Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Beginning of the End

Despite the fact that I have three and a half weeks left, it feels as though my time here is coming to a swift end.

Friday marked the end of the term for the students here in Kitete. They took their final exams (or terminal exams as they call them), packed up their bags, and headed back to their respective homes. It is hard to imagine that I will never see most of these students again. In just five weeks, we have all become great friends. Hopefully they learned something too.

Before they left, we had a big end of term celebration. We even slaughtered a goat for the occasion. I was supposed to participate in the slaughter, but there was a miscommunication about the time of the deed. I guess I will have to stick to chickens (for those keeping track, my chicken kill count is at three). We had a big feast, they thanked us for teaching them, and we gave them some parting advice.

With the students gone, life is slow here in Kitete. There is not much work for us to do here. We can’t exactly teach without any students. Instead, we are preparing to travel. Monday we will be visiting Lake Manyara National Park, which is full of giraffes, rhinos, lions, etc. Then on Thursday we will head to Nairobi, Kenya for a week, Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar for a week, and then back to Kitete. By the time we return from travelling, we will only have one week left.

The experience has been amazing thus far, and there is still so much left to see. In fact, I came across a wild elephant on one of my runs last week. It had wandered out of the forest to eat some of the farmers’ wheat. I watched from about 50 yards away, having been warned that elephants are actually very dangerous.

Tanzanian Fun Fact: Tanzania is home to over 130 tribal and ethnic groups. These groups range in size from only a hundred thousand to two million. Most have their own languages too. The people here are the Iraqw people, originally from Ethiopia. I don’t believe they are of any relation to the Iraqis in the Middle East!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Winter Solstice

While all of you back in the States will be enjoying the longest day of the year later next week, here in Kitete it will be the winter solstice. It is one of the stranger aspects of living in the Southern Hemisphere.

I must confess, of course, that it is not exactly the most daunting winter solstice. Being only about a hundred miles from the equator changes things a bit. Winter here is light years from the frigid temperatures of South Bend, although it is colder than you probably think.

Because we are up in the mountains most mornings there is a thick fog over the whole area and a temperature just below 60°F. By the afternoon the sun typically breaks through the clouds and the high temperature is normally around 70°F.

That’s hardly winter weather by our standards, but the locals here think otherwise. They think it is absolutely freezing. Most of them get all bundled up in winter coats and knit caps. It’s pretty funny to see. A simple sweatshirt in the evenings is good enough for hearty Americans like us.

Tanzanian Fun Fact: The people here don’t have arm or leg hair, absolutely none! They are so intrigued by my hairy legs and arms, and often feel free to touch it. I assume it is an evolutionary difference between living in a temperate versus tropical climate, but that’s just a guess.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Football is God

Today marks the beginning of my fifth week of travel, but more importantly it marks the fifth day of the World Cup.

Each year a consulting firm calculates the billions of dollars of efficiency lost during the NCAA Basketball Tournament due to workers watching the games on the internet. While this is an interesting project, I think they should turn their attention to the World Cup.

Football (or soccer if you like) is the main event here in Kitete, and it is capturing everyone’s attention. At any given point in the day there will be between 20 and 40 people huddled in the dark dining hall watching on a little 24” TV ghetto-rigged to a dilapidated satellite. That’s just for any old game. If an African team is playing, everyone is watching, seriously everything stops. Some of the students even dressed up in shirts and ties for the first Nigeria game.

Just today Tyler and were discussing how the students seem abnormally tired in class. It didn’t take us long to diagnose the problem; the students have been staying up late watching football. Football is more than a sport here. It is a religion.

Tanzanian Fun Fact: I have occasionally heard people talk about wanting to “drop off the grid” by going camping or hiking. They should just come to Kitete. We are roughly 13km from the nearest power line and a 45 minute jeep ride from the nearest paved road.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Ignorance Was Bliss

Perhaps the greatest blessing of the past three weeks has been interacting with the students here at Audrey Veldman Vocation and Technical School. The students, who range from age 13 to 23, are some of the most fun and enthusiastic people I have ever met. I have formed some very fast friendships. It feels as though I have been here much longer than just three weeks. Many of the students have already offered for me to come live at their parents' home (sounds like a good offer).

Befriending these students has been amazing, but it is a bittersweet experience. Firstly because they will be leaving for winter break in two weeks. They get a whole month off, so Tyler and I will be gone by the time they return. We will be saying goodbye to these kids forever.

The other depressing part is that we have slowly started learning many of their back stories. Since many of them live here at the school, it is easy to forget they come from extreme poverty. For instance, one of my favorite students is Christopher Burra, a 23 year old carpentry student graduating in November. He is a very bright and enthusiastic kid. He mentioned one day that he wants to join the seminary an become a priest. Sounds great, right? Well I found out from the priests that he never went to secondary school because his family couldn't afford it. He is too old to complete 6 years of secondary school, 4 years of college, then seminary. His dream will never be fulfilled.

Or there is Wilson Charles, an exceptionally athletic masonry student who always has a smile on his face. I found out on Monday that after his mother remarried, his stepdad wanted nothing to do with him. His biological father is an alcoholic, so that is no help. He is literally been homeless since the age of 17. He lives at the school during the school year and often sleeps at a local church where he does chores in lieu of rent.

I apologize for the somber post, but it is simply a dose of reality here in the Thrid World. The good news, however, is that these kids still may have bright futures. The school here has offered these kids a chance for a new life. The skills they are learning here will give them an opportunity to earn a stable income one day.

Despite their poverty, these students here are an inspiration to me. They live each day thankful for what they have and excited for the future. You would never know that they live such tragic lives.

Tanzanian Fun Fact: The people here don't have conventional last names like we do in America. They simply tack their father's name to the end of theirs. As a result, my name would be Gregory Peter.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Death of a Chicken and Other New Foods

Warning: The following post is a bit graphic, viewer discretion is advised.

It was a Monday morning just like any other, but for one unfortunate chicken it would be his last...

After breakfast I found Marieta waiting with a knife as basin; she was ready for the slaughter. She grabbed the unlucky rooster from the garage, and we headed out back. Now I know that chickens have very small brains, but this guy knew what was up. From the minute Marieta picked him up he was screaming like I have never heard a chicken before. She placed him on the ground, put one foot on his legs and the other on his wings. Now it was my turn. I mimicked her stance atop the victim and asked "What now?"

She stepped away and simply said, "You cut." I clutched the rooster's head and began cutting, expecting this to be a quick process. I soon realized that this knife was extremely dull. The chicken agonized for almost a minute while I sawed at its neck. I finally broke throgh, he made one last scream, and breathed his last. I held his body for a few more moments while its muscles continued to contract (I had always heard that headless chickens could run around).

As I walked ways with bloody hands, a knife in one hand, and a chicken head in the other, I felt a sense of supreme masculinity, like Liam Neeson walking away after killing 20 bad guys in "Taken." The irony of course was that I had merely killed a defenseless chicken. Eh, testosterone is testosterone regardless.

Other culinary firsts:
-Fresh mango (Lopez shout out)
-Fermented milk (kind of like yogurt)
-Fresh papaya
-Purple porridge (made from millet flour aka "wimbi")
-Goat meat
-Two types of Tanzanian beer
-Fresh avocado
-Sugar cane (you literally gnaw on a branch and suck out the sugar)

Tanzanian Fun Fact: Speaking of food, the Swahili word for butt is "tako." When people from Tanzania visit America, they are perplexed to see people eating at Taco Bell. Would you eat at a place called "Butt Bell"?