The Differences and Similarities

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.  

Students’ gifts
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!


Pilau Days and Picking Students!

The first and most exciting news I have to share is that we now have the next three pilau days sponsored.  Skip and Tooty Izac, Roger and Janet Guderian, and Beth Keen have all donated to pay for pilau for our children!  I cannot wait to share this great news with the children and of course all the pictures with everyone back home!  Not one of us can imagine the miniscule diet that so many of these children endure daily and then conversely the joy this meal of rice and meat will bring.  With the end of the month approaching the children have already asked me “Are we going to have pilau again?”  Even two weeks away, the children are boiling over with excitement!  So thank you to those three families for helping our children enjoy another great meal!  There are almost too many things to pick from to write about from this past week, so I will do my best to write about a few big ones.

This past week we hosted Dr. Sonia from ISL International Service Learning which is a non for profit that provides college age students with service opportunities in underdeveloped countries.  Dr. Sonia was here to try to put together a program for Tanzania working through our hotel and with our connections so that our area could benefit.  After working together all week, we have assembled a staff, itinerary and they are going to bring their students here starting in December!  So starting late December we will have 25 pre-med college students staying in our hotel.  It will be very exciting for all of us here and if everything goes well, we could become their “home” in Tanzania for their future trips!  

This month is a very important month for all schools because starting in November parents will begin enrolling their children in schools.  That means that we have to go to our kindergarten and try to select our students.  Obviously our school is different.  Our school is meant for the orphans, the poorest, and also the students with the best chance to succeed.  The staff demanded that I become a part of the process and that we (the headmistress and I) make the selections because our previous methods were somewhat out of our control.  This means that we have to find out as much as we can about their background, home life and current achievement levels over the next two weeks.  This is one of the harshest and most difficult challenges I will ever face.  It is challenging as an educator as well as personally.  The headmistress Madam Lucy and I will go to the kindergarten to interview the children, read their test scores, give a few more tests and then try to decide who will be enrolled next year.  Spots are limited at our school. Some children will stay in our kindergarten until they are eight years old waiting to get into our school, but if they are not “needy” enough or not yet able to read or write then they cannot be selected, which is heartbreaking.  The orphaned children always "come first" and frankly always get in.  It is everyone else that make this process so difficult.  To me, they are all poor, all malnourished, all in need of love and all deserving of an opportunity to succeed.  Every child has their own issues entering the classroom and their own growth rate in learning.  I despise reducing children to numbers and refuse to.  Yet somehow we have to select from more than 100 students, our next 30 students at Stella Maris.  Luckily, some will be eliminated by being too young or the fact that their parents have enough money, but for all the rest it is difficult.  I have no experience, no lesson learned over my time here, no one to look to for guidance, no magic answer or prayer.  I just hope that in the coming weeks we can learn enough about the students, talk enough with the kindergarten teacher and learn from each of the students as well, who needs our school most.   

With this selection process hanging over me, I decided to try something new with the children.  I needed to relax a bit, and starting something new and exciting always helps.  So for the past two weeks I started to play soccer with the older children at the end of the week.  Men always come first in Tanzania, I however was raised better than that, so at our school I always tell the children “ladies first”.  Not only is it good manners, it also prepares them for life outside of Tanzania and breaks the sense of entitlement they are conditioned to.  It is a hard habit to break but it starts with the smallest things.  The boys always play on the big football field and most of the time the girls never mind because they jump rope or play with tennis balls.  I knew that there had to be a few girls that would love to run around and play soccer on the big field though so I wanted to change that a little.  I told the children during class that, that I would play football with them (cheers) and that all girls are welcome (groans from the boys).  Later on that day I was shocked to see that every boy and girl wanted to play.  So we split off into two teams.  Our first game was boys vs. girls & Mr. Terry.  The second game was boys vs. girls, Mr. Terry, Sigsmund and Sylvano.  Whether it was to be funny, to beat their friends, or be on my team I frankly could not care less.  Progress is progress and I could not be happier than in those moments playing together, laughing together and smiling together.

Thank you everyone for continuing to write to me, email me, message me and support me!  I love all of you very much!


Teaching the Individual

With all the changes at the hotel we have been extra busy lately, but in a very good way.  This past week we had a whole staff meeting where you could really sense that everyone was really feeling re-energized about the changes at the hotel.  We talked about training and new job descriptions (both of which we had basically been without for the last 10 months) which were met with some actual excitement.   The staff has really been re-energized and excited about the new changes.  Also Teddy (our interim manager) Adam and I went on sales calls which resulted in a few immediate commitments from some tour companies for the coming months.  They too were excited to hear about the changes we were making and felt a renewed confidence in our hotel!  So although we are entering the “off” season for tourism we can still count on some visitors staying with us over the coming months, which is great news!  Additionally we have a visitor currently staying with us Dr. Sonia with International Service Learning who is making the finals plans before we become their official home in Tanzania for their service groups.  This will include a group of 25 American college students coming in December!

These past two weeks I have found myself really awestruck at a few moments while teaching first grade and looking at the 44 beautiful little brown faces staring back at me.  The will curiously watch me and giggle when I would stick out my tongue or pull on my ears (to explain sensory organs).  Or they would laugh as I would theatrically explain how air is all around us and reach all around the room, which leads to them laugh and then mimic my movements.  I remember back to years ago when I did the exact same thing and received the exact same reaction from 44 beautiful little brown faces.  They would try their best to write and speak full sentences in English to show they understand or some would just struggle to stay awake after a long morning.  The task at times seems so daunting for a moment as I watch them and just prayed they would understand and that one day I would know each of them as an individual.  

I’ve only known these first grade students for a few months but what stuck out most of all was that they just seemed so little.  44 little six or seven year olds, with little faces all trying to speak full sentences in English.  It's easy to wonder what they will become.  This past week I walked into my P3 class to teach English after teaching P1 Science with Adam and I could actually see what our first graders will become.  It lead me to look back at my journals from my first trip to Tanzania.  I read an entry that was my second ever entry in Tanzania back in January 2010.  I wrote that meeting the children was “incredible and awkward because we were both so excited, but neither of us could truly express to the other how we felt because of the language difference”.  Since then the children have expressed many things.  The children and teachers have called me by many names “Mr. Terry, teacher, sir, my father, my brother, my son” and many more names, all of which are individually special to me.  Not only because of the sentiment behind them, but because of the individuals that spoke those words are so special to me.  Beyond our relationships, what is truly special is that they spoke those words in English when it seemed so daunting only a couple years ago.   

The students in third grade are writing stories, reading stories and answering questions about books already when many secondary school students struggle to greet me at different times of the day (I am often greeted by Good Morning on my evening runs).  I have had the blessing of being a part of teaching at Stella Maris every year it has been open and to be a part of these children's lives.  It is incredible to see how much the children have grown physically and intellectually before my eyes.  After reading my first few journals I remembered back to when the children were little P1 students, how they couldn’t even tell me what their names were or how old they were.  I was completely in over my head and had no idea what I was getting myself into.  There were no P3 or P2 students to look to and know where they were heading or proof that this would work.  No one to look to as an example.  But now after three years I can say for certain that we are doing quite a few things right.

It’s amazing how with each day, each year, we are able to unlock the personalities of the children and give them the ability to express themselves.  It is difficult at times because the society, culture and school system treats every child exactly the same with no room for individuality.  We have to constantly battle decades of bad teaching practices, and a culture that is resistant and very slow to change.  Teaching children as individuals is one area that I have been working on improving at our school and frankly trying to prove the validity to the teachers.  I am happy to say I have already won over Madam Gonda, who I teach with daily.  Without this instruction and the trust I have earned I would truthfully miss out on so much with each child.  By teaching them as individuals, they also feel comfortable to step out and be individuals.

One of my favorite new games I started playing with the children before they go home started with a girl Lidia.  One day I snuck a piece of scrap paper into her bag when she wasn’t looking.  After discovering it, she figured out it was mine and decided to try to give it back to me.  So she pulled me aside and asked me to get down on her level then she whispered in my ear “my aunt asked me to give you this gift.  Don’t look at it!  It’s for you and it’s a special gift.  Put it in your pocket, but don’t look at it!”  Of course I took it in my hand and put it in my pocket.  I later took it out when the children were lined up to go home and showed it to her, she had drawn a smiley face and a heart.  She erupted with laughter and gave me a high five as we both laughed together.  Lidia is a school prefect, she is intelligent, she is a leader, she has a sense of humor, she has an imagination, she is silly, she is incredibly hard working, she is emotional, she is nine years old and she is an orphan.  Not one thing defines her because she is so complex, she is an individual and I have no idea what she will do with her future.  Just like I have no idea what any first grade student will do with theirs.  I do however look forward to watching them grow and unlocking their individuality through teaching.  One thing I am certain of however is that they will be successful, because they already are. 

Thank you everyone for your continued support and love!


New Changes and Pilau Day Sponsorship!

This past week and a half I found myself in a new position that I hoped to avoid in my life.  I had to be a part of “not renewing” a contract at our hotel.  This invariably took a lot of attention and caused a lot of stress around the hotel which is why my posting has been delayed.  My role was temporarily shifted to crisis management as I had to oversee the change in management.  I apologize for the lack of communication.  Luckily for me I had the guidance of two of the Mailisita Board members Stan and Nathan helping me through this process and coaching me up throughout the past two weeks.  One little message stuck with me more than any of the business advice however.  My friend and new business mentor Nathan said to me “remember everything you are doing is for the kids and the community” even the tasks asked of me that are not joyous.  My role here as the “Ambassador” usually means I do the “extra” things to help the children.  This previously meant helping children outside of class, buying clothes or food, visiting a home, extra time tutoring which frankly I love.  I was never asked to step into the business or make take part in those tough meetings.  This week however I realized that sometimes I am going to have to do things that frankly no one wants to do.  Something I realized when the actual “termination” day arrived and I was the only one present to take care of it and see it through.   

I always said there is nothing I wouldn’t do for the children, so this week I had to prove it.  The week was spent overseeing the transferring of finances, documents, and duties to our interim manager which meant a lot of time outside of the classroom and lots of uncomfortable situations.  Of course in the end, it was all done to help our children and the community so we know it is all for the best.  These past couple days there has been an immediate boost in spirits with Teddy, our interim manager stepping into the role.  She is truly a breath of fresh air.  She is a very strong and capable young woman who endears herself immediately to people with her warm personality.  People do not leave Stella Maris without meeting her and sharing a laugh together.  Also a fun fact for everyone about Teddy is that she was actually taught by our headmistress Mama Shayo when she was in primary school!  Needless to say that is why she is such an intelligent and strong young woman! 

So again I find myself apologizing for a lack of communication back home, but this time it was for important business work.  At least I can add a new line to my resume as well!  With our new interim manager in place and our staff re-energized and looking forward to the possibilities, we could not be happier with the future of our hotel.   

On to more happy news we owe a big thank you to Ann Harmon (Adam Archer’s Mom) our first Pilau Day sponsor!  With the end of the month examinations last week, we wanted to start a trend of feeding pilau to our children every testing period (once a month).  Ann generously donated money to feed our children and to sponsor our first Pilau Day! 

We would like to give more donors and families the opportunity to help our children eat well during our examination weeks.  If you would like to sponsor a Pilau Day contact me terry.mulligan24@gmail.com or Stanton.j.taylor@gmail.com to donate.  Or you can simply click on the “Donate” button on the side of the page to get started.  Just include the note “Pilau Day”.  With this year’s Pilau Days already sponsored, we are looking ahead to next year.  Our estimated cost for next year will be $130 to sponsor a “Pilau Day”.  I can promise plenty of pictures from these special days, and we are all grateful for the incredible generosity of Ann Harmon.  As you can see from the children’s smiles, they couldn’t be happier or more thankful as well.

Thank you all and God Bless.