That being said, I continue to describe. The classrooms were empty, some with chalkboards, others without. One class had desks, lined from front to back. They were the kind you see in rural education pamphlets; a bench attached to a desktop; to be shared by two or three students each.
Lou explained to us the challenges faced by these students as we sat in the library resource center where her office was. This place was beautiful; classrooms were colourful with chalkboards, a big rug and posters on the wall. Nobody learns there sadly, because the teachers lack motivation to bring their students to this special place. Teachers here are trapped in a dead end and suffocating career.
To understand the problem of rural education, consider how these ones become teachers in the first place. After form four, you must write an exam to continue your secondary schooling education. If you pass, you can carry on and finish your high school before entering university or starting your own business. If you don’t pass, you cannot carry on to finish your secondary school education. What you can do is enter into Teachers College. Being a teacher in Tanzania is not like being a teacher in the West or otherwise. Teachers do not take pride in their work and are not highly regarded in society. Ironic, when the nation is built on the foundations of Mwalimu (Teacher) Nyrere. Regardless, teaching is not an enviable post here. The wages are low- starting at about 200, 000 Tanzanian shillings per month; roughly 150 USD. Interesting, when you think my house cleaner earns 90, 000 Tanzanian shillings for two days of work per week. Further, upon graduation from teachers college, jobs are assigned randomly. Teachers do not apply for positions, rather, one day they get a letter stating where they have been posted, and then they go. Teachers from busy cities like Mwanza, Arusha or Dar es Salaam, may be sent to a village like Kibaya, where they have no family, no friends and no desire to be. Then they are given accommodation (taken out of their already pitiable salary) and they get to work. The classes may have anywhere form 50 to 120 students in them. Students pack four to a desk and sprawl on the dirt floor. There is no electricity, no water and definitely no resources. Pencils and paper are about 100 shillings each; about 7 cents. In a class of one hundred, maybe 8 will have a pencil and paper. The rest sit and listen (hopefully) so that when they have to write entrance exams they can manage a correct answer here and there.
These working conditions lead to a lack of motivation amongst the teachers, and therefore, poor quality education and high quantity corporal beatings.
Louisa told of a teacher who is a village drunk, with 50 years experience in his profession. She was shadowing a class of his when he walked through the rows to hear each student reply to one of his questions. A student in the class is autistic or otherwise challenged.
“Wewe!” the mwalimu shouted as he slammed his stick on the table in front of the boy. The teacher asked a question for which the student (obviously) had no answer. This enraged the teacher who stumbled closer and grabbed the skin on the side of the boys face. He took a clawful of his cheek and began to shake his head screaming, “ Wewe, your stupid! You know nothing!”
This teacher is regarded as one of the best in the region.
After the resource center we hiked up the hill about a kilometre to the only secondary school in the region. Along the way we passed the ravine where women were lined up with multicoloured buckets and bags of laundry. The pit was dry and cracked, with little water in a couple hollowed out pools. Lou pointed out the dirty water they were waiting to wash their clothes in. It looked like a mud puddle, flies hovering over the splash of dark brown water.
We carried on, shikamooing the mamas as we walked. Cows crossed our path in rows.
The air was thinner here, especially being used to sea level in Dar. The uphill walk took my breath without sending me into sweaty gulps for oxygen.
When we arrived we browsed the school; much like the last. Dirty, incomplete and crumbling all at once. The head master came and greeted us in his short-sleeved suit jacket. We sat in his office later and the students fired questions for their assessment task at him, one after the other. When they finished at least an hour’s worth of questions, we signed the guestbook and headed back to the courtyard where a few local students waited to be interviewed by our Grade 7s. One wore slick pants, a black suit shirt and long dress shoes, black leather with a white toe. Another was a Masaii boy with tribal markings burned in his cheeks. He wore purple. Fatema, one of our scarved, ultra conservative Muslim students looked back at me, “I’m scared,” she whispered with her body held awkward and gawking as usual.
Sometimes such remarks are difficult to answer effectively.
The last student was a girl about 18, in a peach synthetic pantsuit. The top was a flowing chiffon-like tunic, and the pants were bellbottomed with slits on either side. She wore beat-up black pointed heels. We matched a few of our students with theirs and off they went to tour the school with their new guides.
Us adults held back and later toured Mindy and Michael’s house at the back of the school. They were Peace Corps volunteers who would soon begin their work as the science teachers in this school.
When we finished at this school we descended the mountain for lunch at the local Tanzanian eatery; the menu featured beans and rice or chipsi mayai. We sat around the table, and I smiled at my company.
Michael was a striking looking nerd type; beautiful eyes and baggy khakis. His wife, Mindy, was short and blonde with dry red cheeks. Her eyes were quite pretty, too. Keith was an interesting fellow. He lumbered over the rest of us on lanky legs tucked in new balance runners. He wore stiff khakis, too. His face looked like the lead singer from Nickelback, with something of a goatee and a sharp nose. He spoke slowly with a sarcastic hook on each of his words. His Californian accent made his Swahili easy to understand. He got along famously with the kids, charming Francis from the start. He was Peace Corp, as well.
Louisa was British. She had a beautiful face with soft blond hair that she wore wavy down her back. She was shortish with a body appropriate for her 40 years and an African diet. She was great with the students; showed personal interest but didn’t hesitate to point out when they were being rude.
Finally, there was Flor, the German anthropologist with the mouth of an American trucker. He swore unapologetically, dropping the F-word several times over lunch with Grade 7. He was a firecracker, a lone wolf and a showstopper all in one. His accent made most of what he said funny and drinks made his wit more pronounced.
I started to wonder, Oh my gosh who am I? The overly skinny bearded guy? The moral nerds? The independent blonde with a heavy middle section?
I guess only time will tell what cassava and dala dalas will do to me. But I’m getting more moral and less skinny day by day.
Today was World AIDS Day. The festivities were scheduled for “Under the tree”.
After our bellies were full of starchy carbs and sticky nyama we sauntered up the hill to said tree. White plastic chairs were lined up in a half moon surrounding the emcee who spoke Swahili heavily into the mic. We made it just in time to see Masaii women perform a traditional dance. About seven of them faced the audience hopping up and down to a drum beat. Their earrings and bracelets clamoured in tune with the music. Turn by turn one or two would enter the front of the circle and shriek as she hopped relentlessly on two feet.
“Ayaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.. Iye Iye. Ayaaaaa!”
They were shy. It was beautiful.
When they finished their performance the babu returned to the mic and spoke more unintelligible Swahili. Catching sight of us he capitalized on wazungu fever. He called Lousia to the mic and Keith quickly headed for the limelight. Soon we were all ushered in front of the crowd to introduce ourselves and our mission in their village. We were to be the festival headline act, closing out the ceremony with a round of introductions.
The kids stood in their red DIA tees and Keith went through each stating names and places of origin: China, Vietnam, Dar es Salaam, America, France, Kenya and so it went until I was the last woman standing.
“Na wewe?” Babu asked in the mic, shoving it in my face not long after.
“Natoka Canada.” I giggled like a fancy teenager and looked down at the ground.
Man, those Masaii were a tough act to follow.