Writing my blog entry this late into the LTP experience has been quite a struggle. It’ s the last stretch. There are so many things I could write about. So many memories keep flooding my mind that it becomes hard to extract the few that will allow the reader to link this entry to the previous one written by my fellow LTPer.
So what happened in the last week? The Duke LTP group finally embarked on its last few internships; this time at select government schools in Arusha. My After school art program continued on the lawns of Arusha Primary school and as we neared the end of this journey in Tanzania our group as a whole started on nightly reflections on different topics ranging from the hilarious to the soul-searching.
GOVERNMENT SCHOOL INTERNSHIPS:
Previously we had worked exclusively in English medium schools–Arusha Primary, Shalom and St. Joseph Secondary Schools–which are all taught in English. It was easy to communicate with these kids as they had a pretty good grasp of the language. Government schools in Arusha have a curriculum based on the National language Swahili. With English as an exception, all other courses are taught in Swahili. I was hoping that my broken Swahili would be good enough to lessen the obvious language barrier between the kids and me.
The eight of us were split up into three different Government primary schools-Naura, Uhuru and Themi. Ami and I got to work at Naura Primary School. The school was situated near a scenic area resembling a park with a small river flowing through it. As we trekked our way up a steep road towards the school gates lugging our backpacks heavy with cameras and stationery supplies that first day, we were swarmed by navy blue uniformed children yelling out the now familiar ‘Mzungu!’ (which means ‘Foreigner!’). The school itself was pretty small compared to the likes of Arusha Primary but it definitely had its charm. The bright yellow of the tin-roofed classrooms contrasted perfectly with the green in the trees and shrubs surrounding them. Yes I know I make a lot of references to colors, I guess you the reader will just have to get used to this. After an initial meeting with the school headmistress–who was supportive and accommodating by rearranging some of the classes to allow us to work more efficiently—we met up with the English teacher (Isaria) who had worked with us at the very first LTP teacher workshop. I remembered this teacher fondly from that week. She was creative in the exercises and seemed to have a passion for learning and experimenting with different ideas. I was really excited to be able to teach with her in the classroom and watch her in action.
I guess I can say that I wasn’t too disappointed that first day at Naura. Things went better than I had expected. We did a reading photographs exercise with the kids; after an initial period of shy hesitation, the students, helped along by their English teacher, all seemed to write a few lines about the photographs provided. One concern I did have was the fact that the students were less proficient in English than their counterparts in the English Medium schools. Although this was to be expected, it was disheartening that when the option of writing in Kiswahili was provided, most students took it (even though this was their English class).
Credit is due to the awesome English teacher, Isaria. After working in classes where teachers hardly participated, and sometimes left to run other errands, it was refreshing to work in a classroom where we played the roles of facilitators instead of the main educator.
In a way our teacher was already practicing LTP in her classroom. With extravagant expressions and hand gestures and hilariously worded songs, Isaria managed to make learning fun and visual. We basically did two projects with her two classes that week, one in grade three and one in grade 5. With the third graders we used the assigned topic ‘Expressive Qualities’ and the kids took pictures of opposite adjectives – fat hen/thin hen and tall boy/short boy, etc. With the fifth graders we did a typical LTP dream theme. Initially, it was difficult to make the kids understand the different projects. My English sentences peppered with a mix of Swahili would be greeted with blank stares and a few ‘this mzungu talks funny’ giggles. Having a teacher to act as an intermediary was crucial for the implementation of these projects. The kids did get the hang of it after a while. They started getting creative with their pictures, choosing different scenarios and varying the locations and using different props—they were pretty much pros after the first few shots.
When it came time to take pictures with the kids, Ami and I collectively decided against asking our fellow Duke students to help us with the kids. In the past, we had always enlisted the help of other LTPers due to a shortage of time and a large group of students. This time we planned it out and things, albeit frustrating at first, worked out well. Without us, the teacher would be the only other person leading the picture-taking process. In a way having fewer people helping out seemed to solidify my belief that this part of LTP could work if only one instructor was involved.
Apart from the government school work, Ami, Kaitlin and I returned to St. Joseph Secondary to finish taking photos with the girls of Form 3 (a rough equivalent of tenth grade). Due to a shortage of time (eighty minutes and about forty kids), we decided to call in for reinforcement. All eight of us were on board to try to complete this last project at St. Joseph. Of all the groups we worked with, I would have to admit that I had the most fun working with these precocious sixteen-year-olds. It was definitely a different experience working with all girls—especially of that age group. It was really funny to see the dynamic change with the inclusion of a boy in the LTP group. More than half of the girls were staring at Baldeep when one of us was patting his back as a show of sympathy for his most recent ailment. (Yes, the boy has fallen sick more than once on this trip).
The male-female dynamic is definitely more pronounced here in Tanzania. Girls are taught to be more reserved and subservient towards the men. Coming from patriarchal society myself, I can understand in some ways how this dynamic manifests itself. Men are the bread winners, the decision makers, whereas it is the duty of the female to accept, to not question. When I was working with one of the groups I asked the teacher to come along and witness the picture-taking process. In his presence, the girls seemed hardly interested. They were shy and quiet. When the teacher left to watch another group, my group of shy girls transformed into a rambunctious bunch. They started bringing in props and ‘tweaking’ their pristine uniforms for the part. I loved it!
This week my art class, which meets daily at 4 at Arusha Primary, started on a new topic—making cards for loved ones. I sat back and watched the kids make colorful cards for Birthdays cards, Anniversaries, some ‘I love you Mom and Dad’ ones and a few for their Mzungu Art teacher. I know, I have no idea how I will function without these kids as a part of my daily life. Everyday I come in through the back entrance, my huge backpack full of pastels, pencils, sharpeners, erasers and crayons, making a permanent dent in my back. As I approach the lawn, my kids see me and come hurtling at full speed in my direction. The younger ones fight for the right to hold my hand, to help me with my numerous bags while the older ones finish up playing their last game in preparation for an afternoon of coloring and drawing. Yes, it gets frustrating at times. Not having a classroom means accommodating at least sixty to seventy odd kids…and they keep coming. By the time the supplies are all passed out, and everyone seems to have pencils, colors and paper, my throat is raw from shouting and telling everyone to ‘get back in that circle or I will leave!’ Then, hardly able to speak, I go around and watch them play with different colors, help them draw people and flowers (roses were a popular choice).
I remember having a talk with one of the teachers at Arusha Primary at the beginning of my internship there. He had informed me about how creativity in a way was being ignored at his school. The art room—once full of supplies and long tables—had been turned into the computer room. His music room (he was the music teacher) was now a part of the boy’s dormitory. Although these changes were probably made with the best intentions, it is disheartening to think all these amazingly talented kids having no outlet to express their creativity.
That’s what kills me about leaving Tanzania. Will I be leaving all my kids in the dust? They have diligently worked almost every day of the week from 4 to 5:30 (sometimes later than that if they are especially in the mood for coloring). One of the coordinators who worked with us, the former art teacher at the same school, promised to continue with an art club. I guess I just have to wait and see… As for me, I know I will have to continue teaching art if not in Tanzania than hopefully in Durham?
How do I leave this place? The warmth that is Tanzania has changed all of us it seems. I have learnt so much about myself here. All eight of us started this journey as almost strangers and now I cannot see myself without these crazy kids. My home-stay family, teaching my Mama about exercise (mazoezi as we fondly call it), cooking with them, my Dada as she lovingly coils my braided hair in a scarf. Sitting in the grasses of Arusha School on beautiful sunny afternoons, cold evenings with roasted corn, the machungwa and the mbe from Mdara, the orange man. Singing ‘Circle of Life’ as we drove into the Ngorongoro Crater (off key, except for Hillary)…me bursting into laughter at the sight of lions mating. TZ’08 you will be fondly remembered.