Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Diane in Motion

I was fiddling around with our camera and happened to take this blurry photo of Diane moving across the main room of our home. She is turned to her right, wearing a navy blue Tanzanian dress with a matching head wrap. You can see through her to the kitchen where there is a sink.

I like this picture, poorly shot as it is, because it is representative of Diane being on the move so much. She works a lot harder than I do at school and also brings a lot of work home. We are very similar in our work ethic; but I take time to do personal reading, study Swahili, and write this blog.

Life in our town of Mtwara and our neighborhood is slower-paced than in the U.S. Tanzanians in general are not nearly as driven as we are. However, I find that although my life here is not heavily scheduled and planned out it is still full of activity and things that I want to get done. Just like in the U.S.

As the saying goes, "wherever you go, there you are". -Earl

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Sitting on Duct Tape

I broke the hinge on our toilet seat by standing on it, so we replaced the seat. That was in February. Less than a week later (!) the seat cracked all the way through on one side. I trimmed two plastic bottle tops and taped them to the underside of the seat to provide additional support. Apparently, the material of the seat is much too thin for the design. My fix held up for awhile. But then another crack developed on the broken side, then another at the very front. Finally, two more cracks happened at the back at the hinges. This left us with a toilet seat in five separate pieces held together with duct tape.

I've since gone out and bought another toilet seat. It's the same model as the old one (we have limited choices in this town, so no snide comments, please). Right away before any cracks developed I reinforced it with seven bottle tops along the underside. We will see how long this one lasts. -Earl

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Working at a Secondary School —
Orderliness, Planning, Precision

(Continued from 30 August)

When we started working at the school the class timetable was a mess. Subjects were not allocated their correct number of periods for each week, for instance. A form one student in one class might get six periods of math each week, whereas a form one student in the other class would only get two periods. Huh?

Granted, I've come to appreciate what an extremely complex problem it is to make a school timetable. Fortunately, I found a piece of computer software to help create schedules that are complete, correct, consistent and satisfy most of the preferences of individual teachers. Because of the software I can do this work in two days, a task that would occupy months if done entirely manually.

Still, the previous lack of a good timetable is so indicative of the disorderliness that is so common. The class timetable drives the day to day operation of the school. It is essential to get it right even if it is difficult and tedious to do so.

The lack of order appears in a number of ways: the chaotic and uncoordinated scheduling of events and activities; the lack of appointments and advance notice; the scarcity of thoughtful planning; inaccurate, haphazard record keeping; and more. I have to tell our students to use the same name everywhere (preferably with a proper family name) and to always spell it the same way.

There are basic ways of thinking, working, and managing things that I take for granted as second nature. They are not! Some mental habits I have let go of because I've come to see that they don't matter. For example, I've gotten comfortable with visitors who just show up with no notice. I've learned to improvise on the spot what to do to try to meet the purpose of their visit. Since we are given no time to prepare, nothing seems to be expected.

However, if you want an organization (or a society, or a country) that works well, runs efficiently and is productive in the material sense, then some things do matter. So maybe these are what foreigners like us should be not only modeling but explicitly teaching and mentoring: not only knowledge and skills in math, sciences, and computers, but also, the ability to think and work more precisely, to plan ahead, to better organize the use of people, and to pay attention to efficiency; and along with those, an appreciation for why they are important.