Since the “selection” and interview process for new students was delayed by a week, I will have to wait until next week to write on that. Instead I will focus on some fun things. Lots of people ask me what is so different about living in Africa. Sometimes it’s hard to remember what I first struggled with years ago and what is now just a part of my life. Even still there are plenty of differences and often times it is just the nature of each place that influences those differences. But I thought it would be fun to share a few of the differences and similarities of day to day things.
My lunch is most often taken at school in both Tanzania and America. In America I sit down with the other teachers in Kindergarten, First Grade, Second Grade and Third Grade. We all bring our own lunches, some big lunches and others are small lunches. Mine was the same, everyday (Turkey sandwich, pretzel, almonds and an apple) because those are the only things I know how to make. Insert your own 25 year old people should know how to cook joke here, but alas I still don’t know how to cook. Either way we all sit down to enjoy our meals that are leftovers, lean cuisine meals, home cooked meals or a turkey sandwich. Here in Tanzania we all sit down together, every teacher just like in America, to our freshly prepared meal. Only here we all share from the same pots and eat the same food. Here our lunches are most often Ugali with meat and vegetables or rice and beans with vegetables. The food is very different from America, luckily I still don’t have to try to cook for myself. Most of the time we eat ugali, which means we eat with our hands and share a big mound of ugali from a pot. Ugali is a really stiff porridge you roll into a ball, poke a hole into and then use to scoop the meat and vegetables. The vegetables are unlike anything you will find in America, because you can actually find them along the side of the road or a river growing wild. They will cut them from the ground, boil them and then serve them. They have a consistency most like spinach (although they taste nothing like spinach and sometimes can be very bitter). Also the meat is very different because we almost always eat goat. Goat is unlike most meats I have ever tasted, but what is most different is the fact that they also cook the stomach of the goat. So every once in a while I will bite into a squishy piece of goat stomach.
The truth is I love both of my lunches, the one in America and the one in Tanzania. In both lunches I am surrounded by teachers. Most often I am the only male teacher eating, I was at St Joseph (except for the occasional Mr. Shute lunch) and I am again here because Mr. Adam often does not eat lunch because he is watching his figure (and now will probably punch me for writing that, oh well it was worth it). All of the teachers have cared for me as a friend or in some cases as a mother would. In both lunches we laugh about funny things students said or did or we talk about our concerns about how to help a student. We talk about what we can do to be a better school or what we would change if only we had more resources. The teachers will talk about their concerns for my relationships or ask about any dating prospects. Mrs. Shute would urge me to settle down and get married to any girl so I wouldn’t leave America and the teachers here would talk about what tribe I should marry into so I won’t leave Tanzania. In both homes, lunches are full of laughter and great memories surrounded by some of my favorite teachers. Lunches are eaten by people that legitimately love their jobs and the people they serve.
In both countries I often receive hand made gifts from students. In America I would receive beautiful pictures, weather forecasts, pictures of me as a pirate, pictures of rainbows and hearts, wonderful notes and even bracelets (which I am still wearing Shannon, Katie and Livvy although they are getting a bit tattered). I love the gifts, display them, wear them, collect them and cherish them. In Tanzania my gifts are often similar, they are pictures, notes or other small things, like a shell I received from a boy yesterday who found it by a river. They are little pieces of paper, sometimes ripped out of a notebook, yet they can express so much. Though some may look nicer, have more colors, be bigger, might not be stained with red dirt from dirty hands preparing them, I love them all the same. The words I always see in both countries, in all gifts, are “thank you” and “love”, because the children have already figured out what is most important.
The students and teachers in both of my homes always bring me back to thinking about what is most significant in life, which I find to be relationships with others. Relationships are the reason why I am a teacher and why even though I might get frustrated some days, why I love my life and my work. Helping others is the reason why I am a teacher, why Mrs. Shute and the St. Joseph staff are teachers, why Mr. Adam and the Stella Maris staff are teachers. We love being in a community, sharing meals and we love our students. Sometimes we waste our time worrying about traffic, fantasy football and reality television, yet the students remind us of what is important. It is not the insignificant daily tasks, it’s the intentions behind those tasks that are important. It’s the intentions behind all the little things that sometimes bog us down or make us tired that we do for others that are most important. We do those things to show love for others because we are thankful to God that we are in the position to care.
Many prayers and love to my friends back home, I know many people are suffering because of hurricane Sandy. I hope everyone is safe and well. Thank you everyone and God bless!