Monday, January 30, 2012

40 years in Tanzania

Peace Corps has been working in Tanzania for 40 years (1961 – 2011). That is
 50 years total, but Peace Corps left Tanzania for 10 years and then were re-invited back.  During our conference in November/December, we had a very interesting guest speaker come. 
We met one of the first volunteers to work in Tanzania through Peace Corps.  In fact, he was one of the first Peace Corps volunteers ever.  He showed us a video clip of what training & the Peace Corps used to be like.  It was interesting to see that Peace Corps was very much designed after many of the armed forces.  Volunteers had government-issued uniforms, prior to service, the volunteers endured physical training including ropes courses and endurance tests, and they were taught about Tanzanian culture and Swahili language by colonialists.  During the first year of Peace Corps Tanzania, they had 36 volunteers, now there are about 150.  The man we met was working on the Tanzania roads program with an engineering background as his project.  The first program in Tanzania is very different from what they are today.  The volunteers all had a background in either engineering, geology, or surveying to teach Tanzanians on how to continue building roads when the British colonialists left.  Now, the volunteers here work in Education (teaching sciences, mathematics, English, or ICT), health (focusing mostly on HIV/AIDS and Malaria), or environmental concerns (such as safe drinking water).  It was very interesting to hear his story and promising to hear that he feels 50 years later that his time here did make a bit of a difference.  He is still involved in helping Tanzania and you can see more about how you can help through .

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Tanzanian Time

One major cultural difference that Americans experience while living in Tanzania is what is known as “Tanzanian time”.  This phrase can be used in two different ways.  First, Tanzanians don’t start their day at 12:00 a.m. as we do in America.  Tanzanians start their day at 6:00 a.m.  As a result, if you were to ask someone what is the time at 7:00 a.m., a Tanzanian will respond that it is 1:00.  This is because their day starts at 6:00 a.m., so 7:00 a.m. is just one hour later, hence 1:00.  The most confusing part is that most Tanzanians are aware that their system is different.  So, if I were to ask about time, some Tanzanians will give me the standard way of reading time.  I always have to clarify – is that Tanzanian time or ???  A perfect example is that Jon and I bought bus tickets and they wrote the time the bus departs is 3:00.  Jon and I simply assumed it meant 9:00 a.m.  Meanwhile, our friend was sure it meant 3:00 p.m.  We had to clarify with the bus company afterwards and it turned out to be a 9:00 a.m. bus.  The interesting part is that even though Tanzanians do time this way, they will set their watches to military time and then read it off in Tanzanian time.
Another nuance of Tanzanian time is that punctuality does not exist.  So, some westerners might say, it’ll happen in “Tanzanian time” meaning it might take months or even a year to get something accomplished.  The reason for this is because social relationships are far more important in Tanzanian society than punctuality.  If you are late to something, no one cares because they assume you must have had some sort of social obligation that was more important than the meeting or whatever it is that you are late for.  Appointments and meetings are just an approximate time that people might meet.  People are late to things that no one in the United States would ever consider being late for.  For example, weddings, graduations, teaching, you  name it.  While it can be very frustrating to adjust to this mindset, it is also easy to fall into the trap.  It is a delicate balance to become accustomed to this and remain responsible and professional.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Schoolgirl pregnancies: Big threat to education sector in Manyoni District

The following article was written in a Tanzanian English newspaper back in September.  This article highlights just one of the many challenges that my students in Tanzania face.  Unlike in the United States, Tanzanian adolescents are not given health or life skills classes.  As of now, I am unsure if I will be able to teach the grade 9 students sexual education, but from the article below, you can begin to see why it is imperative that I try!
In spite of efforts by the government to improve provision of quality education, the sector still faces many shortcomings that need to be tackled for success.  According to different research activities conducted by both public institutions and non-governmental ones, many secondary schools face a big shortage of hostels (dormitories for students).
One explanation to this problem is lack of proper planning as schools keep receiving more student than their actual capacities.  In rural areas, there is the challenge of students walking long distances to and from school.  The problem, in turn, has been breeding other problems, especially for girl students.  Instances of girls being raped on the way back home have been reported many times.  At times, such cases lead to early pregnancies and dropping out of school.  The same applies to some boys who end up being lured into absconding classes and engaging in other unbecoming behaviors such as smoking marijuana. 
A survey by a group of journalists who were in Manyoni District, Singida Region found out that due to lack of hostels (or limited space) in schools, some parents have opted to rent houses for their children close to schools so they would stay there.  In such cases, students then end up living in the streets where they have to take care of themselves.  Most of the time such circumstances coupled with lack of proper guidance, girls end up engaging in sex.  If they are lucky, they only become pregnant, but in other cases, some catch sexually transmitted diseases as well as HIV.
One girl named Elizabeth, a form four (grade 11) student says life is difficult for her because she lives in dangerous circumstances in a room rented for her.  She feels as if her family has forsaken her. Her family lives about 15 km from her school. Therefore, her family decided that it was better for her to rent a room within the proximity of the school, “on the day I received my grade 7 final examination results and that I had been selected to join the school I always wanted, I was very happy and hoped that things would be fine.  But, now that I am here, I feel,” she said. 
“I felt lost because the school I had been selected to join did not have a hostel.  Therefore, my parents rented a room for me, after moving in I started experiencing the many temptations that surrounded me,” said Elizabeth.  Neema, another student said she feels lucky that she  managed to overcome the many temptations saying 12 of her classmates could not make it because of early pregnancy.  Another student, Sai who lives with her family within the proximity of the school argued that students were to blame for the conditions that they found themselves in.  She said that many a girl could overcome the temptations if they wanted to.  Instead, a good number of them start the temptations.  “I believe that it is possible for one to be serious on what brought her here….we need to listen to our teachers and parents, this is one strong way to overcome temptations, we need to be courageous and aim to reach very far in education, we must get committed to our studies if we truly want to get to university…but if you want to eat chicken and fries with a soda, then you won’t even get to form four (grade 11),” she said with her face radiating a light of confidence.
Neema Andrea and Neema Jonas are grade 11 students.  What had they to say about students becoming pregnant and general student absenteeism in their school?  Neema Jonas said with a sad face: “it is disappointing that a good number of girls with whom we started form 1 (grade 8) together had to have their education journey cut short because of early pregnancies, while some failed to cope with the long distance they had to walk to get to school each day.”  She said that when they joined high school, their class had a total of 103 girls, but today there are only 22 of them, citing pregnancy cases as the leading factor to dropping from school.  “I live 7km from school, however, I feel lucky that my parents bought me a bicycle that I use to come to school.  There are many temptations on the way, but one needs to be strong and focus on what she wants.” she said.  For her part, Neema Andrea criticized parents and guardians saying that they were the ones to blame for whatever happens to their daughters because some just do not care about them.  Once they pay school fees and other obligations, some parents or guardians thought it was then fine.  Such parents don’t even check their children’s school work or attend parent’s meetings when convened in school!” she said.  She added that most parents in rural areas only think of drinking local alcohol, they get out of their homes early in the morning only to return home deep into the night.  Several days may pass without meeting with children with whom they live under the same roof.
Jon, a principal, said there is an average of 10-14 dropout students per year in his school, mostly due to pregnancies.  He said the school has a population of more than 2,000 students ranging from grade 8 – grade 13, most of whom come from afar, especially those in grades 12 & 13.  He said among the challenges the the school face, pregnancy is the biggest and he thinks it is because there is a lack of reproductive health education, and that the most affected are those in grades 8-11.  He added that lack of hostels and food at school contributed to temptations that trap girl students, in particular.
“Most students come very far, they can’t go back home for lunch, so they stay at school until evening.  Under such circumstances, if a man comes to tempt her with lunch, it is most likely that it would not take long before she falls for him.  I feel bad that my school is the one that leads with girl students becoming pregnant while still in school,” he said.  Mnangwa, the vice principal of another high school said in 2007, he received 71 girls students for grade 8, but only 10 managed to complete high school.  In 2008, a total of 103 students were enrolled, but to date only 22 students remain.  He said that in 2009 the number of students enrolled was 45 and that so far there are only 33 while in the following year, 55 girl students were taken in for grade 8 and currently only 34 are still there.
He said the dropping-out of school problem was complicated by the fact that most parents and guardians were not cooperative with school administration.  “If parents played their full roles, that is, ensure they buy their children all their needs, pay their school fee, follow up on development of their children, consult with teachers, attend parent meetings at school, we would be able to minimize some of these challenges,” he said.
One farmer in a village said poor up-bringing and poverty were among chief causes of absenteeism and girl children becoming pregnant.  She said not many parents care about teaching their children about morals.  “If you allow your girl child to receive money just from anyone, you’re exposing her to danger.  It won’t take long before she runs into problems.  Parents’ should wary of their children bringing them money, strictness is imperative,” she emphasized.
She said poverty was at the bottom of many problems including challenges in education.  She said that there were parents, and in good number, who could not afford buying even school uniforms for their children.  So children would fend for themselves and find ways of obtaining their own school materials and requirements.
She said poverty coupled with drinking habits of some parents only complicated matters of morality in society.  She echoed the hope of the many people this report spoke with that the government and key stakeholders should find ways of addressing the shortage of dormitories in schools more aggressively.  She said that once children are there, they would overcome many of the challenges.

Friday, January 20, 2012

2012 School year

We had a school meeting yesterday, January 6.  It is finalized – I am teaching English to the eighth graders this year.  I am so happy!  Jon is teaching mathematics to the senior students and also the eighth graders, too.  We will also be sharing school librarian duties.  I hope to hold down two days and Jon will do two days.  This gives the students half the week to have a quiet place to study and ask questions to either Jon or I.  I am considering my sexual education class still.  Even though I am teaching only the eighth grade students – it is 28 periods per week.  That’s almost every single period of the week.  I am not sure I will have the time yet.  Jon doesn’t even have enough periods of the week to teach for how many classes he’s assigned.  Who knows how this will work out.  The other news we received is that school for us is not starting on January 16 (as we were previously informed), but actually on January 8…as in 2 days. Nothing like giving us plenty of time to plan (note: sarcasm).

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Rat Wars

When Jon and I returned from our travels to Zanzibar, we had a very unpleasant surprise.  Rats invaded our house, even though Lia was home.  Oh, we thought we were so smart getting a cat, but the rats still prevailed.  We keep two doors in our house locked in case people break into our house.  The thieves would have an extra barrier to get into our locked rooms to steal our stuff.  But, this also prevented Lia from getting into these rooms, where the rats had a field day.  Our bedroom was covered in rat shit, my shirt was chewed up.  Our kitchen, on shelves that Lia can’t reach was also covered in rat shit.  Oh,  not to mention our spare room, too.  Jon and I spent a lot of time cleaning our house beforehand and we had to clean just as much as when we got back.  We were pleased to learn, however, that Lia had caught one rat while we were away (our neighbor who was feeding her got rid of the carcass).  That means Lia is big enough to catch rats now! 
In the mornings, when I first exit our bedroom, Lia usually comes sprinting down the hall to greet me.  Not this morning.  She was circling something in the living room and meowing at it.  I went to check on her.  Sure enough, there in the middle of our living room was the second rat Lia has killed. She’s still too small to eat them, but she is quick enough and cat-enough to catch her prey! 
As it stands – we gave Team Panya (rat) a lot of points for invading our house while we were away.  But, we also gave ourselves two more points for the rats that Lia caught.  So – Team Panya stands at 9 points and Sara & Jon have 7 points.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Lia is getting bigger!

We were really worried about Lia’s health about three weeks after bringing her home because all the other kittens in her litter died by this point.  However, I am certain that the amount of care and research I did on kitten nutrition is the reason Lia was the kitten who lived.  She was the runt, yet, sadly her other 4 sisters all died within a week of going home with their owners.  But, Lia is getting bigger every day and I am certain she will only get stronger from now!
Above: Lia, September – fits in the palm of my hand
Above, Lia, December – growing bigger and stronger every day!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Christmas in Tanzania

The holidays are usually the time when anyone doing Peace Corps starts to feel homesick.  It usually reminds them of their family, friends, food, traditions, the things that make the holidays feel like the holidays.  For me, I have missed two Christmases while living in Japan and know it’s lonely.  The difference of living in Tanzania however, is that December is a summer month. So, as Christmas was coming closer and closer, it just never felt like Christmas because well, it was sunny and beautiful.  It’s not like I heard Christmas music or saw Christmas lights.  There were very few times that I realized it actually was the holiday season.  Jon and I were invited to two homes of other volunteers for Christmas.  However, we decided that we really wanted to just spend the day between us.  We are a family, after all.  To get us in the holiday spirit, we watched as many Christmas movies as our computer battery would allow.  We used most of the battery on Christmas Eve and a lot of it on Christmas day.  We watched Home Alone, Elf, Charlie Brown Christmas (Jon’s first time seeing it!), Love Actually, and Harry Potter, The Deathly Hallows Part 1 (not Christmas, but we’ve been dying to watch it).  This made it feel more like Christmas to us.  On Christmas day, we had a big egg and fruit breakfast like we do at my house and then we opened the packages and stockings that people had sent to us for Christmas.  My cousins sent us a mini Christmas tree, so we put all the packages around the Christmas tree.

I have also received a lot of curiosity as to what Christian Tanzanians do for Christmas.  We spent most of the afternoon with our Christian neighbors.  On Christmas, they spend most of the morning in church and then they go home for a big meal together.  We ate pilau which is spiced rice dish with them.  The spices include cumin, pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves.  Jon was served chicken (grown and killed by our neighbors), and I ate the pilau with avocado, bananas, and kichimbari which is a salad with tomatoes, onions, lemon juice, and salt.  Then, they just relax together until they go back to church again towards the evening.  I was told that in other parts of Tanzania, many Christians will go to the beach to celebrate or do something fun together as a family.  However, in our village, there is nothing to do really, so the Tanzanians just attend church, eat their meal together, and pumzika or relax.
I have to admit that I did feel a little homesick around dinner time.  Even though I got through the holiday season, Christmas Eve and most of Christmas day just fine, there was still a part of me that longed to be with my whole family. 
A goal of Peace Corps is for the volunteers to share our culture with Tanzanians.  Jon and I thought that Christmas traditions in America would seem interesting to our Christian neighbors.  That it was.  First of all, when you start explaining about Christmas beliefs in America and many other Westernized countries, you start to realize how ridiculous you sound.  We started explaining about Santa Claus.  Imagine this:  we bring our children to a place where many things are sold and they sit on a strange man’s lap and our children tell that strange man what they want.  Of course, only if you are good will the children receive what they want.  If they were bad, they receive “charcoal”.  Our neighbor then asks, well where do all the presents come from?  We explained that the children believe Santa Claus brings them but really the parents just buy them.  We then began to explain about Santa’s sleigh (a sleigh is really hard to explain to a person who has never seen snow) and that he has flying animals (no, not birds, animals that look like impalas, sort of) that fly him from roof to roof.  Our neighbor then asks, but how could children believe that he can go to every house in one night?  Then, we laugh and say yes, it is ridiculous to believe.  To increase our children’s belief, we even leave out milk and cookies and the parents will eat them to convince children that Santa is real.  At which point, our Christian neighbor cannot see the connection of this and the birth of Jesus and we realize how ridiculous we must sound.  Our conversation then turned into American superstitions. 
So, I think that Christmas in Tanzania is what many Christians in America believe it should be – a simple celebration of the birth of Jesus with time spent together with family.  We gave our neighbor’s small Christmas gifts and I think we did a great cultural exchange with them even though they now think that American Christmas is very bizarre.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Storm clouds rolling in

For some reason, when you live at 7,000 feet, it literally feels like you are living in the clouds.  I think you can get the idea with the photo below as one of our rainy season thunderstorms rolled in for the afternoon.
and ten minutes later, pitch black:

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Insects of Tanzania

Here’s just a sampling of some large insects here in Tanzania that Jon and I have taken pictures of:
a beetle – the coin next to it is about the size of a quarter (this is definitely the largest beetle I have ever seen)
I think a moth, Jon thinks a butterfly, what do you think?  It was dying when we found it near our school

Monday, January 9, 2012

Rainy Season

Our first full day back from Zanzibar was a rude awakening to the rainy season.  The skies became very overcast and before you know it, the rains come pummeling down onto our tin roof.  It took only an hour until the rains were so bad that our backyard flooded and the side of our yard turned into a river.  I was certain that our house would just float away.  The rainy season shortens our daylight hours by almost an hour and half.  While we haven’t had rain as bad as what I am showing in the picture below in a while, it has still rained every day.
our “river”
our backyard
flooding into our house

Sunday, January 8, 2012


I got some henna done and according to the museum in Stone Town, a married woman gets henna done to please her husband!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Jozani National Forest–part 2

In the afternoon, after observing the monkeys, Jon and I set off onto the nature trails in the national forest.  The trails were amazing with so many different types of foliage and with trees towering over us!  You could barely see any sun because of the tree cover.  It is the closest thing to a rainforest that Jon and I have ever been in.  We saw cool birds, amazing butterflies, and frogs that were the size of our pinky.  On top of that, we were the only ones on the trails, which was very peaceful for us.



the above bird is called a crowned hornbill




the butterfly above this caption is the same as the butterfly below, amazing camouflage and natural defense!




this toad was about as big as my pinky!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Jozani National Forest– Colobus Monkeys

Jon and I spent a day out in Jozani National Forest which was about an hour or an hour and a half away from Stone Town.  We spent the better part of the morning in the sweltering sun searching for the rare red colobus monkeys which we found!  The first “colony” of monkeys included about twenty with several babies and mamas.  We quietly observed them and watched another group of monkeys encroach on the first group’s territory.  The second group appeared to be all males and the first group took off very quickly.


Thursday, January 5, 2012

Spice Tour

One of most famous things to do when you visit Zanzibar is a spice tour.  The island used to produce lots and lots of spices.  While it still does grow spice, it’s not as much as it used to.  Jon and I thought we would really like the spice tour since we both love to cook.  While it was fascinating to see various spices and how they grow, it was very short and most spices weren’t in season for us to see. 




trying something way too sour


tall lemon grass


vanilla plant


cayenne pepper


a fruit that I forgot the name of

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Beautiful beaches

If you want to get away from the historical aspect of Stone Town, you can find some of the most gorgeous beaches around the island. The water is warm and clear and the sun is super hot.  We were fortunate enough to visit three different beaches in our time on Zanzibar.




Tuesday, January 3, 2012

UNESCO World Heritage Site

Stone Town as a city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.  It was accepted as a World Heritage site based on the following information (

  1. The Stone Town of Zanzibar is an outstanding material manifestation of cultural fusion and harmonization.
  2. For many centuries there was intense seaborne trading activity between Asia and Africa, and this is illustrated in an exceptional manner by the architecture and urban structure of the Stone Town.
  3. Zanzibar has great symbolic importance in the suppression of slavery, since it was one of the main slave-trading ports in East Africa and also the base from which its opponents such as David Livingstone conducted their campaign

As a result of these three points, there are several great historical sites to see within Stone Town. I love walking tours and so I organized a day where Jon and I got lost throughout Stone Town trying to find each and every significant historical site that helped Stone Town become the historical wonder that it is today.  The true challenge of such an endeavor is that there are dozens upon dozens of little alleyways and no real map to find where you are or where you are going.  Jon and I have spent hours lost in these alleyways, going in circles, and sometimes, never reaching our destination.  

The first place we visited is called the Beit El Sahel or now known as the Palace Museum.  The Sultan's of Zanzibar used to live here until 1964 which is when Zanzibar became a part of Tanzania. It is now a museum dedicated to the Sultans and gave us a better understanding of the history of Zanzibar. 

palace museum

Following our visit to the Palace Museum, we walked a short distance to reach The House of Wonders also known locally as the Beit El-Ajaib.  It’s one of the largest buildings on Zanzibar island and was built back in 1883. It’s interesting to see since the doors are considered to be the largest carved doors in East Africa.  It is currently serving as a museum which was well worth the visit.  It gave historical information regarding the coastal regions of Tanzania and much about Stone Town itself.  However, the best reason to visit the House of Wonders is to go onto the balcony on the third floor of the building.  You can see the beautiful waters of Zanzibar, a lot of Stone Town, and just enjoy the quietness all the way up there.  Jon and I really enjoyed the balcony because no one else joined us.  We sat there people-watching and just enjoying observing life below us. 

   largest door

beit el ajaib2

This historical site below is simply referred to as the “Old Fort”.  It was built around year 1700 by the people who were currently inhabiting Zanzibar (those from Oman).  It was used to fight off the Portuguese at the time.  There’s really not much to the fort besides looking at it unless of course you want to partake in all the super touristy things inside (tourist shops, cultural shows, and a nice restaurant).

old fort

These three historical sites above were simple to find. You simply head to the water and will find them without any problem.  The next site, the Hamamni Persian Baths were much more difficult to locate.  It was a true test to our patience in seeing how badly we wanted to find the first public baths on Zanzibar.  These were built in the late nineteenth century.  The bathhouse included a room to remove your clothes, toilet rooms, bathing room, and steam rooms.  It was very difficult to understand what the guide of the place was explaining because the inside echoed very loudly.  But, it’s not too difficult to see what each room was meant to do.


The next place on our walking tour was also a very difficult site to locate.  Although we could see St. Joseph’s Cathedral from a distance, it seemed that every alley we took did not lead us to it.  After about 25 minutes of searching, we found the front gates which were locked.  Finally, after 10 more minutes of additional confusion, we found the entrance to the back and could check out the grounds of the church and see inside.  The church was built by French missionaries in 1898 and is unique to find on an incredibly Muslim-dominated island.


Since Zanzibar is a dominantly Muslim location, it is only natural to visit some mosques.  We did not enter any as there are certain customs to enter them and neither Jon nor I know what to do.  We visited three from the outside.  The first one shown below is called Msikiti wa Balnara which is the oldest mosque in Stone Town and was built in 1831.  You can tell is is older by the condition of the tower below.


The next mosque we visited is called Ijumaa Mosque.  Although we were not permitted to enter, the graveyard of this mosque has many Muslim scholars buried here.  It is claimed to have been built in the 1800s as well, although, as you can tell, it has been nicely refurbished.


The last mosque was right near our hotel but we were unable to get a good picture of it because it was too hard to get an angle of it from the alleys.  The next place was an easy find since you see it as soon as you get out of the ferry port.  It is a beautifully refurbished building which they refer to as the “Old Dispensary” and was built in the very late 1800s.  It’s another nice location to get away from the crowds and walk up to a third story balcony and look out.


Finally, our last stop of the day which took hours to find and Jon was certain we entered the twilight zone since we felt like we just kept circling it and never reached it was the Anglican Church which was built in the 1870s and was the first Anglican cathedral in East Africa.  Unfortunately, we could not enter the church since it stands on historical slave market grounds and they wanted to charge us to see the church for that reason alone.  Since we are certain they are not charging locals to go to church, we did not want to pay.  It was a gigantic building and looked very old!


Since we found the Anglican church at dusk, it concluded our walking tour and we enjoyed a delicious dinner followed by a nice evening with running water and electricity in our hotel room!