Friday, June 12, 2015

Gershon and I are sleeping later every day, it seems. I wake up at 7:20; we have our earliest formal start in quite a while today (9 am), so I hustle over to the bath house to get cleaned up. I hit the guest house at 8:30, and the girls are all up and ready to go, reviewing their plans for the first tutoring session at 9.

When the kids show up and go to their assigned class locations, I do a couple of rounds to see how things are going. Sarah, Jess, and Charity have just 1 child each, but each of their kids have challenges; Sarah’s appears to be severely autistic, with impaired communication skills. So I check in on them first, in the Big House lobby and out on the porch. They’re all interacting successfully and calmly, and Sarah’s student is writing things down and following her instructions. Great.

Jessica and Amber are working with the 5 kindergartners in 1 of the 2 Big House classrooms; they’re the youngest group, and those kids can get pretty boisterous, but all seems well for the moment.

I walk across the campus, passing the kibanda (gazebo), where Kyla and Gershon have combined their Standard 3 classes for a science lesson, and Kyla is talking about different kinds of rocks. They’re all listening attentively. The kids, not the rocks.

On the porch of the first house, Emily has the 5 Standard 6 kids; all seems calm. A few minutes later, from a distance, I see her lead the group off the porch and out into the yard, where they sit down and start writing about what they can see.

I have a brief moment of panic when I see the 3 other dorm porches with students but no teacher. I check with Rachelle, who tells me that those are assigned to a staff member, who’s not in yet. I should have known that; all my crew is accounted for. But I hate it when it looks like we’re not where we’re supposed to be.

I survey the group when they come in at 10, and they all did well; challenges, but no complaints. That’s an answer to prayer. We talk some more during chai (chapati and FLT), and they work together through the challenges that they share with one another.

The second tutoring session comes at 10:30, hot on the heels of the first. We’ve found that it’s best to rotate the teachers, so both the teachers and students see a variety. Now Jessica and Charity are in the lobby of the Big House with single students; Jess and Gershon are in the 2 classrooms with 3 Standard 3 students each; Amber’s in the kibanda with the 5 kindergartners; and Emily, Sarah, and Kyle have combined their 13 Standard 5 students for a math lesson on one of the dorm porches. Again, all seems reasonably orderly. (That qualifier “reasonably” is an important distinction here. With these kids you never get military order.)

A bit later I look over at the kibanda, and there’s nobody there. As I come closer, I see that they’re all on the floor inside the 3-foot tall circular wall, using manipulatives. I also see the larger Standard 5 class split into its 3 sections, with the individual teachers walking them around the compound looking for different kinds of angles. The tutors are being creative, and learning is happening.

I’m impressed with the first day out. Only one of these team members is an education major, but they’ve all spent a lot of time in school, and they know how they learn, and they’re applying that knowledge to a new challenge. As they reconvene after each session, they share stories of challenges and possible solutions. They’re working as a team.

We finish the 2nd session at 11:30, with nothing till lunch at 1. They look around at each other as though rest is out of the question. I suggest that we take a quick hike up the stony ridge just to the east of the compound. Everybody’s up for it. We head out the gate by the kitchen and across the street, greeting Shadi neighbors along the way. Then straight up the ridge, following what might be called a trail, but clambering over rocks and negotiating brush. In 10 minutes or less we’re at a small clearing at the top. The grass there is higher than it was last year, and as we walk through it little fleas or something form clouds around us. That’s fairly unpleasant. Straight across the clearing to the east side of the ridge, where you can see some houses and a good bit of the lake.

At this point we have 2 choices. Turn right to the south end of the ridge, where there’s a colony of monkeys, or left (north), where there are some pretty good sloped rocks from which you can get a high view of the landscape. Everybody wants to see the monkeys. But they’re also having a really good time, and you may recall the noise issue at Mole in Ghana. We make enough noise that I’m pretty certain monkey watching is off the schedule; this colony is quite skittish.

Most stay here at an overlook; I head north to the higher rocks. Soon Jess and Jessica follow, and Jess climbs higher than I do. From here you can see all of Tumaini, as well as the defunct fish farm just to the north. To the south is the Faulu Beach Resort, which has a house in the middle of a field—I guess that’s the resort—and no beach. Its most distinguishing feature is a small hill, atop of which sits a nightclub that makes a lot of noise on Friday and Saturday nights.

I’ve lost track of the other group; don’t see them anywhere. The 3 of us head back, to find everyone else back at the house. Done in less than an hour.

Lunch is haystacks, which we call chicken stackie-uppies here. You lay down a bed of rice on your plate, then some cubed chicken, then some sweet and sour sauce, and then, in any order, pineapple, peanuts, coconut, green peppers, and tomatoes. It’s been the favorite meal of previous teams, and this group likes it as well. I celebrate by falling completely asleep at the table.

After cleanup, it’s time for the 3 pm session. Again, different combinations of tutors and students. Jessica’s in the kibanda with the 5 little ones—though 1 is sick and thus absent. Amber’s in the lobby of the Big House with the 2 Standard 1 and Standard 2 kids. Charity and Jess each have 3 Standard 3 kids. Gershon, Emily, and Kyla all start out together as before and then split up for an activity. Sarah has the 5 Standard 6 kids on the nearest house porch.

It’s clear that the children are testing the limits of each of their tutors. This requires a certain amount of judgment and considerable advice from the locals. The Tanzanian culture is very non-confrontational; no one looks you in the eye when he speaks to you, and everyone speaks very softly. When the children don’t want to cooperate, they’ll just shut down—go limp, or pretend to sleep, or exhibit some other passive aggressive behavior. Our folks will need to be firm but gentle; our experience is that the kids will generally cooperate once they know what the limits are. We’ll see.

At 4 there’s a couple hours of flexible time. Each tutor is encouraged to read aloud with 1 student during this time, and there are also games going on; today they’re playing net ball, which is a bit of a combination of basketball and rugby. One person from each team stands on a chair at each end the field. The goal is to throw the ball to your “goal’ person. You throw the ball around, not being allowed to move while you have the ball. Gershon is aggressive, protecting his goal, waving teammates down the field, and passing frequently to the littler ones. Really nice combination of competitiveness and inclusion. Well done.

And some of the kids just sit around the kibanda, watching everyone else and interacting with the dogs.

I should say something about the animals on the compound. There are 3 dogs. The eldest is Nala, dirty white (no, that’s really dirt) with brown spots randomly distributed, including a distinctive one on her right shoulder. She’s the mother of the other 2: Silver (“Silvah”), a female who looks a lot like her mom, but with cleaner fur and no patch on her right shoulder, and Dog Samuel, a male who’s mostly brown with some black and white. They call him Dog Samuel to distinguish him from people named Samuel who are occasionally on the compound. The dogs put up with a lot; there’s no sense here of dogs as pets, so they scrounge for themselves and are often mistreated. The children here have been softened in their attitude by the westerner, and they are generally kinder to the dogs, but I don’t get any sense of affection between them, and I suppose there’s some rough treatment when no one is looking. Despite that, the dogs are not aggressive; they’re perfect around the children.

There are also a couple of beeves grazing in the front, and some goats, and some chickens. All of these animals could be anywhere on the compound; we run into them routinely during the course of a day. I’ve already mentioned the pigs, who are penned down toward the lake. We see them regularly, too, but only when we run a bucket of food waste down to feed them.

Supper is ugali, greens, and beef chunks in a savory tomato sauce that’s one of my favorites. The beef is usually pretty tough—both the butchering and the cooking techniques contribute to that—but it tastes good. As usual, we eat in the kibanda, with any kids who want to hanging around. We watch the sunset—it happens pretty much the same time all year this close to the equator, and it’s really beautiful over the lake—and then around 7:15 we head to the houses for devotions with the kids.

Tonight I talk about the greatest commandment. I ask a lot of questions—how do you know if you love God?—and I can tell that they have a set of stock answers to religious questions: pray, read your Bible. But with probing and explanation the boys seem to understand what I’m saying, in spite of my funny accent. Moving it from the head to the heart—there’s the rub.

Online time at Dan & Jana’s house, then team devotions at the girls’ house. They feel really positive about the first day of tutoring, as do I, but they’re tired, and it shows. I ask if they’d like the guys to leave so they can get to bed, and they don’t argue. So Gershon and I head back before 10 pm, following the Southern Cross to our bunks.

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Dan Olinger

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

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