Tuesday, 15 March 2011

In the desert...

I am now in the Kaisut (not sure about spelling!) desert in NE Kenya staying on a mission literally in the middle of nowhere! We are about 100kms from the nearest tarmac road and further from the nearest town. We are staying in a small place called Korr where the Sambura and Rendille tribes live. I have had some amazing experiences driving across the desert (literally); visiting one of the Rendille homesteads in the area, watching food distribution taking place and then teaching English in the local primary school (as I'm doing every morning these next 2 weeks). However cannot go in to details here as I am using the computer on solar power and as there is not enough power to feed both the computer and the fridge , it often goes off unexpectedly. There is no mains power in the whole area so this is all we get all day. In the evenings the generator is put on for 3 hours so the students living here can study but at that time we (Zelma, my fellow volunteer and I) are busy trying to teach the children - and their teachers - how to use the two very slow and old computers they have. I think I shall have to update this once I am back in BLighty at the beginning of next month. Until then loving the desert (though not the flies!), the quiet and the beautiful sky at night....

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Salesian life as a lay person.....

One of my concerns before I came out here was how I would cope with the community and prayer life that the Salesians practise as part of their mission and charism. Over the last 5 weeks we have stayed – albeit for short periods – in 6 different communities and houses. (One more to go!)As one priest said to us, we could now become consultants on the Salesian houses in Tanzania! Generally there are only 3 or 4 people in the community but in some there have been frequent visitors (ourselves included) so it often meant going down to a meal to meet another new face. I think we must have met most of the Salesians – both brothers and priests - in the East Africa province, which includes Kenya, Tanzania and Sudan. In a couple of the formation houses, where young men are studying to become brothers or priests, there have been greater numbers.

The usual routine in each house is up early for morning  prayer and Mass at anytime from 5.30am onwards. I have generally made it to Mass most days which has usually been between half six and seven followed by breakfast. The schools tend to start at half past seven with assembly so where there has been a school on the compound, we have sometimes gone to this.
During the day everyone is obviously busy with their respective jobs. The Rector (person in charge of the community) sometimes doubles up as principal of the school or as the academic master. Where the school is boarding, the brothers who are still in formation, tend to be the ones who look after the boys. Most days we have either been planning or delivering INSET except for here in Nairobi as we are in between placements. We have been having a bit of a holiday since being here this week. Actually it’s been a good time to gather ourselves together and re energise as I was getting very tired by the time we left Tanzania.
Lunch tends to be about 1pm and is always a big cooked meal. There is a large number of Indian Salesians here so we have tended to eat Indian style food with rice and vegetables most days. The working day seems to end about 5pm or so although for those houses that have youth groups and sports (oratory as they call it) the young people tend to come about that time. In every community there is a table tennis table which is used more in some than in others. In Dar es Salaam a game of table tennis was a scheduled daily event and was taken very seriously! The Papal Nuncio to Tanzania would come and play as often as he could and Zelma and I would frequently make up a foursome with him and the Rector.
The evening meal follows evening prayer and sometimes the rosary, (although usually this is after supper and something that I have not regularly taken part in.) They tend to eat late, about 7.45 or 8pm; once again it is a large cooked affair sometimes accompanied by a beer or a soda (rather than just water). My hope of losing weight out here has been shattered because of all the carbohydrates I’ve eaten! Sometimes the evening meal has gone on for awhile depending on the community and how involved the discussion gets. All communities have been extremely welcoming and very hospitable but some have taken a while to relax with us but then two old women coming in to their male communities must be threatening! Occasionally, after having eaten, Zelma and I will play scrabble or watch a DVD on my laptop, but more often than not we just retire to our rooms and I go to bed with a book relishing the rare opportunity to have some time on my own!

Another day, another country.....

We have now been in Nairobi, Kenya for the last 6 days. We are staying with the Salesians in their place in Karen, a very affluent suburb of Nairobi. I hesitate to say too much about Nairobi because I know that a number of my (possible) readers are well acquainted with the city and in fact with the country of Kenya. Therefore my disclaimer is that anything I commit to paper here is based on my very very short experience of this place!!
Zelma used to live here so we spent a day just driving around to all her old haunts, thus going to places other tourists would not normally reach! As a city it’s quite industrial and has a growing financial sector. There is a lot of growth with many new buildings and a lot of new roads being constructed (all done by the Chinese). The traffic is terrible and we have been stuck numerous times in jams. Crime is very bad here with muggings and robberies every day occurrences. So much so, that we were strongly advised not to walk around anywhere with bags but to leave them in the car. A few years ago one of the community here, was driving back in the early hours of Christmas morning after saying midnight Mass when his way was blocked by a huge telegraph pole just outside the house. As he stopped a few men came out of a bush and shot him dead. The telegraph pole has now been made into a memorial cross to him. They have also been robbed here in the house. Security now is fierce and we are securely locked in most of the time. On our drive around the city the security gates, high fences and walls – some with shards of glass on top –and guards were evident almost everywhere. Even the entry to some roads are gated and guarded.
I was talking to a teacher the other day who lives in the largest slum, Kibera. She says there are some expensive parts of the slum (one of which she lives in) and some less expensive, more run down areas. It seems that the slum is not only for the poorest people but also because Nairobi has a real housing shortage. We are hoping, on our return from Northern Kenya, to visit Kibera.
Yesterday we went to a wedding about 100kms out of Nairobi in a place called Makuyi. The wedding was between a Tanzanian and his Kenyan fiancĂ©e. The marriage service itself was very western but with some lovely little touches. Noticeably after they were married throughout the service and the reception, the groom carried his wife’s train from her dress over his shoulders the whole time. Quite symbolic. She had a total of about 15 bridesmaids and then two groups of little children who danced their way down the aisle on her entry and also on the couple’s exit. Both parents walked the bride down the aisle as well (like a jewish wedding!!) Everyone was invited afterwards for something to eat during which, there were numerous short speeches and people presented the couple with their presents. Interestingly both parents took a very back seat; the high table was only for bride and groom and their chief bridesmaid and best man.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Musings on education in Tanzania

We have now delivered 6 sessions to teachers and the same number of lessons to students. These have, of course, all been in Don Bosco schools. Education here is either in government schools (with all the problems they bring such as too few poorly trained –if at all –teachers and even less resources) or in private schools. Salesian schools do charge the students but very little in comparison to other private schools. They will also help out any families who are really in need. Some of the schools have been up to Form 4/GCSE equivalent and some have been only sixth form.
The school in Mafinga has about 240 students and is also a seminary. The community told us that less than 5% go on to their sixth form seminary (in Dodoma). There is no pressure put on the boys even though when at school, their day is centred around lessons and religious services.
One of the things that has struck me is how responsible the students are and have to be. They have to clean the school themselves and look after the gardens and surroundings: every afternoon, this is scheduled in to the daily timetable. If you wander around after lunch, you see groups of boys (and girls in the mixed schools) washing the floors, cutting the grass, weeding and even tending to goats, chickens and cows as well as growing maize and other vegetables. Each school tries to be self sufficient. This is not at all forced labour; the students obviously enjoy it and take a pride in carrying out these tasks.  I wonder how this approach would be met by parents and students at home? Personally, I think it is excellent and gives the students a sense of belonging and ownership as well as teaching them to be responsible for themselves. Meal times are organised by the older students and each boy washes up their own eating implements: they also wash their own clothes and always look immaculate! Despite all this Augustine is keen that we return next year to do something on social responsibility! We told him they seem to have it more sussed than we do!
The school year here is very confusing and I’m not sure I understand it properly. Forms 1 to 4 (Key stage 3 & 4 equivalent) start their year in January with exams – whether national or school – in October?November. The holidays are then from November to January. There are only two semesters with the second one being from March to June. Form 4 national exam results are only released in February so they don't start Form 5 (if they go on) until March. They cannot apply to schools to go in to the sixth form until they know whether they have passed. That means that the equivalent of our Lower 6th only have schooling from March to November with a holiday in June. Hmmm think that's right......

Safari journeys

It’s Sunday morning and I managed to have a lie in this morning – until 8am! We arrived back in Dar es Salaam last night about half past nine having started out from Mafinga, in the Southern highlands at 8am. Mafinga is about 500kms south west of Dar and the journey , although on good tarmac roads most of the way, is all single carriageway, some of which  -at the beginning - was through the mountains and very windy with steep inclines. We travelled by bus which is the usual mode of transport and quite an experience. The buses are packed and don’t leave until they are full (some people refute this and say they leave on time – but our experience told us otherwise!). When we left Dodoma to first go to Mafinga we ended up waiting an hour before the bus filled up. We had booked seats but when it came to it, it was everyone for themselves. Each time, we managed to get a seat and sat firmly in it until the bus left! At one point there was a lot of talking in Swahili and finger pointing at us but Zelma and I sat our ground and managed to keep the seats – that were actually ours!
The drive yesterday went through a national park. The main highway (as it is called here)actually bisects the park itself. We were able to see elephants, giraffe, zebra and impala from the road but at 80 miles an hour you only get a glimpse! However we were lucky enough to spend a day earlier driving around the park.  Safaris here are extremely expensive so we had decided that we couldn’t afford to go until one of the priests in the house in which we were staying, said he would take us. He had never been in himself so I think he was quite keen!   Of the big 5 animals we saw three: they don’t have rhinos in the park we went to and, though they assured us they did have leopards, we didn’t see one. We met an Australian woman who manages one of the camps in the park and she said they won’t introduce rhinos there because they would just be poached. My second safari and the leopard still eluded me! There were loads of zebra, elephants, giraffes and impala as well as warthogs, wildebeest, lions and yelland deer. It is so fantastic to see them all in their natural surroundings.  Unfortunately the road through the park has created an unusual hazard for the animals and a number of them have been killed as they attempt to cross it. There are now speed bumps along the 50km stretch but the traffic still seems to go quite fast.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

The highlight of the trip so far......

It’s all been very exciting, challenging and different but the highlight (apart from going to paradise!)has to be – no, not the training or the more frequent praying or even meeting so many amazingly interesting people – but driving! I drove a huge 4x4 for about 300km through the countryside and I loved it! To be honest, it was easy driving as we were on the main tarmac roads most of the time but I did have a spell of driving along a mud road full of potholes and traffic coming towards me on all sides. The rule on these roads is to drive anywhere to avoid the huge potholes and not to worry whose coming towards you!
However, the traffic on the main roads is very orderly. The signing is good, though occasionally you come across a hump on a straight fast piece of road for which there are no signs. Usually there are a few raised lines either side of a hump which warns you to slow right down. There are police everywhere who generally stop the big trucks checking that they are not overweight. We were stopped about 6am as we were leaving Dar es Salaam. Augustine was driving and overtook a truck where there were double white lines; just as we drew over to our side in front of the truck, a policeman stopped us. He started writing a ticket and then as Augustine was protesting, suggested he pay him not to write it! After about 10 minutes of heated discussion – all in Swahili – we drove off without a ticket and without having to pay the bribe. It obviously helps being a priest!
Other highlights –
·         Playing draughts with some street vendors in Dodoma and being thrashed!
·         Working with the teachers here in Dodoma. I am now beginning to feel more comfortable and am beginning to understand their context, so can relax a little more. Shame we only have one more session to deliver!
·         Watching the children in Moshi playing games
·         Speaking to Form 4 (Year 11 students) about England and their perceptions of our country.

Experiences that have been challenging (but not challenging enough to call them 'lowlights'!)
  • cockroaches in my bedroom in Moshi
  • being given a bedroom in which there was no shower and nothing but a bed (but to be fair after a few hours we were moved to somewhere slightly better!)
  • not being able to access the internet and communicate with people for a week or so
  • the very early mornings - most days I'v ehad to get up between 6 and 7 and sometimes earlier  (5am) to travel.
But I am having the experience of my life and wouldn't change even the above. Talk to you all later.....

Monday, 14 February 2011

Kilimanjaro does exist I am told...

Having spent 4 days, 20km from the mountain and only having seen it once, I am beginning to think it's all a figment of my - and everyone elses' - imagination! The Salesian compound we were staying in apparently has an excellent view of the 19,000 ft mountain - but only on a clear day. And none of the days were clear enough! Oh well, at least I can say I was in the Kilimanjaro area....

We stayed at Don Bosco Moshi which not only has a school but also a seminary for about 40 young men - most of whom were young enough for me to be their mother. In fact one sensitive (!) chap told Zelma and I that we reminded him of his mother. Then sadly he said he doesn't write very often to her because he is forgetting his mother tongue. The seminarians come from Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia, Peru and Sri Lanka - a veritable mixture so they all speak  and study in English. Considering we are two middle aged women, they were all extremely friendly and very welcoming, often stopping to chat whenever we saw them.

We spent 2 days working with the teachers of the school which caters for children  -and adults- who for some reason have had a break in their education. In the final Form 4 class there were two women about my age. Unfortunately I didn't get the opportunity to find out what their story was. However, I did spend an hour with Form 3 and Form 4 (equivalent to years 10 and 11). I was asked to do something on aspirations. I brought a number of postcards of the great generation quote by Mandela plus a poster, so I based the session on that. I  think they thought I was mad as I was whipping them up somewhat: after having got them to make a life map with their goal at the top (one lad wants to be the next president of Tanzania so I said I would look out for him on tele!!) we talked about positive language and believing in yourself. I got them to shout out 'yes I can' getting louder and louder each time. Later that day, their teacher told me they thought I was a 'nice' lady!?

As well as the training we spent a lot of time in the social hall attending Masses with hundreds of young people and also watching sports and 'cultural presentations'. Lovely but exhausting even though we weren't really doing anything! Apart from being asked each time to stand up and introduce ourselves, we just sat in a very hot and humid hall and spent a lot of time clapping!!

We did manage to get out in to Moshi town and have a quick look around. My sandals were coming apart so I had them mended by Boneventura, a cobbler on the street. He took  five minutes and charged me less than 50p. It really made me think about our very disposable culture. Had I been at home, I would have probably just thrown them away and bought a new pair. As it is now, they are as good as new. Food for thought  - and possible action once back in Blighty. Everyone in Moshi seemed to know Don Bosco: every shopkeeper we spoke to seemed to brighten when we said where we were staying or when they saw the car and/or the driver.

Another day another session to prepare.... tomorrow we drive to Shinanga which is 1000km to the north west. 582 kms took us 8 hours yesterday so it will be a long day in the car tomorrow: thankfully it does have AC.