Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Safari Njema

What a month November has turned out to be in Berega, and especially in Bishop Chitemo English School! 

Weighing on everyone's minds this month has been final exams, and especially Standard 4's first national exams. We have been preparing for this for such a long time, both in terms of getting the students all studied up and feeling confident, and in establishing a relationship with another local school (about an hour away) where our Standard 4 kids would take their national exams. (They couldn't take them here because we were not established as an official, governmentally-recognized school yet). Yesterday when we left our afternoon assembly (3:30pm), we all prayed for Standard 4's success on their national exams, and they were reminded to be at school at 6:30am to have breakfast before leaving for the other school. And then – SURPRISE! - at 6:30 last night, we received a call from the board of education, notifying us that we couldn't let our Standard 4 kids test an hour away, because it is in a different district, and woe to Tanzania if we tested our kids in another district. 
Proctoring Standard 1 Swahili at our house
 So we all went into “power mode” to figure out a solution. We decided that Standard 4 could feasibly take their test at our school site (apparently it didn't matter anymore that we are not yet official), but if they did so, Standards 1-3 could not take their Swahili finals at the school because Standard 4 needs an atmosphere of complete control, and our school building is way too open for that. So we decided to have Standards 1 and 2 test on our front porches (yes, at our homes), while Standard 3 tested in a separate classroom far away from the rest of the school building where Standard 4 would be taking their national exams. Confused yet? Suffice it to say that Mike and I were woken up at 7 this morning to help usher younger children from their breakfast site to their respective testing sites (our houses). We proctored their Swahili exams while the Swahili teacher floated to each of the 3 standards to answer any questions. Afterwards, the kids got their lunch from school, and then they got a surprise half-day off! Standard 4's exams last two full days, so the same thing will happen tomorrow. What craziness!! But, given how competent all of us teachers are, it went pretty smoothly and tomorrow should be a breeze.

Some highlights from the past month:
- We went to a town about two hours away called Pandambili with our Swahili teacher to visit her sister and get some clothes made by her tailor. We stayed at her sister's house for the day, shared breakfast and lunch, and really felt welcomed. And since it was her sister's birthday the day before, we even had a bit of cake and took celebratory photos of them feeding us cake (sounds weird, I know, but it's a thing here). It was a great day, and really helped us to feel a part of Tanzania.
- Mike planted a small garden in our yard. He didn't have many seeds, but he planted scallions, tomatoes, limes, garlic...that's all I can remember. Then, since we have chickens, cats, dogs, pigs, and cows roam into our yard most days, he covered his garden with thorny sticks with the help of our Maasai student (making it resemble a Maasai garden). There has already been quite a bit of growth, and hopefully we will get to see something from it soon!
- Berega decided to cut down one of its old, dead trees that was located near the Standard 4 classroom. No one knew that the tree was infested in bees' nests. So the bees all came out to attack, right by Standard 4's classroom, right by the hospital, and pretty much everyone in that central part of the town ran for cover. Inside of the Standard 4 class where Mike was teaching, 3 or 4 kids got stung and they all ran for the hills. They were displaced for the rest of the day!
Green yard!
- It has started raining!! Not every day, but we've definitely had some rain every week of November, and sometimes it rains quite hard! Berega has just greened right up, and our yard does not even resemble the one we had when we first moved in!

The end of term is officially on Friday. Now that we are one term down, we are really appreciating a lot of what goes on here. Although things are so hard sometimes, it's truly amazing to be a part of this NGO and see what difference we can make in this tiny community. We have so much respect for Hands4Africa and all the work they're doing in Berega. It can be so tough sometimes, because you get to the point (and you do very frequently) where you feel like you can't change much because we come from such a different culture, or because you don't want to step on the toes of Tanzanian culture, or sometimes because you DO want to, and you know that in order to change anything, you have to change hearts and mindsets, and that can feel impossible. But Hands4Africa just keeps striving toward their goals, although we've witnessed first-handedly how discouraging it can be. In spite of everything, they keep going, and they are making a huge difference in this community. Just like how, even though we get so discouraged at school sometimes, at the end of the day, we know we are making a huge difference in our students' lives. This education is more than they could dream of getting at the local government schools, and sometimes we have to remind ourselves that they are getting it, in part, because of us. It's easy to get discouraged, but when you stay focused on what you're doing and why you're doing it, it's a great combatant. 

Speaking of which, I think we are all excited for our new term to begin in mid-January. I will be teaching 2 classes straight of just English to Standard 1, followed by two math classes to the same kids.  We noticed this year that the current Standard 1 is really lacking in comparison to their older counterparts, so we are trying to do without some of their other classes until their hold on English is a little stronger. I know it will be frustrating in the beginning when they can't understand me, but it will be pretty similar to how I taught my classes in Honduras, so I'm already expecting both frustration and absolute satisfaction when they start understanding me and really learn! Mike will be teaching two classes of Standard 2 English, Standard 2 Math, and Standard 4 English. He didn't get the chance to teach any English classes this past term, so he will really be honing his grammar skills while he teaches! He's excited to be in one class most of the day, which will be more similar to how typical primary classrooms are run, and therefore good training for him. Too bad we can't teach the Swahili classes – just kidding! We may have learned a lot, but we have a LONG way to go! 

Well, this is likely to be our last blog for quite a while. This weekend we will be leaving to begin our 7-week-long break from term (whoo hoo!!!), and we will be exploring quite a bit of this beautiful country! First we are going to Dar es Salaam, because our friend Hannah will be visiting for a couple of weeks. The next day, we'll catch the train to Zambia and make our way to Victoria Falls, Africa's biggest waterfall. We wanted to go during dry season so that we can take a hike to what's called Devil's Pool, which is a natural, shallow pool right at the edge of the falls that you can swim in and your photos will look like you are falling off of the falls! ;) We are thinking about checking out visa prices and going to Zimbabwe and Botswana, too. After we drop Hannah back off at the airport, we have many plans for Tanzania: day hikes around Kilimanjaro in Moshi, drum-making and batik-making classes in Arusha, a town called Lushoto with wonderful foods because of its altitude, a 4-day hike to a small village called Mtae where you trek over cliffs with a kilometer drop down (wake up in your guest lodge above the clouds!), Zanzibar for a bit of culture and sightseeing and street food.... the list goes on. It may cost a small fortune, but we did save up to come here, and we'll never get this chance again. We are so excited!

We'll try to do our best to journal throughout the trip so we can blog about the highlights. We'll also do our best to post pictures whenever we find wifi along the trip. But in case it doesn't happen, we are wishing everyone a wonderful Christmas, a fantastic New Year's, and in general, the best holiday season ever! 

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