Monday, June 29, 2009

Mining for Toffee

For those of you wondering about the malaria, I took lots and lots of pills for three days and my recovery was swift, culminating in a proper solid poo last Thursday morning. In fact, I never really had a full day off, as I found myself pottering on the computers in the office when in town, or teaching some lesson or other in the VTC.

And on Wednesday 17th, we returned to Mitawa Primary School to teach the special needs class, and almost immediately became rather annoyed. If you remember, they had originally asked us to buy them teaching resources for the class, and we suggested that we come and show them some examples of effective teaching resources they could make for absolutely nothing.

We arrived before both the class and their teacher, and were welcomed into the Standard 1 class, where we discovered...

...lots of really good home made teaching resources!

Their problem was not a lack of teaching resources or ideas, but a lack of communication and sharing. Clearly the special needs teacher had no ideas, and had not thought to ask anyone else, nor had anyone else thought to suggest anything to him.

We became even more annoyed when the teacher and pupils started arriving. The only classes originally supposed to come into school were Standards 1 and 7, as it was the holidays, and we asked for the special needs class to come in as well for a special day. Standard 7 had an exam and I'm not really sure why Standard 1 were there, but because the exam was next door to the special needs classroom, we couldn't use their normal classroom. The school's solution to this was not to put the special needs class in one of the other five empty classrooms, but to send Standard 1 home again and tell us to use their classroom.

Needless to say, we told them to call Standard 1 back in again and we'd use the classroom next door, which contained one desk and was apparently being used for storing firewood.

Once we got going, it was a lot of fun. The class included a Downs Syndrome boy called Kizito (who enjoys very much learning a new word and pointing at things and saying the new word), a boy called Jafeti who doesn't normally speak but will make noises, and a girl called Selina who was very very shy at first.

We drew picture of ourselves, and wrote our names, and counted, added, and subtracted (and even in some cases multiplied) using soda bottle tops, number lines, and dice. Some of the pupils were a bit shy and reluctant at first but they could generally all achieve far more than their teacher had claimed.

We returned the following week rather less well prepared, stuck labels in English on various objects around the classroom, and sang Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes and Old MacDonald's Farm. Again it was fun and several of the children, particularly Selina, got into the swing rather more quickly, although some of the boys (particularly Jafeti and little Helwen) seemed much more tired and kept wanting to sleep or fight.

It was also interesting to note that the first time we went to the school, we were given meat for lunch and they had brought us two sodas each. The second time, when we went to teach, we had no meat but did have soda. Last week, however, when we were not expected to return, they quickly cobbled us together some rice and beans from the students' lot and no sodas were forthcoming. Which all seems rather the wrong way around.


Giza (the Malawian artist) left Sanangula Saturday before last, to stay in Songea overnight and then get the silly o'clock bus to Mbeya the next morning. He got some really good artwork done in some of the rooms at the VTC the week before last, and was obviously really enjoying it, so it's a shame he didn't have time to get more done.

It was kind of weird Giza being gone. I had a room to myself again, and made full use of his bed to be rather more organised with my belongings, but it was a bit odd having personal space again.

Not to worry, however, as personal space was characteristically shortlived.

On Wednesday afternoon two members of each of the two Hoja performance groups came and stayed at our house, to have a malaria and Aids workshop until Friday, when they would help us arrange and stage a health event for the sponsored students at the VTC.

Unfortunately it got off to a very slow start while Oswin taught Physics at the VTC, and we discovered that the group members' English was not as good as he had hoped. It soon picked up when we had either Oswin or Mr Good (one of the English teachers for the tutoring) at home with us, however, and we talked about myths and misconceptions, drew a risk line of methods of transition, amongst other discussion.

The next day we started with malaria while we waited for Mr Good to join us (the materials we had for malaria were much clearer for us to be able to use without a native Swahili speaker), before moving onto HIV.

We gave a definitive list of methods of transmission, and started on talking about why young people are so affected. We didn't get into a protracted debate about exactly what age group is meant by "young people", but when rape was mentioned we did get into a protracted debate about how women can deal with husbands demanding sex on their return from the ulanzi bars.

Some of the points were laboured a bit, but it was very important that we discussed how sex should be a decision between two people, and that if the woman is ready then not only is she more likely to enjoy it, but the likelihood of transmission is also significantly reduced.

[I should probably point out that in Tanzania, by law, it is the husband's right to receive sexual gratification from his wife. If he beats her and forces sex, and she goes to the police, he can go to prison, but only for the assault, and not the rape. It is by no means an easy task for a unwilling woman to protect herself from a demanding husband, especially as he most likely in financial control at home.]

The last topic we were able to tackle before moving onto preparations for Friday morning, was puberty. It was unsurprising to me but still rather worrying how little people (particularly men) know about changes in their own and others' bodies, and how embarrassed they can be about using grown up words.

While Mr Good was translating about pubic hair for men, I was half way through writing "sehemu ya siri" before remembering that it means "secret place" and insisting on the proper word for scrotum. Testicles. Balls.

The event in the school on Friday went really well. We started with a mosquito net demonstration and a short play, which involved Christian (one of the Mpandangindo performance group members) playing the bus driver and arriving early to pick up Krista when she'd only just woken up and not realised she was ill yet.

We had a True or False about sex and HIV (mostly false, such as "You can't get pregnant or HIV the first time you have sex" and "Girls can and want to 'taste' boys' sperm so you should make a small hole in the end of the condom"), the HIV risk line in human form, and then the performance group told the students the definitive list of HIV transmission.

The students were generally very good at the activities, apart from one boy who thought sharing clothes would be a small to medium risk. Which was very encouraging. And Januari, the chairman of Litisha Performance Group, lectured them about the importance of foreplay and a woman being ready for sex. Which was quite unexpected, but fantastic to see a blind forty year old preaching such things to teenagers.


This was followed by a condom demonstration by yours truly, and I can highly recommend trying to find something other than a Coca-Cola bottle to use as a penis. It's not ideal. The general message was not lost, however. The questions from the students that followed were really good and took us right up until lunch. It was interesting how much students hear about holes in condoms, as several of the questions were about this.

In the evening there were performances at school because it was Krista and Liz's last day there, and they were fantastic - many of them even incorporated the things the students had learnt in the day, which was great to see. But sad, of course, to see the girls leaving. They're in town with me today and then off to Dar Es Salaam on the silly o'clock bus tomorrow morning.

Yesterday in Litisha was a community health event at which one of the groups performed, which was fantastic, but deserves a whole blog post of its own.


Food has been rather a hot topic lately. Last Tuesday night the girls cooked a farewell meal (as it would be very nearly the last opportunity, since the performance groups were staying from Wednesday), and it was fantastic.

There was pasta, and tuna (TUNA!), and guacamole, and garlic bread (GARLIC BREAD!). It was very tasty. I was very impressed.

On Saturday night, our last night in Sanangula (I'm going back to Mpandangindo today), I rustled up a banana and ginger crumble, which failed slightly when the juices bubbled through the crumble and made it soggy. It did, however, function admirably and a sort of juicy banana and ginger upside-down cake. Delicious.

There have been other delights, but the most memorable might be Friday night's second and more successful attempt at making fudge/toffee (we weren't quite sure which word should be used), which also contained banana and papaya. It was delicious, and very sweet (being 99% sugar) and a bugger to get out of the pan, as we forgot to cut into it before it set hard.

Somewhere on Liz's camera there is a picture of me wearing a head torch and hacking at it with a knife.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

This Week In Ruvuma

Today I will again be spending much of the day in town, sorting out various computer issues in the office, trying to organise files better, and defragmenting C drives.

I also intend to eat some ice cream. There is a place near the Hoja office that does a pretty passable imitation of a Magnum, called the O'Mega, an item of confectionery named apparently after the last letter of the Irish alphabet.

I'm feeling rather a lot better than I was yesterday, although as I type this I've just taken the malaria medicine and my head is starting to pound. Pretty soon most of the joints in my body will be aching. It's pretty strong stuff, apparently.

[Whoops. Power cut in the middle of defragging the office desktop. Hope it's okay...]

I also need to get some flipcharts, pens and other materials for use tomorrow in Mitawa Primary School, where we are supposed to be helping the teachers make resources and come up with ideas to use with their special needs class. We've necessarily left preparation for that rather late, after being so busy the last week and a half - and it's the last week and a half that I will now attempt to summarise.

The CCM "Ngoma"

Last Monday Krista and Liz came to Mpandangindo to watch what we expected to be a big ngoma performance ("ngoma" meaning traditional dance).

Sadly, it turned out to be nothing of the sort. We already knew that the ngoma was really a CCM celebration (CCM is Tanzania's ruling party), but we were naive enough to get caught up in a bit of political skullduggery.

We were quickly sat down in some seats to the side of the politicians' area, and soon found that we couldn't really see the ngoma very well, which turned out to be not all that good and cobbled together anyway. It was largely schoolgirls who clearly didn't know most of the words, and kept on having to be handed cheat sheets.

Worse, the more senior regional members of CCM would get up to hand over small amounts of money to the performers, clearly aimed at endearing them to the party without any real understanding of what the party do or stand for.

The ngoma didn't even last very long, and was followed by a protracted political backslapping rally. One by one the leaders would get up and spout rhetoric whilst showing precious little understanding of the local situation. The main leader was saying how there was not just one secondary school in Tanga ward (as the Government had promised one secondary in every ward in the country), but four!

Er, no, there are two government schools. And the Hoja VTC, which provides some secondary education, but has nothing to do with the Government whatsoever. This wouldn't stop CCM blatantly trying to make us get up and say something to make Hoja's success reflect well upon them, however.

When we refused (on the grounds that we are not political, we told them), they still insisted on pointing us out. Some local government people (such as the chairman of Mpandangindo village, who has given Hoja land for building a secondary school) have been fantastic, but CCM as a party have consistently failed to fulfil any responsibilities they have to local secondary schools in the ward.

The day before, Oswin told us that while primary school teachers are paid 108,000 shillings (about £54) a month, Government MPs receive 150,000 shillings (£75) a day just as a turning-up fee. That's on top of their 2.6million a month salary, and allowances to pay cleaning and cooking staff at home.

We left the Ngoma a little bit pissed off.

Painting the VTC

Also on Monday, we received another volunteer - Giza, a Malawian artist whom Krista and Liz met whilst on their travels, and who had been in Mbeya trying to figure out whether he could make a living in Tanzania. Krista and Liz suggested he might like to come and help paint the Vocational Training Centre, and do some extra special artwork on the walls. So on Monday morning we moved to Sanangula, close to the VTC, so we did not have to cycle an hour each way every day.

It was a busy week at the VTC - painting all day on Monday and Tuesday, before tutoring "started" on Wednesday. Annoyingly there were a number of teething problems with the tutoring of sponsored secondary school pupils - firstly the mess over the timetable, which should have been written the week before, rather than on the first day, meaning there was no actual tutoring on Wednesday. Such basic things should not go wrong, but it's getting underway rather more smoothly now. Apart from me not being there at the moment because of malaria.


This is the name of a project we visited on Friday and Saturday. Which wasn't very good. They have their hearts in the right places but apart from seeing Oswin's old secondary school and eating some really nice food, it was rather a waste of our time. Hopefully the advice we give them will steer them towards a slightly more sensible course.

Mostly so far they have been providing clothes to orphans, the elderly, disabled and HIV victims, which is not a long term solution to anything, and a waste of money. They have been pouring members' money into a rice growing project with the intention of sharing in the profits, without first agreeing the terms of their partnership.

The one thing going for them is enthusiasm and the sheer number of people they have involved in the project. If they can start thinking about how they can be most effective then they have a chance. It's not expensive to provide community education.

Oswin's Gaff

On Saturday night we went out on the town and stayed at Oswin's place. We not only got to meet Stella, Oswin's wife and Pestarose, Oswin's daughter, but we also met a very drunk bus driver called Japhet, dancing in a small roadside bar. Then we went to a nightclub that turned out to have very few people in it (after everyone told us it was the place to be), drank Konyagi and Coke, and then left when it closed early because of a power cut.

Cracking night out.

Oswin also told us the story of how he and Stella ended up together, which started when they were children, and involved secrecy (Oswin was supposed to be training to be a priest), forced separation, frantic searches for each other in Dar Es Salaam, and finally Oswin refusing to pay a bride price. It's a Hollywood epic.

I think that brings you pretty much up to date.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Nimeumwa Na Tembo (I am ill in the elephant)

Not to be confused with "Nimeumwa na tumbo," which means that I am ill in the stomach. Which is what I was, very noisily, all last night.

It's been an exciting day, as you can probably guess by now.

It started about 2am with going to the toilet in the dark (I left my torch at Oswin's place by mistake yesterday), and continued in much the same unpleasant vein.

When I waited forever for the bus to the hospital this morning I was expecting to be told that I had Giardia or some other delightful intestinal ameoba.

I eventually got into town at about 10am, and fortunately some other fellow was going to the hospital, so was able to direct me vaguely towards the right part of Songea Hospital, which I quickly discovered is a cathedral to unnecessarily complicated bureaucracy, in much the same way that Songea Town is a cathedral to unnecessarily large speed bumps.

First I had to register with the receptionist, who took my first name (as Philipo, naturally) and then passed over the form for me to write my surname when she struggled to work out what I was saying. I would be the only time today that my name has been spelt (almost) correctly. When she pointed to the Date of Birth section, I started, "Tarehe la 17," and she wrote down 17 and left it at that.

She then sent me towards room 10, where some kind old mama adopted me and told me to put my medical card in a worn out cardboard box sat outside the room. After some time of waiting, the kind old mama pointed me out to a young doctor and he ushered me into room 11, which confused me as it had WANAWAKE (women) printed above the door.

I soon found myself sat in front of a panel of three doctors, with two other patients, while we all told the doctor in front of us what the problem was. My doctor had to go and look for something, and the young doctor took the opportunity to steal me as a patient, before filling in another form (Phillipo Hachard, aged 27) and walking me to the testing centre.

I was to have a blood test for malaria and stool and urine samples (which involved a plastic cup for the urine and a matchbox for the stool - I challenge anyone to perform better than me in providing both in the same sitting or, er, crouching).

The doctor walked me off to the shop to buy matches (which we need anyway) and then to the toilet, blatantly giving me special treatment (which I didn't really mind). Then I produced the samples, and the lady in the testing centre sat them on a little piece of card with my name written on it (Hachali, before I corrected her and she changed it to Hachati).

Then I waited for ages on a bench, while the doctor hung around giving other test results out, until mine turned up, and he told me I had malaria.

Yes, the one time I come to Africa and actually remember to take my anti-malarials every day, and I get the biggest killer on the continent (ahead of roads).

So he sat me down back in reception to write me a prescription, after having a quiet word with me about not following him in because people might think I'd slipped him a little extra. (Phillipo Hachad, aged 17.)

I then put the prescription in another little cardboard box outside the pharmacy door, and hoped the medicine would somehow find its way back to me. The medicine was prepared, and then I was given my prescription back, so I could take it to the other end of the corridor to pay for it, before I could then return to the pharmacy to pick up my medicine, using the receipt I was given in the payment area (Phiillpo Hachad).

All in all the whole process took just shy of 4 hours. Fun day.

Of course, other more cheerful things have been happening since the last time I posted a missive. But this is pretty much at the forefront of my mind.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Old MacDonald's Safari Park

Yesterday evening I decided to do some sentences in English with Elizabeti, Toby, et al (the children who come round the house and whose relationship with other people in the house I still haven't quite worked out). I was letting them come up with sentences in Swahili, as we'd been learning lots of nouns, but very few verbs.

It was a bit arduous because Toby in particular was a little bit reluctant to suggest much, presumably a little worried he'd give a wrong answer (when, of course, there was no such thing).

After I suggested, starting a sentence "Nguruwe anasema... (The pig says...)" they corrected me that it should be "Nguruwe anaalia... (The pig cries...)" and then we made lots of similar sentences using the animal names we know, and learnt each other's versions of animal noises.

This led on naturally to a rendition of "Old MacDonald's Farm", and I must remark upon how much Old MacDonald has diversified since I was a little boy. Not only does he keep a dog, cat, pig, chicken, goat and cow, but he also now has a lion, snake, elephant, giraffe, zebra, frog and bee (yes, bee) into the bargain.

Sadly, though, he still has much to learn about sensible business practices with regards to the facts of life, insisting as he does on only keeping one of each animal.

Earlier in the day Oswin, Krista, Liz and I visited Mitawa Primary School. They had requested we visit to see the resources for their special needs class, which unsurprisingly turned out not only to be very short on resources, but also a appropriate training for the teachers.

They have some good displays on the wall, and a set of Lego-type bricks, and some incredibly simple fruit jigsaws, but little else. Looking at their exercise books, we could see that much of their work consisted of spending a day practising writing a single number, and then the next day writing the next number. This could go on for weeks with no progression onto actual counting, never mind adding two numbers together.

I was not in the least bit surprised to discover that unless they are given breakfast, the children wouldn't come to school at all. I wouldn't willingly subject myself to such a boring curriculum either. Even more worrying, they all seemed to be doing the same work, despite ranging in age from 7 to 18, and with an equally huge chasm in ability.

It turns out that Krista is very forthright and immediately started asking some quite uncomfortable questions. I'm more likely to look and observe and think for a while before starting on questions, but I think even I would have been asking some questions quite early too. Pretty soon we were all asking lots of questions.

Krista (who is going to train to be a maths teacher - and whom I'm trying not to put off too much) was particularly concerned with the fact that the class do no integrate with the other children, except during one morning break and after school, and sports. That is, until the school decide they've been in the class long enough and are then put straight back into Standard IV or V.

It's not that these children would have been maliciously sidelined for any reason - despite some rather insensitive things being said about them in front of their face - the teachers are not well trained (primary school training for a long time was O-Levels plus two years training, now reduced to one year) and they just don't know how to teach children with special educational needs.

A lot of resources and displays could easily be made at zero or very close to zero cost (there is no number line, for example, and stones or soda bottle tops could easily be used as aids for counting and for simple operations). The teachers also need to receive a bit of help coming up with imaginative ways of teaching by showing the children rather than telling the children and hoping it sticks.

This is obviously a principle that applies throughout the school. We have suggested we spend a day with them making and using resources with the children, and we will leave behind materials so that they can make more of their own, which we will encourage them to use in all classes rather than just this one class.

This is something I'd quite like to do in primary schools throughout the area, not just in Mitawa. I think some kind of idea-sharing programme could work very well, if we just get two or three schools on board. At the moment, Hoja-COCO only really directly help pupils who have already done well in primary school.

After visiting Mitawa, Krista preferred to start walking down the road rather than just staying still waiting for the bus, and we all melted a little bit.

This morning's trip into town was even more fun. I missed the bus from the village by mere seconds, which ultimately cost me over an hour. I shared a motorcycle to the main road with a teacher from Kituro Primary School, and then after waiting 25 minutes by the side of the road (during which time one very full bus passed) we then walked another 45 minutes to Mshangano (durting which time another very full bus passed) and we caught a daladala from there.

Fun fun fun.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

The Door-to-Door Saleslady of Songea

This morning a lady with a bag full of stuff approached me when I was sat outside the Hoja Project Office, teaching a bit of English to some enthusiastic looking children, and tried to sell some kind of aloe vera tonic to me. And a cheese grater.

I declined.

In other news, I shall before too long require some more reading material, and also some songs and games that are good for teaching English. I'm sure I must be able to think of more, but Bingo! and Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes has seemed to be my limit so far. (Bingo is very popular.)

Today we have two new volunteers arriving. Hurrah! And I'm not feeling quite so it. Although much snottier. At least brown snot is an improvement on London black snot.

I'm sure there must be more but I can't be bothered.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Hectic Day

Well, the good news is that my cold/sore icky throat/glandular fever/unidentified fatigue thing from last year seems to have made an unwelcome return. Which is going to make this volunteering thing rather less fun. Especially if I lose my voice when teaching.

Let's hope not though, eh? With any luck it'll pass before things get ridiculously busy next week, when the secondary school tutoring starts.

Today has been utterly mad. Mostly I have been running around with limited time while Oswin has had to go to a funeral. Luckily I could copy and paste this from my laptop having typed it this morning, so I can still blog.

Yesterday, Oswin and I received the surprising but welcome news that we're going to have two volunteers, called Krista and Liz, coming to help us. And they're coming tomorrow. They've just come into Tanzania via Zambia and are currently wending their way from Mbeya to Makombako.

As usual, there has been some excitement the last few days. On Sunday I met with Oswin's friend, Regina, in town and we went to Peramiho, to see her uncle's project. It was also the local cup semi-final between Mpangangindo and neighbours Tanga the same day, so we went to watch that later.

My very good friend from my SPW days, Getruda, had shown me round Peramiho when I was here two years ago, and it turned out that Regina was a couple of years below her in school. Regina was quite surprised when I told her that Getruda was 8 months pregnant, which is a piece of news from a couple of weeks ago that I forgot to post here.

Vende claims that in an email ages ago he mentioned Getu having "something in the oven", but I clearly didn't read that particular missive properly.

The project Regina's uncle set up is called Peramiho Agro-Vet, which was set up in 1992 to promote good agriculture in the community. They now have 50 hectares on which they teach young people qualifications in agriculture, so they can have good employment in the future, and also promote good practice to others.

They also have a vocational training school, which teaches lots and lots of trades and has some machinery (so someway further developed than the Hoja-COCO VTC). They also have HIV/Aids education on the go, and provide occasional help in the way of food (and possibly other things) to orphans and people living with HIV.

I didn't really see much as it was Sunday and nothing was happening - we only really talked about what they do. It's certainly an interesting project and I'll go back and have a look again when there is more activity.

They're after new machinery and to fix broken machinery and they want volunteers to come from Europe to create a bit more interest in the project. I told them I thought it probably wasn't COCO's sort of project, but I'd do a little research and see if I can find other organisations that might be able to help them. I think they've done remarkably well largely with local funding.

Looking through a directory Oswin has acquired from another project he's friends with, there are in fact more organisations that seem appropriate to agricultural projects than there are to Hoja. And a scary number of American donors exist purely to evangelise (with no other stated goals).

Later the football was very exciting, even if I was made to wear an Arsenal shirt and effectively act as the team's mascot. It was clearly a very serious affair - the pitch was roped off and there was even a stand. We were sat on the team bench and were told off a couple of times for having too many people. It ended in a 0-0 draw, and unfortunately Tanga won 4-2 on penalties.

On Monday we visited Tanga Primary School, where the Head Teacher asked for extra furniture and then tried to get me drunk. Which makes it sound more dodgy than it was - as usual, it was a case of someone trying to be hospitable. I managed to avoid getting drunk, thankfully, and even got to watch some CNN, which spend far longer than warranted on their two main stories (General Motors' bankruptcy and Air France's missing jetliner), and told me absolutely nothing else about goings-on in the world.

And that brings you pretty much up to date. Apart from the police commandeering the local bus on Monday morning (it reappeared in the afternoon), and me finishing reading another book. I'm going to run out of things to read quite quickly, I think.