(I’m not going to run out of greetings to start emails with.)
I’ve been given a Tanzanian name – or at least pronunciation. “Noelle” is pronounced “Noh-ehl-lah” and the kids (and teachers) all know it quite well. (Elaine, Claire, Sheila, Deidre – the Irish girls – and Cory have all had their names altered as well.)
I like the orphanage – the kids are incredibly well behaved and they sing and sing – at Church in the evenings and Church in the mornings and during the day. Two of the older boys rap together, but one of them is at boarding school so just Amadeus (I love the names they all have) rapped for us; he was really good – it isn’t quite what we’d consider rap, either, as there was both singing and chanting. Some of the girls have amazing voices and a bunch of the older kids cornered Cory the other night with a notebook of songs they’d written themselves. They teach singing in the school, too, and it seems to be a big part of the culture. (I love it.) They keep asking us to teach them songs and I’m glad that the Irish girls know dozens upon dozens because I don’t know any well enough to teach.
The orphanage does get a little lonely and difficult at times – sometimes the kids cry a bit (especially after dinner when they’re still hungry), and it’s hard because I don’t know what is wrong or what to do, though holding or tickling them seems to help.
We eat differently than the kids, too, which makes me feel really bad – if they’re spending more money on us and can’t give the kids enough. Not very different – we have spinach every day at every meal (I don’t think I am ever going to eat it again in my life after these two weeks) but the kids always have ugali and much less spinach while we’ve been given rice, potatoes, spaghetti, and fried bread. I’m fine with the food – I don’t really dislike anything but it’s eating for nutrition, not for enjoyment, and I’ve been managing to clear my plate. The Irish girls spend a lot of time reminiscing over [Irish] dishes which sound far less appetizing to me and chocolate bars which I (mercifully) don’t recognize the names of. They’re hungry all the time – which I never am. I feel bad for Samuel, I think he’s getting worried about how to feed us.
Since I got here first, I have the biggest room with the bathroom, so the other girls traipse through regularly. (Last week, with two Southerners, I was picking up the accent a little bit – this week, with four girls with Irish accents so strong I can’t understand them a third of the time, there’s no question that I my English is starting to sound like theirs.)
I am the official Killer of Bugs. A couple nights ago Elaine was brushing her teeth and jumped out of the bathroom, screaming. By the time I had got out of bed, discovered that it was a large bug that was either a cockroach or beetle, went to fetch a flashlight, and put some shoes on, there was a crowd of the older kids outside laughing. Elaine made it out of the room and after chasing it around the bathroom a bit I went outside to laugh (and learn how to say fast cockroach in Kiswahili). Elise, one of the older girls at the orphanage, was shouting about not killing it because that would make it lay eggs but the girl was definitely swinging in a “kill” manner and the two of them were both far, far too fast to catch. We ran around the bathroom with my shoes and got both of them – she got one and I got the other and then we laughed for a bit.
The next day Deidre bought bug spray and they fumigate both rooms and the bathroom frequently. I can barely breathe and I’ve finally got past it making me nauseous; it’s incredibly strong stuff but I can’t talk them out of using it and I open my windows after they’ve gone to bed and don’t know.
The fact that I’m capable with dealing with these sort of things and being here is still surprising me. In Dar Laura and I would argue about whose turn it was to get out of bed and see to the rustling – I’d killed the last beetle, she had to find out if that was a mouse or a rat. Juan’s Kiswahili was quite a bit better than mine, but mine has matched his now that I’ve been here longer. I never expecting to adapt this well and I keep surprising myself at the things I no longer think twice about. (I’ve entirely reevaluated my ideas of dirty and smelly, for starters.)
I may cause Samuel to have a heart attack, or at least nightmares. When I stay at the school all day, rather than coming home at noon, I walk on my own (I told him not to send the car for me anymore, it’s less than a ten minute walk), visit with the teachers, and have taught the kids to twist the swings around in a circle. After he found out that I had gone to Merry’s house with her, on the way here last time, he had a long talk with us to warn us what not to do. He warned us to stay away from Kikatiti town because they weren’t used to white people, so when a couple of the teachers asked if I wanted to go the Kikatiti market after school yesterday I demurred – which was a mistake, as Cory told me that Kikatiti is fine and the market is cool and if I was with the teachers I’d have no problems. Market only happens twice a week so I’ll see if I can catch it next week. I think Samuel also expects different things of us girls than of Cory – Cory goes to Kikatiti to have beers on the weekends and Samuel does not approve of girls drinking (to the Irish girls chagrin). He’s also hired another guard and asked the night one to stay on all day because we’re all here.
I’m getting along fairly well with the girls – they’re very nice but are all together and friends from home, so they’re a bit of a closed unit – and quite well with the teachers at the school. The fact that I am trying to use Kiswahili and to learn more makes everyone very, very happy. Both Vicky and Janet take me to their houses at break and Janet, who was cold at first, is quite friendly now (we’re on “mambo” terms and she greets me with a mock punch).
I’ve liked and respected all the volunteers who have come – it’s natural to like some more than others, I suppose. I think the Irish girls were afraid at first that I was trying to show them up by using Kiswahili and asked if I was trying to become fluent. I’d had to laugh because I am so far from fluent. There’s just no point in not trying or stopping now that the “class” is over. I find it interesting and incredibly useful – plus it endears me to all the locals, kids, and teachers.
I enjoy being on good terms with the teachers and locals, though, and we share jokes in the teacher’s room during breaks. I think I’m halfway between a pet or a mascot (the mzungu teacher who is trying to learn their language and culture) and since my desk is the closest to the door every kid who comes in with something nonspecific just hands it to me (while staring) and I get to sort out where it belongs. They all teach me during the breaks or I correct work. Janet brings a hand-cranked radio some days after school and they sing and dance and there’s always tons of jokes and talking (most of which goes right over my head). There are only three male teachers, one of whom is about to retire and is the father of another teacher there – who brings her three year old daughter with her, so we all call him Bapu (grandfather).
Teaching is getting better, though I’ve been going up and down with the level of success. I correct their exercise books after class so I can see how they do – but there isn’t a roster so I don’t take roll or know who is who. Tuesday the four Irish girls watched classes and peeked around and Wednesday two of them took over Cory’s 5th an 6th level classes while two are helping with mine. (Cory sprained his ankle playing soccer with the kids and as he’s due to climb Kilimanjaro in a week it’s worrying him. I had already seen how they play soccer and realized that it was not for me; they play quite rough here.) Elaine is a teacher at home so it helpful to watch her and I learned a lot (and translated for her, to the kids) – plus, just having three bodies in the room is very nice as the classes are so large.
There are two streams of 3rd level, A and B. A has about 40 kids and B twice that but B is much quicker – B is generally a few steps ahead of me. I write a sentence on the board and begin to read out the words a few at a time, to have them follow, and they simply read the whole paragraph. When I say goodbye they sing the “Goodbye Teacher” song – which is firmly stuck in my head now; it’s normally sung at the end of the day but they sing it every period, and now that they’ve realized I’ll lend them a pencil if they don’t have a pen they’ve started to lie about it to me. (Today some of the others started to tattle on the ones lying, which was helpful.) They fight for the right to do errands and I’ve given in to letting them do some of them because it’s easier – I still haven’t managed to figure out where they go when they fetch chalk, but they come back with it every time.
Two of the orphanage girls are in my B class – Anna and Eva. I feel bad for having any sort of “favorites” but they’re very nice. Eva is very sweet and smart but shy (though rather possessive of me) and Anna is incredibly bright, talkative, and cute. Anna is also the kid at the orphanage with AIDs.
We’re doing pronouns – the textbook wanted a lesson on possessive ones but we’re going to work up to that – which is difficult because there are so many English pronouns and so few Kiswahili ones. Generally pronouns are just dropped in Swahili or are conjugated into the verb.
My Kiswahili is continuing to grow rapidly every day and it’s surprisingly good, given the short time, but still frustratingly limited. Verbs are really difficult and although there really isn’t a pattern so each night I look up a new set and take the list to the teacher’s room and they write out the conjugations for me. I’m operating on pure memorization at this point and I keep waiting for my brain to just stop absorbing any more. When I get tired I stop being able to understand what’s said to me, too.
I’m in Arusha tonight and tomorrow day. I came with the girls and let them talk me into staying at a nice hotel. (I’m clean. Completely clean. Incredibly clean. It’s almost unbelievable. And I didn’t lock myself in the bathroom this time like when I first arrived at the orphanage – funny story I forgot to tell last time as it still needed more retrospect to become funny. The very first thing I did when I arrived there was go into my room to the bathroom and shut the door. I forgot to bring toilet paper and in trying to get out for some I discovered that the bathroom door doesn’t open from the inside at all. I spent nearly half an hour attempting to open the door before finally climbing up on the back of the toilet and sticking my head out the tiny window. There were girls hanging up laundry and they laughed at me for ten minutes before finally going to get someone.)
It’s incredibly westernized here and very different as I haven’t been anywhere westernized or touristy yet. (I’ve also found where all of the other white people in the airport disappeared to – these hotels and the Serengeti; given all the tourism through Tanzania it’s amazing how little interaction there is between the locals and travelers, even in the cities. We’re all trying to sort out our safaris while we’re here this weekend. Next week I’m back at the school and orphanage and after that I’m off on safari and going west to the chimps.