For some people it might be easy to still be sitting in Africa and talk about what will be a lasting impression. I, however, tend to remember the fact that I have no idea what the future holds and therefore have no idea what will be my truly lasting impressions. Also just a fair warning this will be a very jumpy post because I am writing it as random times.
However I think it is safe to say that one lasting impression will be to never completely shut the bathroom door in Africa. This may sound a bit strange but after getting stuck in not one, not two, but four different bathrooms it is safe to say I learned my lesson. The thing that makes it even worse is that it wasn’t the same bathroom; in fact each time was a different bathroom, sometimes in different towns. I know that isn’t the most profound lasting impression but there it is.
Most of you don’t know this but I have very little teaching experience. I have not done my teacher assisting. The most time I have spent in the classroom was this past semester when I assisted with a physics lab. With that in mind this trip was a bit terrifying for me because I knew I was going to be expected to teach almost everyday for four weeks. I have always worried that I was going to make a terrible teacher; that the smallest thing I did was going to ruin my students’ life or love for learning. I’m going to let you in on secret; one of the best ways to get over that fear is to teach your first lesson without any preparation. I’m not saying just teach a lesson without any preparation but have your first lesson EVER be without any preparation because you didn’t know you were going to have to teach until five seconds before the class started. After the past few weeks one thing has become perfectly clear to me: I will not be detrimental to my future students.
During the past three weeks I had a total of three different classes that I thought: form 2 math, form 2 physics, and form 1 physics. The most I spent with one group of kids in a day was two hours, most days was less than that. That means I only spent a maximum of 40 hours of my entire trip with my students from one class. But that was all it took. I am hooked. These 60 some students that I had the privilege to teach during my short time here will always have a special place with me. They helped me face my fears and start the long journey toward becoming the teacher I hope to be one day. They have helped me realize that I can do this and that I do in fact want to be a teacher for the rest of my life. Even though my time with them has been short, they have wiggled and giggled their way into my heart and I am not ready to say kwa herini to them tomorrow.
I knew from the beginning that this trip was going to be life changing and I still don’t fully realize how much. I’ve done everything from making protractor for them in case they didn’t have any, to climbing a mountain, to figuring out how to handle my teaching have feelings for me. This trip has been beyond my imagination and I can’t wait to bring what I’ve learned into my classroom back home.
So it is about 11 pm, we leave in a few hours to go on a day hike of Mount Kilimanjaro! For me this trip is bitter sweet. I’m excited to climb the mountain but I am missing what would have been my last lesson with my form 2 students. I have also been dealing with a cough and stuffy nose, which will hopefully get better before we leave. Since we haven’t actually climbed the mountain yet I thought that I would talk about my feeling before hand and then comeback tomorrow and talk about how it was.
As of right now I’m just hoping to make it through the day without breaking any bones or getting super sick. I am a fairly clumsy person; I manage to trip over air so climbing a mountain could be a bit challenging for me. I really just don’t want to get half way through the climb to have to come back down or not be able to continue with everyone else. I think this is a great start to climbing the Seven Summits even though I’m fairly certain that it will never happen, I can pretend for a few hours tomorrow.
So the ride to Kilimanjaro was like most of our extended car rides, chit-chat and listening to music with an underlying sense of excitement because of the uncertainty about what we were going to experience. Once we got there we were excited to start, after the mandatory group photo, we were on our way.
The hike started off with a steady slope, nothing too steep. I think that gave me a false sense of security. I was soon met with a rude awakening; the steady slope quickly became a steep hill of rocky steps. About half way up I was starting to question why on earth I had been looking forward to this torture. I also started to question if I would even make it to our lunch spot. The one thing I kept reminding myself was that I was on freaking Mt. Kilimanjaro!! HOW MANY PEOPLE CAN SAY THAT!?
I eventually made it to lunch and had a chance to catch my breath. After lunch we took a side hike to see a crater in a mountain and then started our decent. The path down was much nicer to me than the way up but the nap on the ride home was the best. All in all it was a great day, exhausting and trying, but great.
Between walking around town during the week, the four day safari last weekend, and the Massi village trip to come I was prepared to not see too much beside Mount Kilimanjaro during our hiking weekend. Don’t get me wrong, I was very excited to see the tallest mountain in Africa but I figured that it wouldn’t be my favorite weekend adventure. We did get to see the base of the mountain and our guides for the weekend walked us through the process that hikers have to go through before they can start their climb.
That night we had multiple games of euchre, which has come to be a staple when we don’t have lessons to plan. We were able to get to know the staff at the Babylon Lodge better than any other place we have stayed. Some of us decided to sit by the bon fire and sing songs with them starting with our respective countries national anthems. I am proud to say that we all know the words to The Star Spangled Banner. It continued with different song, most by American artists and a few created on the spot.
At the start of Sunday it seemed like the campfire and sing-a-long would be the highlights of my weekend, minus some inside nerd jokes about fish sticks. I quickly found out that I was wrong. One of the first places we went was Marangu Falls Kinukamori. Looking at it from the top was pretty but our adventures sides dared us to try and cross over the stones or calculate if we could jump over and survive. Before any of us were able to test it our guides lead us on to the next site to see. We passed through a spiraling, stone stairwell covered with sticks, making our sunglasses obsolete. At the end of the tunnel we discovered we were at the bottom of the waterfall admiring the perch we had just been on. It took only moments for shoes and socks to be removed and few of us to venture in the cold water. Most of the students went swimming, but just a few only got their feet wet.
Wet cloths and all we migrated to our next stop. Knowing we were going to a blacksmith didn’t arouse excitement in anyone. Once we got there we found out that we would actually have the chance to keep the fire going that was heating the metal; some of the guys were able to try to hammer the metal. With our nearly purchases spears we head back to the cars, back to Arusha to see what the next week would bring.
During breakfast all I could think of was Nemo jumping on his dad saying, “First day of school, first day of school!” We had the mandatory first day of school photo in all of our new cloths. As we started the up hill climb to meet our guides, I realize how spoiled I am with the bus that drives me around campus and Grand Rapids. On the walk to school I became acutely aware of my nerves about teaching for the first time. The rain, thankfully, held off till we got to our school. We first met with the headmaster of the primary school, who is strikingly similar to Master Shifu, from Kung Fu Panda, in both personality and physical appearance. After he informed us briefly of our schedule while we are here he took us to the head master of the secondary school. I was very relived that the first day was dedicated to simply observing the teachers and the students!
One thing that is different in the schools between American and Tanzania is what they call each grade level. In secondary they have Form 1 through Form 6, but at Prime Secondary School (where I will be teaching) they only have Form 1-4. Mr. Domenick, who teaches Form 2 math and Form 1/3 physics gave us a quick tour of the school and then let us sit in on his math class. From watching Mr. Domenick I grew very excited to be the one in front of the class.
I am beginning to realize just how many differences there are between American schools and schools in Tanzania. One thing that stood out to me the most was how much the students paid attention to what Mr. Domenick and I had to say. Also, I became aware from watching the students how quickly they grasped the material. It is easy to see they have a great desire to learn and that is something compelling to watch. I am very excited to see what all the month brings!
After being in Arusha for almost a full 72 hours I can safely say that I am not in Kansas anymore. We arrived about 10 pm, Sunday night to pouring rain. There wasn’t much to see on the drive from the airport to The Outpost because it was so dark and there are not any lights besides a few outside houses and from other vehicles. One of the things that everyone noticed was the bumps in the road and the small rivers forming on the side of the road. Since I was exhausted from traveling I went straight to bed without noticing anything else.
The next morning began in a haze of remembering that I was actually in Africa and thinking about what was still to come. After we all finished breakfast we headed out for our city tour. I have never been greeted so many times, by complete strangers, while walking down the street. Once it started to rain I felt like a parade of ducklings following our guide through town. We went to the Maasai market, through town with all of the street venders and then to the Kanga shop to buy material so we can have things made in a few weeks. All in all I would say that Tanzanians are the friendliest people to have in a culture that you know very little about.
Everywhere we have gone so far has been fantastic; one might say it is like being in a whole new world. Besides the few cars on the street, the wind blowing through the trees and the animals there are no other sounds while trying to sleep at night. This trip will definitely force me to try new foods, learn to love rice, and be more patient. I knew before I left that this was going to be a life changing trip but I obviously have no idea the extent to which it will. My assumptions have been way off and I am learning to not assume anything. As this trip continues I cannot wait to see what all of my students have to teach me as I try to share a portion of my knowledge with them.
With each day that goes I get more excited and even more nervous about our trip! I tend to stay within my comfort zone but this trip will definitely break me out of my shell. From our orientation meetings my first impressions are a bit scattered, some days I think it will fantastic and one of the best things to happen to me and other days I wonder what I got myself into. It will be interesting to figure out how to adjust the pace of the classroom to fit the language barrier and writing everything on the board since that is their only form of textbook. I really just cannot wait to get into the classroom and work with the students, see how they learn and interact with each other, and how that compares to students here.
Although, before we can leave and enrich the lives of the students we will teach we have lots of tasks to complete first. I was able to get my shots over Spring Break but will need to go back to get my medication before we leave. Once we get there I am excited to see all the wonders that the trip has to offer from the weekend excursions to the every day routines. I’m excited to have more time in the classroom, also to potentially teach subjects that I’m not that comfortable with so that I can grow and learn from this trip.