Friday, December 6, 2013

FAQ #2

Happy Saturday morning!!

My brain tells me I should still be in bed, but the insects outside and the large group of people who came singing down the street tell me differently.  Oh well, it gives me an excuse to nap today.

I have to start off with a moment of remembrance for an amazing person the world lost this week. Nelson Mandela was an inspiration to people all over the world, and his passing can be felt all the way up in Tanzania.  Many of the students at CAMS have studied Mandela during their “People of Faith” unit in Standard 3 and 4 and were at the very least interested in the news of his passing.  He will be missed by many, but he leaves behind a great legacy of the kind of peaceful change one person can influence.

Well, as promised a couple of months ago, here is the rest of the list of questions I collected from friends and supporters.  These questions were harder to answer in some ways, so I needed more time.  I hope you enjoy!  Feel free to leave a comment with any other questions you have or send me an email!

·         What have I seen or done that has surprised me?

o   I don’t know if I came really well prepared or if I’m just the kind of person who isn’t surprised by much, but I’m having a hard time coming up with an answer for this one.  It could also be that I have been her for almost 3 months now, so things are starting to feel normal.  I guess if I had to pick one thing, it would have to be all the people who sell things.  I remember riding on the bus on the way to Dodoma the first time and being amazed at the variety of things that were being sold through the bus window.  Men would walk up next to the bus with a make shift display rack featuring everything from watches to shoes, socks, headphones, and jewelry.  Teenagers would stand at places where the busses were known to stop selling giant bags of oranges, bread, or bottled drinks.  In town, it is uncommon not to see someone with a blanket spread out, or a plastic container on their head trying to sell their goods.  I even had a woman try to sell me tomatoes at school when I had my class outside for PE.  That’s just the way things are done here.  Tiny shops are everywhere, and when you can’t afford a shop, you sell from what you have.

·         What about Cody will I never see as the same again?

o   There are SO many things that will never be the same for me.  When I was in Arusha, we stopped at a large supermarket (for Tanzania) to pick up the bottles of water we took with us on our safari.  The supermarket would have been a very small one back home.  It was the first supermarket I had seen with carts since I left home in July.  Our guide asked if we wanted to stop in to pick up any snacks, and I had no desire to.  It seemed so big! 

I also had a conversation with a fellow teacher about the concept of “walking distance.”  At home, if I want to go to the post office (about a 15 minute walk,) I’d take my car.  I would never think about walking to my parent’s house (which would take me 30 minutes) without hoping for a ride back home.  In Dodoma, anything in the center of town is “walking distance.”  It takes anywhere from 20-30 minutes to get there.  I would easily walk into town, go to one of the two “supermarkets” we frequent, and walk back, maybe stopping at the coffee shop down the street, without thinking twice about it.  I may, however, do it in the morning when the sun isn’t so hot.

These are just examples.  I’m sure there are many more things that I could think of right now.  The list will only grow as my year continues.

·         What are the kids like?

o   What are the kids at home like?  There aren’t really many differences.  They love to play outside, but some of them would rather read a book than kick around a soccer ball.  If they could, many of them would like to spend the whole day with no shoes of their feet.  They have fantastic smiles!  They get upset, but hate to see their friends upset.  One of the biggest differences is that they all really appreciate being at school.  It isn’t unusual to hear an upset “ohhh” when you talk about how the weekend is coming or there is a 2-week break from school.  They are eager to learn and most of them put a great effort into anything academic.

·         What are some things we can learn from the people there?

o   I can’t speak for the whole world, but I can tell you some things I have learned from them.  I have learned gratitude.  Many people here (most?) have very little compared to the abundance in the US, but they appreciate what they have.  I have learned (though it really didn’t take much) an intense respect for those who are older than you.  Older people are even greeted in a different, respectful, manner.  They don’t have to be “old” to receive this greeting.  Sometimes it is only a few years that separate you.

I have also learned how to celebrate!  The wedding I went to and the confirmation are two great examples of how much fun Tanzanians like to have.  They make a big deal about these kinds of things and know how to throw a party!

·         What do they know about us?

o   My perceptions of this may be skewed a little since I spend most of my time surrounded by other expats.  The interactions I have had with Tanzanians unrelated to CAMS have been minimal, but this is generally how they start:

§  Them:   “Hello”

§  Me:        “Hi”

§  Them:   “Where are you from?”

§  Me:        “The USA.”

§  Them:   “America?”

§  Me:        “Yeah.”

§  Them:   “Oh, Obamaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!!”

·         Are perceptions of each other accurate or based on media?

o   How would our perceptions be based on anything but media?  Very few Tanzanians can afford to visit the USA and very few American's spend more than a few weeks in Tanzania.  Even when they do visit, American's generally spend time either on a short-term mission trip or travelling around to all the “must see” spots.  Part of the reason that I saved this question for my second Q&A was because the first one was too early in my experiences.  Even a month or so into my time in Tanzania, many of my perceptions were based on media. 

Before I left home, I was often asked if I was going to stay in a mud hut and cautioned against contracting AIDS.  While I’m not going to say that many people in Tanzania don’t live in houses made of mud bricks and that AIDS is not a problem here, these are examples of the vision the media has given us about Africa as a continent in general. That there is no alternative while being in Tanzania is a perspective we have been shown time and time again.

·         What do they do for fun?

o   Again, this is a question that I think stems from the media’s portrayal of East Africa.  People here like to do the same things people at home like to do.  Football (what American's would call soccer) is big! I have seen adults and children taking part in games and it is often on the television when I see one.  Women like to get their hair done in really fancy ways and enjoy getting their nails done.  Nails are extremely inexpensive to have done!  A group of us went to get our finger and toe nails painted for the wedding.  Getting both painted only cost 4,000 TSH (roughly $2.50 at home!)
Kids are often seen in groups outside.  Anything here can be a toy.  I even saw a couple of kids walking down the street one day with old power bars (the kind you can plug multiple things into) dragging the ground behind them like dogs on a leash.  The fallen tree at the school draws children in who are just passing by, who climb it like monkeys or explore the ground underneath it for any fallen treasure they can find.

·         What can people back home do to make things better?

o   To be honest, at first I was a little bit offended by this question.  It assumes that things here are bad and that people back home need to fix it.  I would like to thank the media for this! I now realize that the overwhelming urge people have to help from afar can be channeled in the right direction. The things I have seen in Dodoma that need improvement aren’t things you can really do from afar, or even when you’re here for a short time.  The problems are deeper than that.  The best thing to do is to think of what “problem” you would like to help with and find an organization that is already here to support.  Do some research and get in contact with them to see what they need.  Don’t make assumptions that there is something in particular that they “need.”  Ask them!


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