Close of Service

Posted in Uncategorized on December 12, 2013 by paff00

End of Service

Well, my time here is very nearly at an end. On Monday I’ll begin my trip to the US. Right now, I’m in Dar Es Salaam, taking care of my close-of-service arrangements.

Tandahimba

When I last posted, we had just gotten computers in Tandahimba. My assignment was to work with the coordinator of the local TRC, or “Teacher’s Resource Center”, which has a computer lab, to help him use the computers and conduct trainings for local teachers. I did help him with the computers, but he also did a very good job of learning them on his own. He even went and organized and conducted trainings for local teachers on his own! So it was very good to see him taking charge like that, and gives me a lot of hope for the other TRCs that don’t have Peace Corps Volunteers to help out.

Other Volunteers

I had a few good gatherings with the other local volunteers, including Halloween and Thanksgiving. For Thanksgiving, we each pledged to bring one item of food for the feast; not being able to cook anything even remotely Thanksgiving-related, I just brought a bunch of potato chips. The others outdid themselves, though, and we had an excellent traditional Thanksgiving meal.

We PCVs also spent some time with local JICA volunteers. (JICA is more or less “the Japanese Peace Corps”.) Many of them are better at Swahili than at English, so we had an interesting mix going of English, Japanese, and Swahili, and all had a good time.

Parents

My parents have come to visit me, and we’ll go back to the US together on monday. We went to Tandahimba and stayed at my house for about two days, then spent a couple of days at the beach house in Mtwara that I’ve spent so much time at, and now we’re in Dar while I close out my service and get everything ready for my return to the US. So far we’ve been having a great time, they’ve enjoyed seeing Tanzania and the places I live, and of course we’ve enjoyed being together.

Saying Goodbyes

During my last couple of days in Tandahimba, I made the rounds and said goodbye to everyone I know there. It was nice to get a chance to do so, and I’m glad to have made so many friends there, but of course it’s sad to be leaving them behind.

Final Thoughts

My Peace Corps service has been a wonderful, deeply meaningful, and life-changing experience, full of many of the highest highs and lowest lows I’ve ever had, and has caused me to grow in all kinds of ways I never thought I could. I am not eloquent-enough or poetically-inclined enough to do justice to what an experience this has been.

For those of you who haven’t tied yourselves down yet, or who find yourself relatively free later in life, please, seriously consider doing this. You will find that you are much stronger than you think you are, and that although the prospect of serving in a third-world lifestyle is intimidating, it actually isn’t all that hard once you start doing it.

Updates Since May

Posted in Uncategorized on October 31, 2013 by paff00

Well, it seems that this blog has become quite far from my thoughts. I’ve gotten quite settled into my life here, and these days have been thinking of America more as a distant place and a future possibility rather than as an immediate reality.

Here are the year’s updates since May:

Installations & Training

Aside from a few schools, the majority of installations were greatly delayed. Eventually they got going in earnest, and several days ago computers reached the town I live in!

If you’ll recall, my official position on this project was to live in this town and to help the local teachers use their computers, which were to be installed in January. Needless to say, things have turned out a bit differently!

My Activities

During this time when there have been no computers and I’ve been unable to do my “official” work, I’ve been doing what other project work has been available, with the goal of helping move the project along towards being ready to conduct the installations. At times it has kept me busy, but for the most part I’ve had a lot of extra time on my hands.

I’ve been going into the local government education office, where I have a desk, mostly just to keep in touch. When I haven’t had project work to do there, I’ve read books – mostly nonfiction, including war memoirs, books by the Dalai Lama, books about Gandhi, and books about education in the US. And of course I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about those books, and about life in general.

There is a hospital in my town, and lately I’ve been going there periodically to do work on their computers, which had been without maintenance for a long time.

The project computers got here just a few days ago, while I was traveling (more on that in a bit). The other day I went to the local school where they have a teacher training center (which is where I was officially going to be working this year) to check in and make contact, but the center’s coordinator is out this week receiving training in coordinatorship from the project. So I’ll go again next week. I’m very interested to see how this turns out with the limited time I have left here.

Another Visit To My Old Site

I went again to visit my old site, which is why I was away when the computers came. It was wonderful to see everyone and everything again, and to visit the places I lived for two years. I got to say my final goodbyes, and to exchange contact information with everyone.

And on the way back down to my new site, I stayed in Dar Es Salaam (Tanzania’s largest city) for a couple of days with two of the three other remaining volunteers from my original training group. (Service is usually two years, and only four of us chose to extend our service for a full third year.) It was great to see them again.

The Future

My service is nearing an end! On December 8th I’ll travel up to Dar Es Salaam to make my final close-of-service arrangements, and then on December 16th I’ll board a plane to the US. It’s surreal. I think I mentioned in an earlier blog post that America felt like science fiction when I visited for a month in December-January. I am serious when I make that comparison. I’ve changed a lot in the past three years, and have grown accustomed to a Tanzanian/rural lifestyle. Sprawling first-world cities, and first-world technologies, are downright strange!

That said, I’m keen to see everyone, and to reacquaint myself with the US with my new perspectives, and to get settled into my long-term life plans.

Starting in January, I’m going to be taking some courses at PSU – prerequisite mathematics courses for a graduate program that I’d like to start in 2015. It should take me two terms to complete the prerequisites.

Afterwards, I’ll have over a year before the grad program starts. During that time, I’d like to serve in AmeriCorps VISTA, a.k.a. “the domestic Peace Corps”, which has a one-year service time. It involves living and working in poor areas of the US, at the same financial level as those one serves. I’m eager for it, and excited for all of the things I’m sure to learn from it.

Then I’ll start the graduate program, which is a two-year teaching certification-and-master’s program. It is a mixed general-education and special-education program, with a focus on learning each individual student’s strengths and weaknesses and special needs, and teaching in a way that reaches all of one’s students and doesn’t leave out the more difficult ones, and doing this regardless of whether it’s officially a special education class or not. It’ll certify me to teach math in middle or high school, and I’m excited for it, as I greatly enjoyed teaching during my time at my first site, but it’d be really nice to be able to teach in English, and in a setting and culture that I understand, and while knowing how to teach well.

After that, I hope to become a teacher of course, probably in the US, and probably in an area where the education system needs help, which tend to be the poor areas. One thing that’s struck me about my Peace Corps service is how much better life is when one feels like one has a mission/purpose and is living and working for a really worthwhile cause, and I hope to continue to do that.

Updates Since March

Posted in Uncategorized on May 29, 2013 by paff00

Trainings

In the time since my last blog post, the TZ21 project conducted some trainings for the teachers at the schools that will receive computers. The trainings included general computer use skills, use of the TZ21-created educational e-materials, use of the TZ21-created school records/management system, and improved methods to teach reading to kids who are just starting in school.

I sat in on a fair amount of the training, and it seemed to go very well, so that’s exciting. It was also my first time to see the educational e-materials, which seem to consist mainly of well-designed and well-created video lessons, which incorporate teaching methods that aren’t generally known in Tanzania, so it’s exciting to think of Tanzanian teachers using these videos and learning from them.

Installations

We’re set to begin installing computers in just a few days. The first installations will be taking place in Zanzibar (the islands off the coast) rather than Mtwara (where I am), so I won’t get to see them. But even so, it’s great progress. It shouldn’t be too much longer before we start installing in Mtwara.

Travel

So far this year, I’ve spent more time staying in that beachfront guest house in Mtwara town than I have in Tandahimba (where I live). This is for a variety of totally legitimate reasons.

A major factor, is that the regional TZ21 office is in Mtwara town, and my computer doesn’t have Microsoft Office (only OpenOffice, which messes up the formatting on spreadsheets), and the internet connection in Tandahimba is frequently too weak to send/receive attachments. I’m going to be receiving an official Office-equipped laptop to use from TZ21 in a couple of days, and have tried different types of modems for a better connection, with some success.

I also went to Zanzibar for a week or so, to help the Zanzibar Ministry of Education (they’re fairly self-governing there) to work on a plan to computerize its offices and schools.

And I went up to my old village! It was great to see everyone again, and to see how the school was doing. My replacement volunteer is in many ways different from me personality-wise, and she’s had some really great new ideas for activities to do with the kids, so it was cool to see that.

When I left my village last year, I had cats, whom I left temporarily in the care of my replacement volunteer (because at the time I had no place to live in Tandahimba). So when I went up to visit this time, I brought cat carriers up with me, and when I came back to Tandahimba I brought the cats down (which went much more smoothly than I’d feared!). I’m really glad to be reunited with them.

Southern-Style Tea Drinking

If you may recall, when I was new in Tanzania I was surprised at how much sugar Tanzanians put in their tea (typically 2-3 heaped spoonfuls in a typically teacup). Well, now that I’m in Mtwara I’ve discovered an additional surprising tea-drinking custom here.

In Mtwara, tea is typically served in teacups with saucers. When the tea is poured, the cup is filled all the way until it spills a little. The way folks down here typically drink tea is to pour a little bit from the cup into the saucer, then to drink from the saucer, then later to pour a little more and drink from the saucer again, and so on.

The point to this is that the tea in the saucer cools down rapidly. So even if the tea in the cup is scalding hot, if you pour a little into the saucer it’ll be drinkable right away.

During my leave in the US, some friends in Seattle showed me an Asian custom (I think it was Chinese?) of having tiny saucer-shaped teacups that only hold a couple of sips’ worth of tea, and pouring into them repeatedly from a teapot full of very hot tea, so that the tea in the pot would stay hot while the tea in the cup would cool down rapidly to drinkable temperatures every time you went to drink. Same principle as southern Tanzania.

House Tour Video

Posted in Uncategorized on May 13, 2013 by paff00

Many things have happened since the last blog post, but I’ve been busy and/or not thinking about the blog, and haven’t gotten a chance to write about anything. I’ll try to do that soon.

For now, I’ve made a video tour of my new house, and uploaded it to YouTube. You can find it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=facLDqKXLyU

(You’ll have to copy-paste that URL into your browser’s navigation bar; my internet connection is not currently fast-enough to use the blog feature for creating links.)

Moved In

Posted in Uncategorized on March 2, 2013 by paff00

House

I have moved into my house now! It is very large and fancy, one of the largest/fanciest in town. I’ve got TWO guest bedrooms, electricity, ceiling fans, metal-framed windows in sliding frames, and I will have running water, but it’s not finished yet (the house/grounds are still under construction).

On the negative side, my house is surrounded by chain-link fence with barbed wire on top, and will have a formidable metal gate where there is currently a gap in the fence. My little block of housing is also a little bit removed from our neighbors. The best way to keep your stuff safe in Tanzania is to befriend your neighbors and have a good reputation so that people will not want to steal from you and instead will want to help take care of you. The fence etc is also somewhat isolating, and declares that this house is one that has stuff worth stealing in it. Oh well. I’ll survive somehow, I’m sure.

I’ve since been conducting a major project of cleaning the place up and getting it set up with all of the essentials – buckets, nails to hang a lantern on*, a clothesline, reinforcing my sink so it doesn’t fall off the wall, etc.

*The electricity for the entire town has been cutting out a lot.

Town

I like my town. It’s got pretty much everything I could want in terms of household items and food, including fancy things like spaghetti noodles and soy sauce. The only things missing are popcorn and a bank that I have an account with. I’ve stocked up on popcorn in Mtwara town (got 5 kilos of kernels now) and will look into opening an account with the local bank.

At the same time, my house is sort of on the outskirts of town, in a very quiet area with little traffic etc, and has most of the peace of a village. The area here is very lush and green by Karatu standards, and is a nice place to live.

From my house, it’s about a half-hour walk to the local Ministry of Education office, where I work, and another half-hour walk from there to “downtown”, where most of the shops are. The walk from my house to the office goes through some very nice neighborhoods (beautiful scenery, friendly people), and I like it.

My town is a few hours from Mtwara town, and the travel time greatly varies by means of transport etc. Land Cruisers belonging to the TZ21 project do it in about two hours. I came in by bus yesterday and it took about four.

Other

When I first got settled in, there was a gathering of PCVs at another nearby town, so I went and met many of the people here, who were all very nice, so that was good. After that, I spent about a week settling in and attempting to be productive after my laptop’s charger died, the electricity kept cutting out, and the office’s only available computer was a desktop that A) had no electricity much of the time and B) its mouse had been “borrowed” and nobody knew where it was or how to get it.

(Related note: if anyone knows how to select a user account to log in with in Windows 7/8 using just the keyboard, I’d be very interested to hear it! Either I didn’t guess the right method, or that computer’s kebyboard doesn’t work.)

I have gotten a new charger for my laptop, so no worries there.

After about a week, I was called in to Mtwara town to do some work there, and ended up staying about a week at the same beach house I’d been at before.

Two missionary families ended up staying there for two nights, and they were very nice and I enjoyed meeting them. They also gave me and Lisa free food! Outside of the religious aspect, I feel like missionaries are the next-closest thing to volunteers out here, and there are some advantages to the way they work. They’re much more organized than we are in terms of working together and supporting each other, and some of them end up staying for their entire lives and getting to know the languages and culture and environment much better than we ever do.

Update

Posted in Uncategorized on February 6, 2013 by paff00

In theory, I will move into my house on Friday. Or perhaps on Monday. Or perhaps later. In the meantime I’m still in Mtwara town, at the beach house.

The TZ21 project has an office here in Mtwara, and I’ve been coming in every weekday to do whatever sort of work I can find. The big thing I’ve been working on is data entry – folks are going out and inspecting all of the schools to see if they’re ready to receive the equipment that’s been delayed, and those folks are filling out these big inspection forms, and the forms then need to be typed into a giant spreadsheet. There are over a thousand schools involved, so I’ve been doing a lot of that. Making good progress, and planning what to do next.

The place I’m staying continues to be beautiful. I’ve met a few really nice other volunteers who are stationed down here (two English volunteers with VSO and one Japanese volunteer with JICA), and a couple of nice European doctors who have settled here permanently in order toa help people.

Aside from that, I’ve been reading good books, exploring the area, enjoying the beach, and making grad school plans.

One More Video

Posted in Uncategorized on January 30, 2013 by paff00

I put up another video while still in the US and didn’t link to it here. For those interested, here’s a very brief tour of some shops near my school.

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