thoughts about week three by Yvonne Chan–challenges and discoveries

The third week of Tanzania LTP DukeEngage started out as a challenge to all of us both physically and psychologically. After an extra-bumpy eight hour drive from Arusha to Pangani, we finally arrived at Pangani’s ‘no frills’ Safari Lodge. Besides, the humidity and heat were impossible to miss. Although we all wished to start the week right, not one of us had a good night sleep – the lodge is located right next to a mosque, where the first extremely loud call to prayer happens at 4am and then at 6am. Most of us were shocked when we awoke to these half-speaking/half-singing broadcasts; as some of us described, “I thought God was yelling at me in my room!”

Monday was our first day working at Al-Hijra School. The 16 teachers participating in our LTP workshop work within the nursery, primary school or the secondary school section. Not even Katie knew ahead of time that this was a conservative Muslim school where all girls wear a hijab and some older girls and women are entirely covered except for their eyes. As for the boys and men, most of them wore kofias (a brimless small, rounded cap).

As usual, we started off the session with a reading photographs project. Many teachers struggled with getting past the ‘facts’ they could literally see in the pictures, but we tried our best to encourage them to create imaginative stories based on those photos. That afternoon we started a photography project about Swahili proverbs and then on Tuesday we split the class into four groups, assigning each a specific theme for a “community” alphabet—Market, Home, People or Environment Alphabet.

We eventually returned to the reading photograph exercise to reinforce the concept and methods in the teachers’ minds. To ease the teachers into the self-portrait project, Katie gave them a self-portrait of an African American woman holding a small girl. When carrying out a reading photograph activity, we encourage the participants to first list the details and objects they spot. After two days of practice, teachers were passing this stage with flying colors. Then, Katie requested the teachers to write a short piece through either the women or the child’s point of view. This is because LTP often encourages participants to be flexible and creative in order to stand in other people’s shoes.

Immediately after Katie suggested the assignment, we noticed that some teachers fell silent while some had blank or confused faces. Thus, Katie asked the teachers whether there was part of the assignment they did not understand. One teacher then raised his hands and asked, “So you want us to write in the women’s point of view?” Katie replied yes. Then he exclaimed, “That’s impossible! How can a man write in a women’s point of view?” The room fell into silence once again. Our Duke group finally understood the meaning behind his strong objection, while the other teachers sat there pondering the situation. Soon some teachers requested that Katie find another picture, one with a man in it. However, both Katie and the Duke students wanted to stick to this standard LTP task and pushed the teachers’ comfort zone by encouraging teachers to try the exercise even though it was a challenge for them. In the end, we were glad to see that almost every teacher exerted him/herself and wrote great pieces about the photo.

What happened later that afternoon gave us another difficult wakeup call related to our gender. A few of us female students were told by male teachers that they could not walk in the main road with us because we were “women who are less covered.” At the same time, some of us had meaningful conversations with the female teachers (they are not addressed as “teacher” but “madam”) in the class. Some teachers trusted us enough to disclose some of the special rules they must adhere to as women. When sharing our own dreams and future plans, madams were totally shocked by that fact that we can choose when to stop schooling and when to have children.

Many episodes like these throughout the week made us reflect on what role gender plays in the Pangani society and how we as visitors should behave in this community. When disagreeing with local practices, should we outright challenge these ideas or should be comply with them? Having taught the teachers to step in other people’s shoes, shouldn’t we do the same for them?

Determined to put the difficulties behind us, we finished up with a self-portrait project that went smoothly. Teachers shed light on their lives – how much they care about their family, their students, and allowed us to see sides that we never discovered before. We were surprised by the ways male teachers wrote about their family and their students—their genuine display of love and care might even be considered unmanly in other parts of the world.

In the end, our hard work paid off because we got a chance to relax for two days before heading off to Bagamoyo. One afternoon Kyle had the honor to play as a part of the Diver soccer team! The rest of us, of course, went and supported him on the sidelines. It was quite an experience to watch a local soccer game at a packed field while constantly hearing “wazungu” (foreigners) from the crowd.  We spent a full day at the beach in Ushongo, across from the main town. We also had henna tattooed on to our bodies. Almost everyone’s arms or legs were covered in elegant and traditional henna designs! Our third week in Tanzania closed with yet another six hours road trip down to Bagamoyo. Upon arriving at the calm and stunning campus of Baobab Secondary School, we all expected great things from the workshop here next week.

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