Monday, July 20, 2009

Rwandan Genocide Tribunals in Arusha

For the first time, last Monday, I had a chance to attend the Rwandan Genocide Tribunals which are taking place at the Arusha International Conference Centre (AICC). The Tribunals have been going on for sometime now, under the auspices of the United Nations. The day I went it was a witness for the defense who was being cross-examined by the prosecution. The lawyers and the panel of judges seemed to be mainly speaking French, which was very interesting to listen to. The witness was speaking a language which to me sounded like a blend of French and Kiswahili, which I suppose is a local dialect to Rwanda. The witness was behind a curtain and every time they had to speak about another person, they court would go in camera and the public would have to leave. We wore headsets and could listen to the proceedings in either English, French or Kiswahili.

The proceedings were certainly interesting. Also surreal. They were talking about events that took place in the spring of 1994. I can’t imagine having to provide details about something that happened 15 years ago! The witness spoke fairly confidently but the prosecution was very strong as well. The oddest part was that even though we were behind a glass wall looking into the court room, the glass was transparent (as opposed to one way), so everyone in the courtroom could see the public. I made eye contact with an alleged murderer of genocide activity. I will have to follow his trial via the UN website and see how it turns out. I think they will deliver a decision some time in September.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Teaching in Tanzania

So yes, I am teaching again, and it is going really well. I am enjoying the kids for the most part, but try to stick with either the little little ones (2-4) or the older ones (10-15) as the middle ones have a limited knowledge of English and don't always know what I am saying. Since the preferred methods of discipline are big threats ("you are doomed") and beatings with a stick, I am REALLY not into disciplining here, even less so than I ever was at home or in England.
I am also enjoying working with the teachers to help them out - I guess I do have some teaching knowledge to make things easier and more interesting for everyone - just fresh ideas maybe from what they have. The teachers here basically come out of high school, do two year diploma (I have no idea if they actually learn pedagogy) and that's it. So they might be like 21 or so when they start. Bizarre.
I am teaching English (hard to remember grammar concepts!!), French (really fun!) and Science (hard to do with limited, and I mean limited, resources).
The school is private, so families pay about $300 US a year per kid, which is a LOT here. Yet, there are no lights, no books, scarce pencils, "rubbers" (out of the gutter), and few posters to look at. The Director is looking to build a new modern school outside of the city. More on that later.
The classrooms are "lit" through natural light and each one seats about 20 kids. To get to many of the classrooms, you have to walk through another one, interrupting that lesson.
Surprisingly (or due to discpln strats) the kids at my school are quite well behaved. Like home, you can tell which ones are acting up b/c they are bored.
Teaching French is funny b/c I have to explain/support in English, which is still their foreign language! And I forget, when I say something like "cuisiner means to cook" and they look at me blankly. OOh, what is the Swahili work for cook? OH yeah, well, chakula is food, something like that.
I am taking Kiswahili lessons here, and trying but since the school and my home life is in English it is not working as well as I had hoped. I know the common greetings, which will impress the average Tanzanian, but when it comes to much more, I scrounge for my little dictionary, like a true Mzungu.
Mzungu is the Kiswahili word for foreigner - I think I wrote about it before. I get called that about 20 times a day. It's as if you were walking down the street at home, saw someone Black or from China, and shouted out "Hey Blackperson! Hey Chinalady!" Quite bizarre but totally normal here.
The best is when little kids, soooo adorable (my suitcase IS big enough...), say Mzungu! wave hysterically, and when you say hi and wave back, they LOVE it!! They laugh and cheer! It is really cute. And if you shake their hand, they nearly swoon.
There are Maasai wandering everywhere. They wear old bits of tire for shoes, very resourceful. i really wish I had brought a copy of The White Maasai to share with the other volunteer women here. I might be able to find it in the store here yet. I am glad I read it though even though that crazy woman was, well crazy!

Many people in the house are lovely. There are of course a few who have still come to Africa with hair straighteners, tons of makeup, etc. Not sure what their plans are, and not to say, sure, you can put in some effort, but it is really not necessary. We are already spectacles in our "white" and foreigness. Makeup just makes it more flashy. I have not worn makeup since I got here! HOw liberating!
Also, we tend to go to bed around 10 pm and up at 6am!! Can you believe it - me up everyday at 6am??
Also, I have become a bit of a yoga teacher, leading classes twice a week for 30 min at 615am. Its really nice and good for me to get up and do yoga with others. I will hvae to maintain it when I get home.
I have also been running a few times, but it is hard - between the higher altitude, the smoggy (unfiltered exhaust here) air, and the incessant dust it is a bit of a push on the body, but worth it.
We eat a ToN of carbs here - rice, pasta, WHITE bread (YUCK) but that is the menu at the house. We do go out sometimes, but on a budget eating at home is preferable.
Ok, this is long and I just wanted to catch you up on some of the daily deets you may have been craving.
Once a teacher, always a teacher - a wise woman once said to me.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Another eye-opening day in Tanzania

Some of you had asked for my mailing address so here it is:

c/o TVE HOUSE, PO Box 16446, Sakina, Arusha, Tanzania

Today was the holiday known as Saba Saba here in Tz.  That is the seventh day of the seventh month and it seems to be a workers holiday.  My school was closed so I took the opportunity to go to a different placement, at an orphanage known as Big Furaja, named after its eccentric founder, a pastor who cannot have children of his own and now has up to 200 that visit his small school on any given day. Of these there are some 30 who are HIV positive due to a variety of reasons, mainly that one or both of their parents is/was HIV positive.  We spent the morning playing and singing songs with the 80 or so that were there today.  Then we took all the younger ones, 58, and piled everyone to a total of 68 people with all the teachers and helpers, into a daladala (like a minivan) and I think we must have broken a record as we made our way to Lake Duluti for an outing.  A daladala has seats for about 16 people usually, so you can imagine we were quite crammed in! The lake is beautiful and probably for many of the children this may have been their first time in a vehicle and to a lake, all in one day!

After that adventure, we had a Swahili lesson with Furaja and his staff, then a lunch of plain salted rice and finally ended the visit by going to a funeral with him to pay condolences to the family ("Pole" - sorry). We were not even sure who the mourners were, but on our way out a very tall Masai man seemed to take a liking to the mzungus and followed us out to the road, chatting away the whole time! Apparently he is the village oddball.  So in the time that would be a normal teaching day for me, I had a whirlwind of different activities and so many beautiful children.  And now I am pretty exhausted. 

I wonder about how it would be possible to help out Furaja and his orphans.  They need everything.  Food, beds, books, pens, medicine... the list goes on.  In some ways it seems that the volunteers who come to him are really keeping things on the ball.  He is eccentric, and passionate, and obviously full of love for the children.  But he is not the most organized or long-range thinking.  One of his staff, the ''interpreter", spent most of the day hitting on myself and the other female volunteers, and then asked us each to sponsor him to go to college to become a tour guide.  This is a fairly frequent occurance, to have someone ask me to support them, within 10 min of talking to me.  With him it was easy to say, well, I am a student myself, and how could I support you when I see there are so many children here who need food and medicine? But he kept asking nonetheless.  With others, they simply see volunteers as money.  As access to support.  And at the same time, there is such a need for administration, long term and sustainability planning, there is no way that throwing money at anyone will do much good.  A bit frustrating to be sure.  And at the same time, many people seem happy.  For more reflection, but I welcome any discussion or comments about this, and how I might help these children.

Best wishes,


Friday, July 03, 2009

A mountain of a challenge and success!

First of all I want to invite you to view some photos from the journey at Let me know if you can't access them.
It is hard to sum up a week of my life into words. I am still processing the whole experience. I would say that the summit day was the most physically and emotionally challenging day of my life. I am going to keep it short today and reflect some more before I share with the blogosphere, but basically the first 4 days were amazing hiking through a variety of ecosystems and climates, including rainforest, semi-desert, "heather", and then the summit with the glaciers.
In brief, the summit day begins at midnight and the next 6-7 hours are spent huffing and puffing up a grey, rocky 45 degree angle in the dark with only a headlamp. It was a tough, tiring cold slog and the summit is welcomed with the sunrise coming up beside us. I nearly didn't make it but my guide John was tough on me, didn't let me lay down to sleep as I wanted, thankfully. Good thing I am obedient.
So I did it! Well, I made it to Stella Point. Uhuru, with another 150 m to go, was just too much further... next time?? Nah, I am happy with what I did! :)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A week in the life of Tanzania ** graphic warning **

Since the last time I wrote, I have had so many new experiences that I hardly know where to begin. A brief summary includes an attack by killer bees, a visit to a local hospital, a tour of the slums of Arusha with a local, a hike up to an incredible waterfall and a Maasai village, and the best dinner ever.

Perhaps I should begin with the most … exciting?? Last Friday afternoon, yes, even the day before I posted my last blog entry, I was out with many from our Volunteer House, past the east end of Arusha in an area called Usa River. Several of my covolunteers work out there, in an orphanage/school/widows support centre/eco park. Every Friday evening they host a party of sorts, with local food, drinks and dancing to enjoy. It had been less then 10 minutes after arrival when one of the boys threw a rock at a bee hive on the premises. Now a word about African bees: they are tough, focused and dedicated to the end. AND they like the smell of Burt’s Bees products. So – I was fresh meat.

Once the bees found me, I can’t describe to you how scary it was. They swarmed everywhere, stinging like mad, and I was only able to escape what I can’t imagine when a local family living in a hut nearby threw a sarong to me. It covered me which stopped the bees momentarily so I could run into their hut. They kindly kept me safe, picking out over 50 bees out of my skin and hair. Arms, legs, hands and head were ripe targets. The family was incredibly nice, speaking in Kiswahili and repeating over and over “pole” for sorry. After some 45 min I was able to leave the hut, and with help made it to the main road to jump into a dala dala (local “public transit” – more on that later) which eventually took me to a hospital.

I will skip some of the adventure in lieu of time and space to tell you that while the government run hospitals are cheap, this one was extremely basic. The doctor hardly assessed me, basically saying, why were you playing with bees? The nurses wished to inject me straight away with hydrocortisone, which in my stressed and pained state I simply agreed to because at that moment I thought there could be nothing worse than how I was feeling. I should also mention that during the attack, I had dropped my purse with all ID, money and phone in the middle of a field. Thankfully it was returned to me later entirely intact.

In Mount Meru hospital I am quite sure that the person two beds over was dying of TB, and the man in the next bed was suffering from AIDS-related complications. The bedsheet was bloodstained and the tub they gave me to relieve my adrenaline stomach ache was dirty. No one gave me a tissue to wipe my face of tears, snot and vomit. But like I said, there were bigger issues at that hospital. Needless to say, I am glad I made it through the end of that entire experience, although I am still fighting the ridiculous itching of many many bee stings that resurfaced after several days. Ahh, the human body. Best friend, worst enemy. I owe a particular thanks to Michelle, a woman from Ottawa area who is at the Vol. House with me, who helped me out a ton, getting me to the hospital and out again. I would have been in a much worse state without her.

Due to time and space considerations, I will cut this one off for now and catch up again in the next few days. So many of the things I have experienced are due their own entries and space for reflection on their own.

I wish you all well and I welcome comments and questions.

Best of love,

Saturday, June 06, 2009

First post from Arusha, Tanzania

Hello friends and family!
This is my first post, after being here a week, not including 12 hours in Kenya and an 8 hour bus ride from Nairobi to Arusha. I have so much to tell you so I realize I had better commit to at least weekly postings, if not more. For those of you that read Amber's blog from her trip here last fall, I regret that I doubt my postings will be that long or detailed. Sitting at a computer for more than an hour is rather tedious and the internet is sloooow, at times. Not my regular life, but not much of it is here!
Here are a few tidbits to tantalize you:
- I am staying, at least for now, at Volunteer House, in Sakina, Arusha. It is quite fancier than what I had expected, with proper flush toilets and often hot showers. I am in a room of 4 women, on bunks and while the space it tight, we all seem to get along well. We are expecting a new roommie this evening to replace the Irish doctor who left after 3 weeks, which, for her, included establishing the beginnings of a med clinic for remote Maasai people - see I told you I have so much to tell you!!
- The other volunteers range in age from 19-39, from all over the world, and here for all sorts of reasons. But even my first night I was able to engage in a thoughtful and critical conversation about foreign volunteerism, African culture and the expectations of "Westerners", and power. Quite interesting.
- I am currently teaching full time at a local English- based school, very close to where I am staying and they seem to want to give me whatever I would like. So far, I have 3 or 4 French classes a week - which is a bit confusing when I leave the school and people address me in Kiswahili! I am also teaching several levels of English and some social studies, although that may change as my knowledge of African politics and geography is to be desired. The school is small and private and while is it certainly the barebones compared to what we have at home, I don't necessarily feel I am doing the best work for why I came here. For example several of my co-volunteers are working in orphanges, for AIDS, for special needs, for Maasai women, etc. The children at my school seem rather priviledged, and even yesterday (was it yesterday??) a student asked how much I would charge to teach him English after school. An honour, certainly, but seriously?? On the whole the students are lovely, work very hard and do not seem to take education for granted in the way ours do, often.
- The town of Arusha is yet to be explored in great depth - today perhaps. I teach until 3pm
and really it is best to be back home by 6 or 630pm to be safe. We can taxi home in the dark as long as we are in a group. Mzungu is the word heard most often - meaning Western, or White, person - and sometimes it is said as a greeting, or a comment or sometimes even somewhat aggressively, although that is rare. I would say the majority of my encounters with locals have been overwhelmingly positive. I have a particular story to tell you but it will have to wait til next time, for a few reasons... now are you curious??? ;)
- I saw my first view of Mt. Kilimanjaro, through the clouds yesterday. It was truly a site and I got chills up my spine. Eventually, all being well, I will say that I have looked at the world from the top of it. The plan is perhaps the end of June, as a number of us Vols are interested together, which would be nice, and much cheaper. Arusha is at the base of Mount Meru, and while it is impressive, it's lack of snow and wilder (ie. animals, less paths) reputation does not call to me in the same way. Kili first, then who knows from there.
... This is getting longer than I thought...
- My journey here from Canada was on the whole uneventful, quite comfortable and the most bothersome thing about it was the VERY smelly man who sat beside me on the flight from Zurich to Nairobi. Thankfully the plane was half full and I was able to move and take up a short row to myself, for napping. The bus from Nairobi to Arusha was simply a stunning ride, with not a moment of sleeping. Maasai with their herds around every bend, the landscape, the interspersal of bumpy roads and slick highway (when the driver certainly took advantage of highspeed motion!).
- The food here is alright - favourites include beans and maize (forget the name of this meal), AVOCADOS the size of a child's head which are incredibly tastey and beautiful (may never, sadly be able to eat one at home again!!), bananas, cheap beer are all good. Missing my usual dose of yoghurt and ice cream in my diet, and a post-dinnner group journey to the grocery store for little ice creams is an evening outing. I am trying to stay healthy, walking and running when possible, but the air is a bit thinner and much more polluted than home so a slower pace is prefered for sure.
So, that is my week in a very small nut shell.
I will do this again in a week and if you write me individually I will do my best to reply in time.
I miss Canada, and friends and family, but I am very much enjoying my adventure here on my own (with a bunch of random foreigners ;)). Too early to be homesick, me thinks!
Big hugs to all!
Erin in Arusha