We Don’t Get No Education

Students in Tanzania

Yes, I think they are in the right direction. In 1960, 76% of the population older than 25 had gotten NO SCHOOLING. Forty years later, the number was down to 43.5%.*

But that is still a LOT of children who are not being educated, at least not formally. I saw it with my own eyes while hiking in the Usambara Mountains in Northeastern Tanzania.

Kids all over the place

Throughout the entire day we’d see kids out in the road, running and screaming. Our guide often asked them why they were not in school and got a different excuse each time. When we passed a school one evening in a place called Rangwe, I asked to go in. This is something I found on the noticeboard:

List of exam results

Do you see how many F’s there are? Division 1 is the the highest level. Notice there are zero students in Division 1. Whereas in the “failed” category there are plenty.

The next day we saw more students on their way to and from school, in uniforms and cheerful. “Good morning teacher”, the older ones greeted us, while the less learned ones called “bye muzungu”.

We entered the school grounds and a hoard of shrieking kids began to follow our every move, shaking with laughter. They kept creeping up and then backing away whenever we turned to look at them.

We walked into the teacher’s room, which had a few weary looking women. For nearly 700 students in the school, they are six teachers. It’s no wonder they were sour.

The Teacher's Lounge

I was introduced as a teacher, and my being white earned me the status of a person who has to be taken care of and shown around. So I entered a classroom of wide-eyed students who all stood up when I entered the room. Although I’m not generally shy, I found myself at a loss of words in front of the class. After all, what was I going to say? Hi, I came to look at you?

Downhearted, but hopeful that maybe I’d be able to make an impact in Uganda, I left the school. A few tens of students seemed keen on escorting me out.

I am now in Namulanda, a small village with a very special art school for disadvataged children. Back home, I created a lesson plan packed with information, ideas and equipment. I was going to teach the topic of self-portraits, through the lenses of different artists throughout history. We would explore different mediums, such as painting, drawing and collage, and we would explore ourselves and try to understand what it even means to make a self-portrait.

But when I got here, I realized there was no math teacher. And the English teacher was actually the preschool teacher, who was leaving the small children so she could teach the older ones. And there was no sports class. The moment I expressed interst in this, I was pegged down to teach English, math and sports to all grades, as well as teaching a group of mothers how to read.

I will have to try and work out a schedule, and see where I will fit in the other things I had in mind – namely building something sustainable, and helping the students figure out what they will do when they leave this wonderful school, but in any case, these are going to be a busy few months.

* (International Data on Educational Attainment: Updates and Implications. Robert J. Barro and Jong-Wha Lee, 2000)


Sewer Swimming and Wedding Crashing

I wasn’t planning on it. It was evening in Lushoto, the “main city” of the area we were hiking in, in northeastern Tanzania. When I say big city, I mean the place that sometimes had electricity (obviously not when we were there) and the potential to have running water (again, somehow not when we happened to be there).

Needless to say, the roads were not the best. Taking no heed of this, I walked down the side of the dirt path which was one of the main roads, concentrating on sending an SMS on my local phone. I was walking with my friend, who suddenly noticed I’d been swallowed by the earth. I was right beside him one moment, and the next I was falling down a two meter ditch. The fall was long enough for me to think, “where the hell am I going?” and then foresee the future: I became covered in muck – mud, bits of garbage and a distinct smell of shit. I don’t know if it was the sewer only because I don’t know if Lushoto has a sewage system. But I am sure there was stuff in there that does not belong all over my arms and legs.

Unfortunately, I was wearing my best clothes. Don’t worry, they were still clothes I wouldn’t normally want to be seen in. But still, I had a wedding to crash and I was about to get into two friendly strangers’ car.

My wedding outfit

In the ditch, I allowed myself two seconds of absolute shock at the wetness and the stench and the realization that I was swimming in it, before I started howling with laughter. I was not alone in my embarrassment. Ten men flocked over immediately to help me out. Every person on the road (and that’s a lot) turned his head to look at the stupid mzungu who’d fallen in the ditch. But for some reason I was the only one laughing.

That’s when I decided I liked Lushoto. People really cared about me, said “pole” which means sorry, and hardly laughed. A few people suppressed smiles but that was only once they’d seen I was laughing.

I didn’t notice yet how much my neck hurt from the whiplash, so I continued walking down the road laughing, saying “Thank you Lushoto! Don’t worry…” and wondering how long it would take until people stopped staring at me. And then the headlights of our ride flashed at us.

I tried in broken Swahili to explain what had happened, and that they should just go to the wedding without us, but they insisted on waiting for me while I got washed. Which was quite a problem considering there was no running water.

Ten minutes later I was in the car, with a light aroma of crap and soap, in hiking clothes and muddy sandals, on my way to the wedding of Mohammad and Aisha.

I’d always wanted to crash a wedding. The perfect opportunity fell into my lap that afternoon, when my friend and I shared a corn on the cob on the side of a road in Lushoto. We were sitting on wooden beams near another group of people who were also just sitting. That’s the main activity around here.

But we noticed they were wrapping a present and seemed to be excited about something. I gathered my Israeli Chutzpah and started chatting with them about something. They liked my camera. I told them I’d be their photographer if they took me to the wedding.

“Okay!” Really? “My brother who is supposed to go cannot go, so you can go,” said the man. I looked at my friend with a dopey grin. “Wow! You sure?” I asked, hoping he wouldn’t change his mind. He told me where and when he would pick us up. I was ecstatic.

Although I was little smellier than I would have liked, the wedding was fantastic! After days of feeling sorry for all the poor people in the villages, we got to see a different side of Lushoto: Long satin gowns, sparkling jewelery, a five piece wedding cake and lavish decorations.

Our hosts took care of us as if we were the angels who’d just visited Abraham. The woman held my hand I was walked into the auditorium, and the man gave us running commentary throughout the four-hour ceremony.

No hurry in Africa. But eventually we did eat,  and how.

There were a few moments of embarrassment, for example the train of dancing and giving of gifts – they really do that. Or the saying of blessings. I said “Mazel Tov” but didn’t even receive a hint of a smile from the bride or groom.

Oh, what a night!


Did you know that bananas come in all shades of green, yellow and red, can be a foot long or the size of your finger, and can either be sweet or used like potatoes in soups and other local dishes? Did you care?

Well, when you’re living in Tanzania you sort of have to care, and so I do, and I think I’ve eaten about 18 bananas in the past two days to prove it. Bananas are everywhere.

I ate DELICIOUS banana bread at this house where I’m staying (I always wonder if I think things are good because they really are or because I’ve eaten so much crap here) and I think the recipe is worth sharing. Don’t worry, folks, this is not becoming a cooking blog.

Stamil’s Banana Bread

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 cup flour

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp baking soda

3-4 mashed bananas

1 egg

3/4 cup butter (although here they use “Blue Band” – the world’s most artery-clogging vegetable fat)

Mix bananas, sugar and butter well. Add egg, vanilla baking soda and then flour.

That’s all I know, so you’ll have to guess how much time it needs to bake. No hurry in Africa, though, so don’t worry… Hakuna matata.

Some Problems in Swahili

I don’t consider myself a Swahili speaker, but I’ve picked up a few words of this East African language, and I’ve already discovered an array of problems.

There is a set answer for everything:

Habari (how are you) – Nzuri (good)

Mambo (what’s up) – Poa (cool)

Vipi (how’s it going) – Safi (clean)

What if you’ve just had a terrible day? Is everything still good, cool and clean? You’re stuck.

There are not enough words:

The word for yummy is tamu.

The word for sweet is tamu.

Hence, there is no way of conveying that something is sweet but not good. Or of telling someone that what you are eating is too sweet. Maybe that’s why the truck drivers here fill up their tea with a half cup of sugar.

The word for good is nzuri.

The word for cute is nzuri.

What if you saw a child who is very cute but is somewhat mischevious? What if a child is an extremely good student and hard worker, but is just not that cute?

Pole means sorry.

Pole pole means slowly.

Whenever people tell me they’re sorry after a long day of hiking, I am sure they’re telling me I was very slow. And what if you want to say “slowly slowly?” Pole pole pole pole?

They add ee to everything:

Hotel is hoteli.

Carrot is carroti.

You can’t really have a conversation like that with someone and not burst out laughing. Nor can you understand whether eight means eight or eighty.

Morogoro – A Town in the Middle of Nowhere

“Morogoro…While there’s no real reason to come here, it’s an agreeable place…”- The Lonely Planet Guidebook, East Africa.

I guess in a country as big as Tanzania everything is in the middle of nowhere. I drove here in the back of a pickup truck, without a seat or a seatbelt, but when the policewoman stopped us, the only thing she asked for was a first aid kit. That was the thing she could fine us for not having, and then stuff the money in her pocket. I bet that was the first time people were happy to have a scruffy backpacker girl hang around with them. My backpack has everything.

Morogoro has so many ex-pats – I’m starting to go blind with all the whiteness around me. It has a strange, somewhat colonial feel to it and everyone seems to know everything about everyone. But still, it’s interesting to get another side of the real story – see the locals through the eyes of other mzungus.  And having a wonderful home to stay in and free wi-fi is quite interesting as well.

The Uluguru mountains are in the backyard and they are stunning. It’s not a national park, just snaking paths and miniature homes dotting a lush, green chunk of ground. Women walk down the dirt roads in the morning with large buckets of bananas on their heads to sell them in the market. Everyone is friendly and says “Jambo” or “Habari” with a generous smile.

People live in mud huts and they make little earth cakes that pregnant women eat. Your walking past provides lots of entertainment, especially if you let them look at the pictures you’ve taken.

Morogoro town is the capital of Morogoro region. The entire region comes to the market here in Morogoro to sell – tiny fish, baked dirt, fruits of the baobab tree, old clothes and anything else they can. Little kids walk with plastic bags and pounce when you’re ready to buy; they offer to carry your things for you while you shop. They don’t seem to understand the concept of a mzungu who doesn’t shop.

A scruffy and uneventful town is quite a pleasure every once in a while, as are the luxuries of a Westernized society. It feels kind of silly to travel all the way here and most appreciate and enjoy a good shower, internet access and pasta with pesto, but maybe that’s normal after a month of being smelly.