Sunday, March 18, 2012

How We Spent our Language School Vacation . . .

After a whirlwind week in Mwanza, we have returned to Musoma to finish out our last month of language school. While some students spent the week pumzika (relax)-ing, we spent our week away from school taking care of business.   This included getting licenses, visiting work sites, shopping for rental houses, practicing driving and finishing our tax return.

Driver’s License:

Pretty much the same process is involved in getting a Tanzanian driver’s license as in the U.S., except, we had to go back and forth to the police station two blocks away three times, make a deposit at the bank and come back the next day to pick the license up.   All the same, when we got our licenses they looked pretty fancy, even fancier than our Washington licenses in David’s opinion.  They have some anti-counterfeiting translucent holograms on them that look cool, two pictures that would be pretty hard to copy and a graphic explanation of what class driver’s license we were given.  The best part was that the TRA (Tanzanian Revenue Authority) trusted the Department of Motor Vehicles in WA and didn’t make us retest- even though here in Tanzania they drive on the opposite side of the road.  We also give props to the TRA for their graphic organizer, which explained the process that one needs to go through to renew and obtain a license. It may not have been an accurate representation of what our process looked like in reality, but at least they are trying.


We looked at a lot of houses last week, some which fit all of our criteria, some that didn’t fit any and some that we could never afford with our humble Maryknoll stipend. The house hunting experience was quite an adventure as there is no official real estate infrastructure in Mwanza. Our hunt consisted of driving around Mwanza, picking up random acquaintances of other MKLMers and then driving with them to various rental houses they had heard about through word of mouth.  In the end, we have narrowed our search down to two houses.  We are pretty torn. Here are the contenders:

House A is in a neighborhood called Pasiansi and is within walking distance to several other Maryknoll Lay Missioners as well as an outdoor market that sells fresh fruit, vegetables and fish. It is a 45-minute dalladalla ride to Caitlin’s work, about a 15-minute drive to David’s work and about a 20 minute drive into downtown Mwanza. It has 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a living room, dining room, kitchen and pantry, all in a pretty basic almost American style layout. The yard is huge with a cool cement wash table but there are no trees in the all grass yard (there is no such thing as a lawnmower in Tanzania). 

House B is in a hillside neighborhood about 10 minutes outside of downtown Mwanza called Mabatini. It is about an half hour drive to the nearest Maryknoll Lay Missioner, but about 2 minute walk to a Maryknoll Parish run by a couple of really nice American Maryknoll Brothers and Priests. The parish is very active and appears to be growing quickly which would provide us the opportunity to take part in the parish community and possibly participate in the development of outreach programs. The house is much bigger than we need and has a sort of awkward layout, but it has been well maintained as it used to be the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers house before they built a rectory at their church. The house sits on a grassy shaded lot with two other houses that are both owned by the former police chief, who lives in one of the homes part time. The other home is lived in by a current police officer. We aren’t sure exactly how long our commutes to work might be, but we think David’s commute might look more like a 40-minute drive and Caitlin’s commute by dalladalla we think might be closer to 30 minutes. One other thing we really liked about the house is that is also very close to an outdoor market and shops and there is a soccer field right beside it.

Opinions anyone???

 Caitlin’s Visit to Butimba
On Tuesday and Wednesday I spent two full days in my future classrooms. The teachers and students alike seemed very excited about me being there and I had to explain several times that I was only visiting and wouldn’t be starting full time until April. Even by the time I left, I’m not sure that anyone really understood.
The teachers I will be working with are very enthusiastic and appear very excited to have an American in their presence. They asked me several questions about America and told me several times that they wanted me to help them learn English. They were also very excited at my attempts to speak Swahili. It was a little bit awkward spending the entire day in the classrooms as a visitor because the teachers really wanted to put all of their energy into treating me like a guest. They were constantly coming to check on me, bring me tea, uji, homemade donuts and chapatti.  At one point one of my teachers even sent one of her 5 year olds out to the street to buy me a fresh deep- fried rice donut.  It was hard to find the balance of being polite and accepting all of their generosity and wanting to stand up and yell “FORGET ABOUT ME, TEACH THE KIDS!”
The children were also very enthusiastic, but amazingly quiet and focused in the classroom. That sat quietly on their mats; truly only spoke when spoken to and ALL of them participated in every activity.  It was like nothing I had ever seen in America. The kids were so eager to learn and please their teachers.  I think it is going to take me a very long time to get used to that.
The teachers use a lot of really great Montessori methods that allow for a lot of student participation.  They also use a lot more English than I expected. They give most directions in English which in turn require an English response from the students- like when the teacher says, “Stand up,” the students stand up and say in unison “We are standing up” or when she says “Sit down” the students all sit down and say, “We are sitting on our mats.” It is really quite adorable when they speak English because they have somewhat British accents so they don’t pronounce their “r”s . They say things like “sweata,” “teacha,” “ motha,” and “fatha”.  I think I could listen to them speak English in unison all day with a smile on my face.
Overall, the teachers are doing some really great things, but there is definitely a lot of room for improvement. I was literally bursting with suggestions by the end of my two days, but held back and bit my tongue knowing that I still have a great deal to learn about culture and education in Tanzania. (Teacher friends, I have a million other details to tell you about the classroom. If you are interested, send me and e-mail because I would love to tell you more about it.)

David’s Visit to Huruma

David’s visit to Huruma went just as well, although none of his teachers asked him to teach them English- go figure..   He said that the students appear to be learning and happy and the teachers seem to take great pride in the accomplishments of their students. It gives us a lot of joy to know that students with disabilities who once were not allowed to go to school and simply remained at home all day are now being educated in a flourishing school. The school is fortunate to have many teachers and aides, however, in time there certainly will be some ways to help them better their practice, and hopefully, integrate kids at other local public schools with the students at Huruma.
While David visited, though, someone had broken the spigot for the outside water, so he and one of the other teachers set to impromptu maintenance and made a makeshift stop.  Later in the week George Otte and David replaced the makeshift stop with a cap and placed a new spigot inside the small house where the water tank is.  


  1. Hey guys, love that you're including us in the house-decision. My 2 cents are as follows: I think the 2nd house would be great because of the community/parish you would be able to become involved with. It took me a while to understand the importance of finding community outside of work. Wish I realized that earlier! It sounds like both houses have their benefits, im sure each would provide you guys with awesome times with other watu !

    Ryan A.

  2. Both houses look great! It's nice they are both close to markets. House B seems like the commute for both of you is more equal, whereas House A is closer to one school than the other. Also, it is good that you will have a community whichever house you pick; House A with a MKLM-friend, and House B with the Parish... Whichever you choose, I would make sure you feel safe there, think about the number of families with children vs adults only, maybe one house has a bath tub and another has a stand up shower....idk. Love you guys! Good luck! I know you will make the best choice for you!