Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Swahili Coast

I have experienced so much since the game parks 10 days ago. I have travelled to remoted places with no internet service, or very limited service, so an update on my blog is long overdue.

From Bagamoyo to the Kilwa ruins to the Sultan paradise of Zanzibar, I am awestruck by the pure beauty of this country and the overwhelming hospitality of Tanzanians. I have truly fell in love with Africa, especially the Swahili culture. Zanzibar was just amazing. The mixture of African, Indian, Persian, and Arabic cultures - all speaking Swahili - was quite a sight to see. I have always considered myself an open-minded guy, but being in a Muslim dominated area broadened my view about the Muslim community. Maybe it's Zanzibar, with such a diverse group of people speaking a common language, or the island lifestyle, or Obama being president - whatever it is, the people were incredibly tolerant and welcomed us with opened arms .

It is so difficult to express in words the feelings I have for this country. Of course I will upload pictures soon (later in the day today, so check back in a few), but how do you capture the feeling you have when close to 1,000 school children sing and dance for you as they welcome you into their school? How do I write how it made me feel when I visited the Ministry of Education and they expressed how they would like for me to come back soon to conduct teacher workshops regarding counseling and working with familes? And the time when a poor teacher from a community school who is so interested in starting a country-wide initative to get counseling in all Tanzanian schools walked nearly 5 kilometers to hear me speak to a group of teachers? It is quite overwhelming. This is Tanzania.

So, yes, I visited the ruins of Kilwa that date back to the 14th and 15th centuries - some of the oldest Mosques and Sultan palaces in East Africa. Yes, I saw Stone Town and the beautiful island of Zanzibar. But, it's the people here that has made this trip fantastic. The school I mentioned where the students sang and danced for us did that out of their own pure hearts. It's not like we worked there for a few days and they threw us a celebration. We just visited a school in a small village in Zanzibar for the afternoon and they greeted us like royalty. They spoke to us about their village and their school, opening their hearts to us and saying repeatedly that we are always welcome to visit or stay in Muyuni.

I can go on and on. I guess all I have to say at this point is visit East Africa. Take a plunge into the Motherland. With all the ills that plague this beautiful continent - AIDS, poverty, access to education, etc - it is rich in so many other ways. The greatest natural resource this country has is the people, especially the children. They are eager to learn, eager to educate themselves, and eager to move forward in a positive way that will benefit Africa and the world.

All for now,


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti....a magical last few days

What an opportunity of a lifetime - to visit a Masai tribe, to exlore the vast Ngorongoro Crater (what was once a volcano that collapsed roughly 2 million years ago), and venture to the heart of the Serengeti. Throw a birthday in there and it is almost perfect. To have Lynn with me...now that would be perfect.
This area of the world is truly majestic. The footprints of the earliest hominids are found here - 3.5 million years old. The tools and fossils of early humans (homo habilis) found here - 1.75 million years old. It is an awe inspiring spectacle of historic markings mixed with the beauty of today's Masai and abundant wildlife. The great migration of the wildebeast (over a million of them) move through the Serengeti as water moves with the monsoon seasons. We witnessed the tail end of that migration, which was incredible. Zebra, giraffe, lion, ostrich, elephant, baboon, leaopard, cheetah, hyena, rhino, hippo - to name a few - speckle the landscape as far as the eye can see.
Here are just a few pictures. More to come...

Friday, June 12, 2009

Picha (Swahili for pictures)

Mt. Kilimanjaro, Masai woman, view from community school building, our group at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro, farmer's market

Kilimanjaro, mosquito net factory, schools....amazing past 3 days

It is hard to write everything that we have done in the past couple of days or so, but I will give it a try. More pictures are to follow, which is an easier way to give people a description of the beauty of this wonderful country.

We visited a mosquito net factory, where they manufacture roughly one million nets per day. This is to fight malaria, which is rampant in Africa - a preventable and treatable disease. The nets are sold to companies, institutions, and stores throughout Africa. If a women is pregnant, or if a family has children under the age of five, they are able to receive a voucher from their doctor and purchase a net for a reduced price. The A-Z factory employs around 6000 employees, which is great for the local community.

We are here in Tanzania to learn about their education system and how we can help bridge the gap between U.S. and Tanzania. We visited a few community schools. Without writing a novel about the Tanzanian education system - which is quite fascinating, but in the interest of time and continuing to keep everyone interested in my blog, I will keep it short :). Basically, community schools have been built in the last 15 or so years as a response to educate Tanzanians in rural and remote areas. The funding comes from both the government (providing teachers, some materials, etc.) with the rest of the funds coming from the community (student fees, upkeep, finishing the construction of buildings, cooking meals, materials, etc.). The problem is that they built a plethora of schools throughout Tanzania, but the funding is lacking - the government has not been able to fund what they intended to do, so the rest lies with the community. The philosophy behind the new system is valid - building more schools as an effort to help nationalize the country - but it is taking time for Tanzanians to adjust to the new system and to find resources (both monetary and physical labor).

The teachers at the schools we have visited are fascinated with counseling. I had a great discussion with a teacher today who is looking for ideas and resources to help advocate for counseling for the country. The UGA professor who is our guide on this trip plans to meet with me after the trip to discuss writing a grant for a service learning initiative - to work in Tanzania for a year working with local schools, teachers, adminstrators, and politicians. What an opportunity for Lynn and me!

All for now.....Kwaheri

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

More pics...

Here are some pictures from today. We visited a local market with homework - to buy as many vegetables and fruits with 1000 Tanzanian shillings, using only Swahili and our bargaining skills. We all did pretty well. It was definitely a cultural experience. The market was so colorful - women, men, and children dressed in vibrant clothing, selling and buying their wares. It was an amazing trip and I came back with so much more than just fruits and vegetables. I came back with more knowledge of the Tanzanian culture and Swahili language.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

And more pictures!

Here are some pictures from Today - the primary school in Arusha. We visited several classrooms (ranging from K-7). The students were very friendly, well-behaved, and eager to talk and play with us. The students sang songs for us and greeted us in English, which they have learned so well in just a short span of time.

The teachers were wonderful as we exhanged information on the differences between Tanzanian and American education systems. There are very few counselors in the Tanzanian school systems. The teachers seemed fascinated with my position within my school and have requested to speak to me when we return to the school in a couple of weeks - to ask me about how to work with students with difficult home situations and how to find (or create) resources. I am honored and can't wait to speak with them.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Pictures from first couple of days...

Words cannot describe the feelings I have being here in Tanzania. The people and culture are fascinating. The place we are staying is a training center for adults in order for them to help improve communities throughout Tanzania (peace and conflict resolution, economic development, political lanscapes, etc.). We have intensive training each day in Swahili language and culture. I have been practicing my Swahili with the Tanzanians who are also staying on campus here (they receive certificates, bachelor's degrees, etc. in specific areas). I love the language and plan to continue to to learn following this trip.

I will try and post as many pictures as possible each day (although the computers are a bit slow). Here are a few - some buildings on site at TCDC, a kindergarten class on site, the infamous monkey that trys to get in my room each night, women selling their goods at a local market, students at a primary school in Arusha (the only government primary school in Tanzania where English is the medium of instruction).

More pictures and stories to come....

Sunday, June 7, 2009

First couple of days in Tanzania...

I'm alive and well - arrived in Arusha, Tanzania around 9:30 pm on Saturday evening. Two 8-hour flights, a little bit of layover, but we made it.

We settled at MS-TCDC (Tanzania Center for Development Cooperation) around 10:00 pm, had a light snack, some conversation with the staff, and then we went to our rooms. The rooms are great - a single room with a bed and mosquito net covering, a bathroom, and a desk to journal write. Even though I had been up for more than 24 hours due to traveling and time zone changes, I was still wired and not able to sleep. Eventually, around 12:30 am, I was able to fall asleep. I woke up first to a monkey trying to get in my room around 4:45 am, and then at 5:00 am I heard a muezzin (a person "calling for prayer"). It was a beautiful chant/song that lasted for about 15 minutes. I fell asleep for awhile and then headed to breakfast around 8:15...

Sunday, June 7th
After breakfast, we traveled to the town of Arusha to exchange money and stop at an artists market. Arusha is beautiful - nestled in the foothills near Mt. Kilimanjaro. The people are amazing here - very gentle, welcoming, always smiling, and wanting to engage in conversation. I met the Minister of Masai - he is a counselor and wants to speak to me at dinner this evening. I can't wait - what an opportunity.

Well, that's it for now. I am off to my room to rest. Today is a free day and tomorrow we start Swahili language and culture classes in the morning and activities in the afternoon.



Friday, June 5, 2009

The day is here...

The day has finally come. With months of preparation, I am off to Africa in less than eight hours. I am excited and nervous, keeping an open mind on what's to come for the next four weeks. My bags are packed.....here I go!

I'll try to update as often as I can.

Take care - I love you all,