Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Teething Trouble?

Since coming here, I have struggled to feel I belong in this environment and although we have lived and worked in many different cultures outside of Australia, all of them have been in Asia. We knew coming to Tanzania wasn't going to be an easy transition but in the past 6 weeks it has been much more of a challenge than I ever expected.

There is so much need and so little available in terms of resources. In the past I have reconciled this discrepancy, in developing countries with the thought that I am doing the little that I can and therefore making a difference, at least at the personal level but here it seems that I question if I am actually making any difference.

For years I have lived my life by the philosophy of "small footprints" but now, everyday, I am forced to question the devastating effect we have on the fragile environment in which we live. The trip to school is a hair-raising adventure or a death trap waiting to happen, for those of us who are occupants of  the car. That for me is scary enough, but the road itself and the continual degradation of that precious farmland is hard to reconcile. Where does the balance sit when the environmental destruction is weighed against the positive social impact? The very water we use to wash our clothes and ourselves seems an unreasonable demand on the precious little available. Are we a part of the solution or an extension of the problem in this scenario? I can't help but wonder.

Here, there is a charity culture that is hard to break and even harder to accept. Or at least that is the way it seems to me. At the school level students have sponsors and are given almost all of the things they require for their education, so there is a tendency to just demand what they need whenever they need it. I cannot deny that without sponsors and donations they would not be able to get a secondary education but almost daily I am confronted with students who expect, or maybe just hope, I will simply give them my possessions, in addition to the many other things they require and are often provided with, simply because they are asking me for them.

At the community level, charity and NGOs are a significant factor in bringing about change and creating opportunities. This is to be commended and supported but....... Whilst doing everyday things, like walking home from the market, groups of very young children have rushed towards us and used the few words of English they know to ask us for "money" or to "be my sponsor." Indeed when questioned further they are able articulate what they want you to sponsor them for. I find it sad that the culture of dependence is so ingrained. I feel uncomfortable with the fact I obviously have more and am wealthier than many of them even aspire to be, but providing my skills or time is not considered enough. There is still and expectation that I will financially support local people. Enterprise clearly also plays a part but but I don't yet fully understand the real role there.

At the same time I am struggling with what exactly I am likely to be able to achieve here with my students, in terms of reasonable expectations and long-term objectives. Maybe these are all just teething problems and to be expected in our quest to embrace a totally unfamiliar and non-homogenous new culture! I am still not sure and long to feel less like 'a fish out of water' and more at home on a daily basis.

Time will certainly tell!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Commute

Every morning we set off at about 7 am. Andrew fires up the trusty old Landy and those people lagging behind have to be careful to hurry along lest the abundant exhaust smoke asphyxiates them as it drifts through the open front door of the volunteer house.

Once we are all aboard the journey begins. Sometimes just getting up the driveway and off the property is challenge enough. Steep, muddy and rutted are the three words that spring to mind when thinking about the roads here in Monduli.

After the first muddy section there is a short paved section of road that feels like a freeway (with speeds to match!). The squeal of the Landy’s brakes announces our arrival at yet another speed hump and we passengers adopt the brace position.

After a short stint on the ‘freeway’ we have a short wait at Tumaini’s shop. There people buy bananas or bottled water or biscuits or whatever they need to get them through the day. We also meet up with other teachers and staff who join us for the rest of the trip out to our school.

At this point we have a driver change. Andrew readily jumps in the back of the Landy and Hamadi takes the reins. Hamadi is our go to guy and is a real lynch pin of the whole organisation. Andrew drives maybe 2 km while Hamadi is the pilot for the remaining 5 kms.

 Once we pick up the remainder of the passengers on the paved road, it’s exit stage left and not surprisingly the road is once again a muddy quagmire.

I don’t know how they do it but some folks can even eat breakfast ‘in transit’.

It is the rainy season at the moment and we regularly get the most torrential downpours I have ever witnessed. Water courses from high points to low paying no heed to the course we want it to take. Instead it races downwards cutting new channels and gouging new gullies and ravines with a single minded purposefulness that is hard to imagine. 
One morning last week we even had to undertake a spot of road building as the previous night’s downpours had all but washed away a section of road adjacent to a culvert. The water had simply gone its own way giving us yet another glimpse of its unstoppable power to transform the landscape.

We are always very happy to finally arrive at school. Hamadi then turns right around and heads back to Monduli for the second trip! This trip brings all the teachers and staff who commute the extra 40 odd kms from Arusha every day. I am very glad we live in Monduli…
Some of us even arrive at school in a relatively clean state! How do they do it??!!

Once at school the views over the plain towards Mt Meru are fantastic.

Then, at around 4.15 in the afternoon the whole process is reversed as the first of two home trips begins, lucky we have our trusty Landy!!