Monday, 5/26/14

And so begins the week of preparation for 4 weeks of tutoring. The children are still in school this week, so we have time during the day to get some preparation done for what’s coming. That preparation involves two main activities: lesson-plan prep, and cultural adjustment. Beth has scheduled as much of each as we can cram into 1 week.

We start by sleeping in. That’s a good prep technique. 🙂 Our first scheduled activity is chai at 10. Today’s snack is a hot, sweetened ginger tea that last year’s team thought tasted just like Fruit Loops™ and that we consequently called Fruit Loops Tea. (Very imaginative, last year’s team.) The carbohydrate is chapati, a fried Indian flatbread, served hot, that is common in East Africa. It’s like a thick tortilla, slightly oily, with some almost-but-not-quite-burned spots. It’s my favorite food in Africa; the children laugh at how excited I always get when chapati are on the menu (and yes, I ham it up some for them just because I enjoy their reaction).

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As we’re finishing the food, we start going over the tutoring schedule that Rachelle and Karen have set up. It looks complicated at first, but it’s really not. Each team member has 2 to 3 1-hour lessons to teach each day to typically 4 to 6 children, though there will be some classes with only 1 or 2 students in them for special attention and remediation. It’s set up so that several tutors cover each grade (called a standard, after the British system) and rotate among the kids; that way the kids aren’t seeing the same tutor each time, and just as important, the tutors aren’t seeing the same children each time. We’re reminded repeatedly that we’re here just to help the children make a little progress; there’s no pressure. We quickly decide who’s teaching in which standard and at which times.

Caitlin and the 3 Sarahs will be working with the 5 Kindergarten students, the 1 “Prep” student (remediation before entering Standard 1), 1 student in Standard 1, and 6 in Standard 2; Hannah, Kaleigh, and Asher will be covering 14 students in Standard 3; Lyddie and Lois, 12 students in Standard 4; and Josalyn, Nathanael, and Matt, the 16 in Standards 5 and 6. We think that’ll be a reasonable load, and the rotation we’ve set up should prevent burnout. We’ll be focusing on English, maths (that’s what the Brits call it, which makes sense if you remember the long form of the word), and science.

Then it’s time for our first Swahili lesson. I’m happy to see our teacher, Maiwe, again. He’s very competent, and I’m confident that this year’s team will benefit from his skilled instruction as much as last year’s did. We learn some nouns and noun classes, numbers, and the basic verb forms and then spend some time constructing sentences. That’s a lot of progress for the first 1-hour lesson.

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And just like that, it’s time for lunch. Now, this is not a change of topic: remember that lost luggage from Dar? Well, the lost-baggage people have been in touch with Beth; all the pieces have been delivered to Mwanza, and they’re ready to pick up. We figure that we’d better take each person that the luggage belongs to, so Lois, Sarah M, and Matt (who, according to the luggage tag, was the official owner of the Tumaini box that got left behind) ride into town with Beth in the morning and arrive with everything in place just as we’re starting lunch. We’ll catch them up on the teaching schedule and Swahili lesson as we have time.

It’s a weekday, so lunch is with Beth, Karen, and Rachelle on Dan & Jana’s porch. Stir fry and noodles. Very good, and the conversation flows with the filtered water.

After lunch we devote the afternoon to getting lesson plans ready; each tutor will sketch out what he’s teaching each hour and select handouts / worksheets / etc. from the educational supply office to be duplicated. We’ll have the copies made in town later in the week, so we need to get these decisions made before Wednesday to give the duplicators time to get them done by Friday so we can pick them up. That will mesh nicely with our acculturation experience; we’ll need to go into town at the end of the week to shop in the market in Swahili, so we can pick up the copies then.

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We have a lot of work done by suppertime; there will be time tomorrow to get closer to finished. Supper tonight is ugali and daga, or salted minnows. People who like anchovies would like daga; most others probably wouldn’t. 🙂 Reactions range from 2 who try a mouthful and just can’t do another, to several who say, “Not too bad,” to one who says, “This is awesome!” (That would be me.)

At 7 we start our cycle of devotions in the children’s houses. We combine all the boys into one group, all the girls into another, and the 5 new little ones, who have much less exposure to Christianity, we set aside for special care. We’ve divided the team into 3 squads, who will spend a week with one group and then rotate. I’m with Nathanael, Caitlin, and Sarah B, and we’re spending this week with the boys, talking about the Ten Commandments. I speak tonight (and will again Friday). Tonight I talk about the role of the Law for the Christian (though not in those terms, of course), laying out the gospel, and then quickly cover the first 2 commandments. The boys seem to listen and understand, though my little pre-test is a disaster; I ask if anyone can be good enough to be saved, and they all solemnly nod yes. There’s always a question whether they understand my English, of course. But we’ll clarify that by the end of the week.

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As each squad finishes, we regather at the house for what will become a regular time of team devotions to wrap up the day. We sing, share testimonies, go to the Word, and have a time of prayer. These are all means of grace, things that one Christian can do to edify another, and the primary reason we gather regularly is that we need the daily encouragement and strength that we gain from one another—or more precisely, from God Himself as we share His Word and His works. I suspect that the crew doesn’t feel this need as strongly now as they will later, when they start to get really tired; right now the adrenaline can keep them going, at least physically. But early in this experience, there’s usually some fear, even though it’s often unexpressed: Will I get sick? Will I be able to deal effectively with people who speak my language only marginally? Will I do something stupid? Will I be able to handle the children? We all need the assurance that God supplies all we need for every situation in which He places us, and I start this evening with Eph. 1:3 to address that directly. For me, there’s another purpose to these devotional times: I get a chance to look into their heads a little more closely than I might be able to otherwise. As I listen to their testimonies, the way they sing, even which songs they choose to sing, I get a sense of how they’re doing, and how maturely they’re addressing the challenges of their days. And that lets me know who might need a little extra encouragement and what kinds of things I ought to emphasize in these devotional times.

After prayer it’s only 9 pm. I ask the girls whether they’d like us to leave their house so they can get to bed, or whether everybody feels like staying up for a while. To my surprise, they say they’re not tired. I’m surprised, because the rule of thumb is that it takes you one day to get over jet lag for every hour of time change, and we’re on day 4 of a 7-hour change. I guess these kids are just hardy. (I’m more just hardly.) So I suggest that they learn the Official Africa Team Game, Signs, and we spend an hour laughing at ourselves. Kaleigh seems to be the most facile player, probably because she has quite a bit of experience, but I suspect everybody will be pretty good at it before long.

I usually put a 10 pm curfew on teams, because it just seems to help them be at their best every day. And in a situation like this, where one housing area is also the general hangout, it’s a courtesy to those who live there to give them a chance to get ready for bed at a reasonable time. We shut it down at 10, and we boys disappear into the darkness, leaving the girls to their house.

So. Things are going smoothly, no more surprises than usual, 🙂 and all signs are positive. We much appreciate your prayers.

A word about verbosity. I’ve been including a lot of details in these journal entries, mostly because there’s been a lot to say, and, perhaps more importantly, because I know the parents want to know about pretty much everything. As the days progress, the schedule will get much more regular, and there will be less to report each day. I’ll obviously include stories and other unique things that turn up, but in general you can expect the blog entries to be shorter.

And, in closing for the day, a shout-out to Josalyn, Matt, and Nathanael, who have kindly provided most of the photos over the last several days.

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Dan Olinger

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

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