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.

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