Saturday, April 3, 2010


Why does it always take Mirinda so loooooooong to post her blogs? This month I actually have some fairly decent excuses, owing to the fact I hadn't left the village the whole month (with one exception) due to both physical and time constraints.


JB - like all farmers in our area, is enjoying a great harvest out in her field in Nakarara. She has been enlisting the help of me and my students to help her harvest her peanut crop - which gave her a VERY plentiful crop. We all helped her harvest these evil brown nuts (at the computer next to me JB is pointing out that I only helped for like, an hour...I sent kids, their time should totally give me helping points.)These little nuts are way more fun to eat than actually pull out of the ground, and the amounts that I have been consuming have caused gastrointestinal difficulties that ALSO prevent the writing of really this is a two-for-one excuse!

T-shirt Madness

Mustapha and I decided that this year in order to save money we should make our own T-shirts for the Peer Educators (we saved like 30$, it was a WAY better idea). Thus we hunkered down with my iPod and a can of paint and set to work...on 17 T-shirts. The supplies were fairly sustainable, with the exception of the shirts themselves, the paint came from my head master and the "sponge" was ripped by one of my teachers from his mattress as his "donation to the cause". Mustapha and I got the added bonus of being high from paint fumes for 2 days while the shirts seems like a much better idea now that the two of us are not in the tiny room, covered in paint and listening to the same 3 rap songs over and over again while breathing toxic fumes.


The rain has actually kept us from doing a lot these past few days. It has rained so much that we are able to fill all of the drums of the house in less that 20 minutes. Our backyard/courtyard floods with every heavy rain, making Mustapha and Joyce a "swimming pool" that they can go out and slash in when the rain slows to a trickle. The rain has also prevented the transportation of JB and myself to and from our villages, as it has completely destroyed/washed out the road in many places. Ridiculous, but delicious, rain water is SO much better than boiled water, and SO COLD, its like coming out of a water dispenser in a refrigerator.


Its been a long school year but I am finally bringing it to a close, teaching out side and teaching the most ridiculous things I can manage. I will definitely miss my Students a lot, and I'm hoping that these last exercises will help them remember me!

Makong'onda Pima Day March 27th


Makong’onda Idol was such a huge hit we decided that a repeat performance was surely necessary. Because of some of the technical difficulties that made the last time difficult, we decided to make this time easier by limiting the dietary selections (only rice and beans for EVERYONE), by asking more volunteers to participate (JB, Kristy, Luke, Gigi, and Atif came), and by having another school come to join in the festivities (Newala Day, Gigi’s School). It was so well planned, and we had already done another PIMA day in Chikoropola that was a huge success, what could possibly cause any problems?


To make this into a shorter story that highlights all of the main points, I have decided to make this blog into two categories, the things that went right, and the things that went wrong (again, all fault for any problems goes to AFRICA). To preface both categories, you must understand that in fact, the day was A LOT of fun, just chaotic, but no party/event in Tanzania would be considered an event without a little chaos.

(what doesn’t kill you…)

• The district of Masasi ran out of tests to use to test HIV/AIDS. They told us this the Saturday before the event. Luckily, one of the doctors that we use to test was more than happy to get tests for us…if we gave him a huge amount of money. Luckily, Luke and I used our “shady doctor” smarts and waited out the tests, which arrived the day after the doctor said he would go get them.
• The music that we hired blew their transformer, and told Mustapha the day before the event that they couldn’t come. Mustapha called me after finding the new music (smart boy…he knows I panic too easily) which he had to search for 4 hours by biking around the Newala plateau to find.
• Gigi and her kids took off from Newala at 7:30 am in order to roll into Makong’onda around 9. They arrived at 2:30pm. The car they threw a gear, and they sat on the side of the road waiting for a part for 2.5 hours before they finally made it. Because of the wait, they missed the theatre and big races, but they did make it for netball.
• The Makong’onda Day students did not receive a time to come to the school, and thus didn’t show up until around noon: if the Newala day kids HAD arrived on time they would have been doing all of the races by themselves (there were plenty of students by the time the ND kids arrived, so it wasn’t a problem).
• During the soccer game (the last event of the day) the Makong’onda teacher playing with the students decided that he didn’t like one of the calls the ref made, and solved the problem by grabbing the ref by the neck and throwing him to the ground, starting a riot that Luke and I had to help break up. We broke it up, so it wasn’t a huge issue, but it was a bad example for all of the students who were watching.


• All of the food was cooked the day before and was ready to roll. We had no issues, with the exception that there weren’t enough plates (Gigi’s kids had forgotten) and so we found any clean flat surface that would hold mountains of rice and beans to serve to people.
• JB’s 5K went extremely well, with 5 of her children legitimately beating her at the race, and 25 more children following close behind. The first three finishers all won a pencil set, and the rest of the children scored notebooks and pens to use during school – EVERYONE was a happy winner
• All of the relay races went well, and with the exception of the condom station, most of the kids ran and finished fast
• Netball was done without any fights this year, not that there was a lot of peace and love on the field, but all of the fights were broken up before they began (this happened mostly because I threatened to kick out all of the girls from my team when they cheated – then I had to yell the same thing at the Newala team).
• The Dancing Contest was a huge hit, thanks to the awesome prizes sent to me by my parents. We had students dance first for school supplies. Then our daring judges (Atif and Luke) held up the coveted prize – The American paring knife. We called for village mamas to come into the circle, one mama almost took down our makeshit fence to get into the center ring, and one “grandmother” got into the middle and shook it – winning the prize (nearly starting a fight with the other mamas). The little girls that we called into the ring started dancing, and THE CROWD WENT WILD. If you look at the picture you can see JB, Atif, and Luke all dying laughing. Boys danced into the ring along with mamas and students to give the young ladies “gift money” for dancing, it was ridiculous.
• All of the kids from the conferences got up and gave speeches to the crowd about what they learned at the Peace Corps conferences. The boys talked about what they learned in Ndanda with Lindsey and Laura and the girls did their women’s day skit again. The crowd enjoyed the speeches and afterwards many new kids came up to me and asked when they would be allowed to sign up to go to conferences this year…
• Halfway through one of the performances the crowd cleared out of the tent area, and two men started swinging heavy sticks into the crowd. At first we were terrified a fight was breaking out, until we heard “SNAKE! SNAAAAAAAAAAKE!” Immediately all of the kids ran out from under the tent, only to get close enough to see the men start to pound it, shrieking and running away every time the snake got away and inched closer to the crowd. Fortunatly, the men with the drums beat the snake into oblivion with one of the drums (there were two people killed in our ward this year from snake bites…hence the panic) and JB and I led a dance party to get the crowd back into their seats. IT WAS RIDICULOUS.

Overall, the day went extremely well. There were some kinks, but as you can see, the good greatly outnumbered the bad. We ended up testing 200 people for HIV, and performing for probably more than half of the village (500ish people) including the youth who came to watch the performances. Overall it was a very successful, educational, and chaotic day. A great way to end the “Pima Parade” in the Mnaviera ward!

Chikoropola Pima Day March 13th

The Chikoropola PIMA day started out a bit like one of my favorite childhood books: Fortunately/Unfortunately…

FORTUNATELY we got all of the cooking done before we left for Chikoropola
UNFORTUNATELY we all got 3 hours of sleep because of the cooking
FORTUNATELY we had 3 bicycles ready the night before
UNFORTUNATELY we didn’t add to that number in the morning – and rode 3 to a bike
FORTUNATELY the Chikoropola kids were helpful and eager to set up
UNFORTUNATELY one of the eager ladies didn’t see me and shoved a stick directly into my eye, making me bleed
FORTUNATELY when the Peer Educators realized that I was ok, they thought it was hilarious
UNFORTUNATELY the little lady had to run away from school for “hitting the white girl”
FORTUNATELY it rained the night before and so didn’t rain during the event
UNFORTUNATELY the road was still bad, and Luke and the doctors got stuck on the way
FORTUNATELY Rama (my parents favorite driver in Tanzania) worked hard and with Lukes help, got the car unstuck
UNFORTUNATELY Lukes pants were covered in mud as he was bombarded by mud by the car when it got out of the hole
FORTUNATELY Luke and Rama detoured to my house and stole a pair of Mustapha’s pants, and Luke was the same size.

The entire day was crazy, but much less chaotic than Makong’onda Idol the year before, due to good preparation, planning, and owing a lot to the kids, who worked very, VERY hard to pull the event together. We planned a lot of activities for the kids and opened the music up to the general public (and when I say “opened up” what I mean is, we played it so loud that the villagers couldn’t ignore their shaking huts and came to see the cause of this earthquake).
The first and favorite of my activities, was the obstacle course. The children had to jump through sacks, shoot baskets, answer an HIV/AIDS question, and then sprint to the finish, where they were rewarded by a box of crayons, donated to me by my church last June (THANKS BARB!). The kids loved the crayons, and thus they swarmed the game for an hour and a half before we broke all of the sacks and made the course a sprint instead. The kids ran and ran, those who didn’t run the race ran on the sidelines to cheer on their friends, they ran all day…then danced….then followed me around…without tiring. Oh to be young again! 
While we were testing people, we set up a condom station, with one male peer educator (Hamisi) and Habiba – who is our “condom expert”, since she always seems to be the one volunteering for the condom station. After male villagers tested, they were allowed to take 8 condoms, but ONLY if they first showed the Peer Educators the proper technique for putting it on. Many people got a kick out of the exercise, and hopefully those “tips for improvement” that Hamisi and Habiba handed out all day will greatly help these men with their future conquests. The women (slightly more shy) were allowed to take condoms in privacy from the female nurse who was testing – several brave soles did try their luck, and most often succeeded on the first try more than the men!
The music was Mustapha’s department, as he was the MC (Master of Chaos). He shimmied his way across the roped in area, dancing with the kids, wrangling in the performers, and organizing all of the impromptu games. The Peer Educators did all of their skits, earning lots of laughs, and many “Mama back-slaps”. The favorites were definitely the skit on drug abuse, since the three young people who are completely inebriated in the skit originally hail from Chikoropola (the lead asked his mother to please not come to the show, he didn’t want her to see him drunk!).
After the skits there were impromptu speakers, both from the young men in the village and the smaller boys in the audience. Their performances were hilarious, some great and some awful (which earned way more cheers). We decided to mix up these performances with dance contests, and we began pulling kids from the crowd to dance for school supplies (Pencils, these provided from my hometown church in Marengo) (THANKS MARY!). Many of the contests were just too close to call, and we ended up going through pencils very quickly, ending our show and our time in Chikoropola.

FORTUNATLY the day was a success, 205 people tested, 160 happy primary school children, and 500 free condoms.
UNFORTUNATLY we all had colds and lost our voices the entirety of the following week.
FORTUNATLY we all knew it was worth it, and can’t wait to do it again!


Bike riding is fun. The wind in your hair, the speed of the tires, and the beautiful scenery: people may even say that bike riding is relaxing.

These people should bike ride in Tanzania.

In general – I have a love/hate relationship with my Tanzanian bicycle – I love to hate it. When the bike is in working order (this usually lasts about 30 minutes – 2 hours), I can manage to pedal it to JB’s village (5 K away) without walking, kicking the back tire, or aggressively threatening the well-being of the bicycle. If there is a village that is farther away that JB’s, I generally prefer to walk – or simply to say that I will visit and then cleverly find excuses that allow me to never follow through. The grand exception to the “excuse rule” are Peer Education days – physically impossible to occur without the use of a bicycle.
On our first Peer Education day, I knew it would be long, judging by the amount of students who showed up, and the amount of bicycles that showed up. 6 bikes for 14 students. Never allowing a moment to pass without teaching a lesson, I pointed out that one of the students must have miscalculated and implored them all to re-do the math. All of us were clearly not going to fit on 14 bikes. After many negotiations and pleading – we managed to get 1 more bike – and thus traveled two students to a bike – one driving, and the other either on the front or the back of the bike. Because I’m the leader, I used my authority to secure the smallest student to ride with me…leaving the rest of them to fight over the smaller students.
Mapili, a village WAY OUT THERE, was our first stop on the tour. When we arrived, sweaty and excited, we were met with excited kids and curious teachers – who seemed to wonder what we were doing there. After more negotiations (including me reminding the teacher that I had in fact sent 1 letter and 3 students to talk to supervisors of the school) we were allowed to perform – which went extremely well. The kids were shy and quiet, my PEs were intimidated because it was their first performance, and admittedly things went a little south when one of the new Mapili “teachers” (a student whom I had the year before and who I flunked in my class before he was expelled by the headmaster) stood up and told the kids that I was lying to them (while answering a question), and African doctors proved that HIV was caused by European men and then given to Africans during WW1. Luckily, my counterpart (Simba) fielded the reply, and we headed off to Chikoropola, village of origin for more than half of the peer educators.
Chikoropola school has always been one of my favorites. As we rolled in to the school we were immediately given the rock star treatment – small children followed us (and by us I mean me) everywhere we went, giggling and repeating everything I said. This show was REALLY good, the PEs came out of their shells, the kids participated and sang along to every song, and the head master was very supportive. We left tired but extremely happy, until we realized that we had to ride 45 minutes home.


In the rain.

The ride wasn’t that bad, mostly because it wasn’t a ride, it was a sprint from cashew tree to cashew tree in the pouring rain, and between these bursts of speed the boys rode the bikes and the girls walked. Exhausted, we got back to the house, ate lunch, and discussed the day. All of the kids agreed that it had gone well. We made adjustments to some skits, had a brief meeting, and then agreed that everyone would meet at my house in 2 hours to prepare signs and food for the next day, when we would return to Chikoropola again for a PIMA day.
It was a great start to the great Peer Education tour…coming to a school near you (if you happen to live near a school in the Mnaviera ward of Masasi district, Tanzania)!


All pictures were taken in Mapili, Chikoropola, Makong'onda, or Nakarara performances. All are the students who act during their performances, and one of me and the kids singing a song.

Womens Day March 8th

When JB told me that she had received a letter from our ward secretary inviting her to the women’s day event in Mnaviera, I felt a pang of jealousy. True, I had been out of village when the meeting was held and the invitation issued, but I still felt that I should have been included. It wasn’t until JB let me know that her 20K round trip bike ride to Mnaviera (in boiling midday heat) and back for the meeting resulted in her only seeing 1 person who told her the meeting had already taken place (in fact it took place 2 hours earlier than they said) that I felt WAY better – for JB had brought good news as well: I WAS invited to Women’s Day, and we could each make a presentation with our kids.
Upon receiving this information, I immediately looked up my Wascichana Wanaweza (Women Can) ladies who went to our ladies conference last June. I explained to the ladies that they would be given a chance to perform at womens day, that this would be their opportunity to teach people about women’s empowerment, and that they would be the hit of the day, considering that everyone would want to see their awesome performance. I added a little motivation to the end of the speech (in the form of GUILT and BEGGING), and finally the girls agreed that they would make a performance – enlisting the help of three boys, a netball, and a used gin bottle (filled with water).
When Miss JB and her ladies group (a mixed group of in/out of school young ladies 14-16) showed up to Makong’onda the following Monday, we were ready with our entourage, and we took off for Mnaviera. The stage they built was huge, and the crowd intense…the spectacle of both JB and myself was just mind boggling for the small children of the village, and so they maintained a 5 inch radius around us from the moment we arrived until the moment we escaped for home.
We realized that this would be a large event when the cars from Masasi showed up, and officials from the department of Education (including the ever-elusive district education officer) stepped out. Right on schedule (only 2 hours behind) we started the festivities, the drummers and dancers from Makong’onda kicking things off by parading into the circle, drumming, shrieking, and dancing up a storm. Village choirs from all over the ward (Namombwe, Manuli, Mnaviera, Makong’onda) danced and sang about women. They sang about the difficulties facing women, the lack of respect, and the strength that they had. They sang about how the government never funds their projects, how men never do any of the household help and yet demand so much, and how they wish they could put their daughters through school so that they could have better lives. During each song the women received money from the guests of honor, dancing to the head table and putting the “gift” money into an envelope for each group. It was a wild show, but very inspiring for all of the women there, who cheered and cried out their approval at the points they enjoyed in the songs, ESPECIALLY any point that referred to the laziness, stubbornness, or carlesness of men.
At the end of the 5th (and final) choir, the guest of honor began to get restless. By now it was 2 pm (we had been there since 9am) and he was ready to go. Though our kids (the final act) had not yet performed, the MC stood and announced that there was no more time and that the guest of honor had to leave, as per Tanzanian tradition, there would be no acts following his speech. JB, Amos (who was there on behalf of our headmaster) and myself were upset, our kids had missed school, stood in the heat for 5 hours waiting, and were now denied the chance to do their skits – despite the fact that women’s day is supposed to be about uplifting women – teaching young girls to have pride in themselves. No better way to show this to young girls than by telling them flat out that the male guest of honors speech and time is more important than allowing them 10 minutes to perform.
After making the announcement, the MC decided that there WAS enough time for he himself to sing a song, and so he did. 5 written pages and 10 full minutes of off-key, unaccompanied, noise. At this point JB and I started to be passive aggressive: after all – our kids were just denied the chance to participate in the contest, but the MC was given 10 minutes to show off his ability (or lack there of) to sing? Through the entire song, and JB and I whispered short asides to Amos and our kids, glaring at the MC through the entire song, and making a point of shaking our heads when he finally finished. At the end, the guest of honor turned to the MC and pointed over to the two of us. The MC then reluctantly announced that the groups of Makong’onda and Nakarara would be allowed 5 minutes ONLY to perform their skits, then the show would be over.
Not wasting a bit of time, JB and I launched the kids into action – filling the whiskey bottles and giving our leads their costumes. The group from the girls conference went first, portraying a family whose daughter had just passed to go into secondary school, but whose drunken father refused to let her study because she was a girl. The crowd loved it, and money was thrown onto the table (the MC didn’t get any money for his song – FYI). During the skit, the mother of the family asked the father if he could do all the work that she did, while HE was pregnant. He thought it over, and in his ‘dream sequence’, Jafari Issa – the head boy of my school – tried to do the housework, a strategically placed netball making him appear to be in his third trimester. THE CROWD WENT CRAZY.
The skits were both a great success, JBs ladies did great, raking in more gift money than we did (my pride-injured boys claimed that this was because people were laughing so hard at them they couldn’t throw money at the same time). Most importantly, all of the girls and boys who went with us that day benefited from the experience of seeing all of the songs and performances. They benefited from seeing African women sing about their rights and needs, and the benefited from showing the village and officials their perspective was on the issues.
We all went home hot and hungry, but most importantly we went home feeling happy, successful, and empowered. And THAT is what WOMENS day is all about.


On the last Saturday in February, the first-ever Librarians of Makong’onda Day Secondary School arrived early in the morning (surprisingly on time) to convene the first ever meeting at the new Makong’onda Library.
The week before, the school board had granted our request of allowing the allotment of school academic fees to match 10% of the donation that we received from America. This money and the donated funds in hand, I went to the big book store in Mtwara, ordering the books that students had spent the week listing that we needed for the library. (Recap: there were no History, Geography, or Civics books in the school, nor dictionaries or more that half of the OLD syllabus for English Literature, and NONE of the books for the NEW syllabus.) The last shipment of books arrived in Masasi shortly after a trip I made to Dar es Salaam, and thus all of them were ready to be labeled and ordered in the library when I returned.
When I arrived at the library, the clouds looked threatening, and so we hurried all of the books into their new home as the first sprinkles began to hit the ground. We decided that in order to put all of the books in alphabetical order by subject and title it would be easier to remove all of them from the library, and then return them by subject. At first it seemed like a good idea, until we realized that with the new donated books (we received 50 from a local Tanzanian politician when he saw our library efforts in early January), and the books we were able to purchase with donated funds (over we had a grant total of 500) we had nearly 1500 books in the library, and some of those books were HEAVY. None the less, we started the process of hauling and sorting each book by subject - Habiba smacking people with her crutch as part of her “motivational supervison” – and began numbering and writing the names on each of the books.
The storm clouds finally gave berth to a huge rain and lightning storm, which the kids responded to by turning up our little radio (it had been loud enough to summon the dead, now it was loud enough to wake the dinosaurs) and hustling all of the books from our main corridor back into the library where they would be protected from the wind. At times the students needed a little motivation (cue Habiba – WHAP!), as they kept stalling the work to hide in the corner and read one of our new books. Even when we took a chai break, each student grabbed a book and read while drinking their tea. When my house help Joy came running through the storm, face tear-streaked, (Joy is TERRIFIED of lightning) the boys simply set her down with a book, and she read for an hour until the storm let up and she could go home.
When the library books were all put away, counted, and catalogued, we had a short meeting concerning our training, how we would take care and lend out the books, and how to discipline students should they lose a book or break one of our rules. The next day, the real work would begin, but as I was going to the marathon, I would not be able to see how the first week would go. I feared I would return to an empty room and harassed and angry librarians.
When I tentatively walked through the doors of our library, I noticed a strange sound…sweeping. It was followed by a strange visual…all of the books were in order. I peeked around the door; there stood all 4 of my new librarians, two with brooms, and one making a list of students to “hunt down and threaten” at the morning assembly (students who did not return books the night before).
“Good morning Mwalimu!”
“MWALIMU! You didn’t fall off of the Mountain!”
“Mwalimu, we need a new notebook, this one is all finished”.
The notebook comment threw me, I had given them the notebook (which we use to write the names of students, the books, and the book number) from last year, which was less than half full. Baffled, I flipped through the pages. The library had seen more than 250 different students and had lent out more than 300 books in less than 7 days, AND THEY DIDN’T LOSE A SINGLE BOOK. Teachers had lent out books and had written down the names and numbers.
I was so proud of my librarians, and I’m proud that my school KNOWS how to use the resources that they were given. There are still some minor improvements to be made: we need a ladder so that our smallest student doesn’t break his neck while shelving books, we also are waiting for a new filing cabinet to organize all of the past school exams, finally we are waiting for our new tables to arrive – they will be organized in one of the classrooms with electricity, so that the students have one quiet room in the school where they can go to study. Overall, the library project was a HUGE success. Even now, as I sit next to one of my librarians typing my blogs, I’m watching students filter in and out, taking and returning books, and listening to my librarian list off the rules to students who try to take more than one book or persuade him to let him take a book without writing it down. The students of Makong’onda now have the resources they need to study without teachers, the teachers now have the resources they need to teach, and everyone at the schools recognizes that these resources can help them achieve so much more on their exams and in their education.
Makongonda Library: $2500, 150 books, 247 brighter futures.

Monday, March 22, 2010


I have a really nice blog post written about how we finished the library, but it did not make it onto my flash drive! Luckily, all of the pictures from the library adventure did make it on to the flash-drive, and thus you can enjoy and draw your own conclusions...after all a picture is worth a thousand words.

This blog is being posted after the offical opening of the library in March. When I last counted, we had lent out books over 1000 times, and not 1 was lost.