Day 4: Saturday Seminar (it feels more like Day 14, having experienced so much that is new and different this week!)
I woke up late, at 8:40, a little worried because our Seminar was scheduled to begin at 9. But we'd been told, and our experience had confirmed, that things happen a lot later here, so we expected that teachers would show up closer to 10, and we headed up to the Big House for breakfast. Things accelerated quickly when someone thought to ask if it was possible that some teachers would be present at 9 and Chris answered that the Headteacher had recently started fining teachers for showing up late. We all made haste to get to the school where, in fact, almost everyone was there, and waiting for us! The seminar was a really, really interesting cross-cultural experience. Ben, one of our former PCVs, did a beautiful job welcoming the teachers, thanking them for having us and opening their classrooms to us, and emphasizing that we did not have all the answers and did not see ourselves as experts, but hoped to learn from each other. We started with some "getting to know you" talk and then initiated a conversation about their perceptions of the American school system. Some of their comments and my observations:
-"in America, students are educated to be free; in Tanzania, students are educated to be safe"
- " in Tanzania, there are three national enemies: disease, ignorance, lack of food" (that turned out to be a political or government slogan but, nonetheless, it made me wonder what we would say our national enemies are in the U.S.!)
- the 18 teachers were, on average, quite young: in their 20s, I would say
- even though we were working really hard to be affirming, to present ourselves as collaborators and not trainers disseminating information, and to encourage discussion, the teachers were very quiet; it was very difficult to get a conversation going.
- several young male teachers volunteered long responses to the question "why did you become a teacher?" and were passionate about educating young people to help the nation / make change / improve the country.
- several of the teachers mentioned the influence of a pastor or early experience teaching Sunday School
- several young women talked about their love for children and wanting to be with them
We spent about three hours together in classrooms, first in a big group of 25, then in 3 smaller groups, and our main goal was to help teachers think about two things: how to transmit information more efficiently than writing passages from the textbook on the board and having students copy down those notes, and how to know that students had understood what had been taught. We tried to elicit suggestions and didn't have much more to offer than what was said, but maybe were successful in affirming the good work they are doing in difficult circumstances. One of their challenges is language: for most of the children, especially the younger ones, Swahili is a second language and English a third. (This is true for the teachers as well, actually, and some are not confident speaking English.)
After the official seminar, we spent about two hours waiting for / cooking / eating lunch. It was a little awkward, with most of us inside the Big House (out of the sun) preparing the lunch, and the teachers outside, seeking refuge from the sun in whatever shade they could find. Chairs were brought outside and put near the hot grill under the blazing noontime sun. When lunch was ready (we had thought it would be fun to serve "typical" American food, and so we had grilled hamburgers and provided things that seemed like buns and something that seemed like ketchup) Ben stood up and carefully demonstrated how to put together a cheeseburger: "take the roll and break it apart; put the burger here; add cheese if you want; put some chili-garlic sauce on top; and eat!" It was a very good lesson but, as it turns out, it wasn't everyone's preference - I noticed several teachers tearing off pieces of the roll and dipping it in the baked beans we also served, as though it were the traditional cornmeal pudding!
Lunch and the seminar was over by about 2:30 and I, at least, felt a sense of relief. I had been trying to connect with teachers and make conversation and get to know people, but it was tough - even in English, the TZ accent is strong enough to make it hard for me to catch every word, and the cultural rift is significant. Though tired out, we rallied to do a tour (under the blazing hot sun) of the permaculture plan on campus, during which we visited date palm trees that have been planted for the oil that can be harvested and burned, and avocado trees, and terraces and new chicken coops that are being built. Then the group headed down to the lake-front restaurant, where we were planning to have dinner. On the way I stopped at the Big House for my reading date with Jonas (I guessed in yesterday's blog that Jonas was 11 - turns out he is 15) and we sat together outside and read a book about the Obama Family and the White House. I tried to explain an Easter Egg Roll, and we talked about whether Michelle Obama was "African too", and we discussed different presidential campaigns -- he wanted to know if I had voted for Obama. He knew about George Washington and remembered "Jefferson Thomas - he was a good guy, right?" and so we sat there for a while talking about politics and presidents and complex personalities.
Around 4:30 I headed down to the lake and joined my group, Chris, and Seth - plus two expats, one British and one American, who teach at an international school 200 miles towards Arusha, where they'e been frustrated with unfulfilled contract promises-- and we sat there, thinking and talking about global education and student trips and a potential return to JBFC until 9pm. THe light on the water was gorgeous, but it is so awful that we can't go in! We watched a couple of fishing boats go by, and one or two sailboats, and we ordered dinner (eggplant parmigiana with housemade pasta, pizza, steak) and then headed to bed after a quick stop at the Big House for internet. Joe/Thomas reached me on FaceTime while I was reading with another of Chris' boys, Danny, who is 11, and Danny and Thomas (almost 10) exchanged a few words about Monopoly and liking soccer, and the funny book, Stone Soup, which we had been reading. The generator cut out unexpectedly around 10pm, so some of us took showers in the dark and others of us read with our headlamps, but we all went to bed by 11 to be ready for the next day's safari!