Saturday, February 9, 2013

How Steve Got His Groove Back

Hello all, and greetings once again from the land of Tanzania! It's great to be back after a short, yet
refreshing 3-week visit to America, and now finally after about 5 weeks of getting back into my Tanzanian groove, I am able to use internet and let the updates rain down, not altogether unlike the weather I've been experiencing in what is now the full-on rainy season in the southern highlands of Njombe/Songea. It makes for some exceptional scenery, especially around my school, but of course carries with it the occasional whammy of getting caught in the village for hours on end in the afternoon before being able to make the sloshy hike back to my house on travelling days. It still remains one of my favorite pasttimes though to sit in my house or on the porch during a heavy rainstorm and just see how calm and quiet it seems to be all around, amidst the thunderous and fierce showers.

Unfortunately we had a pretty bad lightning attack a few weeks ago, which not only scared the living bajeebus out of me after lightning struck no more than 20 feet outside my front window, but also caused some pretty serious damage to our generator, leaving us without our typical electricity benefit in the evenings. But all is well (and I am still able to take regular advantage of my incessant movie- and tv show-downloading in America) because our solar power is fully functioning. Another teacher has brought his own inverter to use in the staff room so that teachers can keep their phones and computers charged during the day, and there is still enough left to keep the classrooms lit from 7-10 at night so the students can still have their nigh studies. It's great to now be seeing the real advantages of our solar grant! The school is putting the finishing touches on the new administration block that has been under construction since before I arrived, and when it is fully done we will be able to move on with the next phase of the solar project and make one of the new rooms a computer lab / photocopy room. Can't wait to finally have that!

As for teaching, I've begun with my Form I students, teaching an introductory course called Baseline, which is supposed to get them all up to speed on what they should have learned in 7 years of primary school. I have actually just finished with those topics, so next week I will start with their regularly scheduled programming - math and physics. I am really loving teaching the Form I's. They are all very impressionable and actually haven't given up on math and science yet, so they are all really excited and participating in class and it's great. I can tell a lot of them are able to build up their confidence by doing relatively easy topics to begin the year. And I am definitely beginning to see who the standout students are going to be, so that is keeping me very excited for the rest of my time with them this year. I'm also teaching Form III Physics, and these are the same kids that I taught Physics to last year. At the end of last year, they took their national examinations to see if they would be allowed to continue on to Form III or have to repeat Form II. Surprisingly, only 11 out of 120 or so failed, which is awesome by normal Tanzanian standards. All of the results were quite impressive. They finished 3rd out of 22 in our District and 108 / 408 in the entire Southern Highland zone, which includes Iringa, Njombe and Songea. I was particularly impressed by how they did in Physics also. For the class, they averaged a C and there were actually 3 A's!! Another one of my teachers said he had never seen an A in Physics since he had been at our school, so that is definitely an accomplishment. They certainly deserve a lot of credit because with the shortened schedule last year for the census, we had to rush a bit at the end of the year to fit in all of the topics, so I knew it would be on them to make sure they studied their notes well, and apparently they did, so I was very pleased. Now in Form III, Physics is no longer mandatory, so I just told them that whoever wanted to continue should come join my class, and over 40 of them came, which is fantastic (Usually there are 10-20). Although I'll only be with them for half of the year, it is a great motivation to teach them having seen the effort that they have made so far.

In other school news, my All-Star Girls Conference girls have continued with their life skills teaching, this time teaching the new Form I girls. It was great sitting in on their session (I've never had to say a word in any of their sessions, which shows how prepared and superb leaders the girls are) because you could tell that these new young girls were really looking up to the leaders who are now Form II's. So I think they got a lot out of it. And as always, they LOVE playing musical chairs, which is pretty great entertainment for me as well.

Outside of Peace Corps stuff, there are a couple trips coming up that I am really looking forward to: next weekend we are saying goodbye to Songea's beloved Paul, who was the Dumb to my Dumber (or the other way around) for our Halloween costumes last year and will greatly be missed. So we will be going to Mbamba Bay one more time, which is the nice campsite on the beach at Lake Malawi that I have been to a couple times before. Then a few weeks later, on March 3rd, is the Kilimanjaro Marathon, which, despite having done next to zero training for, I consider myself sufficiently prepared to "run". Of course my only real goal is to finish the race, and put myself one step closer to the ultimate goal of a marathon on every continent (watch out, Antarctica!) so I won't be too disappointed if I end up with a terrible time. At least it should be cooler weather near the mountain than it usually seems to be for the Chicago Marathon.

Now that it is already February, I am really starting to see what little time I have left in Tanzania. Officially, we can begin to COS (leave) in mid-July, though I don't know that I will necessarily be trying to take the first plane outta here since I haven't exactly made any...what do you call those...plans for after Peace Corps. Not to say that I don't have ideas. As I have mentioned, I've been involved in a hands-on science group with Peace Corps, and if it could work out, I could see possibly sticking around to continue with that, perhaps doing things like preparing inter-school science competitions and conferences. It is something that I have really enjoyed doing at my school and at our Girls Conference last year. Myself and 2 other volunteers are planning a small-scale competition like this in mid-March in Njombe, and depending on how that goes, I think I will have a better feel for whether I think it is something I would like to continue doing in this country.

That's all I've got for now, I promise the next update won't take as long to deliver, but thanks again to everyone who continues to check back and take interest in the goings-on of Tanzania! Hope everyone is doing well, and an early Happy Birthday to Mom!!

This was a semi-decent attempt at capturing probably the greatest rainbow I've ever seen. An entire semi-circle with every color vibrant and visible, and from the right viewpoint, my house could be seen perfectly centered underneath it. Pot(s) of gold pending...

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