Saturday, June 2, 2018

Tanzania

There are very few times in my life that I’ve truly felt like I am exactly where I am supposed to be. The three weeks I spent living at Fish Eagle Point and in Boma Village, I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I’ve never met people as kind and generous as the Fish Eagle Point staff members and the people and students of Boma Village. I’ve never felt the kind of purpose and happiness I have felt during my time here. This place will forever have a special place in my heart and the memories I’ve made are my fondest memories. I was my best version of myself during my time in Tanzania, embracing challenges, starting everyday with a smile and learning from those around me. 

I spent most days at Boma Primary school, teaching English to standard 5 (equivalent to grade 5) students. When it was raining or the road was too muddy, we took a big truck to school. The ride was bumpy and beautiful. My favorite part was stopping to pick up the kids on the way. 

When the weather was nice (and by nice I mean very hot and sunny) we got lucky and rode bikes. It was absolutely stunning and I road on a dirt road with chickens, cows, goats, dogs and cats surrounding me. Sometimes on the bike ride home from school, kiddos would hop on the back of my bike and as an amateur bike rider, I was terrified but it was so fun! 

The kids, however, were my most favorite part. Going into the trip I was nervous that it would be hard to form relationships with such a language barrier, but on the very first day when I got off the bus and this sweet little girl (I later learned that her name was Mwanahasan) grabbed my hand and looked up at me with the most beautiful smile, I knew we didn’t need language to create a beautiful friendship. And I was so right. We sang and danced and played charades to get our points across. I had more thumb wars in my three weeks at Boma Primary than I have in my entire life and did “double double this this” hundreds of times a day. I made a fool of myself by speaking the little Kiswahili I know and loved when the kids laughed at me. They poked my skin and watched it change from white to whiter and played with my big curly blonde hair. I can’t remember a time that I didn’t have a student holding my hand or sitting on my lap and I embraced every moment of it. 

As for teaching, I was nervous standing in front of a class of 54 standard 5 students but their drive to learn and generosity allowed for successful days. My favorite experience from teaching was when we taught them pronouns. Often times I was asked “what is my name?” when they really wanted to say “what is your name?” I had no idea how to go about teaching this but one day while I was sitting in the teacher's office, one of my new buddies, Salimu, was standing by me and I asked him to repeat the sentence “I am smart” while pointing to himself. I then continued with “you are smart” and he pointed to another individual in the room. He grasped onto the concept and ran with it - literally walking around the rest of the day saying “I am smart” “she is smart” “we are smart” always using some silly hand motion to show that he understood it. I was beyond proud. The next day in standard 5, Caroline and I decided to teach this to the whole class and by the end of the day all of my students could say “I am smart” and it’s so true. These students are beyond brilliant. The classrooms are simple, consisting of wooden desks, a blackboard and usually a handful of posters or diagrams around the room yet the kids learn so much so fast. Over the three weeks I formed connections with so many of my kiddos. 

Mwanahasan, the little girl from day 1, became basically my side kick. She’s shy but sassy and I love it. When she laughs, her tongue sticks out and I think it’s pretty dang cute!!!

Tomas is brilliant and definitely likes to make others laugh. He danced back to his seat full of pride when he got an answer correct on the board. 

Idi is quiet and hesitant to participate but I know he has a lot to offer the world. 

Katani was basically the standard 5 security guard, always standing by the door and making the little kids go away so the rest of his class could learn. He always offered to carry our bags back to the office and escorted us wherever we wanted to go.

Yusufu and Mudi were eager to participate and loved getting the right answer. 

Maraji has the biggest smile, it brought light to our classroom even when the dark clouds covered the sun and the rain didn’t stop for hours. 

Citi had a sparkle in her eye I’ll never forget and she has the biggest heart. On my last day at Boma Primary, she hugged me tight repeating “pole sana” (Kiswahili for I’m very sorry). Explaining to her and the other kids that happiness was the reason for my tears was hard. 

Mwanakasi never failed to make me laugh with her spunk and attitude. 

And then there’s Salimu. This kid instantly became so special to me and as the days passed, I knew saying goodbye to Salimu would break my heart and I was right. He was so willing to help me when I misspelt a word in Kiswahili. He was always asking about my family and trying to learn more. He did whatever he could to tell me his story and surprisingly, I ended up learning a lot about his mom and dad, sisters and grandparents. His parents live in Zanzibar so he lives with his grandmother. In June, he will spend four weeks with his parents and sisters in Zanzibar and he is so happy. Salimu has changed my heart forever and I know I will see him again. 

And these are just a handful of my standard 5 students. I was lucky enough to also form friendships with students in other standards, like sweet Abu who never wanted us to stand in the sun and lead the school on the drum for morning assembly. I didn’t realize the impact these kids would have on my heart, but when I left them Thursday morning, I left a piece of my heart with them. Boma Primary has become my happy place.

One day during the second week of school, Boma Primary put on a party for all the students and us. Generally this happens on the last day of school, but Ramadan started while we were in Tanzania so we did it early. When we got to school in the morning, we had the chance to help the women prepare the food by cutting tomatoes and peeling potatoes. I really loved contributing to the preparation of the food. Then, the boys played an intense game of soccer for us and the girls played netball (most similar to basketball). I loved seeing the students playing together. I asked “faraha?” (Kiswahili for happy?) many times and they were so happy. When the food was ready, the four of us at Boma stood behind a table while 537 kiddos came up with mugs and containers for food and tea. I was amazed by how many of the students only ate half of their food and saved the rest to take home to their families. 

Aside from teaching, we had amazing excursions on the weekends and a few week days when the students had exams. We went into Tanga on the first Saturday of our trip and got kanga and katange which we then had tailors made things out of. We went to a school supplies store and got pens and exercise books for the students of all five schools we have Purdue students teaching at. The following weekend we went to Sand Island on Saturday, which really is a sandbar in the middle of the Indian Ocean. We snorkled and swam for hours. The water was so clear and like layers of different colors of blue. 

When we got back to Fish Eagle Point, we got ready to go to Boma Village to camp for the night. When we got there, there was a soccer game going on which many Purdue students participated in. The rest of us, myself included, sat on the side lines surrounded by kids from the village as we watched the game. Then we pitched our tents and spent the rest of the night enjoying company under the most beautiful stars I have ever seen!!!! 

On Tuesday, we didn’t go to school since they had examinations. Instead, our trip advisor planned a scavenger hunt for us to do in Tanga. We took the dala dala (which is the public transport) into town. We fit 22 people into a bus about the size of my Mazda Tribute. Each group had a staff member from Fish Eagle Point with them. We went to markets and ate sugar canes, smelled spices, took pictures in front of historic buildings, and so much more. In all, we walked about 10 miles. It was amazing to be part of the culture and see what life is like in Tanga. Tanga is much bigger than any of the villages near Fish Eagle Point, so I enjoyed seeing another part of Tanzania. On the dala dala ride home, our friends from Fish Eagle Point danced and sang and made being squished into a small bus so much fun. 

The next day we had the opportunity to go back to Tanga and volunteer at Pamoja Leo (which is Kiswahili for Together Today). Pamoja Leo is a school that serves the most vulnerable children. There is criteria that a child must meet in order to be allowed into the school, which includes being an orphan, coming from a single parent family or teen mom and many other things. Pamoja Leo feeds the children breakfast, lunch and snacks throughout the day, provides education for these children and offers many educational programs about family planning and so much more. I am so inspired by the work this organization does. The couple who runs Pamoja Leo is from England, but all other staff members are Tanzanians. During our time there, we helped with several tasks including painting murals on the front walls, repainting the front of the center and bathrooms, putting up a playground and putting in tables for an outside classroom that is in the works. Pamoja Leo does not allow short term volunteers to interact with the children, which I so respect, but I am hopeful that the work we did helps these children learn and grow. 

I swam in the Indian Ocean as often as possible and kayaked through man groves. The sights I saw were absolutely breathtaking.

Jill, my trip advisor, and Hannah, our TA, planned a fun on going game for us, which we called Swahili Survivor. The 20 of us split into 4 tribes of 5 students each and competed several times for points. The scavenger hunt in Tanga was one of the events. Other included a photo challenge around Fish Eagle Point, a dance contest judged by the staff members, a competition on who could learn and perform the Tanzania National Anthem best. One of my favorite events was when one member from each tribe was blind folded and had to touch and smell an object and guess what it was. The objects included some typical things including coconut, feathers and palm tree leaves. Others included a star fish, octopus and fish. I loved these challenges and I’m so appreciative of Jill and Hannah for always providing educational and fun experiences for our group. 

On Thursday night, the staff members from Fish Eagle Point held a party for us. We started at the main building and took group pictures on the beach and then we all headed to the camp site for a traditional dinner. Following dinner, we had a huge dance party. It was amazing!!! The staff members are so full of live and energy and I am so thankful for the light they brought to our days. Throughout my entire time at Fish Eagle Point, I was always greeted with a smile and a “habari?” (Kiswahili for how are you?) Amazing friendships were formed and I truly will not forget these people. 

Wednesday afternoon I was in my banda when I was suddenly told to come look at the sea turtles. I didn’t know at that moment that I would see 118 turtles hatch and come out of the sand and start their long journey to the ocean but wow was it amazing. We were asked to help escort these baby sea turtles to the ocean and since the tide was out, it was a long journey for these new little guys. It was absolutely amazing and felt like something you could only see on National Geographic. As I was walking with the turtles, I looked over and a giant baboon was on the beach just a little bit down from us. Truly the coolest moment. 

Aside from learning about the culture and country, I was lucky enough to also learn so much from the others on the trip. All 20 of us come from very different walks of life and have so much to bring to the table. Most students on the trip are education majors so it was great to get advice from them about teaching and I offered my two sense about language and language acquisition. I’m thankful for the group of students who went on this trip for helping make my time here so unforgettable. 

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