Monday, January 26, 2015

(Social) Skillz to Pay the Billz

Week One of Mama's Tanzanian "staycation" (not a vacation per se since she's been here a million times before, is not participating in any tourist activities, and will shortly be put to work by me, her older and much-beloved daughter) is complete and with a modicum of shida.  Sure, she's been doing all the annoying visitor-y things that people do when they first return after a long absence ("Why won't the lights turn on?  Well, when will the power come back?  And, why did it go off in the first place?  Do you know if it will come back in an hour?  Two hours?  A day?  Two days?  The stove doesn't work either?!?!), but for the most part, we've been bonding in mother-daughter bliss.  She's even developed a sense of humor about my kindly suggestions for living in the Tee-Zed: Be sure to check your shoes each morning for scorpions as they like to hide during the night.  Look to your RIGHT when you cross the street and don't expect car, bike, man, or chicken to stop so you may pass.  Boil full pots of water each morning in the probability that the electricity will be cut at some point during the day so we always have drinking water.  And failing that, make sure we have enough wine in the house because, let's be honest, water doesn't truly slake the Rosenbloom thirst.  These be rules to live by, I say.

Anyhoo, we are now rather in rhythm and I am gearing up to go back to the village for Round Three of the "Thrilla in Msaranga," hoping I can maintain my "fight like a butterfly" modus operandi.  Of course, I have already gone back for the obligatory greetings and distribution of zawadi (gifts, in English, also obligatory) and caught up with Vumi and Yacinta, the Standard One and Two teachers, and the Headmaster.  And the kids greeted me back like the Pied Piper of Hamelin on Rat Catcher's Day.  It was ridiculous.  Cries of "Mwalimu Sarah, Mwalimu Sarah!" along with some kind of tailgating activity rang throughout the school grounds as I shrank in embarrassment, my mom also mobbed by the kids, and Vumi just laughing away.  Great.  Shades of what's to come….

But no sooner than we had visited the village and the school than we were off to Arusha for a four-day conference on "The Role of Social Skills for Employment Opportunities and Social Inclusion."  Granted, my kids are nowhere near ready to be employed by anyone or anything, but social skills are obviously extremely important for any child and even more so for those with intellectual impairment and/or developmental delay.  They need to know how to behave in different circumstances so as to be accepted by the greater public.  This reduces both the children's internal feelings of "being different" and helps the community around them to perceive them as capable and productive members of society.  So, it was important that I attend.

In addition, the conference was being sponsored by my good friends at the International Association of Special Education based in the United States, Mary Gale Budzisz and Iris Drower, in conjunction with Sally Mohemedali of the Jaffery Academy here in Arusha.  I had originally introduced MG and Sally back in 2009 when I first started the research on special needs in TZ that would inform The Toa Nafasi Project and they have collaborated on a number of ideas since then.  In fact, Sally is the Tanzanian rep for IASE and the President-elect for the whole shebang once Iris steps down in a few years!  So, our meeting way-back-when was all very Sarah-n-dipitous and it was high time we had a reunion in Tanzania!!

A friend of mine who works in the tourism industry in Moshi did me a solid and got us a great rate at one of the fancy-schmancy hotels in A-Town although some few things were still lacking.  Mama had to make up this impromptu "Do Not Disturb" sign as 8am conferences are not what Mama does when Mama is on a staycation.
So, I attended the first day solo for the introductions from Mary Gale, Iris, and Sally as well as Mr. Eugene Shirima, the Regional Education Officer for Arusha and all the various participants, both Western and Tanzanian.

We set about dividing into small groups to come up with "rules" for how the rest of the conference would run.  Some groups came up with rather fierce examples, verrrry Tanzanian in their Spartanism.
But since she is a newly minted Toa Nafasi board member, I had to insist that Mama come on Day Two by which time the rest of us conference-goers had already become used to MG and Iris's rather spunky seminar style.
There were several themes of the session, one being zebras, and an interesting question was posed on Day One: When you look at a picture of a zebra, do you see a white animal with black stripes or a black animal with white stripes?  Well, turns out most of the Tanzies saw a black animal with white stripes and the wazungu saw a white animal with black stripes!  An interesting commentary on how we regard race to be sure, but in the context of this seminar, MG wanted us to know that people see different things, and may interpret the same thing in different ways….and that is OKAY!  There does not have to be a right and wrong answer and there are many paths that can lead you to your truth.  A rather mind-blowing concept for the very literal and formal Tanzanians.

Another theme of the seminar was Bingo.  Each morning, to open the session, we sang the children's song "There was a farmer, had a dog, and Bingo was his name-o...." and each afternoon we closed by playing a rousing game of Bingo, that old retirement home fave, with one person designated Bingo Master to call out the letters and numbers.  I'm of the opinion, though this was never explicitly explained, that the purpose of the song and game was to utilize our social skills of communication and team-building.  I don't know if that's a stretch but it certainly was a kick to be singing "Bingo Was a Dog" with REO Shirima!  ....  And my mother!!
We also had an opportunity to network with the other attendees and my mom fixated on this one lucky gent, Mr. Michael Pima, a teacher at the SEKOMU school in Lushoto that Angi and I visited last July.  SEKOMU stands for Sebastian Kolowa Memorial University and is a private teachers college that trains individuals in special education and is run by the Lutheran Church in TZ.  I do not know of Sebastian Kolowa was but I gather he was important enough to have a college named after him.

Mama decided that Michael Pima was going to be the fly in her spiderweb and proceeded to grill the poor man about all manner of things: what he was teaching, who his students were, how Toa Nafasi could collaborate with SEKOMU to get qualified teachers in Moshi for the Project, if a visit could be arranged.  In fact, when Mary Gale asked Mama and Michael to tell the rest of the group what they had been so intent on discussing, Michael reported back that "Professor Peterson dominated the conversation."  Indeed.
Aside from themes and lectures, networking and skillstreaming, Mary Gale and Iris also taught us about "foldables" or "3-D, student-made, interactive graphic organizers based upon a skill."  Such crafts included "The Cube" and "The Pinwheel" and are effective activities for following directions, being creative, and ending up with a finished product of one's very own making.  Again, since we are all different people following more-or-less the same instructions, it is inevitable that we will end up with different results….and that is OKAY!  I had this issue come up last year on Paper-Bag Puppet Day when Vumi and Yacinta started chiding the students for not making their puppets EXACTLY LIKE MY EXAMPLE.  I know it's a product of their culture, that they are taught from a very early age strict versions of "right" and "wrong," but my goodness!  ....  What a bleak world that would be!!  Here is Mama struggling to complete her pinwheel.
On the last day of the seminar, Mary Gale, Iris, and Sally helped the Tanzanian attendees to form TASE or the Tanzanian Association of Special Education which would be an offshoot of the IASE.  The newly elected board consists of Sally plus these three chairpeople, one of whom is the beleaguered Michael Pima, nominated by Yours Truly, and probably cursing the Rosenbloom women into the ground for even noticing him let alone giving him all this extra work to do.  Pole, Pima, pole….
And of course we ended, as any proper conference should end, to the tune of a brass band which played loudly at an indoor primary school during the middle of the school week, and accentuated every sentence a speaker uttered as if it were a proclamation from King Henry the Eighth.  It was really awfully noisy.
As the band played on, MG, Iris, Sally, and I zipped into town for a spot of shopping.  The IASE has very generously allotted Toa Nafasi a certain amount of money each year in the form of their "Giving Funds" to be spent on teaching materials for the Project.  The only stipulation is that the money go towards things and not kids or school fees, and that MG get a receipt for everything.  So, we trekked all over town looking for swag to spend on: a brand-new Toshiba laptop, Hewlett Packard printer-scanner-copier, mini laminating machine, and a crap-ton of stationery and office supplies.  ASANTE SANA SANA SANAAAA to the IASE!!
Mama and I are now back in Mo-Town, happily ensconced at the Union Cafe and doing our own individual work - bigshot writer Mama is working on a piece for the New York Times and I am blogging and pondering my (already late) January Quarterly Report.  More news to come next week!!

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