Sunday, January 27, 2013

On Your Mark

While I’m not quite ready to “get set” and “go,” I do feel very nearly there. 
I returned to the village of Msaranga in rural Kilimanjaro last week not as the prodigal daughter per se but rather as the long-lost sister.  And this fact was not lost on me one bit.  Mwalimu Vumi met me at Stop and Shop as she has done a gazillion times in the past (yes, it is a grocery store; no, it is not part of the American chain; for my purposes, it’s where I get off the daladala to go into the village), gave me a big hug, and proceeded to berate me for being absent for two years.  While it hasn’t been quite that long, it has indeed been a while and I felt a bit nervous returningWe were meeting Baba Ngowi, Diwani Kiwelu, the village mwenyekiti or chairperson, the headmaster of the primary school, and the Standard One teacher to explain The Toa Nafasi Project activities, discuss our plans for the timetable, and answer any questions they might have.
The meeting itself went really well with Baba Ngowi elucidating my project abstract in Swahili to everybody present (and me interjecting when I could in order to further clarify; my Swahili is excellent comprehension-wise, pretty good written, and fair spoken.  It could be better spoken but I tend to be lazy and/or shy, so I often lapse into English or Swenglish with people who know me.  However, one of my new year’s resolutions is to speak more and not be so lazy/shy plus I am being goaded into conversation by everyone from Baba Ngowi’s kids to the DJ at Glacier, so in a few months, I should be comfortable again.  And spending so much time in Msaranga?  Forget about English, I’ll be speaking more Chagga than English there!)
Anyway, the meeting went really well after a slightly shaky start.  We began late (typical), this lady comes in and makes a big kerfuffle over me (“Helloooo, Mama Mzungu!!"), I get my back up and respond something like “Helloooo, Mama Mtanzania!!,” then it turns out that she is the esteemed village chairperson we’re meant to explain the Project to.  Whoopsie!!  But, it was actually fine because everybody just laughed and thought I was hilarious and clever and cute and mzungu-y.  Then I said a few words to the group in Swahili and turned it over to Baba who did the whole dealio and everybody nodded along just as I knew they would because this problem is real and no one knows how to deal with it and thank God for Toa Nafasi.  No, literally, thank GOD.  The Standard One teacher, Mwalimu Mshiu, told Baba that this Project was not mine, it was God’s.  While I appreciate the sentiment and what I gather is praise of the highest order, it was NOT God who filed for tax-exempt status, designed the three phases, and is currently working on the website, I can assure you that much!

At any rate, Mwalimu Mshiu and Headmaster Kennedy as well as Mwenyekiti Martha were all very pleased with the goals of the Project and the formal introduction that had had me in a holding pattern for so long is now OV-AH!  So, I am ready now to begin the observation period which will last eight weeks from the beginning of February to the end of March, which is perfect because then we will have the Easter break and I can catch my breath, analyze my findings, and figure out the next step!

So, the next few blog entries will no doubt be very interesting.  I’ll be spending the first three days of the week in Moshi at the school and the rest of the week back here in Arusha, going through my notes, meeting people and networking, and doing research.  The Toa Nafasi website is in development and we should have something up soon.  Baba is working on a signboard for our office in Moshi, so I’m hoping that will happen shortly as well.  I’ve leased a car for my personal use, which is exciting but also kind of scary.  I’m a good driver, but after living in New York so long (not to mention Moshi!) where I don’t drive and driving on the other side of the road here, I’m nervous!!  Plus, police and thieves and drunkards on the roads to contend with??  I figure I’ll take it nice and slow.  After all, there’s no hurry in Africa!!

That’s the word from here, and another post in a week’s time.  Enjoy the photos below!!

The Toa Nafasi Project TZ Crew, from left to right: Teacher Vumi, me, Headmaster Kennedy, Baba Ngowi, Mwalimu Mshiu (Martha the chairperson had fled the scene by this point….)

Vumi and her daughter Grace, who is two years old, which definitely means I have not been out of Msaranga that long because I held this kid as an infant!!  Pretty girl, rather large head….she’ll grow into it, I’m sure.

The grounds of Msaranga Primary.  Hot, dusty Africa at its best.  And all the kids wearing their sweaters as part of their uniforms because if they take them off and lose them, their parents will not be happy!

Our office in Moshi!!  It used to be a curio shop, then a printing press, now it’s a wakala where Baba is authorized to help people send money across the country through their phones.  What can I say, my Baba is a man of many talents and diverse interests….

My business card taped to the office door in lieu of a signboard….which Baba assures me is forthcoming.  “We’ll see to it.”

A view of the mountain from the office.  I exclaimed at its beauty and scrambled to take a picture while Baba just shook his head grumbling, “Why should I look at that mountain?  I have looked at it every day for 59 years.”  Baba humbug.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Missionary Position

Heeheehee....okay, forgive my childish pun for the title of this blog entry, but come on, we're all adults here, and if we can't have a little fun with words, then what kind of world are we living in??

Anyhoo, all I'm trying to say is that I recently received an email from the office of Ambassador Tuvako Nathaniel Manongi, Permanent Representative of the United Republic of Tanzania to the United Nations.  I had met with him in New York a couple of weeks before I left for Tanzania to explain Toa Nafasi to him and try to get the Mission's support.  I guess it worked out because this is what I got in response to my note of thanks after the meeting: 

On behalf of Ambassador Manongi, I wish to thank you so much for your email.  I am pleased to learn about The Toa Nafasi Project.  I have read the background information you sent me about the Project.  The Mission supports its goals and mission statement.  We believe that The Toa Nafasi Project is a good and relevant initiative to help children with special needs excelling in their education.

We commend you for your dedicated efforts for making this Project happenWe hope The Toa Nafasi Project will complement efforts of the Government of Tanzania in making sure every child receives primary education.  Kindly let us know how can the Mission contribute to a successful implementation of The Toa Nafasi Project.

Kind regards,

Ellen Kija Maduhu,
Second Secretary at the Permanent Mission of the United Republic of Tanzania to the United Nations

So all you freaks out there - don't knock missionary!!  It can end up being pretty rewarding!!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Magic Mountain

Well, I’ve actually never read Thomas Mann’s celebrated work and I don’t even really have a clue as to what it’s about (kind of embarrassing for a former Lit Major to admit), but it seems an apropos title to this blog entry.  Last weekend, I made my foray from Arusha region back to Moshi, the capital of Kilimanjaro, where I lived pretty much straight through from the middle of 2007 to the end of 2011.

As I wrote (or attempted to write) in Swahili in my last post, I had to meet Baba Ngowi who is not only my Tanzanian “dad” but also, in Toa Nafasi terms, the Biden to my Obama, the Robin to my Batman, the Sancho Panza to my Don Quixote, the DJ Jazzy Jeff to my Fresh Prince….you get the picture….

After a marathon planning meeting, I was off to Glacier Sports Bar for a few drinks with friends and a night of letting loose in Mo-Town.  It was really nice to be back and I felt the love for sure, but I gotta say, I am SUPER-glad I have the peace and quiet of my house in Arusha!  I can’t do it up the way I used to, and actually I have too much on my plate to “rock and roll all night and party every day.”

One thing I really stressed in my meeting with Baba is that I want to get back to Msaranga as soon as possible.  Only thing is, because I’m now Toa Nafasi and not some newbie volunteer, everything must follow procedure.  Which means I’m in this weird holding pattern that’s driving me nutty.  Fair enough, school doesn’t start until January 14th and the teachers probably won’t want me to begin my observation phase until they’ve had a couple weeks to familiarize themselves with their students, the classes, the schedule, etc, but I am really ready to begin work!!  Maybe then, I’ll deserve that cold Kilimanjaro lager at the end of the day!

At any rate, I continue to oversee development of the website, meet with various contacts in the field of special education, and prepare myself for implementation of the pilot project.  I have been reading up on the syllabi for the four main subjects we are looking at – English, Swahili, Math, and Science – and also planning how I’m going to record my findings, for which Angi from UMass Boston gave me some guidelines.

Once I actually get into the school, I’ll spend a few months watching to see what’s going on: Who are the students?  Do they understand the material?  Are some stronger than others?  In what way?  Who are the teachers?  Are they following the syllabi?  Do they attend to children who seem to be struggling?

Then, when Angi comes in June, we’ll start the assessment phase using a version of the Brigance module, which is currently being translated into Swahili.  After completion of that and analyzing the data collected, we’ll develop some simple yet effective interventions that we can introduce to the teachers to help those kids who are struggling due to learning differences.  I’m not exactly sure what that will entail but it’s a bit down the line, maybe Fall 2013 or even later.  And by that time, I should have IASE and other volunteers to guide me.

So, the idea for this particular moment in time is just to keep my eyes on the prize and get the ball rolling.  My hope is that once rolling, Newton’s laws will keep the damn thing going!!  In the meantime, I’m starting to realize how hard it is to do computer work in a tropical climate when you have access to a swimming pool and a brand-new Kindle.

Until next time, my friends….

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


Nimeamua kuandika blog entry hii kwenye Kiswahili badala ya Kiingereza kwa hiyo….itakuwa entry fupi!
Nimefika salama Tanzania baada ya kukwama Amsterdam kwa masaa 24.  Kulikuwa na shida na ndege na kulikuwa hakuna ndege nyingine kwa hiyo lazima tubaki Amsterdam siku moja.  Nikakaa usiku hotelini nikarudi kituo cha ndege asubuhi.  Mara hii kila kitu kulikuwa poa na tulikuwa njiani Kilimanjaro.  Nikaangalia filamu tatu na episode chache za tv shows alafu tukafika KIA saa 5:35 usiku.
Baba Ngowi na mtoto wake Ema wakanipeleka nyumbani Maji ya Chai si mbali kutoka KIA.  Lakini niliogopa kusafiri na gari imechelewa sana na hakuna taa barabarani na siku hizi nadhani Tanzania imekuwa hatari kuliko zamani.  Nimesikia habari za watu walioibiwa vibaya au hata walioua.  Baba akaniambia hakuna shida kwa sababu akaleta bunduki yake ijapo akakaribisha hatari wakati akasimama gari kuchimba dawa!  Nikamwomba kusubiri tufike nyumbani kwangu lakini nadhani hakuweza kungoja….  Ningalisemaje?  Mara nyingi nimesikia hivyo….!
Siku iliyofuata nikateseka sana ya uchovu sikuweza kwenda Moshi kwa New Year’s kama nimechopanga.  Ilikuwa haiwezekani kabisa.  Afadhali nikabaki nyumbani kuangalia “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” kwenye laptop na kula cheese na kunywa mvinyo nimezonunua Schiphol Airport Amsterdam.  Ilikuwa uamuzi safi kabisa na nikasherekea mwaka mpya na starehe.
Tangu siku ile majukumu yamekuwa mengi na nimekuwa busy sana na kuweka mambo safi nyumbani na kujizoea tena Tanzania bado natamani kwenda Moshi wikiendi.  Nitakutana na Baba alafu labda kupita Glacier kwa bia moja (au mbili….)  Nitarudi Maji ya Chai Jumapili na kukaa wiki ijayo Arusha.  Blog entry itayofuata itakuwa kwenye Kiingereza kama kawaida.  Hii hapa ni jaribio tu ili nione kama bado naweza kutunga sentensi ya Kiswahili.
Sasa, nihukumiwe.  Naomba kwamba Waswahili wanaosoma hii post, tafadhali nisahihishe makosa nimechofanya.