Toilets and Tables: Tales from Tanzania

The first day I taught at the Amahoro Secondary School I was excited and nervous. I was excited for my craft as a teacher to take root in Africa and I was nervous because there were so many things I did not know. I prepared my lesson plan applying the best practices I’ve learned throughout my career. I was ready.

(Here I am teaching Form 1 English at the Amahoro Secondary School.)

My first class started and I quickly realized things weren’t right. Students were out of their seats and not everyone had their materials. This statement could probably be applied to any secondary school setting, but the reasons behind it made me pause. Students were out of their seats because they didn’t have seats, not because they were horsing around. They were extremely respectful and attentive. Instead of chairs, some students sat on bricks and others sat on buckets. Three students used a makeshift bench they constructed out of a rotten piece of wood and two large rocks. As for the students who did not have their school supplies, I inquired to find out more. I was told by one student that the reason he did not have a pen to take notes was not because he forgot it or lost it, but because he couldn’t afford a pen. Being resourceful, his solution was to take turns using his friend’s pen to complete the notes. I was shocked.

I immediately went to the staff room and took the teachers’ chairs back to the classroom so that the students would be able to sit. I gave my personal pens out to the students who didn’t have their own. I was proud of myself. I stopped and noticed. I saw a problem and I solved it. This was a success! I was earning students’ respect, I was building rapport.

These positive feelings soon came to a screeching halt. I searched all of the other classrooms and offices to find more chairs but saw that there were not enough chairs anywhere. I realized that I did not have enough pens for everyone who did not have one. The problem was bigger than me. I did not have the solution. I could not solve the problem by myself.

(Headmaster Sayoni M. Kumenya is hopeful the many needs of the school can be met.)

Days turned into weeks and I spent more time talking with the headmaster, Mr. Sayoni Kumenya. I learned that the Department of Education told him that Amahoro would welcome an additional 240 students in January, bringing the total enrollment to 500 students. He expressed me his concerns about the increase in enrollment. The school does not have textbooks for students. The government only supplies two textbooks to each teacher, but that’s it. The majority of the classrooms are not fully constructed. The science lab does not have equipment, instead it is an empty room. There are classrooms that do not have furniture. There are not enough toilets.

The last point stopped me in my tracks.

I got curious about this problem. I started talking to students about it to learn about how it impacts them. I continued my conversation with the headmaster to learn more about the problem. I started investigating what are the challenges and solutions in other rural settings. What do other sub-Saharan villages do? What is a sanitary, affordable, and culturally appropriate solution?

The World Health Organization’s website states that desired ratio to maintain a healthy environment is one toilet and one urinal per 50 boys, and one toilet per 25 girls. In order to meet the World Health Organization’s standard for 500 students the Amahoro Secondary School needs to have a total of five toilets and five urinals for boys, and ten toilets for girls. The school currently has two pit latrines for boys and two for girls. There are no urinals at this time. Thus, to meet the need of the growing school, it needs an additional 11 pit latrines and five urinals. The additional toilets and urinals will address many essential needs, including health and well being, student learning, and a clean environment.

(The Amahoro Secondary School currently only has four toilets for 260 students. Already, students wait in line to use the facilities.)

First, the use of pit latrines minimizes the spread of disease which will help to foster a healthy student body. Healthy students attend school, sick students do not. Cholera, thyroid, dysentery, E. coli, Hepatitis A, and Hepatitis E are examples of diseases that can easily spread due to insufficient access to toilets. Perhaps these diseases are not a concern in developed countries, however, they are everyday realities here in Tanzania.

(The student body is increasing to more than 500 students in January. As a result, the school needs more toilets to meet the World Health Organization’s sanitation standards.)

Second, having a sufficient number of toilets per students will decrease wait time. Instead of waiting in line to go to the bathroom, students will be able to use the facilities quickly and return to class promptly. Furthermore, girls who are menstruating will be able to attend classes with the peace of mind that there is a private and clean space for them to manage their periods appropriately.

(This house and its small agricultural plot are directly beside the school. It is an example of the many villagers who will benefit from having a clean and sanitary environment as a result of having sufficient toilets.)

In addition to the student impact, the environmental impact is significant. The local community relies on small scale agriculture for economic gains. Similarly, villagers are dependent on the water source that flows below the school. Maintaining the cleanliness of this water source is vital for the community’s health and liveliness. The ripple effect of investing in the school’s toilets is immeasurable.

The more I have learned about this problem and its solution, the more I have been committed to helping the Amahoro Secondary School and its many needs. I believe that the most pressing need at the school is additional latrines, however, a close second is student desks.

I come from an environment where I am used to using an exercise ball instead of a chair, where it’s no longer only the top executives who use standing desks but the average worker who reaps the benefit of this concept. I come from a country where students can use therabands to keep their legs moving while seated in class. I come from a school where students get recess and physical education during the day and where teachers use Total Physical Response as a teaching tool that promotes movement and learning. Thus, it seems counterintuitive that I am supportive of furnishing the remaining classrooms at Amahoro with tables and chairs for students. However, the context is important to consider.

(Here I am talking with students at morning assembly.)

Amahoro students start their day outside with morning assembly, during which student government representative lead the school through announcements and the singing of the national anthem and communicate announcements. Classes start at 8:00am and continue until 11:20 at which time there is a twenty minute break. After break, classes resume and continue until school is over at 3:00pm. Students do not eat during the school day, nor do they drink water. In fact, the majority of students do not eat or drink prior to coming to school. During the school day, students remain in the same room and the teachers rotate to them. A regular class consists of a teacher lecturing in front of the class while writing notes on a chalkboard. Students remain in their seats while they transcribe the notes into their exercise books. The curriculum does not include physical education. In essence, students sit for 7 hours a day.

(This is one of two classrooms that does have enough tables and chairs for students. The school has a total of 16 classrooms.)

There are not enough tables and chairs for all students. I learned that students selected their place in the classroom the first day of school and that all students keep the same space for the entire school year. I am not sure of the nuances of the social hierarchy among students, but I know it exists and I imagine it was a factor when spaces were selected. Once the tables and chairs were accounted for, a handful of the fortunate students were able to bring makeshift chairs or benches from home. The students from poorer families could not afford such luxuries. As a result, it is the poorest of the students who sit on buckets or bricks. This breaks my heart.

(Students sit wherever they can to study before an exam.)

I struggle to get comfortable on airplanes. I squirm in movie theaters. I quietly move around during theater productions. Sitting on a brick for 7 hours a day? No, thank you.

As far as I know the World Health Organization does not have standards for student desks. I don’t think that there is a governing body on the topic. Nor am I an expert. Instead, I will use my prior experience from the past ten years of teaching combined with my observations at the Amahoro Secondary School to make my case as to why students will benefit from having desks.

(These three boys sit on a ledge in an empty classroom. This room needs a few things before it can be used including tables and chairs.)

There is a practical side of this need. Students are required to take notes in all of their classes. Having a table on which to writes facilitates this process and improves the quality of their product. Ultimately, this helps student performance because their notes are legible. Consequently, students can easily review their notes when preparing for examinations.

(With final exams just around the corner, these students review their notes.)

Students who are physically comfortable can focus on content, instead of being distracted by their discomfort. Thus if the physical condition of the student is improved, their minds will be opened for more learning.

(This classroom is missing just one thing: desks. The floor is finished, the windows installed, the chalkboard is prepared. It needs tables and chairs so that students can learn in a professional environment.)

If a student is treated like a professional, they will act like a professional. Providing tables and chairs for students will show them that being a student is important. This idea might seem far stretched, but in a community where many children do not have shoes, and students go without meals because there isn’t enough food at home, receiving a desk could easily inspire a student to continue their educational career. It shows the student that they are important and that education is valuable.

In order to meet the demands of the increase in enrollment, Amahoro needs an additional 320 sets of tables and chairs. This will finish furnishing one of the existing classrooms and fully furnish six additional classroom.

My desire is to help the immediate needs of the school. The first priority is the addition of 11 pit toilets, 5 urinals, and 1 septic tank. The total cost for the toilet project is $10, 450 USD. The second is furnishing the classrooms with 320 sets of tables and chairs to be used as student desks. The total cost of the furniture project is $11,320 USD. The total cost to complete both of these projects is $21,770 USD.

(Students converse with Project Wezesha’s manager Lucas Lameck as they walk home from Amahoro Secondary School.)

Both projects have been endorsed by Department of Education Kigoma District staff, the parliament member who represents the Kigoma region, the headmaster of the Amahoro Secondary School, and Project Wezesha staff. Most importantly, both projects have gained student support. They not only see the need first hand, they also live it every day. Please show your support by contributing to these project.

Project Wezesha is a non-profit organization based in Kigoma, Tanzania that strives to increase access to education in western Tanzania for secondary, high school, and university students. Project Wezesha works in the villages surrounding Kigoma to increases access to education in two ways; awarding scholarships and providing month-long academic study camps twice a year.

Amahoro Secondary School is a Tanzanian government school in Mgaraganza Village. The school provides the national curriculum for Form I, Form II, Form III, and Form IV students in the following content areas: biology, civics, English, geography, history, mathematics, physics, and Swahili.


Student Profile: Safi 

(Safi is a Form 3 students at Amahoro Secondary School in Mgaraganza Village.)

Project Wezesha staff and I have been conducting home visit interviews with our student participants every Saturday.   I have written student profiles about some of them.  Some of them have been shared through Project Wezesha’s social media outlets.   Just in case you missed them, I thought I’d share Safi’s story with you now. 
 Safi is 17 years old and has 12 siblings. We met with Safi, her mother, Chausiku, and her an older sister during a recent home visit. Safi’s father is deceased. This puts an additional emotional and financial strain on the family.  

(Project Wezesha staff Lucas, far left, and Madaga , beside him,  conduct a home visit interview with a family.) 

Safi’s mother reported that she feels lucky that her daughter receives support from Project Wezesha. Without its help Safi would not be able to attend school. With its help, her daughter’s academic performance has improved. 

Safi’s sister did not finish school. As a result, she wants her younger sister to go farther than she did. Safi’s mother agrees. They support her dreams. 

(This is a classroom where Safi attends school.) 

When asked about the future, Safi stated that she wants to become a nurse. She elaborated by saying that she wants to help all people despite their religion or relationship to her. She knows that this entails studying biology, civics, and math. She’s up for the challenge! 
Project Wezesha has also influenced Safi’s social life. She stated that she now picks her friends based off of if they encourage each other to study or not. Safi’s three closest friends sit together to study and teach each other. They also walk to school together each day. They all value education and encourage each other to grow.

(Here I am conducting a home visit interview with Madaga’s translation skills. The girls in this picture at part of Safi’s cohort but they attend a different school.)

I look forward to getting to know Safi better during the December study camp.  More to come on that later. 

Karibu chakula (enjoy your meal)

(The girl giving a thumbs up is my student. She sells avocados at the local market every evening.)
When I was still in Jackson preparing to live in an African village, one of my first questions was about food. Many of you have asked about it as well. So, Happy Thanksgiving to all! Karibu chakula.
Small agricultural plots are abundant in and around Mgaraganza. Everyone grows something, either for their own family or on a slightly larger scale to sell at the market. 

(I walk past this plot everyday that I teach at the Amahoro Secondary School. It is the closest plot to the school.) 

Undoubtedly, the soil is fertile. However, trash, particularly plastic, is everywhere. There is no waste management system so all trash is thrown outside. That means left over food, plastic bottles, old medicine, everything! In addition, the proximity of shallow graves and septic tanks to small plots concerns me. It is apparent that the individuals are most concerned with how much they can grow. I’m unclear as to if there is a lack of knowledge about the importance of a clean environment for producing safe food or if it isn’t a priority. Either way, there is a lot of produce. 

(This picture is of the neighbor’s house and plot. My second week here, her 3 month old baby died. It is tragic reality that has been hard for me to process. The baby was buried close to the house, as marked by the four sticks in the forefront of the photo. Corn has been planted in between the house and the grave.) 

Tomatoes, mangos, and avocados are harvested very close to where I live. Neighboring villages produce plantains and pineapples. The local market always has onions, a leafy green that tastes like spinach when it is cooked but is never eaten raw, lemons, and the occasional green pepper. Mgaraganza is close to Lake Tanganyika, the longest fresh water lake in the world. It offers three different kinds of fish that are brought to the village daily.

(Here is the local market. I intentionally went when it wasn’t busy to avoid drawing too much attention to myself while taking pictures.) 

Mgaraganza is a rural village. So it’s offerings are limited. However, rice, beans, and two types of flour are available and used regularly. 

(This young girl is selling flour at her family’s stand in the market.) 

Kigoma, the nearest town, has more to offer. Kigoma is only about 45 minutes away…. but it takes about 2 hours to get there. (I’ll talk about transportation in a different blog post). There are various stores in Kigoma, along with markets, and vendors on the side of the road. When I say store, I do not mean a grocery store like Whole Foods. I mean a shack like structure that is packed tightly with various items I’ve never seen before in a small space. Nevertheless, the places in Kigoma have more to offer. For example, sliced bread, garlic, carrots, and butter are available in Kigoma but not in Mgaraganza. 

Food is purchased daily. Not only that, it is purchased for one meal at a time. Due to the lack of refrigeration and limited storage, this makes sense to me. It is not uncommon for dinner to require multiple trips to the market. The item that takes the longest to prepare will be purchased and started. Later on, someone will return to pick up avocados that simple need to be cut. Jane and Ashahadu’s house is only about a three minute walk to the market, which makes this practice manageable. 

Dinner is the biggest meal of the day, closely followed by lunch. Breakfast is the lightest by far. 

Breakfast always includes a hot beverage; either tea or hot milk. Locals put two heaping spoonfuls of sugar in their beverage. I love the tea and take it without sugar. I get a little nervous drinking the milk (there are so many things I do that the CDC tells travelers not to do….like drink milk.) Common breakfast foods include: sliced white bread (room temperature, nothing on it) spaghetti noodles (boiled with water, oil, and brown sugar) or rice and beans. 

(Breakfast is served. This is what the breakfast layout looks like every morning.) 

Lunch and dinner share similar menus. The main difference between lunch and dinner is that dinner usually has dessert. Dessert consists of avocados or pineapple. (There is no place in the village to buy chocolate, in case you were wondering.) There is also more food at dinner than at lunch.  

(One of my first meals here I told Jane that avocados are one of my top two favorite foods. I am not sure if that’s the reason we have them everyday or not, but I am in heaven with these avocados!) 

Here are some common lunch/dinner meals:

* Wali (rice), maharagwe (beans), tomato/onion dish

* Chipsi (what we would call homemade fries) and a fried egg

* Fish, rice, spinach like vegetable cooked with onions

* Matoke (boiled green plantains) in a tomato base, spaghetti noodles, spinach like vegetable

* Chapati (Tortilla/naan like goodness), beans, tomato/onion dish 

(Here are some pictures of recent meals.) 

Ugali is served at almost every lunch and dinner. It is the most traditional/common food in Tanzania. My Swahili phrasebook and dictionary states that ugali is a traditional dish made by mixing maize and/or cassava flour in hot water until it becomes a stiff like portage and eaten by rolling it in the hand to form a small ball which is then dipped in the sauce before eating. Some interesting things to add onto the definition are that the right hand is used to roll the ball. Also, the majority of Tanzanians do not to chew ugali, they just swallow it. I eat ugali and I roll it with my right hand. I also dip it in sauce. I have yet to be able to swallow it without chewing it first (I can’t figure out the benefit of it). 

(This is Lucas eating ugali. Ugali is served at almost every lunch and dinner. I partake but have a much smaller portion than the others. The taste is fine, but I’m not sure about its nutritional value.) 

As a vegetarian, I was advised to start eating fish again. I have done so to increase the variety in my diet and gain the nutritional benefits of fish. I feel ok about this because the fish are harvest daily by locals and it supports the local economy. I do feel torn about eating fish though, and am not sure how sustainable the fishing practices are here. As far as which fish I eat- the big ones scare me and the tiny ones gross me out. So, I eat the medium sized ones regularly. I’ll be honest, the taste is wonderful! 

(This is how the fish are served. I like the taste of the fish, but not the flavor of the sauce or the smell of it. I’m working on it though!)

The food here is fresh and prepared from scratch. Every meal. Every time. The only exception is that the spaghetti noddles are purchased in a package.  

(This is the store where Jane buys the packages of spaghetti noodles.)

Making everything from scratch takes time. As a result, meal preparation takes hours. This is compounded by the fact that the kitchen tools are very primitive.  

Jane, Mere, and Ashula share the responsibility of food prep. (I haven’t decodes the nuances of their partnership in the kitchen, but I know they are there.) Jane’s kitchen has two “stove tops” upon which they cook using charcoal. Jane has two knives, about eight plates, four mugs, about five metal serving dishes, and a couple of forks and spoons. Nothing else.  

(This is Mere cooking in the kitchen. The kitchen is across the yard from the house and has a thatched roof. It is small but has storage for bulk items like rice.) 

Now, I’m not the queen of kitchen gadgets but I do have the “basics.” I have things like a vegetable peeler, a garlic press, a whisk, a cutting board, spatulas, and oven mitts. I also have things like an electric hand mixer and a food processor. Jane doesn’t have any of that. No one here does. 

(This is Jane’s food processor. Yep- it’s her. Processing her own food. I took a turn and was embarrassed how quickly I got tired doing it.)

Meals are a social event. Everyone who lives in the house dines together, as well as any children who happen to be around or friends who have stopped by. It is apparent that people know they can come to Jane’s house if they are hungry. One child in particular is frequently hungry. I asked Jane about this and learned that she feeds him about 60% of his meals and another neighbors feeds him frequently as well. His parents do not feed him. This breaks my heart. 

(Children frequently eat off one shared plate on the floor. Or if it is nice outside, it will look something like this.)

It would be misleading to talk about food and not talk about cleaning. Dishes are done my hand between every meal. Among other things, that means making sure that enough water has been fetched to do the dishes. 

(Here’s Jane doing the dishes with Catherine on her back.)

(Finally, dishes are set out to dry in the sun ready to be used for the next meal.) 

From what I have observed, women do all of the house work, including cooking and dishes. The work takes hours, every day, three times a day. 

 In Jackson, we use the term ‘badass’ to describe people who are tough, work hard, and accomplish amazing feats. Well… let it be known these women are badass!

New Routines 

Daily life in Mgaraganza is different from anything else I’ve ever experienced. Of course, I do many of the same things, it’s just how I do them that differs greatly.  
To start, I wake up in the morning and go to the bathroom. 

(This is bathroom at Jane and Ashahadu’s house. It is considered much nicer than many of the other bathrooms in the village because it is made of brick, has a door that shuts, and has a solar powered light in it.) 
Then, I brush my teeth. This includes taking my filtered water and going outside to spit. I feel weird about spitting in the “yard” but there is trash everywhere so I figure my spit is the least of the problems.

(This is a typical view outside of the house in the morning. There are always children and there are usually goats.)
After I brush my teeth, I take my pills. I take a malaria pill that retails at $5/day as well as probiotics. 

($5/day is ridiculous! Thankfully I was able to get the medicine for a slightly better price through Locals do not take such medicine nor are they immune to malaria.) 
After that, I wash my face. That sounds simple enough, but I use water that has either been fetched from the closest source or collected from the rain.  

(One day, the large bucket was completely empty. I wanted to help around the house, so I took it upon myself to refill it. I spent three hours fetching water and it still wasn’t full. I imaging if Americans had to fetch all of the water they used, they would use a lot less.) 
By the time I’m done with my morning routine, tea is ready for me. I’ll write specially about food some other time, but as it relates to routines we all wash our hands before the meal.

(This is the hand washing station in the house. Tanzanians eat with their right hand, their left hand never touches the food. Thus, everyone washes their hands before and after the meal.) 
A new routine in my life is setting out my solar lights and panel to charge. The use of the lights is obvious. I use the solar panel to charge my phone and steripen, which is how I clean my drinking water. 

(I use Luci inflatable lights and a GoalZero solar panel with a brick. Thanks to Cindy for the Luci light!) 
Depending on the day of the week, my schedule is different during the day. Most days I am back home for lunch by 3 pm. The time between lunch and dinner depends on the day as well.  

It starts getting dark around 7:00pm, so I’m usually at the house by then. I’ll play with the neighbors’ kids who come and go as they please. I try to help Ashula and Mere with dinner prep, but I am pretty sure I cause more problems than I actually help. Then at some point, I usually end up with baby Catherine in my arms.   

(The neighborhood kids flock to me. They call me mzungu, white person. I am slowly making progress with having them call me Katherine instead of mzungu. My first week here I decided to go by Katherine instead of Kate because it very hard for Swahili speakers to pronounce.) 
By 8pm, I hear Jane, Mere, and Ashula giggle. Their knowledge of English is very limited (but far better than my Swahili) and they all get nervous speaking even a couple of words. The bravest one of the evening will tell me “water is ready” and that is my cue to go take a shower.  

(The shower at Jane’s house) 

I call it a shower out of habit, but it is not a shower at all. I challenge you to try this at home. Boil a couple of liters of water. Pour them into a bucket, then mix it with rain water that you previously collected. Then take the bucket to the bathroom. Use a cup to pour the water over your body. Then soap up. Finally, rinse off using the cup to wash away all of the suds. This is how I shower every day. 

Shortly after my shower, dinner is served. Dinner is a slow, shared experience. It can easily take an hour to eat a meal together. Dinner is usually over by 10:30pm. It is still hard for me to eat that late.  

(This is where we take our meals. It is our living room/dining room/family room.) 

After dinner, I get ready for bed. This includes brushing my teeth again.  
When I am ready for bed, I crawl under the mosquito net and make sure that I tuck it in under the mattress. 

(My mosquito net is in fantastic shape. I use it every night, however I have only seen two or three mosquitos.) 
I update my gratitude journal by adding three more entries. It is easy to be thankful here. I am constantly reminded of how fortunate I am.

(My dear friend and former colleague Olivia made this journey journal for me a departing gift from Journeys School. I love feeling connected to people as I write in it each night.) 
Finally it is time to sleep! I don’t have a pillow, which surprised and disappointed me my first night here. I considered buying myself a pillow, but came to the realization that there is no place that sells them. I also realized that there are so many needs, that having a pillow seems so luxurious and that I would rather support the family so that they can buy food and pay school fees. As a result, I use my fleece and jacket as a pillow each night. 

(I asked a friend who lived in Africa for two years about packing advice. Given how cold I always am, I couldn’t imagine a world where I could exist without a down jacket. She teased me, but I decided to bring it. It now serves as my pillow.)
That is my daily life in Mgaraganza. 

(Catherine sleeping in my arms as I am planning a lesson for Form I English classes.) 

Introduction to Village Life 

Mgaraganza is my new home. It is a village of about 12,000 people located an hour outside of Kigoma. The town of Kigoma is in western Tanzania, on the shore of Lake Tanganyika. There is no running water or electricity in Mgaraganza, but I assure you that the village is full of life.  
(The view from the front door of my house.) 
I am living with a family:  Jane, and her husband Ashuhadu. They have 3 children. Mike, 10, is at boarding school. Sifa is 6, she will start school next year. Catherine is 4 months old. Ashuhado works as a Park Ranger at Gombe National Park so he will not be back home until December, and then only for 8 days. Mere and Ashura also live here with Jane. They are what Tanzanians call house girls. They cook, clean, and help take care of the children. They are very much part of the family and are good friends with Jane. (I’ll write about housegirls more later). They are both in their 20s and love to laugh. Despite the language barrier, we all spend a lot of time laughing, smiling, dancing, and cooing at baby Catherine. 

(Two Katherines are better than one! People here are calling me Katherine as Kate has proven to be difficult to pronounce.) 

(Sifa is a quiet and calm 6 year old who loves taking pictures.) 
Everyone I have met is kind and hospitable. Language barriers have no impact on the warm welcome I receive everywhere I go. Regardless as to if I am in the village fetching water or in town waiting for the bus, everywhere I go a gaggle of children appear and start following me. My white skin and blonde hair attract a lot of attention. I strive to have positive interactions with the children and allow them to practice English with me. Frequently, children notice me from afar, run to me, get close, and then run away. It is evident that they are not used to seeing foreigners. Sometimes the bolder children approach with confidence and engage in conversation.   That is what happened in the picture below. Violet, in the white shirt on the far left of the picture below, was very excited to meet me and speak in English with me.  She brought along the rest of her friends too!  

(A group of primary school students joined me as I waited for the dala dala in Kigoma) 
It is fantastic to be in the position of a learner. I am curious about so much. I have endless questions about Swahili. The Project Wezesha staff are extremely patient with me as I ask about everything I see from palm oil production to child labor laws.  Madaga, left, and Lucas, right, are constantly by my side, helping me navigate my new world. 

(Madaga, me, and Lucas at the Project Wezesha office) 
These two men have huge hearts and are dedicated to the education of children in rural Kigoma.  
I start teaching English at the Amahoro Secondary School this week. The school serves 265 student, has 8 teachers, and uses 5 classrooms. It does not have electricity or running water. It also does not have enough desks or chairs for the students. There are so many needs, and yet I see so much potential. The students are eager to learn and grateful to be in school. I am excited to join them on this journey we call education.  

(The Amahoro Seconday School can be seen in the middle of this photo, look for the tin roof) 

A herd of Maasai Giraffes Drive from the Ngorongoro Crater to the Central Serengeti September 20, 2017

A herd of Maasai Giraffes Drive from the Ngorongoro Crater to the Central Serengeti September 20, 2017

We are in Maasai country. When I think of the Maasai, I think of the National Geographic photojournalism stories that I saw on our coffee table as a child growing up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh. I recall looking at the images of tall dark brown men in red shukas wearing beautiful beaded jewelry and carrying long spears. Even as an adult, I made the assumption that these tribal villages are in remote lands where foreigners are not welcome, if for no other reason than that there are no roads that lead you to such villages. I was surprised to drive past villages that resemble the images I have seen produced by National Geographic; women carrying water on their heads, men herding cattle, children carrying goats. I came to a couple of realizations. First, I am in a remote land. Second, this is how the Maasai live.

I learned that the Maasai tribe takes pride in maintaining its cultural traditions. We drive past huts and indeed we see tall men wearing red shukas. This is culture and tradition. This is not poverty. (I have conflicting ideas about this- but am trying to address is as it relates to cultural relativism.) I learned that the Maasai have a polygamous culture. The husband has a compound with his own hut. Within the compound, each of the wives has a hut that she shares with her children. There are frequently fences around the perimeter of the compound. These compounds are beautiful. They appear to be built with intention. They are spread out over the vast landscape, with only land and cattle in between each compound area.

The young Maasai boys tend the cattle. They run towards the road as safari vehicles approach to ask foreigners to take their picture in exchange for money. They ask for food and water. We are told not to positively reinforce their begging by falling for their antics. This is hard to do.

At times the young shepherds lead their livestock to the road at the exact time we cross. This happens frequently enough to know that it is a calculated inconvenience and not a mere coincidence. These children are the same age as the middle school students I taught at Journeys. Could their lives be any more different?

We are in between villages when someone spots a giraffe. Alex obliges to our request to pull over so we can view it. As our eyes adjust to the scenery, we come to see that there are in fact 18 giraffes. Giraffe social structures are unique. They are part of a herd, but the herd does not have an established hierarchy. Nonetheless, they stick together. We watch this herd of 18 travel at a brisk pace together. Meanwhile, Alex has a charming conversation in Swahili with the young shepherd that has approached the Land Cruiser. We know it is charming because of their body language. Alex smiles, which is normal for him, but the child beams back and joins him in laughter. There is another child near the vehicle. He lingers near my window. I greet him in his own language, he does not respond. He sneaks shy glances at me and in our vehicle. I’m intrigued by him. What is his name? How old is he? What is his story? I feel so limited by my lack of knowledge of the local language.

As we drive away, Alex reports that the child with whom he conversed discussed how the children first saw the herd of giraffes. I am relieved to hear that the conversation was about the animals, and that his was not another child beggar. I am not surprised in the least to learn that Alex listened to the young boy and encouraged his excitement about wildlife. I am hopeful that the young boys will become stewards of the natural world around them.

Hungry, Hungry Hippos. Ngorongoro Crater: September 20, 2017

It is our second day in the Crater. Unbeknown to us, Alex has planned a surprise. We are the first Land Cruiser to arrive at the hippo pool. I giggle and smile as I watch these surpassingly loud animals.

By my standards, hippos are the smartest of all of the African animals. They stay in the water during the day, floating, walking, and sleeping. During the night, or when they are hungry during the day, they stray from the water to eat grass. They walk slowly on land and stay near the water. Too much sun burns their pink and grey skin. When they return to the water they stay in shallow areas where their short legs can reach the bottom. Their interactions with each other are hysterical. At times they appear to be like a litter of puppies sleeping on each other in one big pile. Other times they seem more like adolescent boys trying to establish dominance within their social hierarchy. I am surprised by the ruckus they make with their vocal chords as well as the size of their jaws as seen when they yawn.

Mom, dad and I watch the hippos as well as the various bird species around the pool for quite some time. Other vehicles come and go taking their fair share of pictures. We, however, are captivated by this scene. Alex not only observes our desire to stay and watch animals but he delights in our wish to better understand the animals.

I believe that my experiences at Journeys School and with Teton Science Schools have contributed to my ability to thoroughly enjoy being on safari. I can’t help but think of the lesson Sarah Kate Gessford conducted at the Kelly Campus about animal adaptations when students got to create their own animals, sculpt them, and explain how they were suited for the environment. The students’ creations were colorful and playful, with insightful explanations. These animals also have creative adaptations that allow them to exist in this harsh environment.

The diversity of animals that can exist in this eco-system is impressive. I have fallen in love with warthogs! They are marvelous creatures to watch. Warthogs usually are found in pairs or triads. They prefer the lower grasses, so they bend onto their forearms to eat. This amuses me to no end. They appear to be rather skidish. Whenever anything startles them, they flip their tails up straight as though they are intenas and scurry off.

It is impossible to predict what we will see on a game drive. At times, Alex stops the vehicle, scans the horizon and points out a hyena in the distance. Other times, it seems like we are in a mysterious race to get somewhere- even though we are in the middle of no where. That is what happened when we saw our first leopard.

There is an open radio channel in the Crater that allows all of the guides to communicate with each other. Given that all the voices are speaking in Swahili, it is easy for Alex to hear something interesting and not tell us about it. We tease him for the secrets he keeps, but delight in the excitement of not knowing. We arrive to the scene; many vehicles have already lines up. The guides work with each other, allowing vehicles to maneuver to ensure every guest has a good view. Then we see her. A strikingly goregous cat. The leopard is walking down the road, as if on a cat walk giving everyone a chance to view her beautiful spots.

It has been yet another amazing day adventure in Tanzania.