Sunday, January 22, 2012

Africa (Blog 7): A Little Bit of Everything

Africa (Blog 7): A Little Bit of Everything


After last blogs fail on trying to be interesting on one topic, I’ve decided to mix things up a bit with a little bit of everything in this one. 

First, I want to start out with a brief description of some of the other volunteers.  Why?  Because they help complete the “plot” in this journey, and also have helped make up some of my main learning components.  With much respect, I will start with Janice, currently the oldest CCS volunteer (respecting elders is still a huge part of Tanzanian culture):

Janice:  Janice is from Northern California. She is in her 70s, sometimes uses a cane to walk, and is amazing.  She has lived! I first found her interesting because she has traveled all over the world, sometimes with family and friends, and many times by herself.  I found her remarkable when I learned more about her life.  She has buried her youngest son (and then his wife) and husband because of cancer.  That could easily destroy a person.  However, she got through it, and kept her adventure going.  She is proof that you are never too old to learn, experience, and get out and live!

Lynn:  I hope Lynn doesn’t mind me saying this, but she is 63 yrs old.  I wouldn’t have put her much past 50.  She is a spark of energy and lives with so much excitement.  Currently, she is a mom of 2 daughters and a high school teacher from Oregon, and you can tell she still lover her job.  She has also spent quite a bit of her life traveling to many different places.
I would also describe her as B.A. (if you don’t know what that means just ignore it).  Her ex-husband, who she had opened a small theatre with, left her for a younger woman.  She then took a chain saw and cut down his favorite tree in the yard J 

Jeanette:  Jeanette also lives in Oregon.  Actually, she and Lynn found out they live 20 minutes away from each other.  She has volunteered for CCS in many other different countries, and explored many other areas of the world.  Jeanette is very much her own person, and confident in herself.  If the group can’t decide on something, she isn’t afraid to take charge.  She was also unafraid to buy a really beautiful and neat pair of long dress capris, and when she wear them she owns it…now the rest of us want to go back and buy a pair for ourselves.

Jessica:  Jessica had already been here 3 weeks before my group came in.  She lives in Florida, and works as a private flight attendant.  I would have never known she was 31 years old unless she told me…I thought she was still in college (yes, I know, many people think Im still in high school…).  She has been our personal reference guide of Tanzania and always willing to help everyone.  Her passion for volunteering with the kids is amazing and she often does above and beyond what is expected.  Recently, she has told me about her plans to create an umbrella/reference organization for non profits in Tanzania, including a place for street kids to volunteer and become successful.  I am confident she will be successful, and I am hoping to become involved and help her in this endeavor.  Her enthusiasm is contagious!

(I am the next oldest)

Kate:  Kate is my roommate, soon to be 23.  She is studying psychology and social work in New York, right outside the city.  Out of 7 kids, she is the only girl.  To pay her way through college, she bartends a few nights a week.  She is extremely sweet and patient, and in her internship she works with high school students to help get them back on track.  But, if she were in a fight, I’d place my bets on her.

Jamie:  Jamie is our Canadian, residing in Ottawa.  She is taking a year of college to travel and volunteer (before Africa she spend a few months in Spain) before completing her nursing degree.  In addition to Jessica, Jamie and I connect very well.  As a kid, her family went on many hiking trips all around Canada and the U.S., so she also a trail girl.  Without a doubt, she is an old soul.  She is very well-spoken and I oftentimes find myself learning from her. 

Elizabeth:  Elizabeth, at 18, is our youngest volunteer.  She is from Denver, Colorado.  After graduating from high school, she is taking a year off to travel.  Already she has been to several other countries, including Costa Rica with CCS and has another trip planned right after this one.  As the youngest, her immaturity shows, but definitely adds and interesting dynamic to the group. There is no doubt that her year’s experience will be a wonderful learning and growth experience for her.

***Our CCS staff is wonderful!  All of them are local Tanzanians and are extremely committed to the cause, as well as ensuring all the volunteers have a wonderful experience.

A very, very brief summary of a few of the problems being faced:

The education system has not been changed much since 1976.  Not very long ago were girls even part of the picture.  School cost money, money that is hard for most to come by.  In primary school, the main language emphasis is English.  In secondary school, the focus is Swahili.  Then in H.S. and college/university the focus is back on English.  English is basically essential if you want any chance of success when you’re older.  Many of the teachers don’t know much English. Pre-k is based on repeating the alphabet and numbers.  Art work is almost non-existent.  It is a scavenger hunt to try and find any art material, and when you do, it will be expensive (makers go for around $8).  There is “structure”, but not the type of structure most of us is used to.  It is not uncommon for a teacher to answer their cell phone in class.  Before most of the pre-k students leave for home around 11ish, they are served a cup of porridge, their lunch.  There is a huge difference in many of the students performance levels.  (I also have to add that I cannot believe how intelligent some of the children are!  They are truly amazing…at the orphanage, a few of the boys were teaching me Swahili, as they could speak almost fluent English!)

Gender Inequality:
In America, the main issues women still face has to do in the workplace, regarding equal pay and maternity leave.  In Africa, most women won’t go beyond selling bananas on a street corner.  In marriage, many women simply become part of their husband’s life.  Some can’t even go visit their own families. It is much worse if you are a Masai women.  In this tribe, the women do almost all the work, but are ruled by the 1 husband (who has many different wives).  At the age of 12, a girl might be married to a 60 yr old man (and then become a widow with HIV). 
 Things are changing for some…just slowly.  I have had the pleasure of visiting a women’s empowerment shelter called WEECE (Women’s Education and Economic Centre) and meeting the woman who founded it.  I was inspired by a beautiful 13 year old Masai girl, who convinced her father to walk 2 days with her to be enrolled at WEECE.  Education means she won’t have to marry, it means independence.  She now lives with a local family and is thriving at school.

I’m not going to say much here, most is it is known. The death rates are high.  HIV/Aids is prevalent, as well as many other diseases, much of it due to poverty and lack of knowledge. However, there are many people working hard to set up clinics and educate people on hygiene and how to protect oneself.

My Activities/Experiences:

Step Up Nursery:
I figured the main I should begin with is my volunteer placement.  It is at a pre-k called Step Up.  From what I can tell by listening to the other volunteers, it is decently structured.  And, the teachers speak decent English.  The main downside is that an outdoors area is non-existent.  The kids (divided into younger and older students) are basically expected to stay seated at a desk for 3 hrs…they are between 4-6 years old, so this isn’t very practical.  The first few days I observed, observed, helped a little here, and observed.  Then finally, I talked to one of the teachers and he said I could plan some lessons…so the next days I was given 4 students, put into a very small room, for 2 ½ hrs.  I did this for 3 days.  The main activity I had planned always went well, and then things went not so well.  I am not a teacher, and kids listening to me for that long isn’t very practical.  Basically, I don’t feel like I’ve done anything productive.  I’m going to try and talk to the teacher about giving me 2-3 groups tomorrow for 45 min or so, or letting me do an activity with the whole class…but I don’t know.  The main for me to do right now is to learn, so I can take this experience with me in future endeavors.

Weekend Safari with Bushmen Expeditions:
Day 1: Masai
The Masai tribes are native of Tanzania.  They are beautiful people with very long lasting traditions (not that Im saying that is a good thing, but they get a lot of special attention because of it).  The women welcomed us with a song, even inviting us to sing and dance with them.  I was leaning against the wall inside one of their very tiny and very dark huts with the young Masai man told me they were made out of cow dung… 
(After that the women hounded us with jewelry tying to get us to spend all are shillings)

Day 2: Ngorongoro Crater:
It was amazing.  The air was so fresh, and the land was so beautiful.  We drove the steep uphill and looked down on a mist/cloud filled crater, then dashed down into the wild kingdom.  It was like stepping in to the lion king…in which the lion found shade right next to our vehicle!  Luck was on our side…we saw all the main animals, including many little ones.  We saw 5+ female lions hanging out in a tree, an elephant taking a drink just a few yards away.  Poa Sana!

Day 3: Tangarire National Park:
Not quite as cool the crater, but still a great time.  We saw many more elephant and antelopes.  However, we had one main animal we had not seen yet…a giraffe.  We drove around and around with no success, and by lunch we were getting a bit worried.  Thankfully we had a wonderful guide with a keen eye, who finally spotted one from a distance.  When we drove up, there were at least 7, including two young ones!  Safari Success!

Marangu is about an hour outside Moshi and at the base of Kili.  It is still crowded with people, but even more beautiful with the hills and surrounding vegetation.  We visited a local blacksmith (I was not coordinated enough to even fuel the fire), the Chagga Caves, tried banana beer (it was a good think we split it 4 ways because I would been walking in zig-zags), visited a GORGEOUS waterfall, and stopped at the Chagga Hut Museum.

Marangu Stroll and the Daladala:
Me and Jamie wanted to get out and hike on Saturday, for a cheap price.  We talked it over with Bushmen and arranged a day trip.  To save money, we took the daladala, their “famous” form of transportation.  Jamie counted.  We fit 27 people into one van.  The clown car at the circus has nothing on us.  Needless to say, me and Jamie have never been closer…
Our hike turned out to be a walk uphill from the daladala drop off to the gate entrance of Kilimanjaro National Park.  There is a famous Kili saying “pole pole” or “slowly slowly”.  Our guide took this to the 9th degree…if me or Jamie even attempted to go at a normal pace he told us to slow down.  One the other hand, I will say he was a very nice guy and good company.  We also went to another Chagga hut and another gorgeous waterfall.  On the daladala back, I was lucky enough to get a window seat, but felt very bad for the man next to me and my sweat.  Me and Jamie are now sporting some very interesting and very red tan lines.

Alright, that “sums up” the basics!  I have 4 more days of volunteering left and another week to climb.  Things are going by sooooo fast!  I still can’t believe I’m here, yet at the same time I feel comfortable and part of life here…until I hear someone shout “muzungo, muzungo!”

Safari Njema!
Rach J

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