To the ends of the earth…and back!

All play, no work!

Day 7: Tuesday, July 14


I headed to the local school around 9:45am, unsure of what to expect. I caught some stares en route to the destination just a ten-minute walk from Shalom. As I walked up the path to the school buildings, the children were at recess between classes so I received a bunch more stares and shy “Good Mornings!” or “Hello!”

Some of the older children from Shalom saw me as I approached and ran to greet me with hugs. I must admit, I was quite relieved as I had not idea where I was supposed to meet Teacher Massawe! The showed me to the teachers’ room which consisted of about 15 tables about the room, each with at least a couple of 1-2 foot high piles of notebooks. TM greeted me and proceeded to show me to the head teacher’s office. I sat down and signed in and began to learn about the school.

There were 1,036 students and just 25 teachers! The children were as young as five and as old as fifteen. The morning bell rang at 7:30 and by 8am students would file to their respective classrooms. The head teacher told me how the school was in some serious need of supplies, as it was government funded. There were just a few books per class that the teachers would use as aids. Sometimes the children would be able to share the books, however when classes have between 40 and 50 students and just five or six books, one can imagine how often they actually held a school book in their hands. I also learned that the children were responsible for their own pencils/pens and notebooks. Should they not have any of these items, they could merely sit in class empty-handed, as the school did not have extra supplies or enough money to purchase them. I was soon to learn this fact first hand. Anyway, the head teacher then asked me to tell her some differences between their school and schools in the US. As I explained some differences, I also noted some similarities, much to their surprise. As I have some teacher friends who have taught or still teach in various parts of New York City, I had heard similar stories of the lack of funds to purchase supplies. These same friends have had to pay out of their pocket to purchase supplies for their students.

Once we had finished talking, Teacher Massawe brought me to the teachers’ room where I shook hands and greeted most of the teachers. After being asked from where I came and the ever-popular, “Are you married?” by some of the female teachers, I sat down and waited to visit some classrooms. As I expected (though was half hoping wouldn’t be the case), TM asked me if I wanted to teach some English to the children. For some reason, I found myself nervous at the prospect of teaching a classroom of 40 or 50 children. Within moments, we were en route to the first class, catching stares, whispers and greetings from classrooms as we passed by.

I taught three classes that day, two about possession and the third about the future tense. Luckily, I had the foresight to make some simple exercises and notes so I didn’t have to think 100% on the spot. Once I wrote down the lessons and the children repeated the words after me, TM would explain to them exactly what to do in Kiswahili if there were questions. As I walked around the room, mimicking TM’s lead, some students were more nervous about my presence than anything, Some shyly adjusted their seating so as to half block their notebooks, while others would merely stare blatantly up at me as I smiled down at them.

After the lessons, it was lunch time so TM asked me to come to her house and share lunch. I was honored so I complied and we began the journey to her home. The road was familiar as part of the path was the way to church. We veered to the right and I suddenly became a little saddened at the reality. We approached TM’s house which was two rooms, one where she and her husband slept and the other room was for her children, a little boy and little girl, aged 6 and 4 respectively. Her son was clearly unimpressed with his mother’s guest and continued playing a pretend game of cops and robbers, or a similar version of that, with a neighbor. The little girl though was hungry for attention and interested in this new person sitting inside her house. As I chatted with TM inside the room that doubled as bedroom and living room, TM’s daughter reminded me so much of myself at that age: huge dimples on a round face, a little belly and laugh that could bring a smile to the hardest of hearts. She was beautiful!

She recited the few English words she knew as she examined the chipped nail polish on my finger nails and flowers on my skirt. The house girl prepared a delicious lunch of chicken in broth and ugali for enjoyment. As I watched TM serve me the largest piece of chicken, I couldn’t help but appreciate her hospitality, yet I also wish I had the ability to tell her in Kiswahili that she mustn’t serve me the biggest. In any language though, that would have been a huge faux-pas, as I was the guest. It was quite humbling to sit there as I dined on this lunch. In between sips of broth and pinches of ugali, TM told me she wanted her children to learn English. After I told her they could if she spoke and practices with them every day, she asked me if I knew anyone in the US who could sponsor her children so they could attend the local English-medium school. I was dumbfounded at this question and felt immediate pressure to answer, though I knew I did not want to make promises I couldn’t keep. I must admit though, I immediately thought my brother and I could sponsor these children, as their age difference mirrored that between the two of us. Jahred and I had had such a privilieged childhood, not wanting for anything, whereas these children, whose mother was a teacher, knew their only ticket was through attending the English-speaking school.I further reasoned with myself as I thought of the uncanny resemblance of TM’s daughter to my four year old self.

Anyway, I explained to TM how I would need all details and information before presenting the idea to any friends. So, after we finished up lunch, she and I headed over to Tumaini School where all courses, except French and Kiswahili, are taught in English.  We were whisked into the principal/school master’s office after passing by class rooms with murals in English on the walls. TM and the Head Master had a small discussion in Kiswahili before he explained to me the history of Tumaini and school mission statement, in English, thankfully. The school is in trimesters and the price of tuition pays for uniforms and meals. The small children, those under 4, must pay 180,000TZS per trimester, while the older ones must pay 210,000TSZ ($142/$167 respectively). As I did the math in my head, I realized that I spent more on groceries over three months. I placed the school brochure inside my little black journal and we were on our way, as TM needed to be at school in 8 minutes.

We parted ways once I neared the road to Shalom. As I walked down the road, I realized I had not notified Mama that I would miss lunch, so upon walking on the front porch, I saw lunch waiting on the table for me. Worried that I would upset Mama if I didn’t eat the food, I forced myself to spoon a little rice and vegetables onto my plate.

After some deep breaths, I fought off a food coma and the urge to take a nap, instead heading back to Shalom for the afternoon. I soon found myself alone with the younger children and some older ones who stayed home from school. I worked some more on the poster with some occasional visits from children looking for their new friend and some attention. I also had some quality time with the infants in Mama’s bedroom, where the newbaby, recently named Eliana, was sleeping. Two or three older girls would take turns holding the 6 month old Winner and Diana and I was passed my turn with Diana, who promptly fell asleep much to my amazement because it was so loud.

The afternoons were so quiet as I got more accustomed to the schedule during the school year. After their first bath of the day which follows lunch time, the young children nap/lay down in bed, while the older ones help with laundry, preparing food, or have some downtimes themselves. The strong difference between nap time and any other time is incredible—during nap time you can hear yourself think, yet at any other time, it is usually too hectic to remember you need to use the restroom.

The volunteer family returned after visiting Ngorongoro Crater that morning so we enjoyed some quiet moments as we could for once hear ourselves think! As I walked outside to check on the roof’s progress and have a minute alone, three vans of tourists pulled up. In that moment, I realized Mama Warra was not up at Shalom, thus I would have to show these twelve or so people around. Most were from the States and in their mid-forties and quite surprised to be greeted by fellow Americans, a group of four of them no less. Within moments Mama walked up so after a brief introduction, I continued on with the tour. It was oddly calming as I showed the people around the grounds. Because the children were asleep, I explained to the guests that they were experiences rare moments of quiet. There were some whispers of “Eliza” as we passed the older children’s room because Michael and some others that just enjoyed saying my name were reading books in bed. Anyway, during our tour I was most candid with the guests as they asked question after question about Shalom and the children. Sandy and the girls answered the some questions for our guests too which was fantastic so we could truly stress the reality of Shalom.

After about fifteen minutes, we said our farewells and some of the women took down my contact info so as to stay in touch and receive more details about our work. Though Mama Warra and Mr. Nnko had both told me of the absolute necessity to have someone, especially someone white, working at the orphanage, I did not realize the dire need until I found myself speaking so candidly with the visitors. I of course knew it would be helpful to have an Admin person present, but truly speaking English is key for donor relations. As the group asked questions that Mama Warra could have never answered in English, I was very thankful and willing to share various stories of the children and the need for donations. I also took advantage of being rather frank because the visitors were American and most interested in learning the truth. It was in these moments I realized how right it felt to be giving the tour and answering questions…another moment of peace.

We all returned to working on the poster before Sandy and the family left for the hotel. I stayed late again to teach some more English to my favorite pupils. Once dinner was about to be served, Mama asked some of the older children to walk me home as it was past dark. I found myself soon being escorted by five or so of the English students, each trying to clutch my fingers simultaneously.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s