Monday, June 3, 2013

The day’s formal schedule starts at 10—which gives us all time to get caught up on things we’re behind on. In my case, that’s some personal study, for which I’m very grateful. At 10 we gather at the banda for chai, which this time really is tea, with lemon. It’s got something in it that makes it taste just exactly like Fruit Loops.TM And the real joy is that we have our first chapati since we arrived in Africa—or for that matter, since we left in 2010. Chapati is, I believe, Indian in tradition, but it’s popular across East Africa, which has a lot of Indian influence. It’s a flat bread, fried in oil (sort of like a crepe, but more substantial, and not at all sweet), that is served hot and is absolutely delicious. Ah, it’s nice to be back.

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Our first session is to learn Swahili. They’re going to push us on this, eventually taking us into town and dropping us off with orders to speak only Swahili, and places to go and things to buy. (We will have a Tanzanian escort as emergency-only backup.) We go much deeper into greetings than we did our first night, and then we start to work on verb conjugations. It’s really interesting in that it’s very much like Chinese; I doubt there’s a historical connection, but the similarity is striking. They don’t actually conjugate the verbs; the stem stays the same, and prefixes indicate the subject and the tense. So, for example, nilitoka is “I came,” while unatoka is “you are coming”—ni being 1st person, li being past tense, and u being 2nd person, na being present tense. Seems it will be simpler to learn in the long run that heavily conjugated languages.

Today we begin formal prep for our teaching. Beth has planned a week of preparation and 2 weeks of teaching. In general, because of their personal backgrounds, the kids are behind their standard grade levels; this is their break, but Beth thinks 2 weeks of tutoring would really help them. She’s divided the kids into 9 groups, one for each of us. We spend some time today deciding who gets each group, based on where each thinks he can do the best job.  Will, Joslyn, and I get to pick first, because none of us are education majors, and the group figures we’ll be less flexible than the others. Good thinking. Then Jon and Catherine get to pick, since they’re Music Ed majors, and they get less training at the elementary level than the El Ed and Early Childhood Ed majors. Then Keri, as the El Ed, and then the 3 EC Eds: Angel, Katie, & Abbie.

When we’re all done, the team looks like this:

Joslyn: K5, 2 students

Angel: Std 1, 4 students

Katie: Std 2, 6 students

Abbie: Std 2, 5 students

Catherine: Std 2, 5 students

Keri: Std 3, 2 students (special needs)

Will: Std 3, 6 students

Jon: Std 3, 6 students

Dr. O: Std 5, 10 students (2 sections of 5 each)

Note: in the British system used in Tanzanian schools, “standard” is roughly equivalent to the US “grade” at the elementary level, but it’s a little more complicated than that.

Then comes the real work. Beth takes us to the room where they store the worksheets and other teaching aids, and we start putting together tutoring sessions for each of the 10 days we’ll be teaching. We’re each tutoring 4 1-hour sessions per day, so that’s 40 preps each. Well, except for me. 🙂 Since I’m teaching the boys as one section and the girls as another, I have just 2 preps per day. Most of us are just going to do some straightforward tutoring rather than formal lesson plans, so this is certainly doable.

She also gives us our students’ latest standardized test scores, so we can get an idea of both where they’re expected to be (the test content) and where they actually are (the student’s score). The first thing I notice is that the grammar on the grammar tests is abominable: “My brother _____ from London next month” `shows the correct answer as “will come” but disallows “comes.” Worse, one sentence reads, “This s Mr. Walter bicycles. It belongs to ____ .” Yikes. You give kids standardized test scores based on their responses to questions like this?

We eat supper with the kids tonight. It’s rice and beans, as usual. Yeah, it’s boring, but it’s a better diet than most Americans choose to eat. 🙂

In the evenings each house has devotions (well, the two houses of younger kids are combined). Beth has asked us to take them for the remaining time we’re here. So tonight I speak to the older boys, Keri to the older girls, and Abbie to the younger kids. We’ll all speak about 4 times; that’s a good opportunity to work on making biblical application clear and simple.

Afterwards we all gather in the guest house for our own devotions and for fellowship, and for our first game of signs since the Great Schism. I think we’re hitting our stride.

The girls mention that the salt in the cupboard of the guest house is stronger than salt at home. I tell them that can’t be the case. They tell me to try it. They’re right. And this is straight salt, not flavored salt. How do they do that? Not iodated? Somebody on campus ask Brian Vogt for me.

I have to mention the stars. Two things about them always stand out to me on these Africa trips. One is the brightness of the stars in the rural places. People from parts of the American West will know what I’m talking about. You can see the Milky Way, and the number of stars is just unbelievable. It really brings to life God’s words to Abraham, that his descendants would be as the stars of the sky. Since Abraham didn’t have a telescope, the metaphor depended on what he could see with his naked eye; and for most of us today, the number of visible stars isn’t all that impressive. Here it is.

The other thing is that we’re south of the equator, and the stars are different. We can see many of the same ones, of course; the Big Dipper is upside down, 20 degrees above the northern horizon, its two pointer stars leading the eye to the horizon, where Polaris rests just out of sight. But there are other stars too, most famously the Southern Cross. It’s an educational experience.

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Dan Olinger

Chair, Division of Bible in the BJU School of Religion.

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