Time Capsule Letter – October 2016
My dear Session II students,
Mambo. I write to you from Kilimanjaro International Airport, in the final minutes before I cross into the departure area to catch my flight to Rwanda. The home base was quiet this morning, rain dripping off the banana leaves, the only sound Mama Keti’s daughter Sharon singing quietly to herself in the hallway. Martyna is off to climb Kili with her Polish customers; Swiff has boarded his flight to New York from Doha. Only Mama Shindi, Mama Keti, Agatha, Furaha, and Lotha remained, taking down bunk beds and preparing my last rice and chicken lunch, as I finished packing upstairs.
It is strange to find the summer over, a summer that seems like it just began. I am sure it feels the same to you, arriving back in your same bedrooms, preparing for yet another school year. But there are differences, too; the bracelets on your arms from our FGM presentation, the Maasai earrings you pair with nice dresses, the dear friends in other states you’re still texting. And by the time you read this, several months from now, I hope you will be able to glimpse some of the other ways in which you are different. Perhaps you are more willing to take on the uncomfortable role of speaking up when you see injustice; perhaps you are taking real steps toward achieving the capstone project you planned in Tengeru; perhaps when you watch the news you remember that a place is often more complicated than it is portrayed; perhaps you just feel enriched, made more alive by having seen lion cubs lope across Ngorongoro Crater. Perhaps you are planning your next GLA trip, or committing to another way of being a leader—being the change—in this big world.
Sitting at this table, looking at the rows of tourist shops selling Maasai gear, I am remembering the moment Malachy’s spear hit the ground and stuck there, at Jacobo’s Maasai boma. I’m remembering the Maasai boys we saw in their black post-circumcision garb, faces painted black and white, and that ostrich feather bouncing from one’s head as he skipped through the grass. I’m remembering the red sunrise that morning, and our first giraffe. I am remembering standing under leaf umbrellas on the way to Laurenti’s coffee farm; I’m remembering working the wood “machine” to the rhythm of a coffee grinding song. I’m remembering how Winnie from Akeri Secondary School would visit Ellie and Emily; I’m remembering eating handfuls of Ugali during the poverty banquet. I’m remembering our Happy-Crappy-God down by the gently burbling river, a man washing his clothes nearby; I’m remembering all the children racing to hold your hands as we walked to class. I’m remembering what it feels like to stand up in a Jeep with my face in the bright wind; I’m remembering how hard we laughed during Drop-the-Sheet when Lodrick cheated again and again, and how throughout the trip at uncomfortable moments he would croon,
“This is called ‘experience’!” I’m remembering the first time you said, “Shikamo” to an elder and they responded with, “Marahaba.” I’m remembering the triumph of you all lowering each other deep into the rope circle to retrieve objects, learning trust; I’m remembering eating warm chapati, letting Kili’s waterfalls spray our faces, and gently brushing thick wax and black ink onto our batiks.
We packed a lot into three weeks, and when you left I cried. This type of goodbye is a fullness first, then an emptiness. I was so proud at the way you all grew, and I loved the relationships some of you found in each other. Our trip was not always easy, but this seems to me the real possibility of such experiences: In being challenged, we grow. In experiencing discomfort, we ask ourselves new questions. At the very least, we return home with a new set of eyes, grateful for what is in our lives that we’d like to keep there.
What have you discovered? What are you now hungry for? What might you have to offer the world?
Remember: you are a treasure and a work in progress, simultaneously. The world is bigger than we can ever imagine; be big in it. Listen to more than the single story of each place and person you interact with. And remember that we love you here. We—Swiff, Martyna, Lodrick, Lotha, me and the others—are just an e-mail away. Hakuna matata. Safi?
p.s. Here are more of our favorite moments from this session, compiled by me & Swiff & Martyna.
Session 2 Memories
- Ellie and Natalie dancing ridiculously in the safari jeep with culturally inappropriate clothing.
- Group dancing to our Japanese-learning videos of “I have a bad case of diarrhea” and “spare me my life”.
- Lodrick’s over-competitive nature and cheating during the “Drop the Sheet” name game.
- The group had a great experience skinning the goat at Maasai Boma.
- During ‘what NOT to do skits’, international staff put on a skit on “what not to do in the community”. Kati was acting like an inappropriate, obnoxious tourist, Martyna was pretending to be a Maasai man, and Swiff got up in a dress and got on Martyna’s lap.
- One day we opened our front door to find “We Miss You Mama” dola dola waiting for us.
- Corinne created an alter-ego “Willy the Wildebeest” during safari and made some ridiculous interviews.
- A few students created a reality show on the program called “GLA Exposed” and dubbed one of the armchairs as the “confession chair”.
- The Bro Zone!
- Corinne dyeing everyone’s hair blonde one night.
Summer Blog Posts
Today was our first full day in Tanzania. Although the sound of roosters woke us up early, we were very excited to look out of our windows at the banana trees and experience our first full day in Tanzania. Our morning began with ice breakers and skits to help us better understand and feel connected to the students and staff who will be our family for the next three weeks.
After lunch, we had our first Swahili lesson to prepare us for our service followed by a cultural lesson by Mama Simba. Mama Simba explained to us that regardless of the differences between our home countries and Tanzania, we are all one. She told us about the importance of family and community in Tanzania. Later, we had surprise birthday celebrations for Nola, Juan and Julie with cake and singing in English and Swahili. We all can’t wait to finally start exploring the country tomorrow morning!!!
Today we visited the school that we will be teaching at for the next three weeks. Seeing how different the school and limit of supplies made me realize how much we all take for granted in the US. It was great to see how eager the kids were to learn and to meet us. The highlight of my day was when three girls ran up to me and started yelling my name and clinging to me. Something I realized when visiting the school was that all of the kids looked so happy and it really touched me, because some of them are living with so little and they still manage to stay happy. After visiting the school, we drove to Arusha where we spent a lot of time in a hot van. While we were sitting in the van complaining about the heat a little girl came up to the window with scars on her face begging to us for money. Seeing the pain in the little girl’s eyes made me realize how much we take for granted.
July 19, 2016
Today, after breakfast, we started our day with a wonderful ESL (English as a second language) lesson from Martyna. Through her perspective-shifting activities, we were able to better understand some of the difficulties that we would face when teaching students that weren’t native English speakers. We also learned important skills that would be needed when lesson planning for the classes we would teach later in the day. Following this lesson was a few hours of team building activities. While attempting to complete a series of mentally and physically challenging tasks as a group, I and the rest of the students were able to better understand our group dynamics. We began to see some of the hidden talents that our teammates possessed that would eventually become essential for the success of the mission. In the afternoon, we started our first day of service. We were able to practice our Swahili (which also means sharing a few laughs) with the locals while walking through the town on our way to school. Similar to the previous day, our arrival to Patandi Primary School was accompanied by cheers and smiles from the children. In teams of two or three, all of the GLA students were able to teach two separate English lessons. During lesson planning earlier in the day, we all planned detailed accounts of the layouts of our classes, but were quite taken off guard when things didn’t go as planned. Many of us were frustrated by the difficulties that came with teaching a group of students that barely understood us, but the enthusiasm and dedication that each of the students shared really made the class a learning experience for both the students and the teachers. After each lesson, we went out to the playground to play with the dozens of children that had stayed after school. Playing soccer, Duck Duck Goose, and a few confusing dancing games with our students really helped us to begin to solidify a GLA/Tanzania relationship that I believe will make a lasting impact on us all. For the second part of our daily service, we began to refurbish one of the school buildings by sanding the walls in preparation for painting. We finished our day with a few self-searching activities led by Swiff and our mentors. These activities helped us to identify our strengths and weaknesses as team members and understand the importance of leadership as well as follower-ship. The entire group is excited to start our day tomorrow and apply everything we learned to a brand new and hopefully better school day.
July 20, 2016
This morning we split into groups to participate in cooking and batiking classes. In the batiking class we drew sketches and dyed cloth to create the image of a sunset and a silhouette. We also had the opportunity to purchase pieces of art made by the batik teachers themselves. The cooking class spent time with our very own chef Geoffrey to cook lunch for the day. We cut vegetables, peeled fruit, and kneaded dough for a delicious salad, passionfruit/mango juice and Chapati. The we went to the school to teach and started painting the classroom that we are renovating. After dinner, we did an activity called Alpha/Beta Society to remind of us the importance of learning about and respecting cultures that are different from our own.
July 21, 2016
Even my never-ending headache could not damper the amazing experience that is Tanzania. We started out our morning visiting a secondary (high) school where we engaged in cross-cultural exchange. I had a great conversation amongst a handful of students about our favorite rappers and sports. It was surprising to find that the students watched and listened to the same media that we do back in America.
We later started our third day of teaching at the Patandi primary school. My teaching partners Corinne and Julie taught our kids verbs ending in “–ing” and played a fun game of flashcard wars. By now our kids have better gotten to know us and we could joke around and pick up on learning styles.
The evening ended with a activity raising awareness about privilege, which is important to consider in a developing country. Hopefully we all get a great night of sleep in this new place we call home.
July 22, 2016
Today was the last day of the first week working and teaching at the Patandi School. We arrived at the regular time like any other day, but today was the first day I felt incredibly connected with the kids. Previously, the kids and the teachers were separated through an invisible barrier, but now we are all very close and comfortable with one another. I had brought my camera to the school and the reaction from the kids when I pulled it out was priceless. It was heartwarming and eye-opening to see that a little thing such as a camera can brighten a kids’ day. We took many, many, many pictures and the kids had a blast. By the end of the day, and when it was time to say goodbye, everyone was very sad to have to say goodbye to our new friends. I am very excited to start up teaching again on Monday.
Today, we all gathered onto the bus to see the Maasai tribe. The ride was quite long, but considering that we woke up at 4:00 am, it was perfect for a nap. Also, during the ride, we saw a couple of giraffes and I was amazed. I’ve never seen a giraffe in their actual habitat so I was completely entranced by the fact that here I was, witnessing it. Something I have never imagined would happen in my lifetime.
When we got there, members of the tribe came in wearing Maasaishukas and instantly welcomed us. A few minutes after arrival, we formed a group circle and asked the leader of the tribe some questions. It was very interesting because their culture is completely different from ours – varying from their goat sacrifices and sister wives; the difference was very intriguing. Immediately, we went and milked some goats. Very interesting, and I was especially happy when I got to hold a baby goat. The innocence and purity of animals never fails to bring a smile to my face. Afterwards, we ate breakfast and then headed for a hike along the safari. It was beautiful seeing all the bomas and zebras at first, but after walking through thorned bushes and almost dying with Julie from the heat, I can easily say the excitement of going through the savannah died down fast. I can also easily say that it was something that I will probably never do again, but even through my exhausted mind, I am quite proud that I didn’t die from a heat stroke. I really thought I was going to give up, so I was relieved.
After the long trek, we had a chance to watch an actual goat sacrifice. I was shocked watching it because the sacrifice was not what I imagined it would be. Instead of impaling the goat, they ended up chocking it. I felt that the method they used was pretty inhumane in a sense, as it was torture for the goat and there are probably better methods of killing without torture, but it still did the job. Also during the goat sacrifice we had a chance of skinning and chopping up the meat. (apologies for vegetarians). Then, we ate lunch. Note to self, goat meat is very hard to chew.
Once lunch was over, we practiced spear throwing. It was hard but fun. I was surprised on how hard it was because the tribe members made it look so easy. Then, we participated in tribal dances, chants and songs. In addition, an inside tour of their houses. The differences in culture is astounding. For example, how they use cow skin as a bed whereas we use mattresses. It is extraordinary how strong the huts were even if the walls were made of mud and roofs were made of grass and wood.
Next, we had a few more questions with the women of the Maasai tribe, and then we left. We shopped a little bit on the way to home base, and viola. A story that quickly began has ended the same way. Though the story is now in the growing collection of other stories, the memories will always stay.
July 25, 2016
Dear Michele Schreer, Emily was married today and will not be returning. The goats and cows will be sent via FedEx and should be arriving within the month.
Moving on, this morning we left after breakfast to go the Maasai Market, where we tried to practice our bargaining skills. And, while some had more success than others, we all are very happy with our purchases which included more batiks, instruments, handmade trinkets, and jewelry. We spent some time at an internet café for some Wifi and gelato. After lunch, we returned to the Patandi School to continue our teaching and service work. My class has started to become more confident and outgoing with our lessons which makes us really excited as teachers. Some of us are excited to have also noticed an improvement in their language skills and are excited to continue working with them. We actually finished renovating the classroom that we have been working on all week! We will begin a new project tomorrow based on the needs of the community. After dinner, we had a group discussion about international aid, continuing our comparison between tourists and ambassadors as well as what constitutes successful aid projects.
We began the day with an in-depth lesson on the process, causes, and effects of FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) which is a very common practice in Tanzania, along with many other countries. For those who don’t know, FGM is a cultural event practiced by many families as the “rite of passage” for girls to become women. It involves a very unsafe procedure performed on girls aged anywhere from 1 to 9, in which the clitoris and/or labia are removed. It was quite shocking to learn that some cultures still do these practices, and most often in dirty, unsafe environments. Luckily, this procedure is now illegal in Tanzania, however many Maasai tribes still do it. In fact, in Tanzania 15% of women are mutilated. In the total population, about 3 million girls are mutilated every year. This also sparked some interesting discussions in our mentor groups about Human Rights, and whether we have the right to judge/interfere with their culture.
After the speaker on FGM was finished, we were able to purchase bags, bracelets, shoes, and many other beautiful hand-crafted things, the money from which support NAFGM (Network Against FGM). It was nice to know we were helping to make a difference, even as small as a few thousand shillings.
Later on, we went to school and taught until about 4 pm. My group reviewed pronouns, and introduced reflexive pronouns. Then, we began a new aspect of our service project-repairing broken desks! It was a nice change to be outside in fresh air instead of inside painting, and I felt a great sense of accomplishment for completing the other task after all.
When we returned from service, we began our evening activity-Hunger Banquet. This was an incredible learning experience because we were given characters and evenly split (according to statistics) into high class, middle class, and lower class. We were then given the amount of food that our characters would eat on an average night. I was part of the majority (50%) that ended up in the lower class. 3 people were high class (20%), and 4 were in the middle class (30%). High class was served an entire meal while middle class was offered a buffet-style meal of beans and rice. All of the lower class was given a single plate of a dough-type food called ugali, and 2 pitchers of water to share.
This really opened my eyes to the extremity of poverty in the world today, and the fact that the majority of the United States belong to the “high class” of the world, who make at least $6000 per year. According to Swiff, 6 kids around the world die from hunger every second. And we are living in the home base less than 10 feet away from families who are starving. This was truly an eye-opening experience for me and many other Ambassadors.
The evening ended with everyone receiving a full dinner from Jeffrey (thankfully) and a spectacular view of the Milky Way from the third floor. Can’t believe the trip is already halfway over ☹ but also very excited to see what will happen tomorrow!
July 28, 2016
The mornings start out surprisingly cold here, but it becomes just as surprising when the weather raises up into the 80’s with clear, blue skies in the middle of the winter. In Tanzania, the weather has been extremely nice, with it being sunny and at least 70 during the day everyday so far. Today, in the morning, the group was split up into 2 separate groups. One group was taught by a group of native Tanzanians on how to batik paint. The other group, which I was in, was taught in a cooking class by chef Geoffrey. While it was fun, the moment the goat began to get cut was not enjoyable. While I am a meat lover, I find goat very unlikeable. Later in the day, we went to our service, where we taught native Tanzanian kids around the age of 12 English, played soccer with them and fixed multiple desks. The kids are very enjoyable to be around, and some are the most friendly I have met in my lifetime. After dinner, we started our evening activity around 7:45. This activity was GLA jeopardy, which contained categories such as Swahili, GLA Program Activities, Local Staff, Tanzanian culture and more. My group beat the other two by a large margin, with the final scores looking something like 305-155-55. The day was very enjoyable and went by very quickly. I am looking forward to my next week here and, frankly, I do not want to go home one bit. I hope he next week is as eventful as the last two. Hakuna Matata!
July 31, 2016
Today was perhaps my favorite day of the trip. We got to go on a safari and see the amazing African wildlife. We started out the day waking up in our hostel at 5:30am and setting off the Ngorongoro national park. The park is huge crater that is stunning to see and contains so much extravagant wildlife. I was told by our guides that there was a high possibility of seeing lions which excited me very much. To my excitement about 45 minutes into the safari we see a female lion walking with her two cubs. They walked right in front of our vehicle which was absolutely stunning and made for some amazing photos. Shortly after this sighting we were able to see an adult male lion standing just 20 feet in front of us which especially amazing being so close to such a dangerous animal. He just stood there and starred at us which was absolutely incredible. Most certainly one of the highlights of the trip for me and an amazing day to be a part of.
Juan Lopez Blog
We had all been looking forward to this day since the beginning of the trip. We set out at 8:30 am for the safari, very excited for the day’s events. We arrived at Tarangire National Park and waited in a long line for the permits to be approved. In the end, the wait was definitely worth it, as we saw stunning wildlife and created memories that we will never forget. It was a humbling experience to see how vast and extraordinary the world really is, and how we’re just a small part of this amazing planet. The first animal we saw was a giraffe, followed by many zebras, wildebeasts, and gazelles. Perhaps most exciting to see were the dozens of families of elephants—they are by far my favorite animal and I had been looking forward for so long to see them on safari. In the evening, we went to our hostel and went to bed early, hoping to feel refreshed and energized the next morning when we had to wake up at 5 am.
August 1, 2016
Help, I’m stuck in a Chinese fortune cookie factory; just kidding I’m still here in Tanzania . . . Despite the Mosque and the roosters, I was actually happy to be back in my own mosquito net, I mean bed. Our day began with a short trip to the Serena Lodge hotel where we bought some snacks and talked in our mentor groups about the differences we have noticed in the past 2.5 weeks between Tanzania and the US. Then we walked to the river in our town where many locals do their laundry. I fell there…I’m okay. After that we had lunch at the home base before going to the Patandi School . In my class we used hangman to enforce our lessons about pronouns and verbs. My students also taught me a little Swahili—colors and animals. Since we are finished with service, we came home early and I got to help Geoffrey make dinner. After dinner, we watched Girl Rising which showed the struggle that many girls around the world face in their daily lives. Although the movie made me angry, it also made me feel grateful for the privileged position that I am in and that I am able to help. After the movie I thought I was free to go to bed, but then I was reminded about this blog and I threw myself on the ground like a child. It wasn’t so bad though. Probably because I’m not actually writing this, my roommate helped me
August 2 , 2016
Today we got to sleep in an extra hour, which was good for everyone because we usually wake up at 7:30 and we’re all exhausted. After breakfast, we had mentor groups and talked about our attributes. Each person had to choose a few tarot cards that represented their personalities and how they used these attributes during the trip. For example, one of my attributes was called detective. The “light” attribute said “great powers of observation and intuition and desire to seek out the truth.” The “shadow” attribute said “falsifying information and voyeurism.” Although each attribute is good, there also can be undesirable traits that affect yourself and other people negatively.
Afterwards, the Kili Wizards performed for us. They are a dance/music group who entertain around Tanzania. It was fascinating to see them perform their traditional art form. We all sang and danced when the dancers picked people from the audience one by one. One of the children of the dancers pulled me in and I busted a groove, but he had the best moves in the end.
Once the fun was over, we sat down for a quick lunch then went to work writing down our lesson plans. Today we taught them about words that end in “ing” which came easily to them after practicing it. After a few hours of teaching and playing with the kids, we all headed home.
When dinner was over, we had an activity called the “life worth living” where we had to answer questions and contemplate about our lives and our future. We listened to poems and speeches, pondering the meaning behind them and how they impact our lives. One of the speeches that struck me was “Why you should wear sunscreen” by Baz Luhrmann because he mentioned important points on how to lead a successful life. We then wrote a letter to our future selves asking questions about who we’ve become a year later. I had to think deeply and ask myself who I wanted to become in the long run. This type of activity reminded me why I chose to come on this trip and why I am the person I am today.
August 3, 2016
Today we started our day an hour later than normal at 8:30, which we all loved, more sleep!!!! We had breakfast made by Geoffrey like usual. After eating we planned out our goodbye to the students we have taught and learned to loved, and to the teachers we met. Keli and Ellie had a wonderful idea on what to do and even put it together. After we ate lunch, we walked to the school to teach our last lesson for this trip and then started our goodbyes. We got sung “My Only Sunshine” by the children, and the GLA teachers sang the “Jambo “song . We also taught the kids the cotton eye Joe and Macarena, which they really enjoyed and loved. Then all the students signed a piece of poster paper with the quote “Be the Change “which the students also got to color and decorate however they wanted too. We said goodbye and tears were shed, tons of hugs were given, and contact information was shared. Then after that, all of the students we taught walked us back to home base and we said our final goodbyes there. We then signed up to pick one of the two activities for the final project for this trip, some of us chose walking to the lake and buying sodas and just talking and hanging out with your friends. The other option was to stay back with Swiff and talk about different problems going on back at our hometown and here in Tanzania, to learn how to help and fix these difficult issues. This activity was meant to show leadership and hopefully to continue when we go back home. Then we ate dinner and hung out for a little while before Mama Simba arrived. Mama Simba talked more about herself and her childhood hardship, she also told us about how she got to be working with GLA. I was very moved by her speech and will take her advice to heart.
Shout out to my dad for having a birthday today, you go dad!!!