her for that… and
there’s Tom from England, who is easily one of the nicest people I have
ever met, and every time he talks, all I can think is “HARRY POTTER!!”
:) and tons more great people who I won’t talk about anymore because I’m
sure these details are boring :)

But anyway, teaching!! I am still loving every minute just as much as I did
the first day. I can’t even begin to explain what an amazing experience it
has been, and its only one week in. The kids learn SO fast, and I am
constantly impressed with how eager they are to learn… especially when I
compare how teaching is done here to how teaching is done at home. Because
there are simply no resources here, the kids don’t get to do any of this
“experiential, hands-on learning” that I have been studying for the past
four years. A lot of what they do is just rote memorization, but they are
still so excited about everything. We tried bringing in manipulatives to
help the kids learn to count, but we quickly realized they need to work on
the whole “sharing” thing first. The kids immediately began hording the
tiny plastic rings we handed out and were kicking and scratching at each
other to get more of the coveted treasure. I was horrified to see how much
conflict I caused in my attempts to do something more “fun”, but later
when we were talking, we realized that these kids literally have NOTHING, so
of course they get excited and unruly when they are given something new and
different… especially when they aren’t accustomed to the rules of
school, and because of language barriers, they may not really understand
that what we were handing out wasn’t theirs to keep, it was theirs to use
at school.

So that whole thing failed, but Kate and I have been successfully
introducing a lot of songs and games into the classroom, although we are
still struggling to explain complicated rules or projects. We started
reading a book to the class every day (The Cat In the Hat was a favorite…
I’m trying to find a copy to buy for them because the one we used we had
borrowed from someone else), and then we teach the class some major words
featured in the text, make signs that illustrate and spell these words, and
have the kids help us “read” by holding up the sign when it appears in
the story. This has been a HUGE success, which I wasn’t sure about at
first, because I thought for sure they would be bored within 3 seconds of us
starting a book if they don’t understand what we are saying. But they love
to look at the pictures, and we move around the room, use different voices
and read really expressively, so they are at least entertained by us looking
and sounding like crazy people :)

We also taught the kids a game called “Jumping Beans” where we say
different words in front of “bean” and the kids have to act it out. We
play forever and come up with the most bizarre kinds of beans
(“sleeping”, “lion”, etc.) The kids’ favorite is “French
Bean”, where they have to throw their hand in the air and say “oo la
la!” in a high pitched voice. Within 3 seconds of us teaching them that,
they began to do exactly the same thing anytime they saw something that
impressed them… During play time, we started blowing bubbles, and I have
never seen anything like the mass chaos that ensued. The kids were running
around and screaming and clapping and squealing, and of course, shouting
“oo la la!” non stop. We got a kick out of it, and while I watched, I
remembered that my camera takes videos and I have a ridiculous amount of
memory, so expect to see some classic footage when I get home.

Although I don’t pick favorites, there is one kid named Thomas who is my
favorite :) He is the oldest kid in the class, I think I’ve talked about
him before. He is like a little baby Einstein and he soaks everything up. We
introduced addition on Friday, and he already gets it. But he also is
constantly helping us out. I swear he can read my mind. Every time I’m
standing up at the front of the room, overwhelmed and having no idea how to
get the message I want to across to the class, it’s like he knows exactly
what I need and he instantly directs everyone. When the younger kids fall
down (which they do about 80 times a day), he picks them up, brushes them
off, and makes sure they’re okay. He tells the rest of the class to quiet
down when they are being rowdy and makes sure the little ones are seated
properly. It is such a relief to have him in class. We recently started
singing the Hokey Pokey every day, and Thomas LOVES it. Every time I make
eye contact with him in the middle of class, he flips his hand over his head
and shakes it in front of him, to signal to me that he wants to sing his
favorite song. I love him so much, I usually give in :)

And, I am so happy to tell you that the walls on the school are coming along
so well!!!! They are already about shoulder high in some places, and
construction is continuing over the weekend, so I can’t wait to see what
it looks like on Monday. I’m about to get really, really sappy, but I
can’t even begin to thank you all for your generosity. So many of you have
emailed about sending donations and even asking how else you can help, and
it really means so much to me, Mr. and Mrs. Masawe, and especially the kids
at Faraja. Everyone is SO excited for the children to have a real school.
This week, with construction going on, we have had to teach in the little
room in Mr. and Mrs. Masawe’s house, which is extremely challenging and
because of everyone’s help, the kids will soon never again have to cram
into this “classroom” and try to learn from a tiny blackboard and
without any desks to set their work on. As amazing and life changing as this
whole experience has been, it is also extremely emotionally and physically
exhausting. I can’t tell you how everyone’s emails of encouragement and
support, and even just saying “hey” help out at the end of a long day.
So, basically I just want to thank you all, even though that’s not nearly
enough :)

Okay, this has been way too long and I hope you stuck with me to read the
good news about Faraja… I’m sure you’ll be hearing from me again soon.

Love and miss everyone,
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photo by: joseph98