Monday, August 31, 2015

Tunafunza (We are learning)

How time flies! One month ago we had just landed in Dar es Salaam and hadn’t even seen Berega yet. We’ve had so many experiences this month that it feels almost as if we have seen it all; although we know that’s not true. 

After the other volunteers arrived in Berega, we divvied up class schedules to everyone’s liking. Mike and I each have full schedules, with him teaching math, science and geography/history/civics to Standards 2, 3, and 4; and me teaching English, science, and reading/remedial reading to Standards 1 and 2. The kids have never had reading classes before; they have been taught how to read, but haven’t had classes where the aim was to think about their reading/reading comprehension, like we do in U.S., so it’s a bit of a stretch for them. I’m mostly teaching things like making predictions and using context clues, etc. in Standard 2, and in Standard 1, I’m just trying to get them to talk about their reading at all. (Most of the kids in Standard 1 have pretty weak English, so it’s difficult to get them to talk about anything at all in English, let alone a story they have been read to in English.) The kids are definitely getting used to us, and (from a teacher’s point of view) Mike has surprisingly good management skills for a first year teacher. Way better than I remember having.
Outside of school, things are going great with the kids, as well. Everyone knows where everyone lives in Berega (it’s TINY), so we have frequent visitors, especially from those kids who live nearby. We have definitely bonded with a lot of our kids, and it’s kind of the best. They are super helpful in teaching us about town, showing us where to buy things we need (or if Berega even has what we need!), and just coming over for laughs while they climb our trees. These kids are great kids, and they’re so happy with what they have, it’s hard not to admire them. 

A couple of weeks ago, we took a bus an hour away from the village to a town called Mkongeni, which has a big Maasai market every Saturday. We brought one of the Standard 4 kids with us, who is Maasai but not from that village, because he said he wanted to go (also a great asset for communicating). It was cool! We got to walk around all the different stands of people selling Maasai khangas (the rectangular-cut fabrics everyone seems to wear in a million different ways here), some jewelry, wood cuttings, weapons, and, of course, all the cattle they could wrangle up to sell. We had some tea and chapatti, as is custom in the mornings, and Mike was happy to get a machete and some kind of club. 

Just a week or so later, the same student invited all of us to a wedding celebration in his village. It was to take place last Monday, and we were all pretty psyched to go. Our head teacher made it a half day for us and arranged transport to bring us there and back. Then a half hour before we were supposed to leave, we found out that it had been postponed until Wednesday. Funny how often that kind of thing happens. Anyway, we left in a pickup truck, drove for about an hour, then hiked the rest of the way to the village because the roads (roads?) were too bad. We didn’t see any kind of celebration, really, but we were introduced to a lot of people from that village, as well as many who were visiting for the wedding, just like us.  We were told that Maasai weddings are generally a three-day long celebration, so it may have been that we missed the ceremony, that it hadn’t happened yet, or that their ceremonies just aren’t anything like ours and we didn’t recognize it as such. But we got to spend several hours there, and it was a really cool experience, even if a little confusing! 

Last weekend we were invited to go to the local church in the village by a couple of the British men who were here volunteering; it was their last Sunday before returning to the U.K. We were happy for the invitation (it is a little daunting going to church when you speak and understand so little of a language! - especially because we had been told we would have to introduce ourselves in front of the congregation). It was a great service, and there was even another pastor (our neighbor) translating for all of us wazungu (white people). It was great! So outside of the translation, we understood certain words, like “our Father”, “love”, and “Jesus Christ”, but we were super grateful to be able to understand the message with the translation. Anyway, the Brits are gone now, but we felt super welcomed at the church and will definitely try to make it regularly.

To help matters (both in that regard and just in living here), we started taking Swahili lessons from one of the local teachers. We have only had two lessons so far, but we will be taking them twice a week. It has been helpful, for sure, but we really need to practice, and that takes time. We’re great with our numbers and general market talk, which is necessary if you want to eat around here, but we still need to step it up. I guess I shouldn’t be complaining; a month ago, we knew no Swahili whatsoever, and right now we can get by ok in buying things at the market, restaurant, or duka. I am excited to see how much we know in another month! 

Yesterday, to top off our weekend, we went on a hiking trip up one of the mountains that we can see so clearly from the village. It was about a 20-minute piki-piki trip, and then an excruciating 2-hour hike to the top. Some of it wasn’t so bad; some of it was like vertical paths where you had to use your hands to pull you up. Man, I sucked. I want to think I really love hiking, but I think I’m secretly the world’s worst hiker. Mike was great and helped me a ton, but even coming down from the mountain was brutal. The kids from the neighboring village where the mountain is just took off their sandals and slid down all the dirt paths barefoot, but I’m not there yet. Nor anywhere close. It was a tiring trek, but I’m glad we did it (and I’m glad it’s over). But since I would love to eventually hike Kilimanjaro…looks like I have a lot of work cut out for me. :/

This weekend we are planning another trip to Morogoro, the small city that is about two hours away. It’s not as nice as Berega, not so calm, but it’s necessary to go there sometimes for supplies and cash. (Otherwise I think we’d both do without it.) But it does have pizza, and really good Indian food, and a lot of things we need around the house that we can’t buy in the village.  

That’s all for now. We are sorely missing home and all of its niceties, and all of you. Keep us in your prayers, think about us often, and don’t forget to reach out every once in a while! We probably won’t have electricity when you do, but it is wonderful to read messages from home (it gets pretty lonely around here sometimes). We love you all! 

1 comment:

  1. Marin,

    It sounds like you are integrating nicely into village life and enjoying this new life experience. It's so exciting to hear that there are currently so many new volunteers in the village of Berega and, most particularly, at Bishop Chitemo Anglican School. I only spent a little over a month volunteering at the school and I can't tell you how impressed I was with these amazing kids. The kids at this school are amazing not because they are the 'elite' but because they come from such poor circumstances, with difficult family lives, and yet they excel. They are intelligent and articulate and all they needed was a school that would actually teach them, people who cared and saw their potential, and an opportunity to learn. It sounds like you are beginning to see their great accomplishments and potential as well.

    I've worked in the public school, private/charter school, and co-op/home school environments and, I have to say, I was so impressed with the method of teaching that was being employed in this school. Although they hadn't, in the past, had separated, designated class times for each subject, they have had a full and rounded curriculum. And, rather than following a conveyor belt (memorization/regurgitation of facts and dates) type of teaching, as is so often used in the U.S. public schools, I was impressed with the integrated method of teaching they embraced that fosters a true education and lifelong love of learning. They are being taught not what to think, but how to think and reason things out for themselves. I think you will find, as you continue to work with them, that they have indeed had reading comprehension as part of their overall education and you'll be impressed with how much they really do know, and how quick and eager they are to learn all you have to share with them. These children are prospering under the most difficult of circumstances. Full not only of potential, but of accomplishment.

    They are so lucky to have you there. I was truly humbled to have the privilege to work with these kids and I'm sure as you become accustomed to Africa, and the children in this little community of Berega, you too will come to love and appreciate them for the absolutely amazing and inspiring children that they are. Thank you for your willingness to serve these richly deserving people!

    'Teacher Janet'