Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Name Game

Hi everyone, and hope this blog post finds you all well.  This past week has been one of the busiest of my ENTIRE life, I think, as Mama is here and I have been spending time with her everyday, but also because we started the Kipindi cha Utafiti (Observation Period) at Msaranga Primary School.
After re-testing the kids in the program from 2015 for the second time (nearly all 50+ of them have made dramatic improvements), and using that experience as an example of the Assessment Phase to the new teachers, we started the process of the Project anew with Phase One - Observation - of the Standard One students for the academic year 2016.  Again, we are using Msaranga as an example so the new girls can watch and learn from me, Hyasinta, and the others who have been around longer.
We went in and first took down all the kids' names and then had them stand for photographs so we could more easily identify each child by face and designation.  This seems a simple task on the surface, but actually here in Tanzania, it's not such an easy feat.
Names are a very interesting concept here, a fluid one, whereby a child might have multiple names and multiple ways of spelling each.  Rather than first name, middle and last, people are known by first name, jina la baba (father's name), and jina la ukoo (clan name).  Because there are relatively few clans in Kilimanjaro (maybe 20 or 30 really popular ones), the clan name is not such a great differentiator.  You hear these same names over and over again - Ngowi, Kessy, Macha, Swai - kind of like in Korean (Kim, Lee, Park, etc) and Chinese (Wang, Chung, Chu, etc.) cultures.
So we like to go off the child's first name followed by the name of the father.  For example, if I was a Tanzanian, I would be Sarah David rather than Sarah Alix Rosenbloom as I am known in America.  I have tried explaining to Tanzanians that Rosenbloom is not a clan name and rather a family name, but this distinction is difficult to explain and I'm not sure anyone cares.
Problems arise for various reasons while we are doing this census-taking, many of them revolving around this issue of names.  The kids are unused to the primary school classroom, having just entered in January: wearing a uniform, being away from home for the whole day, under the supervision of new teachers with big sticks and lots of others in the room, making noise and creating a lot of confusion, expected to do tasks that they are unfamiliar with.  Then, we come in, a bunch of other Tanzanian teachers and some weird mzungu (me!), asking a lot of questions and doing things that are even more unexpected.  They tend to clam up and speak in fearful whispers, or they act out and try to get my attention, anticipating zawadi (gifts) from the white girl.  It's hard to observe them naturally as my mere presence in the classroom is unnatural.

If we ask them their names, we usually get a slow-blinking, open-mouthed gape followed by the tiniest whisper which of course leads to mistakes and confusion.  Jennifer becomes Janet.  Barnaba becomes Baraka.  And on and on.  In addition, checking against the teacher's logs or seeing what the parents have written on their children's notebooks may not offer the clarification one might think.  Written language is fluid here and names can have multiple spellings.  Jennifer --> Jenifer --> Jenifa --> Jenipha.
Then, even if we say a thousand times that we want their first name and their father's name only, we will get a lot of crazy answers.  Sometimes the names are simple like "Alex Emanuel."  We have had two of those in the past two years.  Other times, names are more exotic as in "Kelvin Kidogola" and we have to determine whether the child has given us some foreign clan name or if the baba has a more locally derived first name.
There's also the issue of the kids having more than one name themselves.  Lots of families give their children two first names, one for home and one for school.  And to make things even more confusing, these names might be very similar.  This year, we have a "Jordan Bariki" whose school name is "Jackson."  To heap another bewilderment on top of the pile, Jordan/Jackson is a twin.  The brother's name?  "Johnson Bariki."  Not sure if that's his school name or home....

Finally, kids loooove getting their photos taken so if we go in one day and do the rounds, the next day when we come back, we ask if we had missed anyone the day before and the kids love to trick us and say they didn't get their photos taken so we have to do it again!  This creates confusion and frustration for ME as the picture-taking is not meant to be fun and games but rather a comprehensive way of knowing how many and who we are dealing with.  But since they're kids and they're cute as hell, they get a free pass on this bad behavior.  It's just annoying after a long day at school, and then attending to my mom, to have to go through 150 or so photos to make sure there are no duplicates and no one has pulled the wool over my eyes!

After matching up the kids' photos and names, we then try to observe each child individually so we have a clue of what we're working with prior to assessing them.  Sometimes, the Standard One teachers are able to point out who they have identified as a slow learner or who doesn't hear or see well.  This year, we have a few kids who will definitely need the support of the Project, either via our pullout program of extra tutoring or through referral appointments at the eye doctor or hearing clinic.

With forms in hand, we make the rounds in the classroom, looking for issues with motor skills, behavior, adaptive skills, self-management, and social skills.  If a child shows up to school very dirty or is quiet and keeps to himself as opposed to playing with friends, we might make a note of these red flags as well as the child's academic proclivities.  We have pretty much finished this process at Msaranga Primary so this coming week, Hyasinta has divided the teachers (my Taylor Swift girl squad!) into small teams, some of whom will go into the new schools to do Observation there, others who will remain with us at Msaranga to begin the next step, Assessment.

We are looking at another VERY busy week and I am both happy about that as well as mildly fearful.  But I know that I am not alone, the teachers are behind me, and with Vumi guiding us from above, we cannot fail.  In addition to observing at the new schools and testing in Msaranga, we have a child headed to Gabriella for Therapy Week and one of the new girls will go with him and his dad.  Thursday, we have two kids to attend the eye clinic at KCMC and Hyasinta and I will take them along with their parents as we do not do referral appointments without the presence of a guardian.  I think my mom will also come with us so she can experience firsthand the glory of the Tanzanian health system!  (,,,

For now, check out the photos and videos below of Observation from last week.  Feel my pain?  Just kidding, it's hard work, but soooo worthwhile.  More anon!


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