There’s no place like Tanzania
When I asked my homestay baba, Lloyd, which African country he would choose to live in if he could not live in Tanzania, he sat and thought for a minute. Kenya – “while the people work very hard there, they are also very violent…” Uganda – “…this is also a violent country. There continues to be a rivalry between the north and south that ends in fighting…” Northern Africa – “there is too much desert to live there…” No, there was nowhere else in Africa that he would rather live than in Tanzania. This country seems to be full of warm faces and positive attitudes. When we first arrived, every boy on the street would come up to us and at first, try to sell something to us. However, after we explained that we were students from America, and we are trying to answer a call from the Tanzanian government to help in their educational reform initiatives, many of the boys became extremely interested and just wanted to talk. I have found a great friend in one of these street vendors, and he has helped me to understand the things I see in this country better than any guide book could have.
My Tanzanian “Baba”
As I continue to meet more Tanzanians, I am continually encouraged by their desire to talk and engage in conversation about education and reform in general in this country. Lloyd Lazier is one such example. During the 2 weeks I have been living in his home, I have had countless discussions with him about everything from President Nyerere and Tanzania’s approach to education after independence, to Guantanamo Bay. Lloyd was also one of the teachers that we worked with during our first LTP workshop. During this workshop, duke students worked with government school and private school teachers to learn the basics of LTP and complete two LTP projects: 1.) A dream themed project, where each person first drew and then pictorially represented a dream that they had dreamt, and 2.) An alphabet project where a group of two duke students and two teachers worked to take a picture for each letter of the (English) alphabet to represent a school subject topic.
During our dream themed photos, Lloyd immediately grasped the importance of framing and the usefulness of isolating a particular part of his body to represent certain ideas. As he looked at the first picture he instructed me to take on the LCD screen of the digital cameras we used, he concluded, “This picture…is not good. I am laughing and I appear to be too small.” Lloyd’s dream had been of him missing a bus from Dar es Salaam to Arusha. In his dream, Lloyd had boarded the bus and while waiting for it to leave, decided that he was hungry and got off the bus for a moment to buy mchungwa (an orange). When he turned around, the bus was leaving with all of his things on it. Stranded in Dar es Salaam, with no money or way of contacting his family, Lloyd described how he did not know what to do. After deciding that the picture we had just taken did not accurately describe his dream, we worked through an outline that would. We took three pictures, one of him waving and screaming for the bus, another of him looking at the ground with his hands on his head, and final picture with him sitting on the ground underneath a tree. In each picture, he refined his body language and carefully chose the frame which he wanted as his background.
Next, he showed his willingness to engage our geography alphabet project. We trekked all over Themi to get photos of the geographical elements we had outlined during the workshop. From hills to plateaus, and crops to livestock, we followed Lloyd all over the town that he has taught in for decades. We even enlisted the help of the locals to find charcoal to draw things in the sand as well as to find livestock to photograph. Throughout the whole shoot, Lloyd was determined to take pictures that did his chief subject justice. One challenge that we had, though, was introducing creativity to our projects. It took some time for us to explain that when taking our pictures, we did not necessarily have to find the exact physical object that corresponded to the idea that we were trying to photograph. However, we did want to have the pictures be directly representative enough that the teachers saw utility in the project for teaching their subjects. In the end, our alphabet turned out pretty well but I think we will have to work even harder to show our teachers that their students are capable of doing such a project. However, the desire to have such a tool in the classroom is clearly present, and Lloyd’s enthusiasm has given me hope that there are teachers here with the motivation to see such a project through in their classrooms.
What we are trying to do here cannot happen over the course of one summer. We knew this fact coming into this project. But the work we are trying to do is vital to the success of the schoolchildren of Tanzania. The current problem with Tanzanian education is probably best represented by a story that our project coordinator here at Arusha, Mr. Pele Shaibu, told us. Recently, in a Form 6 class, there was a dispute between a teacher and a student. The class had been given a list of questions to answer, one of which had a typographical error. The question read, “What is the Prime Minister of Tanzania?” instead of “Who is the Prime Minister of Tanzania?” Every child except one answered with the response that they had been conditioned to reply with; that is, the name of the current Prime Minister. However, one student did answer differently, and named the duties of Prime Minister. That student was told that she was wrong and immediately silenced by her teacher. Her answer was only acknowledged as being correct when she went to the headmaster, and explained to him why she had answered differently.
By using photography, we are attempting to teach the children here how to think for themselves and analyze a situation from their own, unique perspective. I am anxiously looking forward to next week when we have the opportunity to work with the children in their native learning environment. I know it will be a challenge to introduce to a different style of thinking and learning, but I am hopeful that I will be able to expose some of the imaginations and creativity of these children to 35 mm film.