Monday, May 27, 2013


What a tumultuous week it has been. The short of it is we are leaving Orkeeswa, Tanzania and in fact Africa!

There have been numerous issues from the onset. Our existence here has been fraught with environmental impact: the drain on the precious water supply and the drive to school being those, which most distressed us. We also have grave concerns about the entitlement mentality that charity and volunteering seem to engender. Having the night watch security, laundry, cleaning, and sundry other household chores assigned to paid locals has also made us feel uncomfortable and in fact we have persisted with doing most such tasks ourselves, which is in retrospect is possibly another source of conflict between the management and us. The school has been a source of frustration with respect to the administration and lack of processes and accountability. So all in all we can now see that this has not been a happy time. Nonetheless it came as something of a shock to be told that we would never be happy here and that as far as the current leader is concerned it would be better if we just left. This message was delivered to us personally at home on Thursday and it certainly set our minds spinning.

This was not on our agenda at the time and we concede that it has been a struggle but leaving has in fact become the current game plan. We were determined to make it work……That is until this week. We returned to school to inform the Leadership Team of the decision on Friday morning and then chose to walk back into town before classes began. We have been told that we are “just not a good fit” and that may or may not be true but I don’t want to hear another “Pole Sana.”

We had placed our focus firmly on the students and it was no easy task to win them over initially, but we felt that we had. The turn over and relative lack of experience of the staff is perhaps what makes students reticent to trust newcomers but our assurances that we intended to stay 2 years and our determined and committed efforts in the classroom brought about results. There have been some very precious moments and there are some amazing kids out there at Orkeeswa. We felt unable to explain our departure to them and are feeling not just rejected and humiliated but in some ways as if we have let both them and ourselves down. I only hope that they are told the truth and not fed lies. It was not our decision to leave.

Having said that after the initial shock subsided there was also a sense of relief!We feel disappointed that we will not see the wildlife, or the country but our gut reaction tells us to return to Asia. We will take a little time to travel and to collect our thoughts before deciding where to next but we are not ready to give up the game just yet.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

A walk through Monduli in the wet (a photo essay)

Right now there is an ample supply of water not that it often flows through our taps but the local environment in Monduli is verdant and tropical looking.

This is not the landscape we expected when we first came here. Africa conjured up very different images in my mind and I know that this is not the norm but having arrived in the rainy season we have been given a false impression of just how lush and green this landscape is.

I know that we should be savoring this now as it will not last but at the same time it looks exactly as it always has to me as I have never seen the dry season.

The flashes of colour that the hedge plants and flowers provide break up the seas of green that wash over the land.

Gardens are blooming and as soon as the views open up and blue skies arrive, it is hard for me to believe that it will not always look exactly like this.

With this is mind I have taken to photographing the beauty of the current scenery in the hope that the subtle changes that are barely perceptible on a daily basis will stand in stark contrast to this current impression in a few months’ time.

I suspect the main street and back streets are always going to be pretty much the same but they are still new to us and we enjoy exploring them and discovering new places. There are some unexpected contrasts in construction within just a few metres of each other

Right now the mud created when the torrential rains occur completely changes the surface of the back roads and the accessibility of everything. However within only a few hours, after the sun comes out there are dry cracked paths and it seems impossible the mud caked to our shoes could ever have existed. 

Probably the seasonal fields of flowers, we are told are being grown for their seeds will also disappear in time but right now they are spectacularly beautiful and add a welcome warmth to the landscape.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Teaching Poetry

Once again I am teaching poetry and once again I am feeling inept.

I actually grew to love the poetry selections in the Bhutanese curriculum and marveled at just how much of a culture that was so far removed from their own, those students could take on board. There were revelations too. The most surprising for me, being that “Ode To Autumn” made more sense to them with real life experience of an agricultural system that still largely resembled the one described in the poem in many aspects, than it ever had to Australian students. Despite the vast differences in the harvest described, they could see its beauty, relate to its images and understand its message.

Here and now, I am grappling with African poets about whom I know nothing while the students grapple with a fear and loathing of poetry, born from the difficulties of the exam questions, routinely asked. I had cause for celebration when I realized that the vast majority of poems in the anthology, we are using are African and there are only a few outstanding exceptions, which are well worthy of inclusion, in my humble opinion. I have found again that any poem can easily be enjoyed by someone with an open mind and a willingness to think beyond their own limited world experience. When there is an opportunity to step back and simply see what they do understand and can interpret, they amaze themselves and me. When guided through deliberate and careful questioning, in the secure environment of group discussion they are capable of analysing with astute clarity and derive real pride from the achievement.

“Why are the exam questions then so ornery?” I ask myself. Should the system be designed to weed out the least discerning or expose the hidden knowledge, abilities and talents of students? Luckily I am the writer of the end of term exams but unfortunately I am once again bound by the need for them to pass national exams with those ornery questions! At least the classroom practice can be of my own making.

Again the students are discovering that they enjoy the writing process and attempting their own poetic compositions. Many even delight in sharing their creations in the classroom context. While the pressure to complete the course work once again dominates the schemes of work and lesson plans that we teachers devise, the deviation into a little creative input from the students is a welcome relief for both them and me.

The imagery which spills easily from their pens in their desperate attempts to incorporate the literary devices we have studied, shout Africa and remind me how little we have seen or really know about this vast continent.

Once again there is so much for me to learn and yet again I wonder if I am teaching the students as much as they are teaching me….