Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Kwa Heri (Farewell)

Because it’s been awhile since my last blog post (nearly half a year is indeed awhile), let me bring you up to speed on what I’ve been up to over the past five months.

Late April: my PCPP grant for hosting math and science conferences around the country finally came to fruition and got fully funded. Once again, a HUGE THANK YOU to everyone who helped out. My year-long extension dream of becoming a traveling science man in Tanzania was finally a legitimized reality. Over the following four months, I was more or less in Shika hyper-drive, and in all, nine conferences were funded by the grant around different regions of the Southern Highlands which I call my home (Mbeya, Ruvuma, Njombe). Some of the highlights included:

May: Njombe Science Conference 2.0

Ever since the very first competition I took part in during March 2013 (also in Njombe), I’d been wanting to put together a giant week-long event specifically for math and science activities. This one fulfilled every one of my hopes/expectations and really was the culmination of all the other conferences and trainings I’d done throughout my last year of service and entire 1-year extension. Three PCV schools in Njombe came and brought six Form II students each.

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Left: Participants at the 2014 Njombe Science Conference; Right: A water transport system

We tried some new activities like a water transport design competition, a construction-based game for communication and following directions (both much needed and under-appreciated skills here), science relay races, and the best part of all – science fair projects.

Students present their science fair projects. Left: windmill; Right: plant and animal cells

Groups chose their own preferred topics and presented in front of all of the other teachers and students. The projects were so great! None of them had ever done (or heard of) science projects before, but they were all super creative and artistically done. I was so impressed by all of the students.

To cap off a great week, we arranged for a tour of the nearby Njombe Milk Factory. The kids got to see how to test for milk pH, learned about pasteurization and got to try cheese for the first time in their lives. Even most of the Tanzanian teachers had never had it before.

Left: Students get a hands-on tour of the Njombe Milk Factory. Right: CHEESE!!!

August: Primary School Conference

I had never done a conference for primary school kids before, and in fact I still haven’t, because this one was planned, organized and run entirely by a small group of the Form II students who participated in the Njombe conference. These students were so excited about what they had done in May that they approached Joe, one of the Njombe PCVs, and asked if they could put on a similar conference for younger students.Talk about paying it forward! Of course we were able to set up a time for them to teach nearby primary students (actually another volunteer’s site). And the best part was, they didn’t just copy what we had done in the previous conference; they came up with new activities and competitions to do on their own. All we PCVs did was provide the materials, which were still cheap enough that they could’ve gotten them themselves (slash most of them were '”garbage” items from the village anyways).

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Left: Njombe PCV Joe Antonacci and his Form II student leaders; Right: Primary students engaged in a science competition

Last year I was able to take part in a couple of teacher trainings, and I have to say these students went further above and beyond the call of duty than many of the teacher trainees did. Sometimes it can be difficult to provide teachers with the motivation they need to really take hold of these kinds of alternative teaching techniques – there’s no precedent at their schools, elder teachers stick to old methods of teaching and younger ones don’t want to disrespect them, and many want some financial incentive for going out of their way and adding to their teaching workload. But these students weren’t held back by any of these limitations; they just saw an opportunity to give back to their community and help out their “young brothers and sisters,” and they did it. And that’s why, after all of the conferences and trainings that I’ve been a part of during my three years, I really do think that the secondary students hold the key to the sustainability of projects like this, and it will be through them that real changes are made to the way math and science are taught and understood in this country for years to come.

Left: Participants at the Mlevela Conference; Right: Form II students teach hands-on science activities to primary level students

September: Time to Go

Luckily I was able to fit in all of the conferences that I had hoped to by mid-August, because I knew that I would be leaving my school Wilima in early September. For a while, I thought that I would be getting a replacement at my site, but when all was said and done, no one form the new class was assigned to follow me. It was sad for my school to hear, since they’ve been having volunteer teachers from all different countries since 1992! But they were incredibly grateful to me and completely blew me away with an extravagant going away party on my final day.

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Left: Final photo shoot with my Form II students; Right: Chemistry and Biology teachers from my school

Tanzanian “sherehe”s  (celebrations) typically consist of the same key ingredients: delicious food, long-winded speeches by the guests of honor, and the giving of “zawadi”s (gifts). Finally I was the one getting to give the long speech, for the first time since our swearing-in ceremony three years ago. Unfortunately all of my orange suits are currently back in America, so my wardrobe wasn’t quite up to par from that first time. I really wasn’t expecting any large going away event, but as I’ve learned, saying farewell is a huge sign of respect here. So my school did everything they could to send me off right.They even gave me a couple of beautiful wood carvings as a parting gift – so nice!

Another sherehe tradition – students writing/drawing a message on the board. What a great artist this one was!

As a zawadi from me to the school, I made a kind of picture story book about my life in America to leave as a memento for the students and teachers and also to help expose them to some more interesting differences between the US and TZ.

Left: Me with the school manager and headmaster at the table of honor; Right: Me and Mr. Mbungani, fellow Math and Physics teacher

But before my school’s going away party (allow me to backtrack a bit), Belle and I had our own PCV send-off at her site in Tukuyu. There were seven of us who came, and this time we celebrated the way Americans like to – by stuffing our faces with delicious food. Belle and I arbitrarily chose Christmas as the theme, because, why not? Plus there are a lot of pine trees near her site, so we found a fallen (large) branch and brought it inside to decorate. The house was quite festive, and I gladly took the excuse to whip up some eggnog.

Plenty of festive Christmas decorations for our going away party

We also had a MASSIVE bonfire to burn two years worth of Belle’s old papers; we played board games and bags; and we rented a generator so that we could watch movies on a projector (LEGO Movie was the choice). It was the perfect way to say goodbye to some of our closest friends in country, and led Belle into her shadow week of hosting several of the new volunteers, while I returned home for my last week at site.

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Left: Roasting documents rather than marshmallows; Right: Awkward family Xmas photos

From there, we spent our final week in Dar, completing our scavenger hunt of paperwork around the PC office to get ourselves off the books. It used to be a very anticlimactic finish to your service, just getting the final signature and a, “Well… see ya later…” But now the country director has a special bell that we get to ring when we are all finished. A more suitable way of getting the “R” in RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer).


And now here I am, sitting in the airport, eating my three-year-old M and M’s from our original staging days in Philadelphia that I saved for this occasion, ready to leave Tanzania. All of the goodbyes over the past several weeks have come with many mixed emotions – sad to leave so many great people and memories behind, but also extremely excited to begin a new wave of travel adventures. Belle and I are ready to embark on our most excellent of journeys around the world for the next two and a half months. Ethiopia – Thailand – Australia (incl. Tasmania) – New Zealand, Japan and back to Chicago just before Thanksgiving. And because this trip is worthy of a higher caliber of documentation, we’ve started a new joint blog for our travels called Belle and Steve’s Excellent Adventure ( Check it out!

So kwa heri Peace Corps, kwa heri Tanzania, and kwa heri to all of those following this blog – and THANK YOU for reading!!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

World Malaria Day

For part of my 2-week midterm and Easter break, I returned to Belle’s site in Mbeya. In addition to puzzling and cooking tons of delicious food, we decided it would be a good idea to put on some kind of event for World Malaria Day (April 25th) to help raise awareness at her school. But because we are both huge science nerds, we also wanted to find a way to incorporate math and science into the activities. So Thursday the 24th, we held a special World Malaria Science Day for Belle’s Form IV students.

First of all, we wanted to see what the kids already knew about malaria, so we gave them a short quiz of True/False and short answer questions pertaining to the disease, particularly in Tanzania. (See below to take the quiz yourself!) It turned out they actually knew a lot about malaria, which was great! There is a topic in the Biology syllabus that focuses on HIV/AIDS and malaria, so it was good to see that they had retained a lot of that very important information.

After they finished taking the quiz, we went over the answers and allowed the students to ask any other questions they may have had about malaria. What great questions! It really showed that these were some of the top performing students at their school – they were all very engaged in the conversation and truly wanted to learn as much as they could about malaria!

After finishing the Q and A discussion, we moved on to the first activity. The goal was to show how mosquito nets are useful in preventing the spread of malaria. For this activity, we split the students (and one teacher who wanted to participate as well) into 2 teams. One student from each team held a picture of a person (or gingerbread man, if you’re judging my drawing skills…). The rest of the students formed a line and one-by-one had to grab a colored toothpick, or stiki, run up to the front and try to poke it into the drawn person’s body to emulate getting bitten by a mosquito. It was a kind of relay race, so when they got back to the line, the next student could go. We wanted to see how many toothpicks they could stick on the board in 1 minute.

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The trick was, however, that one of the teams had a mosquito net covering their person, which obviously made it more difficult to poke through and reach them. At the end of 1 minute, we looked at the two people and saw that the one not using a net of course had many more mosquito bites than the one protected by the net.

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Then, to add a math spin on the activity as well, we said that among the different colored toothpicks (red, blue, green, black, plain), the red toothpicks represented bites from mosquitoes carrying malaria. Given the drawn person who was riddled with mosquito bites of all colors, we asked the students to give the probability of getting bitten by a malaria-carrying mosquito based on the given distribution. From the activity, there were 13 total toothpicks stuck to the person, 3 of which were red. So the students were able to figure out that the probability of being bitten by a mosquito carrying malaria was 3/13. They were very excited to see a useful application of math!

Our next activity was aimed at showing how malaria gets transmitted among humans and mosquitoes. For this activity, we gave each student a beaker of water. The female students were mosquitoes (because only female mosquitoes can carry malaria) and the male students were humans. Belle began as the lone malaria-carrying mosquito, and so her beaker contained a colorless sodium hydroxide solution, which represented the malaria infection. The female mosquitoes were each given a syringe and told to walk around to the different humans and exchange small amounts of liquid from each of their beakers. They had to show two transfers of liquid using the syringes – first, taking some of their own liquid and depositing it into the human’s beaker (to show the passing of saliva from mosquito to human) and then also to take some liquid from the human and place it into their own beaker (to show the sucking of the human’s blood).

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This went on for a few minutes until all of the mosquitoes had a chance to bite all of the humans. After that, we had all of the mosquitoes come up to the front of the room. Although all of the beakers remained colorless, we wanted to know which of the beakers were now infected with malaria (sodium hydroxide). Using a special indicator called phenolphthalein (PoP), we could determine which beakers were infected and which weren’t. PoP is an indicator that remains colorless in acidic and neutral solutions (e.g. water), but gives a bright pink color when added to basic solutions (e.g. sodium hydroxide). So by adding a small amount of PoP to each beaker, we knew that if we saw pink, the beaker must be infected with malaria. It turned out that all of the mosquitoes and humans were now infected with malaria, even though we began with only a single malaria-carrying mosquito!!

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How could this be? When Belle began biting humans, she was transferring the malaria infection to all of them and causing them to become carriers. Then when another mosquito came along and bit the same person, they contracted the infection and helped to pass it on to other humans. Even the one human that Belle did not bite directly ended up with malaria, because other mosquitoes who had become infected were able to pass it on to him. The activity was a great way to learn about the transmission of malaria, while getting a good Chemistry review at the same time!


Our World Malaria Day event was a great success and a wonderful opportunity to show more of the important everyday applications of math and science. Thanks so much to Belle and Mwatisi Secondary for making it all possible!

I also want to take this chance to thank each and every one of you who donated to my Math and Science Conference project! The grant is now fully funded, and we have begun preparations for our Njombe conference in mid-May. More on that to come soon, but for now, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!!

And finally, as promised, here is the malaria quiz so that you can see how much you know about malaria (answers at the end). Karibu (Welcome)!

I. True/False

  1. Malaria is a major problem in Tanzania.
  2. Mosquitoes spread malaria by transferring blood to humans.
  3. Mosquitoes can spread HIV/AIDS.
  4. If you have malaria, you don’t need to use a bed net.
  5. Malaria test kits are always correct.
  6. Only some regions of Tanzania must be concerned with malaria.
  7. Everyone should sleep with a mosquito net.
  8. All mosquitoes can transmit malaria.
  9. Malaria can be passed through pregnancy from mother to child.
  10. Mosquitoes are more common in cold areas.
  11. Mosquitoes tend to reproduce in moving water.
  12. Everyone who is sick has malaria or influenza.
  13. Malaria can be passed from one person to another like a cold or flu.
  14. In 2010, 660,000 people died from malaria world-wide.
  15. Malaria is most common in Africa.

II. List 3 prevention strategies to avoid getting malaria.

III. Why is malaria so common in Africa?

IV. What more would you like to know about malaria?



I. True/False

  1. True
  2. False – Mosquitoes only transfer saliva to humans, not blood.
  3. False – Because mosquitoes do not transfer blood to humans, they can not transfer HIV/AIDS.
  4. False – You can still transfer malaria to other mosquitoes and hence humans, so you should still use a net.
  5. False – Malaria tests can be wrong! Nothing is 100% accurate.
  6. False – Malaria is a problem in every region of Tanzania.
  7. True
  8. False – Only female Anopheles mosquitoes transmit malaria.
  9. True – This is called congenital malaria.
  10. False – Mosquitoes are found mostly in warm and tropical climates.
  11. False – Mosquitoes tend to reproduce in stagnant water.
  12. False – This is a common misconception in Tanzania. Many people write off any kind of sickness as either malaria or the flu, which leads to many incorrect diagnoses.
  13. False – Malaria exists in a human’s bloodstream and thus cannot be transferred by ordinary contact or by coughing, sneezing, etc.
  14. True – According to the World Health Organization (WHO)
  15. True

II. Malaria Prevention Strategies

  1. Sleep with a bed net
  2. Keep mosquitoes from biting you, especially at night
  3. Insect repellant and spray
  4. Wear long-sleeved shirts if out at night
  5. Wear light colored clothing
  6. Take malaria prophylaxes/medication
  7. Kill mosquitoes!!!

III. Why is malaria so common in Africa?

  1. Tropical climate
  2. Lack of malaria control programs
  3. Lack of treatment and medication availability
  4. Lack of education about malaria prevention

IV. Other questions?

Check out some of these great sites for more info on malaria and World Malaria Day!

World Health Organization (WHO):

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

Stomp Out Malaria (Peace Corps Initiative):

Tanzania-Specific Page:

World Malaria Day 2014:

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Pi Day and SEGA Science Day

Admittedly, both of these events carry misleading titles – there was no pie to be eaten on Pi Day, and SEGA Science Day didn’t include any video games (nor did the school have a hedgehog mascot, disappointingly). These minor deficiencies were overcome, however, as they did serve as great forums for spreading the word of Shika, as in hands-on math and science.
This year marked the 10th annual Pi Day celebration in Tanzania, and it was held in a large gated park at Mnazi Mmoja grounds in Dar es Salaam. This was the first year that the event spanned two days, catering to its first-time theme of hands-on teaching aids in mathematics. What could be more fitting to the Shika na Mikono team?! As luck would have it, I knew the man running the Pi Day event from a math conference that I attended in Arusha a couple years ago, so he remembered our group and invited us to come and present some of our best math teaching aids.
Interactive teaching aids for algebraic equations (left) and coordinate geometry (right)
The first day was mainly an exhibition for the public. Teachers and students from nearby primary and secondary schools came to see and use the different teaching aids on display. We weren’t the only ones with great ideas to show – there were simple games using fraction flashcards, as well as interactive computer programs for calculating volume and surface area (the program was actually made by Form IV students!). Our Peace Corps tables definitely carried a unique theme of using local materials. Our goal was not only to show interactive ways of teaching math topics, but also that they can be done cheaply and easily even in the most rural schools. The constant flow of engaged students kept us busy for hours, until the daily afternoon storms rained out our parade.
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A Tanzanian teacher’s aid for teaching integers (left); Shika Math Team ready to go (right)
The second day was the actual Pi Day, March 14th. A select few of the teaching aid presenters were asked to come back to show off their displays for the guest of honor, the Vice President of Tanzania. The big sherehe (celebration) consisted of a morning parade through the streets of Dar by students carrying picketing signs calling for improvements in math education. Following that was a children’s dance performance, which I later found out was actually a native dance to Botswana, called Makilikili. Many invigorating speeches later, the VP walked around to the different teaching aid displays, so we all had a chance to greet him in Swahili, which he was a little surprised to hear coming from us not-so-Tanzanian-looking volunteers. The rest of the afternoon was again open to the public, so we handed out a lot of brochures and copies of our math and science teaching manuals to help spread the word about Shika.
DSC05437DSC05482    Students march for math at Pi Day (left); Makilikili, a native dance of Botswana (right)
Meeting with the Vice President of Tanzania at the Pi Day celebration in Dar es Salaam
Still reveling in the glory of our successful Pi Day extravaganza, the Math Team packed up its bags and equipment and hit the road for Morogoro, using the power of Tanzanian buses to magically transform a 3-hour trip into an impressive 6-hour safari. We were received by the rest of our Shika team, new and old, for our yearly crossover meeting as we began the process of handing over the reins to next year’s class of mad scientists. After a day of discussing future goals and visions for the group, we took advantage of having everyone together in one place by putting on a Science Day event at the school of another Peace Corps Volunteer living in Morogoro. Our forces combined, we were determined to put on a show for the girls of SEGA Secondary, a young school of only about 130 students, most of which are orphans or have been displaced from their original homes.
DSC05536The girls of SEGA Secondary prepare for a special Science Day 
Altogether there were 11 of us, so we had plenty of Shika-power to distribute among the kids. We veterans tried to take a back seat as much as possible, since the point of having the event was for the new members to gain some experience in planning and preparing for similar trainings in the future. The girls were split into groups and rotated among 4 subject stations: Math groups played number line games and solved tangram puzzles; Physics groups built straw towers and made paper helicopters and airplanes; Biology groups taste-tested different flavor mixtures and played a food-gathering game about evolution; Chemistry groups learned about combustion and used vinegar and baking soda to blow up balloons with carbon dioxide. At the end of the day, we gathered everyone together for the grand finale, where we set off a reaction to make elephant toothpaste ( and lit a sufuria (pot) full of smoke bombs.
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Students gather food in an evolution game for Biology (left); Tangram puzzles for Math (right)
Elephant toothpaste reaction (left); Past and present Shika members at SEGA Secondary (right)
The SEGA girls were incredibly grateful for us coming and loved every second of our shenanigans. We all left Morogoro feeling accomplished and assured of the continued success of the Shika Team. Not that any of us old-timers are ready to let go of it just yet, however – we’ve still got a few months left until we go out with our final bang.
In the same light of everything else I’ve talked about in this post, I also received wonderful news recently that my grant proposal for putting on Science Competitions in this country has been approved!! The project is now listed on the Peace Corps website ( and is open to receive donations. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE consider helping out with this if you’re able. The entire Science Day event at SEGA was done on a budget of under $50, and we were able to give 130 girls a day that they will never forget and that has certainly allowed them to see math and science in an exciting way that they’ve never seen before. For my project, I want to hold 5 or more multi-day conferences / teacher trainings to further the reach of the Shika philosophy and try to get as many Tanzanians as possible to see the advantage of interactive learning and a hands-on approach to science. Thank you in advance for taking an interest in this too!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Mikalanga Science Competition

In keeping with my extension goal of becoming a “Traveling Science Man” in Tanzania, in early February I took a trip to the valley/bowl of Mbinga, a small town near Songea known for its coffee production and less-than extensive diet consisting mainly of ugali wa mihogo (a lump of starch made from cassava flour). Another extending volunteer from my original Peace Corps class helped to host the 2-day competition between his school and that of another nearby volunteer.

The visiting school wasn’t able to come the first day, so we did a sort of preliminary competition among four teams from the host Mikalanga Secondary School, with student participants coming from all Forms (I-IV). From there, two teams advanced to take on the rival Hagati Secondary, which was represented the next day with four teams of its own. The host school was definitely seen as the underdog, since Hagati students have traditionally performed better on national examinations, and they are considered the more coveted school in the area for those families that can afford the higher school fees.

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Mbinga students have fun playing with magnets and building towers out of straws.

In the end, however, it was one of the Mikalanga teams that proved victorious, after completing a variety of the staple events such as Egg Drop, Bridge Challenge (teams buy all building materials using a few Science Shillings), Raft Rally (build a raft from aluminum foil), Jenga Jengo (make the tallest building out of straws) and some fun math and logic puzzles. The students were really excited at exceeding their own expectations for themselves and their school, and according to the volunteer at Mikalanga, they were able to show off at the morning assembly the following Monday.

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Mikalanga students show up to cheer on their school’s teams; participants pose with PCV and Tanzanian teachers who came to support the science competition.

This competition was a great and unique experience for me because the host school Mikalanga is one of the lowest performing secondary schools in the region, and has only recently gotten a couple of science teachers, meaning that many of the students there have not studied math or science for their entire high school education. Coming to that kind of setting to do a science competition reminded me of the real value of doing these kinds of events. At least for me, it’s not so much about getting every student to understand all of the concepts being talked about or necessarily showing immediate improvement on exams as it is about getting students to make some positive associations with math and science rather than just writing them off as “very difficult,” or in the case of math, “ugonjwa wa taifa” (“national disease”). Getting to see an entire school of underperforming students who have never left their home village cheering, standing on tables to watch bridge testing and intently listening to a butchered Swahili explanation of Archimedes’ Principle was a great motivation for me and a reminder of the reason why I wanted to extend my service in the first place. Many thanks to Mikalanga and Hagati schools for participating and for hosting me!

One of the perks of visiting the volunteer’s site near Mbinga was its proximity to Lake Nyasa (or Lake Malawi), which means delicious fresh fish was only a 12 hour hike away. Luckily for me, Jerome was coming back from the lake anyways, and so he shared with me some of the best fish I’ve ever had. Also on the menu for the weekend was a slightly less traditional delicacy, pigeon. Jerome’s neighbors had recently started raising a small pigeon farm of sorts, which were apparently not the best courtyard-mates, so he was pretty pleased with the idea of taking them off their hands. Turns out, when they’re not bathing in sewers and eating city trash, pigeons aren’t all that bad (sometimes the stereotype “tastes like chicken” is perfectly valid). Nonetheless, this is definitely an experience I don’t need to recreate in America.

In other news, our Shika na Mikono science team has selected its newest members from the most recent group of Education volunteers. Of course myself and the rest of the current team will still be around for a while, but we wanted to incorporate the new people as early as possible so that we can hand things off better over the course of several months rather than a couple weeks, which is how it’s been done in the past. We will all be gathering in Morogoro in mid-March to do a Science Day at a nearby volunteer’s school so that the new group can get some experience in preparing for and conducting such events and trainings. The Shika team has made such great progress in working with the Ministry of Education over the past year that we want to make sure that that relationship continues to grow in years to come.

So more on that to come shortly, as well as a recap of a math Pi Day celebration on 3/14, so stay tuned!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Changing of the Seasons

After narrowly escaping the dreaded “polar vortex” that quickly consumed Chicago and many other parts of the US in a wave of snow and sub-zero temperatures, Belle and I successfully migrated back to the melting heat wave that is Dar es Salaam in early January. My month-plus visit home, complements of the Peace Corps as part of my 3rd year extension, was of course as fun-filled, relaxing and fattening as I could have hoped for.

DSCN5471To make for a smoother transition back into the country (and to kill time before going to the in-service training of the new Education Volunteers), Belle and I took a detour to Mafia Island the day after our return to country. Apparently NOT known for housing all of the head Tanzanian mobsters (who knew?), Mafia is actually well known for having whale sharks pass by on their annual migration pattern from the months of November – early February. We were able to see 5 or 6 of them and actually got to swim and snorkel alongside them! Whale sharks are apparently the largest fish in the world, but pose no threat to humans because they are filter feeders that only eat plankton. They have really cool spots on their bodies, which are unique to each individual and can be used as an alternative “tagging” method for biologists to identify them. Even though they are relatively slow swimmers compared to other ocean-dwellers, they were able to easily out-swim us as soon as we entered the water. But we were still able to get close enough in the boat so that when I jumped in, I almost got smacked in the face by one’s massive tail fin. It was a lot of fun!

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After Mafia we decided to make an impromptu trip to Zanzibar for a couple days. I had been there once before when Christine came to visit a year and a half ago, but it was Belle’s first time, so we did the spice tour which includes a nice trip to the beach at the end. More delicious sea food and fresh sugar cane juice as well.



The real reason we had to stay in Dar all that time though was because the new group of Volunteers who arrived last July were having their in-service training, and our Shika na Mikono science team was given a day to do sessions for them. For this training, volunteers come with their counterparts (Tanzanian teachers at their schools who they work well with) and go through the sessions together. We themed the Shika sessions in a game show setting called “Whose Lab is it Anyway?” It consisted of three rounds for teams of PCVs and Tanzanians together to compete in making useful math and science teaching aids and hands-on activities.


The first round had all teams separated by subject (math, physics, biology, chemistry), trying to use a table of local materials (aka trash) to teach about a topic from the Tanzanian syllabi. We Shika members served as coaches/judges and selected one team from our subject to advance to the next round. For Round 2, the four remaining teams were given additional time and better materials to prepare a 3-minute mini lesson from one of three assigned topics from their subject. While they were preparing that, the rest of the teams were able to get guidance on the national exams or compete in a “losers bracket” science competition of constructing buildings out of straws. The remaining teams presented their mini lessons to the audience, but were judged on a scale of 1-10 by our panel of Shika experts. Without meaning to, I apparently became the Simon of the group because I was not quite as lenient of a scorer as the rest of the judges. The top 2 teams advanced to Round 3, where they were given 5,000 shillings (about 3 dollars) of credit to buy a limited set of items found in local stores to prepare a hands-on activity that could be performed by a full class of students. This time, we played the role of the students, but the audience got to vote for the winner. We gave out prizes to winning teams that we had picked up in our recent trip to America. Everyone seemed to enjoy it, especially all the cheesy game show music we cued up throughout the show.

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We had a great time preparing everything too (exhausting though it was), and coming up with new explosion ideas for the introduction. For this one, we rigged up several sets of hydraulic presses using plastic syringes and tubing which could be used to push small cups of kerosene into charcoal stoves below, which made big flames timed to the lyrics of Fall Out Boy’s new “Light it Up” song. It was cool because using the syringe presses made it possible for someone to hide behind the front table and “detonate” the explosions remotely without being seen by the audience. Then Ben, the host, came in and announced the rest of us one-by-one as we popped out from our hiding places (I was hiding behind a curtain) and dropped smoke bombs into the stoves. The people in the front row got a bit of smoke in their faces, but it still got a good reaction from the crowd.


In keeping with the "Changing of the Seasons” theme, this was likely the last Peace Corps training that our group will do together, since this new group of volunteers will soon be taking over the reins of Shika. Soon we will choose our successors with the help of the Peace Corps staff, and hopefully be able to serve as mentors to them during the remaining time that we all have in country before we hand things over completely. It’s always difficult passing on projects from one class to the next, but it helped last year that I was extending and could help bridge the gap a little bit. It’s doubtful that anyone from the current group will be extending into next year, so we want to get the new group started as quickly as possible so that we can work with them before we leave. We still have a lot planned for the near future as well, and will hopefully continue working with the Ministry of Education doing teacher trainings like we started last year. As for me, I’m now heading back down to the rains and cooler weather of the southern highlands to my site for the start of another school year and teaching Form II math. Helia Mwaka Mpya! (Happy New Year!)