Friday, March 28, 2008

Pictures!

Hello everyone,

I am sorry that I have not been able to post a blog in such a long time. I have tried to for the last few weeks, but I have been having problems with the internet (and of course electricity). But the good news, is that I have slowly been uploading pictures to the internet. There are not many, but at least you all can get an idea of what life is like here in Mtama and Tanzania. To access them, go to www.shutterfly.com. Go to "Member sign-in." Then enter the email address: snashif@umich.edu and password: 1granada. If you have any problems, let me know. I will continue to add pictures every chance I get, but it takes so long to load a few pictures and the internet is expensive!

Other than that, things are going pretty well. I was on break from school last week and I visited some friends in Newala, Mtwara for a few days before returning home. I was glad to get back to school, though, and start working again.

I appreciate hearing from you all and think about you often. I hope everyone is happy and healthy. Take care!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Inakuwaje?

It has been a long time since I have been online and much less written in this blog! I have been quite busy in Mtama since school has started. School officially started on January 14th, but I didn't start teaching until the following week and even then, I was not teaching the full number of periods which I was assigned because students are still trying to pay their school fees to enroll. By last week, though, there were a good number of students, and I think by the middle of February, most students will be attending school.


I am teaching Form 3 biology and chemistry and Form 1 biology (though right now, the form 1's are taking an English course because all subjects in secondary school are taught in English). Teaching has been going pretty well, but it has definitely been challenging. The classrooms are very dark and hot, which is a disturbance in it of itself but also there is no glass covering the windows, which can make it distracting for the students and myself. Also, the language barrier obviously makes it difficult for them to understand what I am saying. I constantly try to imagine what it would be like to try and learn and understand biology or chemistry if it were taught in Kiswahili and I know it would be quite difficult! A lot of my students know English (at least the form 3's), but my accent is difficult for them to understand, as they speak English with a British accent. But, I know as time goes on, things will get easier and the students will get used to me and I will get used to them.

Since school has started, I have acquired some house help to take care of my house while I am at school. Her name is Maggie and she comes twice a week (monday and thursday) to sweep, mop, clean my clothes, fetch water, cook for me, and do anything else around the house that I need. She has been doing a really good job and it has been nice to be able to focus on teaching and issues at school instead of worrying about cooking myself dinner or cleaning my clothes.

Also, I have been starting to feel more like a part of the community. People are really starting to get to know me and I am getting to know them. Perhaps it is the fact that I feel a little more comfortable in my environment or that I am getting better at Kiswahili, but it has definitely been a nice feeling. Also, at school, the teachers are all really friendly, outgoing, and funny so when I am not teaching, sitting in the staffroom with the others is really entertaining! We have a tv so we can listen to Bongo Flavor (which is the hip Tanzanian music, much like American hip hop...except in Kiswahili of course) or watch CNN and listen to the world news (in English). At the same time,the teachers chat and talk about matters at school and in the village. It is fun to watch how they all interact with eachother and for me to try to understand what they are saying!

Really, I am struggling trying to update you all right now. It is strange because I realize that a lot of things that I am doing are probably worthy of noting in this blog, but at the same time I cannot think of anything to say. I suppose that means that I am getting used to things here in Tanzania and Mtama. Although this may be true, I still have times when I feel a little lonely or depressed. But, having lived abroad before, I realize that this is just part of being in a foreign country. You good days and inevitably you have bad days and it just about remembering the good days and trying to get through the bad ones. Despite this, I do realize how lucky I am to have this opportunity and I try to think about this everyday.

Anyway, overall, I am doing really well and I am happy here in Tanzania. I hope you are all well and I look forward to hearing from you all soon!

Kwa herini!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

I really have no idea where to begin. I have tried to start this blog about 3 times now but each time I erased everything that I typed and returned to writing emails for awhile. So this time, I think I am just going to dive right in.

My house in Mtama is rather big and quite nice! I have a sitting room, living room, kitchen, master bedroom, guest bedroom, courtyard, outdoor shower room and bathroom, and two storage rooms that I really never use. My house was pretty well furnished when I got to site because of a volunteer that had lived there before me. I will most likely have some pieces of furniture made and some other things here and there, but really, it was pretty much ready for me to live in. My house is next door to the secondmistress' house and to a Japanese volunteer, which I have yet to meet. He arrived in Mtama about a week before me and apparently slept there for one night and then told the teachers that he had to go to Dar but that he would return in a week. He has yet to return and I am starting to wonder if he is ever going to come back. The first few days at site can be a little bit daunting and lonely to say the least, but I hope he returns because it would be interesting to get to know another volunteer and perhaps I could learn a little bit of Japanese too! Anyway, I also live near 3 other teachers and the headmistress. The villagers live a little bit further from where my house is, which was a bit of a surprise at first because I thought I would be living within the village. Although this has been a bit of a challenge, it has been alright. I usually socialize with people in the morning when I fetch water from the well in the morning or when I am riding my bike/walking into the "downtown" to pick up some tomatos or bananas. Within the next few weeks, I am going to try to make more of an effort to introduce myself to the villagers and just meet more people.

So, I guess I could talk about a typical day at site. I wake up everyday at 5:40-6:00am. I pour water, which I boiled the night before, from my thermos and add powdered milk (Nido), coffee, and sugar to get my day going. I eat a handful of cashews and either sit on my couch and relax a little bit, or I do some chores around the house such as washing dishes (without running water mind you), sweeping the floors, or washing clothes. Next, I head out to the well to fetch some water for the day. This is a good time to meet people as I was alluding to before because villagers in the area use the well to fetch water. It has been difficult for me fetching water at 6:30-7am because I am usually not in a very talkative mood at this time having not showered, but I have been slowly adjusting. And, it has been exciting because two children of one of the school teachers have been helping me to learn to carry the bucket of water on my head, like all of the villagers do. They are really sweet and I think they enjoy helping me learn to do this. I can only use a small 10L bucket, but slowly I will work my way up to the 20L buckets and one day I aspire to carry a bucket without using my hands to balance. I will keep you all updated!

So, after fetching 2-4 buckets of water (depending on my chores for the day), I take a bucket bath and get ready for the day. By this time I am usually hungry again so I cook a typical porridge, uji, which is made of finger millet, powdered raw peanuts, and corn flour. I like to add some suger and dried dates, which makes it somewhat reminiscent of oatmeal with raisins. I usually head to the school and sit under a mango tree and help the teachers by grading papers or writing school reports. Many of the teachers and the school guards congregate there, too, because it is cool so it is a good time to practice my Kiswahili or just talk to people.

Around 1pm I head home for lunch, which is usually bread that I bake myself, with peanut butter (yes, there is peanut butter available and I am already on my second big tub) and jelly, some more cashews (I swear I am addicted), and a mango. In the afternoon, I usually have different activities, but I is usually so hot and humid in my house that I head back the mango tree to read or just hang out. Sometimes I have errands to run downtown, I visit some friends, or the neighbor kids come to hang out with me, but mostly I just lay low because it is so hot. I head back home around 5:30-6:00 to start cooking dinner, which usually involves rice or ugali (a "stiff porridge" made of corn flour and water) and either vegetables or beans. To cook dinner, I use a charcoal stove in my courtyard, which works very well, but takes a little time to get started, so I must remember to start cooking early.

After eating dinner at around 8, I usually just sit around my living room listening to my ipod and learning more kiswahili and fighting off the plethora of ants, spiders, and roaches that venture into my house at night. This has been an adjustment that I have been working on, but I am slowly starting to get used to it. Though, these do not compare to the little rodent friend that I met in my kitchen one night. I was so repulsed by it that I refused to enter my kitchen for the next few days until one of the school guards came to my house and killed it for me. Since then, I have not seen anymore, but I am constantly on the lookout and contemplating getting a cat to chase all of the rats away. Anyway, normally by 10pm, I am pretty tired and ready for bed.

Right now, it is the first time that I have been away from my site for longer than a day. The other volunteers from my training class and I are in Mtwara relaxing and celebrating the new year, even though it does not feel like December without the cold weather. It has been really great to see them, though, and hear stories from their sites. Also, we have been hanging out at the beautiful beach and it really does feel like paradise!

Well, I think that is all that I can write right now. There is so much more to say, but time is running out at the net cafe and I think it just might be a good time to head to the beach! BelowI have included my mailing address so you can send me letters! I would love to hear from you all! Please keep in touch!

Happy New Year!


Sereen Nashif
P.O. Box 23 Mtama Sec. School
Mtama, Lindi
Tanzania

Thursday, November 29, 2007

pcV

Yes indeed folks, it is official. I am now officially a Peace Corps Volunteer (and not just a measly trainee)! A lot has happened since my last blog and like always I won't be able to write about it all due to limited computer time, but I will try my best. After I got back from my nice visit in Iringa with a fellow PCV, our group returned to Dar Es Salaam for some final administrative sessions and to receive our site announcemments (ie. the places in which we will be living for the next two years). After traveling from our shadow visits to Morogoro, we were all tired and anxious to see what was going to happen next and what our respective region of Tanzania would be like. We had a nice site announcement ceremony and I found out that I am going to what is called the "deep south." I will be living in what is officially known as the Lindi region () and living in town of Mtama. I am very excited because I am about 60 km away from Lindi town, which is right on the coast so I will be able to travel to the beach now and again. Also, in my little description I received from Peace Corps, it mentioned something about living in a "small paradise"-- whatever that means it sounds nice! I will be teaching biology and chemistry at Mtama Secondary School, but I still don't know what forms (or grades) I will be teaching. The school is co-ed day, but apparently a small number of the girls board there. I will begin teaching in January, so I will have one month to get my house ready, start a garden, plan my lessons, learn more Kiswahili, get to know the people in my community, and learn how to live on my own in Tanzania! This upcoming month is going to be amazing, but probably the most difficult yet. It is going to be a big change to go from being around our training class of 38 to being by myself in my village. But, I just have to keep in mind that I didn't come to Tanzania or the Peace Corps to socialize with Americans and also I will see my other PCV friends again, just not as often. Anyway, back to my village...my house is apparently fairly big, and housed a previous PCV volunteer (although he was a health volunteer, not an educational volunteer like myself). It has electricity but not running water so I will have to carry water from a well, which will be good exercise! Also, as I alluded to, I am hoping to start my own garden in the next few weeks! I have some lemongrass that I am going to transplant from Morogoro and I also brought various seeds from home. I am definitely hoping to acquire banana, papaya, and mango trees so I can have fruit all the time, but I will have to see if that is possible. I just cannot wait to get there and see what it is like!
After Dar Es Salaam and site announcement, we returned to Morogoro for one week to have some more sessions and pretty much wrap up training. My family had a "graduation" party for me and a friend of mine, Aron, that lived down the street from me. When I got home from training, I discovered my mama and the mamas from my street were in my backyard preparing traditional TZ food for my party. I helped them prepare for the party for awhile and later the guests arrived. There weren't very many people, but one of my best friends here came and so the three of us danced and celebrated the occasion with our families. This was quite convenient too because it was the day before Aron's and my birthday so we were celebrating two occasions at once!
My birthday turned out to be glorious! I had a nice day at training with my friends and my friend, Martha, made me delicious no-bake chocolate peanut butter cookies with chocolate peanut butter fudge/dipping sauce, which is not an easy task here in country. In the evening, our group celebrated the end of training at a hotel! We sat outside ate some barbecued meat, drank, and relaxed. It was a great end to training and to my birthday!
The next day was our swearing-in ceremony! I woke up early to pack most of my belongings and then we went to our training center in Morogoro to help with final preparations before the swearing in ceremony. My mama and I got matching dresses made and they turned out really cute (I promise to load pictures sometime). The ceremony was nice; we listened to speeches from the PC TZ country director, US ambassador, and the TZ minister of education, two of our trainees sang a beautiful song that they wrote, we took an oathe as PCVs, and ate a great meal (including cake)!
I spent my last night with my host family and said goodbye to them this morning before saying goodbye to many of the PCVs in my training class. Right now I am in Dar Es Salaam with the 7 other people that will be living in the Mtwara region and tomorrow, after a long car ride, I will be at my house in Mtama! This means a few things for you all:
1. I will have a new address that I will distribute once I set up a PO Box.
2. I may have less email access.
3. Since I will have more down time this next month, I will most likely greatly appreciate letters and will most likely have more time to send letters home.


Alright, well I think that is everything (or most of everything). I truly do not know when the next time is that I will be able to get to a computer, but when I do, I will be sure to post my new address and more information about my village! I hope everyone is doing well and is enjoying the beginning of the holiday season. I will be thinking of all of you! I love you and miss you. Take care!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

November already?

It feels like quite some time since I have written in my blog! Things here are going really well! We are sort of in a turning point in training because we hve finished internship teaching this past week and we are going to be taking some exams this next week before shadowing another volunteer. Another trainee and I are going to be travelling to Iringa to stay with another education volunteer! I am really excited to be travelling to a new region of Tanzania and actually see what life is like in the village as a PCV. Morogoro is a really nice city and there are a lot of things available, which probably isn't indicative of the environment in which I will be living. So, this shadow visit will be a nice opportunity to see what life in a TZ village is all about and also to get to know other trainees and volunteers. It should be a really great time!
Since I last wrote I have been to Mikumi National Park, which is about a few hours from Morogoro. The trip was in essence what you would imagine a safari to be! We say elepants, giraffes, monkeys, hippos, crocodiles, zebras, antelope, and buffalo. We were een lucky enough to see a lion and lioness. I was literally six feet away from them (of course I was inside of a fully enclosed bus, but that is besides the point). The scenery was absolutely unbelievable and looked like it was out of a movie. It was a really really amazing trip and I am so happy that I was able to go! I am really hoping to post pictures, but I most likely will not do it for some time so sorry for that.
Also, I have been to two weddings. One was a muslim wedding and the wedding I went to yesterday was christian. They were obviously very different so I was lucky to be able to go to them. Then again, it is "wedding season" now, like it is in the summer in the US. I wish I could et, wlaborate more on the weddings, but that would take too much time!
This past week was pretty funny because I fell off of my bike! I am ok, really, but I was more pissed at myself than anything. I am actually surprised that I got this far without falling off as I expected to hurt myself in Ann Arbor when I was biking on campus. Anyway, so I was riding my bike in the morning wearing my skirt and pants underneath as usual (this is not relevant to the story, but I want to paint a picture). Twice a day, we bike over this little path to turn onto the road and the problem is there is a bump, which is followed by hill. This means that you must bike slowly over the bump and then speed up to make it over the hill. On that day, as usual, I went slowly over the bump, and this time I could speed up fast enough to make it up the hill. I realized this pretty quickly and knew that I was going to fall. I start to try and "catch myself" and I succeeded until somehow I hit my lower jaw on the handlebar. My friends and some strangers stopped to help me and I was more shocked than anything. I have a bump and scar on my chin now, but it is starting to heal so no worries! It makes for an interesting story, especially in kiswahili!
Alright, that is all for now! I will most likely update again while I am in Dar Es Salaam after my shadow visit in Iringa. I hope everyone is doing very well and please bare with my and my inability to keep in touch with you all. I hope to hear from you all soon! Kwa herini!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Thursday.

Hello, hello!
I am glad to update that things are going very well here in Tanzania! I have been very busy as usual but I can see that the end of training is nearing its end, which is both a good and bad thing. I have started teaching and that has been really amazing. We had two days of microteaching where we practiced teaching in front of our peers and I got a lot of feedback from that. On Monday, I actually started teaching Tanzanian students, though, which was really exciting. During training, I teach form 1 (or freshman year high school). The students are really well-mannered and enjoy (as far as I can tell) having a English Speaking teacher because they need to learn English because all of their classes are in English. I am really happy to say that teaching has been a really wonderful part of training and I look forward to having students of my own.
Things at home are going really well too. There was a slight miscommunication problem this weekend that led to some stress, but this is all taken care of now so everything is good. A few days ago, I went into town (which is where I am now to use the internet) with my host brother and sister. We went to the net cafe to try and look at some pictures that we had taken from a party this weekend. Walking around town we were holding hands and it was a lot of fun. We bought biscuits and ate them on the dalla dalla ride home. It was a really fun day!
Well, I am going to go and write some emails! I hope to email again sometime next week! I am trying to write more handwritten letters too but things have been pretty busy. I hope you all are well and please continue to update me!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Homestay and training.

Hello everyone!
Sorry it has taken me longer than expected to write another post. I had computer access in Dar when we first arrived in country and I thought I would have more time to use the internet once I got to Morogoro. I have quickly realized that I was mistaken!
With that being said, things have been really great, but very busy! I moved in with my homestay family just about 2 weeks ago. I have a baba, who is a driver, a mama, who stays at home, a 14 year old kaka (brother) and a 5 year old dada (sister). My family is really friendly and is very willing to help me learn Kiswahili in different ways. My baba speaks very good English but he speaks to me in Kiswahili and if I really don't understand what he is saying, which right now happens quite often, he says it in English and then restates it in Swahili. As you can imagine, this is really helpful. I also enjoy watching my mama cook meals on the charcoal stoves outside in the evening. It is a nice time to relax, but also practice a little bit and build my vocabulary.
On a typical weekday during training (I am not officially a volunteer as I have not sworn in), I wake at 5:45 am to the call for prayer at the mosque that is very close to my house. I get up and take a cold bucket bath and get dressed. I greet my family, which is a very important part of the culture here, and then I eat breakfast. The food here is really good, but consists of a lot of rice, bananas, potatoes, and a typical Tanzanian dish, ugali. For breakfast, however, I drink coffee or chai and eat bread with jam, eggs, and a really yummy porridge that my mama makes. By 7:10, I am out the door and I wait for another trainee that lives down the street from me. We ride our bikes to meet 3 more trainees and then we have a 20 minute bike ride to a school where we will be doing our student teaching, but for now where we are learning Kiswahili. The days here are pretty long and by the time I get back home around 4-5pm, I am pretty tired.
In the afternoons, I take another bucket bath (most Tanzanians bathe twice a day) and sit with my family and either "help" cook dinner, wash my clothes, or play cards with my kaka. By the time we eat dinner at 8pm, I am famished and eat a lot! Within an hour or so of dinner I go to bed, which has been hard to get used to, but once I get to my site I will eat earlier.
All in all, things are going pretty well. I think I am still in the "honeymoon" phase of being abroad and I am trying to be aware of that so that when it does finally set in that I will be here for some time, it won't be so shocking. Also, I have been so busy learning the language, getting to know my host family, and starting to prepare for internship teaching that I haven't had a chance to really dwell on being away from home. But, in the next few weeks, once I start venturing out downtown and taking the dalla-dalla's (local transportation) to the market, I will step out of my comfort zone. This will be a big step for me, but I am looking forward to it!
Anyway, I should get going now! I will try to write letters, emails, and posts as often as I can. Please keep me updated! Take care!