Habari za mchana! (Good afternoon)

I’m getting used to being here a bit – but even more than plumbing or hot water, I miss having the bottom of my feet clean. Traffic is insane in Dar es Salaam and there is only one paved road that goes through Kawe – the rest of it is dirt (mud, really). The pollution is pretty bad but at least most of what is in the air is natural. Personal space and not being able to smell people are completely foreign ideas. People walk in the streets and cars drive on the sidewalk and the only difference between the two seems to be that if a car comes at you on the sidewalk, you smack it, and if it comes at you in the street, it honks at you (without slowing down).

I leave Kawe Sunday morning, very early to take a ten hour bus to Arusha. I’m going to miss the family here when I leave. Bibi and Bapu have been very nice to us – they are wonderfully generous people. Bibi says that she has had 6 children born to her and has raised 12 others, mainly neices and nephews who were orphaned. They came to Kawe about twenty years ago and built the house that we live in. Bapu won’t let us thank him for letting us stay, or for anything – if we try, he just corrects us with “Thank Jesus!” Bibi asked us to show her how to bake a cake, so we’re going to give that a try tonight. It should be interesting, and hopefully edible as well.

I managed to walk back from the school to the house today on my own – our guides had had to take Laura to the hospital because she was feeling sick (they said that it wasn’t malaria, just some other infection, and to take the antibiotics she brought from home) and Anne to the American embassy because she lost her passport (I’m waiting for some minor catastrophe to hit me, too) – and I was incredibly proud of myself for finding my way back. Kawe is safe to walk through and we’re very close, it’s just difficult to navigate.

I’ve been to the primary (elementary) school twice, now – once this morning and once two afternoons ago. It’s been an incredible experience. At first it was utterly disheartening but as I’ve gotten more used to it I can see more of the balance.

The kids love us – I was always surronded by at least 20 and they follow us everywhere – even most of the way home. It’s like being in a mosh pit, far worse than any crowd you can imagine. They all want to hug me, touch me, touch my clothes and my hair. My hair bands or clips are quickly taken out, they button and unbotton my shirts, they hold onto my waist, they rub my arms… By the time I leave I’m drenched in sweat, and most of it isn’t mine. They all shout “Meme pitcha! Mzungu camra meme pitcha!” and pose when they see cameras – of course, it gets to the point that the only picture you can get is of arms waving. Each one of them wants a picture taken of themself. (Janet and Julie, the girls with our family, are the same way. The video camera and the recording of them singing is the most amazing thing they have ever seen.)

I got the impression that we (all of us here this week) were the first (mzungu) white people these kids have ever seen… Being the “mzungu” is getting a little tiresome, too – I knew I would be in the minority, but I didn’t expect to be quite this much in the minority. There’s another organization with volunteers who come in but they are staying downtown and get bused in; I’m pretty sure that we are the only mzungu in all of Kawe – we joke about being such freaks. I turned around the other day to find the boy behind me slowly stroking my arm and looking at my skin.

We terrified this poor toddler the other day; we were walking home from the school (with a crowd of kids, as always) and he couldn’t have been much more than two, just barely walking, sitting outside on his porch. He saw us and got a look of abject terror and horror, screamed as loudly as he could, began to cry, and ran away.

Once I’ve said a few Swahili words (hello, sit, down, stop, introduced myself, asked their names – just the bare basics) they decide to stop speaking any English to me and just chatter away in Kiswahili. Once they finally realized that I’m not understanding they take it upon themselves to teach me – all of the kids want to teach me – they bring me things to show me and tell me the words for and a walk through the marketplace on the way home is just an opportunity for a lesson. In the household, everyone teaches me too. I get a lot more Kiswahili spoken to me than the other volunteers, too, and I think it’s because not only do I use mine a little more for simple things, but I am the official “mwuanafunzi” (student). If only my memory were better I would know quite a lot. I feel like I’ve been saturated with vocabulary and words but more keep coming. I like it a lot and I think I’m picking up quite a bit, but I can really only communicate out because I can only understand the basics.

The classrooms are only half full. I saw only two with teachers and lessons happening in the entire school, and that was for the older kids. We arrive and are pointed at a classroom, given a room full of students, and told to teach. If we are lucky one of the students can give us some chalk. It’s very difficult trying to teach – especially with the utter disorganization, because more than half the kids spend all day outside in the courtyard, running around. There is no control whatsoever. We’re torn between trying to actually teach and giving up and just interacting with them and letting them get used to us – being mzungu is an extreme distraction.

Adding to the difficulty is the fact that Kawe Primary is actually two schools – one for disabled students. The “special school” has only two teachers, one of whom lives at our house (he’s part of our host family) and is not payed because he is not a “credited” teacher. It’s a complete jumble of every type of disorder and they are brought in from throughout Dar es Salaam. (The only other school for disabled is private, so few can afford it.) There isn’t a bus, either, and without attendance being taken we doubt more than 40% are present any given day.

Learning is highly valued here – when the kids calm down they are all very eager to learn. They just don’t have the resources to educate, much less educate well, as many as they have. Secondary, the equivalent of high school, is either highly selective (for public) or highly expensive (for private) so very few go and little learning happens at the primary level.

Today I locked myself in a room with two other volunteers (from a different organization who actually had materials with which to teach) and 18 students and we were actually able to accomplish a little. I just felt bad for all those peering in the windows and listening and trying to join in – there are so many but there’s no way to do anything with large groups.

If only there were more teachers, or more resources… they want to learn and are so eager, it’s just hard to realize how little we can do.


Kawe, Dar es Salaam

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