Pilau Day!

Setting out 116 plates of rice and meat
This past Friday was the end of the second trimester at Stella Maris.  Our school is in session from January until December with breaks in April, August and December.  They close the school so that children have holiday time but also because most children here have extra responsibilities at home like farming.  Some breaks from school children may spend the whole time planting or harvesting crops (typically this time of year the farms are being harvested).  They have to do this in addition to their numerous other normal chores like fetching water (because they have no running water in the home) and sweeping out their homes (to clean and level the ground because their floors are often dirt floors).  In celebration of the completion of the term, I always like to pay for one big feast for the children.  It started with the first two trimesters I was here in 2010, again last year in 2011 and now in 2012.  Every year I am absolutely humbled by the joy it brings the children to come to school and just eat pilau (rice and meat).  Some bring spoons, but most students just use their hands and dig in to plate after plate of pilau while smiling ear to ear.  It’s amazing the joy a big plate of food can bring here.

All the children digging in!
Sitting around after stuffing ourselves
With my return this term I knew I had to continue this tradition, which my P3 and P2 students fully expected.  All week they asked “We close school on Friday. Will we eat pilau?” and “please Mr. Terry, we want to eat pilau with you”.  They would give me the doe eyes and puff out their bottom lip which proves again that some things are universal regardless of where children are born.  I waited until Thursday afternoon at dismissal to announce that yes, we will in fact have pilau on Friday...the children responded positively, maybe a bit too positively.  They first let out a huge cheer and then the students swarmed me.  They could not contain their excitement any longer and began to hug me, grab on to my arms and dive at my legs.  After years of being with the children I am very used to children hanging off my arms or playing rough, but I was literally knocked to the ground from the force of dozens of children.  Some children were very respectful and simply stood by and watched, but to be perfectly honest I kind of enjoyed all the children who took part in the riotous celebration.  They were happy and I was happy to share in their joy.  Immediately all the other teachers were horrified and started yelling at the children to get back into their lines.  Meanwhile I sat on the ground surrounded by children and just laughed and smiled.  After the raucous celebration was contained, the children stood back in their neat lines covered in dust from the ground as I stood across from them with Madam Gonda, the assistant Head Teacher.  I stood before them covered in dust and dirt as Madam Gonda began a "don't ever do that again" speech.  She explained in multiple languages how it was very bad manners and not ever allowed again.  Even as she explained I could see all the children doing their best to hold back their laughs and smiles, probably because I was already laughing and smiling throughout the lecture.

You can see the various stages too full, still eating and satisfied
On Friday it is customary to have the guardians of the children or family members come to take their report cards.  Sometimes it’s a mother, father, grandmother, grandfather or just an older sibling who come but when they arrive they have an impromptu parent teacher conference.  I have been blessed that I have never experienced a “bad” conference here or in America, but here you would never see a parent disagree with a teacher.  The parents understand that the teacher knows their child as a learner and just sit respectfully and listen.  They go through the grades, their behavior report and then listen to the teacher as they instruct what the parent has to do next to help their child.  All the while the children are in the classrooms reading books until their first break time at 10:30.  At 10:30 the day is basically an unstructured “field day” where we just played.  The children jumped rope, talked, played soccer and just ran around waiting for the pilau.  After spending the morning greeting parents some of which I have now known for years, I spent the rest of the day playing with the children.  After the pilau was finished the children all gathered together in a large group in front of our school.  We prayed together to bless the food, and thank God for bringing us together.  Then our feast began!  Some of the children had brought spoons in anticipation of the meal, but most just dug in with their hands eating handful after handful of pilau.  They went back for seconds and even thirds until they could not eat anymore pilau.  This gave me the opportunity to see one of my favorite sights which is all the children gathered together, laughing, with completely full bellies.  We all joked together at who had the biggest “kitambi” (belly).  They pointed to one another, showed off their stomachs and poked each other talking about who ate the most that day.  At least for one night I could rest easy knowing that every child had enough to eat for a day.  

Sometimes children here can be shy around adults.  They can fear them or just not be comfortable with them, especially children growing up with difficult home lives.  Their fears are often reinforced at school because teachers are not trained to understand how positively reinforcing behaviors you want in the classroom is more effective than reprimanding negative behaviors constantly.  I personally cannot operate in a classroom or be an effective teacher knowing the children are not comfortable or cannot trust me.  I may stand apart many days being the only teacher playing with the children or talking to them one on one, but I enjoy it that way.  One of the greatest blessings of being a white guy in Africa is that I already stand out.  I am surrounded by a sea of dark brown faces, so frankly if I already look so different, I might as well teach and act differently too.  That way my actions and results will be the example for others to follow.  Over the last two months I have been getting to know all of the new students and trying to give the older students the confidence to trust in me again.  I can now say that with the mob attacking me with joy, sitting side by side eating pilau from the same plates and just having fun, smiling I am certainly back.  It cost me 153,000 shillings (about $100) to give 116 students enough pilau to stuff themselves.  It continues to be one of the best single investments I have found in Tanzania or anywhere.  No other investment has ever brought so many smiles, which at the end of the day is more important than anything.  If smiles are the currency of love, then you would be hard pressed to find a richer man than me on pilau day.

God bless all of you and have a great weekend!

1 comment:

  1. Terry, amazing how the children respond just knowing they are cared so much about by you. What a blessing.
    Pat K.