Saturday, October 29, 2011

Never Just an Individual Person

Life in East Africa is pretty communal — family, clan, and village provide the focus of one's life. Not for Africans the high individualism of many Western countries. It seems that a consequence of the communalism is that there is much less a sense of maintaining personal privacy and confidentiality. People know a lot more about each other's business.

Here's an example: our form four students just completed their national exams. After their papers have been marked, all the results will be publicly posted on the website of the examinations council, with the scores of individual students shown for each subject they tested in as well as an overall average. Every candidate is listed by name for every school so you can find out exactly how a particular student did.

There is part of me that likes this kind of transparency, especially because these exams are so critically important and there is always the possibility of cheating. There's another part of me that cringes. Diane and I are only marginally a part of Tanzanian society, so there's not much about us that can be revealed. Nevertheless, living here I often have some feeling of my psychic space being infringed on. For an East African it's just normal life, the social milieu that provides structure, security, and meaning.

What is less normal is being a very visible outsider. On the streets this means constantly being stared at as an "mzungu", which translates as "European". I could take exception to that, except that in this context it is actually ethnically accurate. A few Tanzanians who are more aware will look at me and see Chinese or Korean. Either way, I am presumed to have a mountain of money, unable to speak Swahili, and from alien ways. There's some truth to all of that. As in any simplistic stereotype, though, there's also much falseness.

At school and at church where we are regularly present and not quite such a novelty, there is another facet of how we are perceived. I am always aware that as a teacher I represent the school. And as a missioner I represent LMH. What I say and what I do, any misbehavior and any virtuous acts, almost certainly reflect on these organizations, whether intended or not. In other words, I am never "just me". For a very ordinary, somewhat boring and pedantic geek, being always "on" is one of the demands of signing up for this gig.

I look forward to walking the streets of San Francisco anonymously, sitting in a coffeehouse with a cappuccino, with no one paying any particular attention to me. -Earl

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Few More Photos at Aquinas School

The main entrance by road into the school. Diane and I actually normally enter from the opposite side of the campus on foot. I love this picture of the sky, which is so typical of Mtwara. Imagine the temperature to be about 87 degrees Fahrenheit or somewhat higher, with high humidity. That will give you a sense of the climate.

Two form 2 students at the new classrooms which are to be used for the Advanced-Level courses, which have been postponed until next year.

The plaque on the wall in the background states,

Aquinas High School
was officially inaugurated by
His Eminence
Polykarp Cardinal Pengo
25 July 2011
Thanks to the donors, especially to
  Ein Herz Fuer Kinder, Germany

(Ein Herz Fuer Kinder = A Heart for Children)
Pumping water from an underground cistern just outside of the girls' dormitory. The roofs of many of the school buildings act as surfaces to collect rainwater which gutters channel into the cisterns. It's a really clever thing to do in an area where months can go by without any rain at all and where the municipal water supply is erratic and unreliable.

We should do this in the U.S. even though water is not yet in short supply — but I think H2O will become a big source of conflict, maybe within my lifetime.

Diane and I love this photo of these two form 3 students who live in the dorm. The colorful cloths are separate pieces that are tied over the blue dresses. The hat is a cute extra that you don't often see. Very, very few Tanzanians wear hats. I wear mine all the time — it keeps my head much cooler than otherwise.

Late afternoon after classes are over. On the far right is a newly-built grotto for the Blessed Virgin Mary, who apparently was a very fair-complexioned European. I have the notion of committing some constructive vandalism in the form of painting her face and arms brown.

[ All photos were taken by Helga Higelke-Mahlke in August 2011. ]

- Earl

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Photos at Aquinas School

Form 4 students at morning assembly, practicing an in-place dance number. This kind of traditional movement is done by all students, without exception. I can see in it the origins of some of the entertainment that we have in the U.S.

Correction: Diane tells me that the above form 4 students were not dancing at all, they were doing calisthentics as ordered by the deputy headmaster!

A class of form 1 students. This is entirely typical of what the classrooms look like, except that they are often not this neat! Plain wooden chairs, desks with tops that lift up, concrete floor, and a very large blackboard at the front that is heavily used in what is largely a "chalk and talk" educational approach.

Madam Librarian at her post in the new library. The photo at the upper right is of Julius Nyerere, who is called "Mwalimu" (Teacher) and is revered as the founding father of Tanzania. He was an honest man with good intentions. Much of what is positive about this country is credited to him.

Form 4 students doing group study. As I am writing this they are taking their national exams for the next two weeks. The results will determine what opportunities will be offered for further study. This is a highly centralized country — in the realm of education, the Ministry of Education and the National Examinations Council call the shots on everything.

A group of form 1 students. This being "winter" here in the southern hemisphere, they are wearing sweaters. But I'm sweating just looking at them wearing so much clothing.

It looks like some of these students are eating so it must be during the uji break. Uji is a thin porridge often made from corn flour. Our school cooks up big batches of uji that is offered to students every morning. However, not everyone likes it. So there are outside vendors who are allowed on campus to sell other stuff such as mandazi (like a plain doughnut) and fried cassava.

[ All photos were taken by Helga Higelke-Mahlke in August 2011. ]

- Earl