Friday, May 25, 2012

Ramblings of an English teacher

Sometimes, I have moments in class where I am simply astounded by what my students do not know. It is by no means a fault of theirs, living in a country where the majority of children are “left behind”. With overcrowded classrooms, only a pen and paper to learn with, and many times with parents who have an even lower education than my eighth grade students, it’s really a wonder they’ve even made it this far.

I always prepare my English lesson in Swahili and English, in the event the students don’t  understand me, I can revert to Swahili to clarify points. Since my Swahili is horrible, I like to prepare the lessons before class so I don’t waste time in class fumbling over my words. If there’s a teacher around, I will ask them to double check my Swahili to make sure I’ve got it right.

The lesson I had to teach this week is syllabus point “Using a Dictionary”. Well, as mentioned, the students have pen and paper. It’s a real interesting experience trying to teach about how to use a dictionary…without dictionaries. So, I gathered as many dictionary-like books that we own and came up with about ten dictionaries. Of course, they aren’t the traditional dictionary – where you look up the English word and find an English meaning, but the English into Swahili or vice versa type of dictionary. My thoughts on this is that hey, it’s better than nothing.

I asked my neighbor teacher if the word for “spelling” was correct in Swahili, since whenever I ask my students “how do you spell ‘cat’”?, whether in English or in Swahili, I get blank stares. The teacher explained that my students are too young to understand the Swahili word which means “spelling”. She said, they’ll know it as “alphabet” (in Swahili). I was dumbfounded. My students are 14. They don’t know the word for spelling in their own language? Really? Swahili is a pretty phonetic language – what you read is what you hear. But, technically – these students should have started learning English in grade 3 (emphasize – technically). How can you learn English without knowing the word “spelling”?

Today, I presented the topic. Sure enough, students did not know the Swahili word for spelling. So, at age 14, my students learned that spelling means to organize letters of an alphabet to create a word on paper. They seemed to get it. Quickly. But, we’ll see about that.

The students were ecstatic to rifle through my dictionaries to do classwork. Sadly enough, they had to be in groups of 8 students per one dictionary. I mean, maybe three students benefit from this. But, they were all happy. It was also a little disheartening because the students work so well independently. I think about how much lost opportunity these kids have simply because they can only rely on a teacher to come and teach them (which often doesn’t happen or can’t due to shortage of teachers). These students showed me todaywhile using those dictionaries than more in the last five months how eager they are to learn, if given an opportunity.

Can you imagine learning a foreign language without a dictionary? I can’t.


this is what 80 kids in a class looks like


9 students huddled around a dictionary

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Lia the cat who thinks she’s a dog

Lia is getting bigger and stronger as each week passes. She’s doing her job well as we haven’t seen a rat in months. We haven’t even seen remnants of a rat in months. She’s hyper and very playful nearly all day long. Jon and I notice that she has some pretty funny dog-like tendencies. Example 1: she carries her toys in her mouth like a dog. Example 2: she cries when she wants to go outside to go to the bathroom. We were training her to go outside but figured she would only go when the door is open, not all the time. Whoo hoo! Less litter box cleaning. She still likes to cuddle with us, but only at her discretion.
she loves rolling in the dirt

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Making a guitar

Over the last couple of weeks, there have been guys carving out and making guitars near our village. The second time we noticed they were still there, we went to talk to them.They make not only acoustic guitars, but also guitars that will be electric. They carve it out of wood, paint them red, and attach legitimate guitar strings. The frets are made out of old bicycle spokes. Jon and I really want to see how the electric guitar works! They offered to show Jon how to make one and he wants to take them up on that offer when he finds some more time.




above: an almost finished electric guitar


above: an acoustic guitar version


bicycle spokes for frets

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Peer Support Diversity Network

I spent the last week in Dar es Salaam for two reasons that are hopefully a really positive continuation of my volunteer experience in Tanzania. The first reason I had to make the 12 hour bus trip to Dar again was to check up on my eyes. My eyes remained the same as my last check up and as such, the doctors in South Africa said I can finish my medication. I am so pleased to announce that yesterday was my last day putting eye drop steroids into my delicate and over medicated eyes. I am not trying to be pessimistic, but there is a chance that my eyes will revert back to the initial symptoms by stopping the medication. However, I am being hopeful that all will turn out well. I need it to because it will really help boost my spirits as the school break/travel season is upon us! So, at this time, if you're a person who has religion in your life, I beg for your prayers - from every denomination!

The second reason I was in Dar es Salaam was because I applied and was selected to become a member of the Peer Support Diversity Network (PSDN) here in Peace Corps Tanzania. We're a group of 12 volunteers who over the course of the next year will help support volunteers in country who are experiencing small problems to very big issues. Mostly, we provide support through the phone, but also will have the great privilege to attend trainings to do sessions on various issues that Peace Corps volunteers face in country.  Additionally, we work closely with staff and the medical office. I was elected into the position of training coordinator working with staff issues. I think I'll be great with the position and look forward to working with the staff in the future.

While in Dar es Salaam, I was able to explore the city center which was a different part of Dar es Salaam that I got to know during my six weeks in Dar during medical issues. I am excited to have Jon come with me next time to show him all the great places I discovered over the course of the week there. It was also nice to meet new volunteers who will be working with me on PSDN and see old friends who I trained with back in June-August.

The new education volunteers will arrive in about 2.5 weeks and we're all so very excited to meet them! Their training class is a little bit larger than what our training class consisted of. I decided not to apply to train the English volunteers because I have already missed so much school from my medical issues. I feel sad that I will miss the great opportunity to share my knowledge and meet everyone, but I am hopeful that I can apply next year to do it anyway.

Just a small update from me and hopefully I'll get some more fun stuff to write about soon!

Monday, May 14, 2012


Peace Corps volunteers have an uncanny ability to make whichever country they are living within a little America.
Our friend came up with the idea of making a corn hole (or bags, as some others call it) set to play when we all hang out. Jon and I had the wood boards made in our village and our friend bought an old T-shirt, beans, and had a seamstress make bean bags. We’ve been play corn hole for hours every time we get together.
Jon & Jordan playing corn hole in the parking lot of our hotel.
Safari Steve, our buddy who we often hung out with during training spent the last week creating a risk board with markers and crayons and folding tons of origami boxes and cranes for the pieces. Last night, we played for hours on end. I controlled most of North America until Safari Steve took me over. The square pieces can represent up to four “army men”, the baby cranes are horses and the big mama birds are tanks.
the incredibly well-made risk game board and pieces
my baby bird defending Greenland
the first epic battle: two mama birds defending North Africa and Brazil
Three mama birds
my epic battle: defending Greenland with mama bird. I won!
Mama birds “doing it”

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Friday, May 11, 2012


“English class has already started. Do not enter. Do not knock on the door.”
Tanzanian time does not work for me when I am trying to teach. Students can no longer enter my class late.  Tanzanian teachers beat students who come late. I generally just let them come in without much harassment. The students have started taking advantage of this and come in groups, ten minutes late. Not anymore. They won’t get beat by me, but they won’t get their lesson either, which is arguably a worse punishment.  And in the end, if the students are not in class, they’ll end up getting hit anyway by the teachers who patrol the school making sure students are where they are supposed to be. I imagine one week after my sign being hung, students will figure out how to be on time to English class.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Solar power!

I have family that loves me  a lot. I love to brag about how I  have family that loves me a lot. Some volunteers here get one package a year. Meanwhile, I get one package per week. I got the ultimate package -my cousin built me by hand a solar panel unit that can charge my computer, power light bulbs and generally make my life so much better. The teachers at my school know how to install these units and one afternoon, Jon and two teachers got it installed.
Step one: Jon putting together the solar unit as per perfectly detailed instructions from my cousin.
Step 2: Tanzanian colleagues installing the solar unit to our roof since they have installed their own and a few of our neighbor’s units.
A close up view of the installation on our roof.
Step 3: Jon going into our “attic” to pull the wires through from our roof into our house. Jon came back out completely covered head to toe in spider webs and dirt. Jon needed to make the trip again to pull extension cords through the ceiling to the room we put light into.
Step 4: Hanging up the battery and meter reader onto our wall. We can plug our electronics into the box. At the moment this picture was taken, we were charging our computer and my ipod.
Step 5: Light bulb! Candle lit dinners are not romantic. Life seems more romantic when you can see the face of the person you love :)
THANK YOU Brian and Dianna!

Monday, May 7, 2012


A disgusting flying long-legged bug that lived in my bathroom for two days before I decided it had it’s opportunity to leave, but didn’t. I asked Jon to kill it because it looks like a large mosquito. If it is a large mosquito, perhaps the malaria inside of it would be more harmful to me than a tiny mosquito carrying malaria. I gave it two days, but in the end, it met it’s death via toilet paper.

Friday, May 4, 2012

English bulletin board

I started up an English bulletin board using conversational English for students to glance at. I used Jon and I as the first “subjects” and will highlight two Tanzanian teachers every few weeks. I hope that this will show students that their teachers use English and will motivate them to have more confidence to speak English. When I run out of teachers to highlight, I am going to “interview” students.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Movie rewards system

Jon and I implemented a movie rewards system at our school. One challenge of working in a Tanzanian system is that there is no “positive reinforcement” system in place to help students behave. Students are only punished for bad behavior and never rewarded for good behavior. The Tanzanian teachers use corporal punishment to punish bad behavior. That’s the only thing in place here. So, there are a few ways I punish bad behavior. Generally, I include games, songs, and dances into my classes. I take away these things when the class is misbehaving. They get really disappointed. If it’s just one student, I kick them out of class – which ultimately leads to them being beaten by another teacher. I have moved kids to different parts of the room. I have put kids into the corner to face the wall (sans a dunce cap). But, I want there to also be positive behavior reinforcement and that’s where Jon and I decided to show movies. We give out tickets to students that have shown us good behavior, done well on homework or examinations, or try really hard in class. Then, twice a month we show a movie at school and if a student has a “movie ticket”, they can come and watch. We only have 36 tickets to give, so the students need to show really good behavior. Interestingly enough, students are ecstatic and beg for a movie ticket, yet we have had really low attendance. The students who are receiving tickets are not coming to see the movies, even though they whoop for joy when they get a ticket. I hope as this system goes on, the attendance increases. It’s a new concept for the students to be rewarded for behavior so maybe it will take some time for the excitement of the movies to bring out more ticket holders. Of course, when I show a movie, all the other students without tickets are begging to come in. I don’t yet understand why those with movie tickets aren’t coming.
the movie tickets on the side and the general rules to watch the movie.