Saturday, May 21, 2016

Kwaheri (Goodbye) Tanzania

Hey everybody!  

Just like every year, time has flown by fast!  Marin and I are approaching the end of our contract term here in Berega (rural Tanzania) and are both feeling a mixture of sadness and happiness.  When we first arrived here, we were very scared and homesick.  As we got more involved and prayed for peace and harmony, daily life in Berega got much better.  The kids helped us, meeting new people helped us, and to put it plainly….understanding and getting comfortable with daily life in Tanzania helped us.  So yes, we have had our extreme highs, but we have also had our extreme lows here.  

Leading up to our trip to Tanzania, Marin and I were getting our hands on any books we could about Africa.  We were in the “we are going to save the world!” attitude.  We knew somewhat what we were getting ourselves into but all of the pictures and blogs didn’t do it justice when we first arrived.  When we arrived, we couldn’t sleep.  The nights were too quiet.  Water was “clean” but not what we were used to.  We came from a bustling city straight into the middle of the bush of Africa.  Quite a culture shock, let us tell you.  Times were tough.  Those beginning times were rough and we thank God (literally) for being with us in times of need.  

The school year has been a big success for teachers and students.  At the end of the previous semester (Aug.-Dec.), the standard IV class took their national exams and scored the highest out of roughly 330 schools regionally and nationally scored 335/13,000 schools.  Hats go off to them.  As it was my first year of teaching, it was tough.  WHEW!!  I never taught kids before.  I didn’t realize that those kids were going to suck the life out of me some days.  I was feeling like a bit of a failure when I had bad teaching days, but rather I persevered and stayed confident. The kids at Bishop Chitemo are lovely but have a lot of energy particularly now as the semester is ending.  We will really miss the kids but hope to come back to them next year during one of our breaks. 

If anybody wants to visit any country in Africa for work, missions, or volunteering, do your homework.  When arriving, respect the culture.  Don’t come here thinking that the way we live in the U.S. is acceptable to act here.  It’s a completely different way of life.  When you arrive you will see poverty everywhere, but don’t behave instinctively and throw money everywhere because it doesn’t do any good for the long run.  It paints a picture on us foreigners that we have money spilling out of our pockets and also it is false hope for the underprivileged.  

To wrap things up, after living here for almost ten months witnessing high times and low times, I realized that most of the aid that is sent to Africa is wasted.  Although people’s hearts are in the right place, its ineffective.  Ineffective due to unstable governments, corruption, and lack of transparency of where the aid was spent.  There are countless reports of international aid being siphoned from kleptocratic dictators into their off-shore accounts.  That is another topic but, keep what I have shared in mind when you want to donate.  I am not saying donation and international aid is bad, its just not the “golden thread” to fighting poverty in poor countries.  Rather than sending money first, come here and know what is needed.  Maybe you can build a new wing on a hospital for a prenatal or geriatrics unit, maybe two more classrooms need to be built for a school that is growing due to academic popularity, or maybe a permanent and safer bridge that will not cause people to be washed away and killed while crossing.  If you can’t come, then invest into NGO’s or through mission organizations that have credibility. If you want to help, help with education and health care.    If you educate, more opportunities come for them and if healthcare is good, they will be able to get educated.  


Monday, April 25, 2016

The End is Nigh

Hey everyone!

This blog is LONG overdue, namely because we haven’t had wifi in the village since late January. There has been a huge financial struggle in Berega for the last several months, and wifi was one of those leisure items that needed to be sacrificed to make funds available in other areas. Understandable.

Standard 1A in our new classroom
Since our school year is on the opposite academic schedule as the West, we concluded our last school year in late November and began a brand new academic year in January. We had so many kids in kindergarten last year that even though most of our classes only have 10-12 kids in them, we had almost 40 kids going into Standard 1! So since January, I have been teaching one of the two Standard 1 classes. And because they are so young and are still working hard at gaining basic English, we made the decision to give Standard 1 two classes of English and two classes of math and forego their science class. Even though sometimes I want to bang my head against the wall (what teacher doesn’t at times?), I’ve been able to see these kiddos grow a ton because of that decision. It has also been wonderful to have one class all day, as opposed to changing who I’m teaching every 45 minutes (again, see the banging-head-against-the-wall comment), and that has also made it much easier to see these kids’ growth: there is no one to compare them to except who the strangers they were that first week of classes. My class of 20 kids who had to rely on the translations of an older and retained student can now understand what I’m talking about when I throw out words like pronouns, past tense, expanded form, and regrouping; they can complain (mostly) in English; and they sometimes even laugh when I make a stupid joke (ok, that may not be a reflection of their English language skills; it may just be a reflection of my bad humor). 

The boys mending their plastic bag and twine footballs
The girls playing
...or hang out by yourself in your origami cap.

When plastic bag footballs fail, you can always kick around
a water bottle instead...

In addition to my Standard 1 kiddos, Mike and I have both gotten closer to the older kids at school, as well. This isn’t something I’m used to, since whenever I have taught before, I pretty much only knew my kids or maybe another class that was on my team. But here you interact with everyone on a daily basis. Our assemblies are held with the entire school (minus kindergarten) and, even if they weren’t, we get so many “visitors” at our house after school that it would be impossible not to know almost everyone. Let me just say that it has been a HUGE blessing both teaching and just knowing these kids. These kids who are working on their second, third, or fourth language. These kids who live in mud huts and walk to a dry riverbed, dig a hole until they find water, and do their own laundry every weekend. These kids who make it impossible not to think of the rest of the world as spoiled rotten just because of the extreme disparity between the cases. These kids who learn, and grow, and excel because they want nothing more than to eventually be able to help their families.

Hiking with representatives from Standards 1, 2, and 5, plus
two puppies
Mike's favorite girl from Standard 1, Pendo

Just try balancing a sack 3/4 the size of your
body on top of your head. I dare you.
That reminds me of something. It’s kind of a funny story, but poignant as well. Last week, Mike had his class of Standard 2 students write a short paragraph about what they want to be when they grow up and include a reason why. Almost every one of his students gave the reasoning “so I can make a lot of money” or something along those lines. It was comical when I read them afterwards, thinking that, even in this dusty village, kids base their career paths on how much money they could earn. But then it hit me - the reason that these kids want to make a lot of money is so that they can use it to take care of their extended families. It’s how the culture is here. And especially experiencing this very low time and seeing how the villagers here struggle so much financially, it’s even more valid. So many people we know have had to take their children out of school because they just did not have any more money to send them. (And even though I’m a huge advocate for public school back at home, the public schools here are less than atrocious.) So when these kids say they want to be a teacher or a doctor to make a lot of money, I know that they are looking at the struggles of their parents and deciding that they want to be able to help. They want to make a difference, at least in their family units where they hope they will be able to.

We only have another month (give or take) here, and we have experienced a lot of ups and downs, especially in the last few months. But this year is always going to stand out for me. It has been amazing, immersing myself in this culture, living in this village, caring for these kids - and it has also been amazingly difficult. But I know this isn’t something I’ll ever regret or ever forget, and I’m so grateful for the chance to come here and do some good, even if it’s not all the good I would like to do. I’m grateful for the lives I have been able to touch, and especially for the ones that have touched me. 
A gorgeous picture Mike took of some of the best kids in the world
To my friends and family in Florida, I CAN’T WAIT to see you all. Let’s do some fun stuff this summer. No, really. Message me. To this amazing continent, see you sooner than you think.  

Monday, February 1, 2016

Kaributena Berega - welcome back

Hey all
It has been so long.
Here's an update as to what we've been up to.

‪On November 29‬, the two of us set off from our lovely little village of Berega to the big city, and for the first time since we'd arrived in Tanzania, we truly went to a BIG city, and not just the little city we normally visit. Dar Es Salaam. 6 hours on bus supposedly, but we have to remind ourselves that everything takes longer than you plan for when in Africa (and especially Tanzania, from what we have experienced). On this eventful Sunday, we left Berega ‪at 5am‬ on a bus to Morogoro, where we were given the option of waiting for hours and hours for a bus with two available seats on it to Dar or paying an overpriced fare for a luxury bus with one seat. Being two people (and especially knowing that the ride would take 4-5 hours), we opted to wait until there was a bus with seating to accommodate the both of us. Weird, I know. We didn't arrive into Dar until close to ‪8pm‬, but at least we arrived. We ate a delicious dinner at Mamboz around the corner from our hotel (seriously, if you're ever in Dar, eat at Mamboz) and then retired from our exhausting, albeit fairly uneventful, day of traveling. We were ready to pick up our friend Hannah from the airport the next day and begin our travels! :) Unfortunately, Tanzania was not quite ready for us to begin our fun. So ‪Monday afternoon‬, on our way to the airport, our taxi was stopped by askari (police). Seeing our foreign faces, you could almost see the dollar signs in this guy's eyes. He asked for our passports and when we couldn't produce them (they were in our hotel), ordered us to get out of the taxi, and told our taxi driver to leave us as we would be "taken into custody". Mike argued with the guy, as I quietly quaked next to him, that we weren't stupid enough to take our passports out into a city as dangerous as Dar. Anyway, the guy tried to yell at us, argue with Mike, give us the cold shoulder, and when he realized Mike wasn't going to budge and pay him a bribe, he finally told us to get back into our taxi but never make the same mistake again. You got it.
That was probably the most eventful thing that happened during our travels. It made for a good story and also allowed us to heap praises onto our taxi driver, who refused to leave us at the scene and even told the askari, "I cannot leave these people. I am contracted to take them to the airport, pick up their friend, and bring them back to the hotel. I will not leave them until they are safely back at their hotel." What a nice guy :)

The rest of our travels went like this:

We took a train from Dar to Kapiri Mposhi, Zambia. It was long, but it could have been a lot longer (the train here is super unreliable and we have heard horror stories of it taking 5-7 days to reach Zambia when it should only take 2-3). We wanted to take this very scenic route, and it proved to be really beautiful. As opposed to taking the Tanzam Highway by bus, we got to see some really remote and really gorgeous landscapes. We also got to sleep on the train, which cut down on hotel stays for us.
Our destination in Zambia was Livingstone, the town that accesses Victoria Falls. We arrived after some grueling buses following the aforementioned train. We spent the first afternoon/evening settling in to the town, eating some wonderful Italian food, and even partaking in some gelato. (We continued to eat at this restaurant every day that we stayed in Livingstone.) The next day, we went to Victoria Falls Zam side, where the falls left a bit to be desired. It hadn't rained much (at all) in the months preceding our trip, but this worked out in our favor because it made it possible to visit the Devil's Pool, a shallow and natural pool that sits on top of the falls and literally brings you to the very edge of the falls. When we posed for pictures, our hands went over the falls; luckily, the current wasn't strong enough to drag you over and kill you due to such little rainfall. :)

The next day, we decided to walk the distance from the Zam side of the park to the Zim side. Paid a single entry visa into Zimbabwe, went to the park, saw some amazingly full falls, and walked around town a bit. It was beautiful! Seriously. The park on this side was way more abundant in its falls than the Zam side, even if the Zam side has all the fun things (i.e., Devil's Pool) to do. Honestly, I don't know which day was better. They were both awesome.

The following day, we took advantage of the fact that Botswana is only an hour's drive from our hotel in Zambia and went to Chobe National Park just over the border in Botswana. A wonderful perk is that US citizens don't pay for a visa into Botswana. The guides at Chobe told us that it has over 120,000 elephants - the most of any park in Africa. How cool! We saw so many elephants, hippos, buffalo, water buck, antelope, warthogs, giraffes, etc., etc., but the elephants were definitely the coolest (and the cutest - just imagine all those little babies!). Half the day was spent in a river cruise, and the other half was a game drive. It was totally fun.

Back to Tanzania
The trip back was long. That's all you have to know. We stopped in Mbeya to try to go to a national park that was set aside for just wild flowers, but to no avail. We continued on to Iringa, where we went to a Stone Age site (we didn't get the guide, so therefore didn't learn much of anything about this aspect) with a whole bunch of awesome canyons. They refer to it in our Rough Guide book as the "Little Grand Canyon". It was cool, because we trekked along in the forest until we got to the canyons and then had access to climb down into them and walk amongst all the canyon-ness. It was something we regretted not seeing the last time we were in Iringa, and it was cheap enough and not too much of a hassle to get to - all around, well worth the day spent enjoying it.
After that, we kind of slowly made our way back up to Dar to drop Hannah back off at the airport. It was a sad parting, but I'm pretty sure she was glad to get back to normal buses and normal toilets and normal standards of cleanliness and cooler weather.

Moshi was beautiful. Our terrible YMCA hotel had the wonderful advantage of having views of Kilimanjaro every morning and evening (when the skies were clear). We ate some more delicious food (this was a big perk throughout our trip, as you can imagine that variations on beans and rice for every meal gets a bit old, especially after 5 months), and we paid a deposit to climb the Big One during our spring break in late March. (We're supposed to be practicing right now for that, but we won't talk about that.)

Mike and I were a tad disappointed by Arusha, only because I guess we had heard wonderful things about everything there is to do and we mostly felt it was a place to get harassed by tour guides who tried ridiculously hard to get you to commit to an overpriced safari. I'm sure it would've been sweet, but with Kili on our minds, we just didn't want to spend an additional killing on another safari. The one perk of Arusha: tanzanite. Gorgeous.

We made it to Lushoto on Christmas Eve, and boy are we glad we left the concrete jungle of Arusha to do so. Lushoto was about a 4-5 hour bus from Arusha, the last 1-2 hours on a single lane road winding up the Usambara Mountains. Holy cow! - it was amazing. The weather cooled, the mountains were so beautiful, and we ate peaches and plums for the first time in months (ok, years because they're just not our favorites, but they tasted SO GOOD here - probably just perspective). Lushoto is a cute and quiet town, and it's the base for all kinds of good hikes through the Usambara Mountains. We scheduled a short hike for Christmas day to Irente Viewpoint - 1,000 meters above sea level and overlooking the Maasai steppe. It was beautiful.
We slept great and woke up the next day ready for a 3-day hike up the mountains to a small village called Mtae (2,000 meters). This was one thing that we had read about in our Rough Guide and were really looking forward to - and it did not disappoint. We hiked for 6-7 hours the first day, took a bus for what was supposed to be 1 hour but ended up being a lot longer, I think, and made it to a quiet convent tucked away in the beauty of the mountains, where we stayed the night. The next day, we hiked another 6-7 hours until we made it to Mtae. All of the viewpoints along the way were just jaw-droppingly stunning, but the best was from the village itself. We made it there for sunset and just enjoyed that view for an hour or so before letting ourselves feel exhausted and going back to the hotel to sleep. We woke up at sunrise to check it out again, but we were stuck in the clouds and couldn't see much of anything, so we let our bodies recuperate some more until later in the morning. That third day we just walked around the village, saw some more different lookouts, and went back to the best one for sunset again. This was seriously the best part of our trip. Everything was so beautiful and worth feeling sore over. The fourth morning, we woke up early to take a bus back to Lushoto and on to our final destination before home.

Ok, so when we were on our way to Zanzibar, and even on the ferry, we talked a bit about spending a couple of days in Stone Town and then a couple of days on the beach, but pretty much once we arrived in Stone Town and saw the dizzying, maze-like array of streets and alleys, we decided we were perfectly content to stay in this friendly city for the duration of our stay on the island. Stone Town was super cool with its nice locals and of course plenty of tourists, as well as the best street food I've ever had. Nutella-banana-Snickers pizza? Sure, why not? And even though it sounds like the most disgusting thing ever, it was heavenly. Veg samosas and sweet potatoes and all the things we normally can't get - along with sugar cane juice to top it off. (If it sounds like I'm talking way too much about food, refer back to our normal daily beans and rice, ok?) It was definitely worth the 10-day-long sickness (needing antibiotics) that was to follow.
We went on a couple of day tours - to Prison Island and a spice tour - both of which were pretty cool, though not nearly as cool as just spending time getting lost in Stone Town. We bought a ton of souvenirs, mostly artwork, that we would never find on mainland Tanzania, and even though it's a super touristy town and all the vendors started their asking prices super high, they were happy to cut it into a third or half if it meant we would buy it. (We now have a lot of cool artwork for our future house.)
Zanzibar was a totally different feel from the mainland, and I could see it becoming its own country one of these days.

We were sad to leave, but the next part of our trip meant coming home, which we were feeling increasingly more and more ready for. As much fun as it was to travel, sometimes we really just wanted to sleep in our own bed and have the option of not doing things for a couple of days.

So now we're home! And we just finished our second week back at school. It was certainly a rocky start, without enough tables, chairs, and even classrooms for our kids. But now we are settling in, getting to know our students and letting them get to know us. Mike is teaching kids he knew last year because they were a part of the main building - Standard 2 and Standard 4. I'm teaching kids who I mostly don't know from last year, namely because they were still a part of kindergarten (now Standard 1), and their English is a bit lacking, but that was to be expected. Luckily I've got some great kids and focusing most of the day around English instruction, so hopefully they'll pick it up quickly.

Oh! And some really great news. Our Standard 4 took their first ever national exams in late November, and we finally got their test results: #1 in the district!!! We are super proud of them and hoping to be able to make this a trend in the coming years :)

More later!


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! 

Monday, October 26, 2015

Liko wapi... huh?

Hey everybody!  It’s been a while since we have blogged and we apologize.  Sometimes we don’t have the luxury to pick up the computer to write out our blog due to a lack of power.  Hands4Africa has a generator that works just fine, but we have to conserve our battery power on our computers.  Most of the time our power is out for about 8-10 hours but on other occasions, it is for longer.  Maybe next time we can write it out on paper ;).

Marin reading with Hassan, Standard 1
It has only been 3 full months since we arrived in Berega, and we are already preparing for the national examination for standard 4 which takes place at the end of November.  After that, the semester is done.  We have to give standard 4 credit - we are pushing them so hard, and they are being troopers about it.  The reality is we can’t expect them to know everything that will be on the national exam, but we can expect them to know most and that’s what we are focusing on.  This past week they went to King David (another school 45 minutes away) to take a mock examination and overall each one of them passed with an average over 40% which they need to go into standard 5.  I (Mike) was a little disappointed in their performance on the math section since I teach them math.  Most of it is teacher guilt but I know that we have hammered the topics that were on the math section.  Liz (school’s director) went over the test with them and pretty much told them they are better than those grades.  Which they are!  The first examination they took at King David a couple months ago, they scored better on.  So the action plan to get them more than ever ready for the test is to work on test taking strategies and more math review but not trying to pile it on them.  To help motivate standard 4, I told them in class that they aren’t perfect, and we aren’t mad. We just care and have high expectations.  All that matters here is that when they get knocked down, they need to get back up.  It seemed like they took it well.  

Karonga, Malawi
This past week we had to make a visa run, and it was an adventure! ;)  Just let us tell you that wherever we go after our time in Tanzania is up, we feel that we will be able to go anywhere and to do anything.  It was tough but we got through it.  We understand it is chaotic and also it wouldn’t have been an adventure if all of what happened didn’t happen.  When you are traveling through the country and making stops, and asking for directions, and trying to grasp the whole visa thing, it wears you down.  Some ways it did was with the language barrier.  We are certain that it would’ve been a lot easier if we knew a lot more swahili.  Another natural annoyance is everybody trying to rip you off for taxi rides, food, souvenirs, etc.  Over time we have grown thick skin and have learned enough Swahili to send the message to them that we know enough to not get ripped off.  We aren’t trying to sound negative here.  We are very confident that the next time we make a visa run, it will be a breeze.  Second nature.  
Karonga, Malawi
On the long trek to Malawi

Let us share with you the great things about the visa run.  Tanzania is BEAUTIFUL.  Once we were on the buses and staring out the windows for hours, the mountains and everything else were absolutely breathtaking. The route started from Morogoro, cut through Mikumi National park, through Iringa, then finishes in Kyela or the border town. While we were ascending up the Udzungwa Mountains, we saw a troop of yellow baboons, which was great. There is even a section of southern Tanzania with beautiful tall evergreens which reminds us of the States.  Believe it or not, some parts of Tanzania are very chilly.  People who have never been to Africa assume that it’s swelteringly hot, but in a lot of places it isn’t.  So even though we had somewhat of a hard introduction into our first visa run, it was balanced out with beautiful scenery and a good story to tell. :)

Looks like the deciduous forest back in the US!
So like we said, it has been about three months since we have been here in Berega.  We can honestly say that we are molding to the ways of life here.  Meaning, not taking showers everyday because we don’t need to, learning how to ration 1000 liters of water a week, cooking lunch and dinner everyday, and filling our down time with things like reading, cleaning, and even relaxing.  Berega vs. Tampa, Florida (where we are from), is like saying bush village vs. metropolitan city, so there is a bit of adapting that needs to take place over time which is happening.  The hardest struggle for me (Mike) is learning how to slow my brain down mentally.  In the U.S. it is go, go, go, go!  While there you don’t realize it but when you move to a place like Berega, it is a challenge.  But now we wake up every morning, make tea, sit on the porch and have our morning chats, and then head to school.  After school, we are either preparing dinner, taking walks, or just nothing.  Which is great.  Don’t get us wrong, there are down days, but they are petty down days.  And we expect problems to arise, but 9/10 times they will be problems that we would rather have than other problems out there.  

Well, we feel like this blog turned out great and we hope you enjoyed it.  Sometimes it is difficult to figure out what to write about being in Berega because it is all becoming second nature.  Nothing sticks out anymore.  Guess that is a good thing ;)

Take care all,


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! 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Karibusana Tanzania!

We made it to Berega, Tanzania after many long flights and another long car journey. When we finally landed in Dar es Salaam and experienced how the airport works (visas, baggage -- wow -- and customs), we were greeted warmly by our driver (Abdullah) from school holding a sign with our names on it. He took us to a very nice hotel, where we slept for about 15 hours. The next morning, he picked us up and took us to the grocery store. We discovered that is actually very challenging to shop for things when you don't know what is in your house, and when you don't know the names/prices of anything, and when you don't know when the next time is that you will see any of this stuff. Also add to that that the first ATM we went to had no shilling, the next only let you take out $100USD at a time. Anyway, we survived that trip, made it to the market with fresh fruits and vegetables in Morogoro 4 hours later, and then even survived the extra 2 hours it took to get to Berega.

In spite of the incredible amount of sleep we had gotten, by the time we got to our house, we were pretty beat again. We unpacked, met another volunteer, and fell right back asleep. The next day, we took a walk around the village with the other volunteer, and she talked to us a lot about Berega and where we could find certain things we'll need. She introduced us to a couple of the students at the school, two of whom escorted us on our walk. We saw things like the orphanage in town, school, the hospital, the street where the market lines up, the Hands4Africa farms, and some beautiful places where you can go to get a great view of the mountains. We even checked out the grounds where they will be building the new school building. It was a great walk and helped us to feel a little less like strangers.

We went to what is affectionately known as Monday Market to Berega's English speakers and found that is extremely difficult to ask for or buy anything in a language you know nothing of. Since then, we have learned how to ask "how much does it cost?", "do you have ___?", "change", and our numbers, more or less, up to the thousands. (Tanzanian shillings start at 50, most things cost around 1-2,000, and the highest bill is 10,000.)

We went to school on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, to get a feel for it and meet some of the kids. The only grade currently in session is Standard 4; all of the younger kids start up again on the 17th. It's kind of nice, because we've been able to take this time to kind of get to know these kids on a deeper level than we would have if they all came back at the same time. Even though neither of us has a lot of experience with older kids, these ones are pretty sweet and straightforward. They're very helpful and have been practicing our basic Swahili (mostly greetings and numbers, at this point) with us, which is great. One of the boys is from a Maasai village and it takes him a couple of hours to walk home, so he stays at the school boarding. From what we've been told, other kids from Morogoro and even as far as Dar es Salaam board at the school because of its good reputation. I guess having native English speakers for teachers is a pretty big perk.

Teaching in Tanzania is also super different than what we had expected. It's nothing like in the States, but the kids still seem to learn and retain quite a lot. In the village, school really does seem to be a huge privilege for kids, and is certainly not an obligation, with most kids in the village not going at all. I guess it goes to show that kids will learn - it's inherit in their nature - when they want to, no matter what strategies or resources are available to them.

At first glance, life in Berega is kind of bittersweet: we have lost power every day for 4 days (sometimes it comes back on, but in the middle of the night); we have lost water on a couple of occasions; we took our first bucket showers yesterday after getting sick of waiting for electricity for warm water, and then losing water altogether; and the pikipiki (motorcycle) drivers are unforgiving and kick up dust and dirt that irritate your eyes like nothing in the world. However, the town is very welcoming (apparently the common thing to say in Swahili is "Karibu" - "Welcome" - or "Karibusana" - "Very welcome", so even when you talk to anyone in English, you hear nothing but, "You are very welcome!"); it's quiet and peaceful and slow-paced; and the kids are just fantastic. They're quick to come up and hold your hand, quick to give you hugs, quick to tell you they love you. They're so grateful to have us here and love spending all day (and a lot of the evening, too, at after school or just showing up at our house) talking to us or playing games with us.

This weekend, we are planning to go to Morogoro to do some shopping with the added bonus that Saturday is a national holiday called Nane Nane (literally 8 8, for August 8th, to celebrate farmers) and it is supposed to be pretty nice in the city. So we'll blog again soon, assuming we have power ;)