And so my friends, my reflections on the past two years continue and if you recall I promised a bittersweet tone, because as I have said before my life here is continually tinged with that enigma of emotions, Happy Sad (capitalisation deliberate).
NO BOOKS – NO WATER – NO ELECTRICITY – FEW TEACHERS
My latest lesson in the vagaries of the education system in Tanzania:
Education of the future generations is undoubtedly the way forward for the country, there are very few would disagree with the common sense of that statement. Scrabbling and scraping to claw their way through the system to reach Secondary School is something that tests the inner strength of every child here and many do not make it. Clearly those that do are the cherished ones for the future, the ones the system should embrace. The struggle at secondary school to succeed for the next four years and sit their Form IV O – level examinations is immense and again many fall by the wayside. So you see the numbers are diminishing but we will be left with those mighty warriors that do succeed against the odds.
Now we have the “lucky” ones, the best the obstacle course of the education system can muster. I have known of the importance of these Form IV exams for a long time now and I was conceited enough to think I understood. Armed with Form IV exam passes the doors open, for the top grades Form V and VI and Advanced Level examination studies and University. For others colleges, vocational training and still others maybe jobs.
Back to the core group, the success stories, Tanzania’s future. The ones that pass the Form IV examinations. Now the lottery begins. College and High School places are allocated, students get to list three preferences and let us be frank here, the crème de la crème stand a chance of getting a place at one of their three choices. But it is not everyone’s destiny to get A plus, that is why the pass mark encompasses many other levels of achievement.
You can imagine where this is going I think. Finally we end up with talented, hard-working young people who have battled through every hurdle that this education system can possibly hurl at its potential future commercial and business leaders and send them off to a school that not only has NO BOOKS – NO WATER – NO ELECTRICITY – FEW TEACHERS but also a poor performance record in previous years, a sanitary situation that causes such sickness the students have to return to their families for medical care from where they are too frightened to return.
Oh yeah I nearly forgot and this remarkable establishment that is allowed to be called a school is located 507.2 km or 312.63 miles from the students home.
Clearly I tell this story based on a case history and yes it is a delightful young lady that now attends Good Hope every day and helps the volunteers teach the younger kids. She is a mentor to them, an example of what can be achieved if they study hard but what sort of motivation is the system’s treatment of her offering our younger students?
Her health, the distance from home and the lack of a proper education at her allocated school force her to put aside her dreams of attending University to study for a Micro Finance and Enterprise Development BA after which she wants “to support her family and help other people in the society especially women.”
THE SHIMMY SHUFFLE
I will confess this is my most recently learned dala dala (local bus) skill. Ok so imagine a standard 16 seater mini bus with bench seats meant for three occupied by four people plus children, sacks of vegetables and the occasional chicken. Concentrate, I don’t want to lose you.
Now, focus on the front row of seats (not up front with the driver), you know the airline first class row? Hey that analogy make me think a certain Irish airline might like to pick up on the following idea. Add a 6″ to 9” plank of wood with a 1” sheet of foam as a seat facing the first class row of passengers. Are you getting this? This is where the shimmy shuffle comes in. This bench quickly fills with three people usually somewhat robust Tanzanian Mamas with wide hips and even wider smiles. These three people go through the knee hugging ritual with the first class passengers, more on that another day but my mother taught me a lady keeps her legs closed and so knee hugging like a lady is all I will do.
Now the bus is nearly full to capacity. Oh by the way that is timetable jargon, as in what time does the next bus leave?
Come on you can guess… When it’s full to capacity! Oh plus a few more standing in the aisles!
Now this is where I come in or get on whichever you prefer. My new home in Moshi leads me to catch my daily dala dala at a point where I coincide with the last available seat every day and hence I have learned the shimmy shuffle.
I must squeeze my never has been sylph-like frame in between a wall of three, now not smiling Mamas. The “conductor” for want of a better word for the kid who hangs out the window soliciting for more passenger and taking the monies, insists on my sitting on the bench. I am not allowed to stand that privilege will be for the next 5 passengers. The Mamas take on a “we dare you mzungu (white foreigner)” look and whilst my jovial Kiswahili causes much mirth elsewhere the wall of Mamas doesn’t budge.
The trick is NOT to just plop down and try to squidge in, that simply results in you effectively sitting one delicate derriere cheek on two Mama’s laps. The see-saw motion of the bus on the dirt track will quickly throw you to the floor.
The secret of the shimmy shuffle is: Left hip down with left cheek of butt seeking contact with wooden bench (the secret is don’t give up before you feel that contact) then ease yourself straight by a gentle butt wriggle whilst smiling confidently at all who witness your efforts. The butt wiggle or shimmy shuffle is tough to explain but remember those days on the dance floor when nothing moved but your hips? You got it, but it must be a determined albeit gentle shimmy.
The effect of this manoeuvre is quite amazing, the ample flesh around you seems to contract and move to allow space, the Mamas barely move but their physical presence shifts (like a jelly substance or that foul craze kids had for “slime”) and allows your mzungu butt to settle in. After my third attempt across as many mornings I got a round of verbal applause so I feel equipped to write these instructions for all future visitors to this wonderful happy sad land.
If you would like to know how to help the young lady featured above or any of the Good Hope Children please post a message here or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Less than $700US per year for two years would see her complete her A levels.
Until next time my friends xxx