Monday, July 18, 2011

Week 9

The Importance of Cleanliness – People here are very into cleanliness. It’s an incredibly important cultural component. When you go to eat at someone’s house, go to a restaurant, or even go to an event where food is served (like a funeral), the first step in the eating process is washing your hands. Someone (usually one of the host’s older daughters if it’s a home) comes around with a bowl of water and an empty bowl. They slowly pour the bowl of water over your hands and hold the empty bowl under your hands to collect the water as it falls. Depending on where you are (mainly restaurants), a bar of soap may also be provided for the hand washing.  

“It’s Just a Pretty Drawing” – Many people here tend to wear T-shirts on a daily basis. The Salvation Army will get donated shirts from the U.S. and sell them to local vendors for very cheap. The vendors then sell these used American T-shirts (for about $2 each) at the Monday market, and daily in their shops. What’s really interesting is reading these shirts, which are very random and at times amusing. I’ve seen everything from high school marching bands, to I “heart” Seattle, to St. Louis marathon, to Super Bowl Championship shirts from the team that was in, but lost the Super Bowl. And every now and then I’ve seen vulgar shirts with curse words or expressions that clearly the folks wearing them don’t understand or they would never be wearing these shirts the way they are. I once asked a kid wearing an American flag T-shirt (the whole shirt was an American flag, including the sleeves and everything) if he knew what the shirt stood for. He looked at me confused and said “it’s just a pretty drawing”. 

Talking in Clicks – Last week, while in South Africa, I witnessed the first ever conversations based on a language that uses clicks as part of its dialogue. It was fascinating to me. Particularly learning about how different methods of clicking can be used; depending on where the click comes from (throat or mouth), how long the click lasts for, and the context in which the click is used, the click can stand for & mean completely different things. This week, back in Shirati, I started noticing that the Luo language also has a bit of a click use in it, although not as obvious as what I heard in South Africa. After discussing it with some of my friends, I learned that clicks are used here as well, albeit more as a way of showing either agreement or displeasure with a statement (depending on how you click). 

The Nyambogo Project – Construction on the Rainwater Collection Tank in Nyambogo (Week 7) has officially kicked off to a great start! The villagers have dug a hole going down 3 feet that will serve as the foundation of the structure. This past weekend, truckloads of sand and rocks were brought over (approximately 40 tons of each) to be mixed with cement and made into the filter’s foundation. Work is continuing and this week should see the foundation laid and finished. The next stage entails the community making the approximately 3,000 bricks that will be needed for the actual structure. Unfortunately, money is scarce and it seems like further fundraising will be needed to actually get this project to completion. I’m hopeful that things will move forward fast though, as the folks in Nyambogo truly need this tank to be operational as quickly as possible.

Astronomy – The other day I was talking with the older brother of one of my soccer teammates who was home on vacation from his final year of college in Mwanza. He’s a very intelligent guy and we had a good conversation about Tanzania and how it compared to America. Towards the end of our conversation, he asked me one big question that he still had. “In America, does the sun look much smaller from how it looks here? Does it look like our moon?” I told him that it didn’t, it looked the exact same. He explained to me that he knew that it was colder in America, and therefore he assumed that meant we had very little exposure to the sun. It was a valid assumption based on the information he knew. Without much of a scientific background it was difficult for me to answer all of his further meteorological questions about the sun, the moon, the earth and where Tanzania and the U.S. stood in all of this.

Making Uniforms – Before Spencer came to Shirati, he asked me if I needed anything from the U.S. I thought about it for a while, considering many different foods that I’d enjoy (and would help me regain some of the weight I’d lost), and many movies or television shows that I would love to have for entertainment here. In the end though, I decided to ask him for only one thing. I asked that he bring me 15 matching blue T-shirts from Wal-Mart and a black permanent marker. This week, I called the coach and assistant coach of the team to a secret meeting with me and gave them the shirts and marker for them to make a team uniform with. They were absolutely ecstatic. The team had been saving up for 3 years (since it was founded) to one day have uniforms. They were ways away from making this a reality. The coaches were so happy and grateful that they designed the uniform to reflect that. The back says “Chapakazi FC” (translates to “hard workers” and FC stands for Futbol Club). They did not put numbers in the back so that players could each choose their own. The front of the shirt was what shocked me. It simply says: “Fernando Team”. They explained to me that all of the European teams have the name of their sponsor in the front. Naturally, they wanted to do the same. I was very touched.

Giving Uniforms – This past Saturday was the last match that my team would play with me still here. Before the match, we had a team meeting where the coaches and I (to the team’s surprise) gave them all uniforms. The players went wild in cheer, and all jumped to hug me. They never thought they’d actually get uniforms one day, being such a young team with little resources. I was happy I could help them. The game was a very close one with a tied 0-0 score at the half and us trailing 0-1 with just 15 minutes left. But then the team turned it on. We scored 4 gols in a row in the remaining 15 minutes and won the game 4-1! I’ve never seen the team so happy or proud. Afterwards, in his speech to the players, the coach congratulated them on a match that served as a great inauguration of their new uniforms, and a perfect goodbye for me.    

Going to School – Last Friday, I took a day off from working and went to school with my assistant soccer coach (who’s a senior in high school). School was a very interesting experience. For one thing, I was shocked that I was able to understand everything. That’s because starting your freshmen year of high school everything at Tanzanian schools must be done in English. Swahili is permitted only as communication amongst students, but never when a teacher is lecturing or even when a student is talking to a teacher. Luo, the local tribal language, is strictly forbidden on campus and if anyone is caught speaking Luo at any time, corporal punishment follows. The school is very big in space, but very simple in what it has. At the same time, I was surprised to find that it really has everything a school actually needs. While there is no lighting or electricity, the school is designed in a way where those things aren’t needed since light comes in naturally. While there is no air conditioning, the structure also allows for a cool breeze to pass through. And while there are no computers or whiteboards, the old blackboard in the classroom I sat in worked and served the needed purpose. In short, they make good use of what they do have here and while it wouldn’t make the cut with American standards, it really isn’t a bad learning environment.

Cleaning – School starts at 7 am when all the students come in with their white long-sleeve shirts, blue pants, black shoes and buzzed haircuts (yes, haircuts are part of the national uniform here and both boys and girls must have their hair closely buzzed throughout their schooling to be allowed to attend). From 7 to 8 am, there are no teachers present at the school. Instead (much like I remember observing when I spent a summer going to high school in Japan) the students spend the first hour of school cleaning the entire school compound. Different classes have different assigned areas that they are permanently in charge of keeping clean. Whether it’s sweeping a dirt road, cutting the grass with machetes, removing rocks and dung from the soccer field or dusting/cleaning the classrooms, each student knows what they have to do and they do it. Before morning announcements (8 am) a “teacher on duty” (which changes every week) will inspect the different spaces to ensure the students did a good job.  

Fees and Punches – Morning announcements happen in the main courtyard of the school. The students line up in several rows (military style) making a 3-sided box around the Tanzanian flag and elevated platform next to it (where the headmaster speaks from and where the teachers all line up behind). Announcements that day were all about school fees. The headmaster pointed out how the students had 5 full weeks of vacation time they were just coming back from, during which they could’ve easily worked to make the money needed to pay for the semester ($7). “You could’ve made bricks and sold them. You could’ve fetched water from Lake Victoria and sold it. In two weeks of hard work you could’ve made that much money. Instead, you are lazy. You sit home and listen to the radio and visit your friends and then when school starts you beg your poor parents for the money. They don’t have it! Now what?” He went on for about 20 minutes. It was an interesting lecture. In the middle of the announcements, he called out one student’s name and made him come to the front. He had apparently been talking during the announcements and the punishment is corporal, in front of the entire student body. As all observed, a teacher walked up to the student and gave him three strong punches to the back of the head. By the third, the student fell down to the ground. Embarrassed and clearly in pain, he walked back to his spot in line to hear the rest of morning announcements.  

Colonialism, Geography and Biology – I was able to observe two classes that day. They are supposed to have 6 classes a day, but a teacher shortage has meant that the new norm is 4 a day, and a teacher’s absence that day meant that students (in the class I was observing) had to be sent home after only 2 classes. The first class was Geography and the second was Biology. Geography started off particularly interesting. I guess they have a different definition of “Geography” here because the topic they were finishing up was “Colonialism”. The teacher was clearly very uncomfortable having me in the room as he (rightfully) blasted “mzungus” for all the ills they had historically brought to the region. He was all too happy to move on to the next section “Noise Pollution”; again, very different definition of “Geography” I guess. The second class was Biology, and today they were covering “Genetics”. It was a fascinating class with a lot of stuff I remember learning in high school involving DNA, RNA, Cell structures, Heredity, etc. I was impressed with how similar their biology curriculum was to an American high school’s. I wish I had sat through more classes that day to further learn and observe, but I guess being released at 10:30 am from a school that’s supposed to go until 2 pm was an interesting observation in itself.

Historic Draught – The region has really been suffering lately from a particularly bad dry season, after a particularly bad rainy season. It’s incredible to think back 9 weeks ago and remember how green everything here still was and how much water was still in the lakes and rivers. These things are all distant memories now. The whole area is now brown and grey. Corn, which used to be taller than me and plentiful all around the community, is now completely dead. It looks like a tornado touched down and destroyed all of the region’s corn fields. The lakes and rivers where people used to get their water supplies from have dried up, and locals are starting to have to walk for almost a full day to fetch clean water. I’m told that this draught is historically bad. That normally, it’s not until early-September (just a few weeks from rainy season) that the lakes and rivers dry up. Yesterday, one of my soccer teammates even told me that his family has gone from 3 meals a day to 2, as they braced for the months to come. The mood here is somber and people are praying for some very unlikely rain to pour down.

Going to Church – Speaking of praying, I went to church this past Sunday with my soccer coach (reminder, he’s my age) whose father is a preacher at a small, local church. When we arrived, services had already started but there was absolutely no one there. The two of us sat down trying not to interrupt the two preachers (the head preacher, my friend’s dad; and the assistant preacher) as they loudly prayed towards an empty room. As the 4-hour service continued, people slowly filtered in, until finally the church was full with about 20 adults and 15 children in attendance. The church was evangelical, which is a type of service I had never attended before. The preachers were very friendly and welcoming, repeatedly referring to me (“Mr. Fernandes”, I guess they misunderstood my name) and asking if I understood everything they would say. I did actually understand it all. Reason being that after the preacher would say a phrase, he would pause and have the assistant preacher translate it into English, just for me. It was really nice of them and delayed the service, but I was able to get all of what was going on, which I appreciated. The end of service (the last hour) was by far the most fun. People went from “fearing God”, to “loving and celebrating God” and with that change they started singing and dancing, waving their hands, moving their bodies and even doing calls, cheers and screams. The choir came out and led more songs and everyone was just joyful, some even started crying from happiness. In a place with so many problems that people must deal with on a daily basis, it was good to see so much happiness.

Lunch with the Preacher – After church, the preacher invited me to his house for lunch with his family. I was happy to accept the offer. I’m always flattered when the people here go above and beyond their means to be welcoming of me as a guest of theirs and their community. The preacher was a very kind man who was very worried about my comfort and kept asking what he could send his youngest son to go buy for me to eat or drink. I kept telling him that I wanted to eat whatever they normally eat and asked for nothing special. Lunch, however, was bread and butter. Not that that’s what they normally eat, but that’s what they thought I would want and so that’s what the preacher sent his young son to go get for us at the market (along with an Orange Fanta for me). Bread and butter do not come cheaply here, and while the meal wasn’t quite the cultural experience I was hoping for, it was a very nice meal over some great conversation.  

Malaria: An Update – In Week 5 I gave you the preliminary good news I found out involving malaria in the region. Now, I can give a fuller and more scientifically accurate update. I had asked 3 local health facilities for help in providing me data for this report. One was unfortunately Rao Hospital (see Week 7) which means I had to rely on the other two. Those two, however, are the two most used healthcare facilities operating in the region and therefore should provide a pretty accurate picture. After getting and compiling all of the data from Shirati Hospital (see Week 5) and Sota Health Clinic, I found that a 7-year comparison of the 4-month period since government net distribution and spraying occurred, shows that malaria is in fact down by 75% this year compared to average! Even more impressive, the government’s targeting of households with young children (most likely to have deadly malaria) brought about a 96% decline in malaria cases of children 2 years and younger. This is great news for the region and should be a major point of pride for the Tanzanian government!

1 comment:

  1. Fernando,
    Thank you for your hard work and patience during your time in Tanzania. I know you are making an impact with Village Life's partner villages of Roche, Nyambogo and Burere. Village Life is very appreciative of your work.
    Thanks, Richard Elliott
    Executive Director
    Village Life Outreach Project