John and Babs in Tanzania

Page 2



Well, at long last, we have an internet connection that is reliable enough to make additions to our website with all the news that our friends and relations have eagerly waited for.

Dar es Salaam
Near our hotel - the Safari Inn

Dar es Salaam
A typical road

We left England on 30th September and arrived in Dar es Salaam, safely, nine and a half hours later. The city is unbelievable; no pavements to speak of, huge pot holes in the roads, and no mains electricity during daylight hours (approx 6.30am to 6.30pm) so that many businesses have their own generators! The noise is incredible. With no electricity, traffic lights don’t operate and so, at some junctions, police direct the traffic while at others, it’s a free for all. This was our first impression of Dar as we were driven from the airport. In the evenings, almost every building we walked past had one or more guard; some old, some (very) young, some male, some female, some armed, some not, a few asleep, but mostly awake.

Dar es Salaam
Another view of Kipepeo Beach

Dar es Salaam
Kipepeo Beach



The first week was spent at the VSO Office for In Country Training, which was intensive and involved long days; we weren’t used to such hard work. However, we did have a day off to go to the shops and then to the beach - blue skies, green seas, white sand, red-hot temperatures (get the picture?).

We were also trained in the art of squeezing as many people into a daladala as possible. Picture a standard sized minibus with 4 rows of seats, into which about 24 people are transported at high speed by a teenage-looking driver together with door operator & money collector (Health & Safety would have a field day with that, & with many other things in Tanzania). We’ve heard that a record is 31, and there is always luggage as well! The normal fare is 200/= (shillings) which is about 8p or about 3% of the daily living allowance for VSO volunteers. All the people look happy and seem very friendly, wanting to chat with a ‘Mzungu’ (white European) whenever possible.

Next, we went by bus to Morogoro for our language and culture training. We stayed at St Thomas', a secured compound, run by nuns, with several blocks for meeting rooms, dining room & accommodation, together with other buildings such as a pharmacy & a church. It was very basic, but clean & safe. We were there for 2 weeks to learn Swahili; Babs found very challenging, although John managed the grammar, but our memory for vocabulary is not what it used to be. We were also introduced to Tanzanian culture, and were sent on a trip to the market to buy food, and haggle over the price, and later we cooked the meal; this entailed killing the chickens first of course! The locals were very friendly and expected to be greeted by us and then proceeded to bombard us with loads of Swahili. It really was an eye opener, tin pot shacks, stalls with a variety of produce, children playing on the untarmaced roads in bare feet, washing draped on trees and on the grass to dry, but after all this the people are happy and friendly.

Babs with 2 local children




In the middle of our stay, we went on a safari. This involved a 2 hour bus journey, leaving at 4am to get there before dawn. It was amazing! We saw most types of African wildlife, some from the bus and some when we stopped for a picnic breakfast at a watering hole.

On our return to Dar, John had to do a 3 day motorcycle (piki-piki) training course. This turned out to be no more than 60 minutes in total on a bike, but a lot of hanging around, talking and theory including a 2 hour lesson in Swahili (!) in a class of 70 young Tanzanians all learning road signs. At the moment we still do not have the piki-piki, much to John’s delight, so he has plenty of time to brush up on the theory. The course was after the public holiday for Eid, to celebrate the end of Ramadhan. We took the opportunity to go on a hour boat trip to a tropical island called Bongoyo; another amazing experience in this country of contrasts.

Bongoyo Island
Approaching - by dhow

Bongoyo Island
The beach

Hekima School
John at our front door

Our placement at Hekima Girls’ Secondary School started on 29th October and we were up at 4am to fly from Dar es Salaam via Mwanza to Bukoba. At Mwanza we were told that the Bukoba flight had already left - more than 3 hours ago! They were surprised we had arrived & eventually said they were trying to arrange another flight. 3 hours later, we were with 10 other stranded passengers in a 12 seater single prop plane - no air hostesses, no in flight entertainment, no food or drinks, and not even a spare pilot. But it was a wonderful flight across the Lake at only 10500ft so we could see a lot. 45 mins later we were in Bukoba, and were met at the ‘airport’, or should we say earth runway, by the Headmistress, Sister Esther, & the Deputy Head, Mr Mambo, as well as some other VSO volunteers. All our 8 items of luggage were put into the back of the School’s open topped pick-up with Mambo, and we were in the cab with Sister Esther driving along the 'road' to Hekima. Interesting! When we arrived, the pick-up toured part of the school, to show it to us, but mainly with the horn pipping to announce our arrival! At least a hundred girls sang songs to us, welcoming us in loads of different ways - it was brilliant, and, predictably, Babs ended up in tears. We were then paraded along to our new home, complete with welcoming poster on the door, which concluded 'Feel at Home' - & we do! After we arrived, a huge meal was brought for us, then we unpacked - at last!

Hekima School
Our home

Our 2-bedroomed house is, by our standards, fairly basic, but it is ours, and, by local standards, it is very comfortable. According to GPS, we are at S 1 degree, 13 minutes, 46.5 seconds and E 31 degrees, 48 minutes, 25.2 seconds, and at an elevation of 1240m.

The lounge has 2 settees and 2 armchairs, a table and 4 chairs, a small fridge and a book case; it also has the only spare electric socket in the whole house. The kitchen has a sink, a table and a table-top electric cooker with 2 plates & grill/oven. The toilet, although internal and flushing, does not have a seat. The shower room consists of a cold shower and a rather large washing up bowl, which we now use to stand in while we wash in hot water boiled in the kitchen and then rinse under the shower. As you can imagine this procedure takes ages. The main bedroom has a washbasin which is only just on the wall, a huge bed (home made) with mosquito net, a small book case which we are using for clothes shelves, and the remainder of our clothes are hanging on coat hangers from nails along one wall. The spare room has a single bed and a table and is at present being used as the office. The floors are all stone and the main rooms have squares of lino in the centre. The windows have mosquito grilles, & shutters a bit like France. We are trying hard to make it homely but it is quite difficult. We have small gardens at front & back, and within a few metres there are loads of banana trees & a mango tree.

Our Home
A view from our bedroom window

Our Home
Another view from our bedroom window

View of Lake Victoria from our hotel

Bukoba is the nearest town and is about 12km away along a very dodgy earth road, liberally sprinkled with potholes; consequently you learn to drive on whichever side of the road has least potholes and so it’s a very bumpy road. After the rain, which can be torrential, the potholes turn into ponds. We’ve had a few trips – the pick-up, a land rover, daladalas (after waiting up to an hour) at 1000/= each way, and once by taxi. Bukoba itself is probably about the size of Darlington town centre. Shopping is proving interesting, as shops tend to be huts with grilles on the front and so you have to ask for what you want, ask the price and then decide if you want it. Many of the huts are about 3m wide & 4m deep and tend to be in rows. Everything takes so long, but we are learning; we have already found suitable shops to buy essentials, and have found a shop for red wine! There seem to be 2 'supermarkets' which are about the size of an ordinary UK shop. The market, at the centre of the town, is huge, with tiny stalls separated by muddy pathways, and, here, you’re expected to haggle over the price. Again, we’re learning. And, they are really friendly people here. There was a regional VSO meeting in Bukoba on our first Saturday, which enabled us to meet other volunteers and get a different perspective on things. There was a variety of nationalities – British, Dutch, Canadian, American (a Philippino couldn’t be there) and there were volunteers from other organisations, including German and Danish. It was Babs’ birthday last week, and so we decided to stay at the best hotel in town over the weekend, after finishing lessons on Saturday morning. In comparison, it was quite posh, but the shower was still cold. However, the view from our room was impressive.

Work began during the first week. One morning, at 9am, we went to visit 2 of the other schools in John’s cluster, which has now increased from 4 to 5 (& others may join later!). We were meant to go the previous day, but when Sr Esther phoned that morning they were busy. Planning?! We bounced along to the first school where we met 2 teachers who were delighted to meet J&B & they told us that the Head had just left for Bukoba! It later emerged that the Deputy Head had been briefed about our visit, but the 2 teachers didn't think (or know) to tell us & Sr Esther didn't think to ask, so we left! Typical of the way that things go on in Tanzania. At the second school the Head was very welcoming, & very pleased to meet the expert in science education who would be improving the standard of science teaching over at least the next 2 years & hopefully 4 or 6! We soon put him right! We then met the Heads of the science departments, & at least he introduced John as a very experienced physics teacher from England. We then met a number of other teachers of science subjects and toured the Labs. They are evidently very proud of the facilities, but they are so run down. The labs are only used when the teacher moves the class from the classroom where they normally work - ie theory - &, most recently, for exams. They are a complete jumble - makes John's organisation look immaculate. They need a good sort out & a good clean. Apparatus was piled up - some not working, some inappropriate & definitely not enough for their classes of 50!

Later in the first week, it emerged that there had been a meeting of the Heads and 19 of the science teachers from 3 of the 5 schools on the Friday before we arrived. They decided to call the group the ‘Polytechnic Science Club’ and produced a list of 18 problems, in 5 areas, that were to be presented to John. They had also arranged a workshop for the following Tuesday, at which there would be a start to solving the problems and, we were assured, they had ‘high expectations’ of the training they were going to receive. No pressure then! It had started off as a 1 or 2 hour introductory session but then it was decided that it might as well be all day. One of the senior staff suggested that a suitable start would be on the use of modern technology. The computer room would be available, after the first session in the lecture room where the school’s one portable data projector could be used. John put in a lot of preparation over the next few days, including a PowerPoint presentation and lots of examples of ILT. Unfortunately, many of the computers, as well as the printer, in the computer room don’t work, but, after a lot of sorting out, we managed to get 11 machines that can be used. They all run Windows 2000 and several of them can be connected to the internet. But at least the room is powered by mains or storage batteries which can keep going for 3 days when there is a (not infrequent) power cut.

Polytechnic Science Club
The empty lecture room

The start time was 9am, so we got to the lecture room for 7.30, to set up. At 8.45, the rain started again – very heavily – and curtains were delivered! At 8.50, a whiteboard arrived. At 9am, none of the participants had arrived, but the handyman was putting up the curtains. 9.30 saw the first arrivals, and soon there were 8 of us. And we waited. And the rain poured down. By 10.10, all 14 curtains had been put up. Sr Esther’s phone enquiries confirmed that a truck was bringing the others, but, since it didn’t have a roof, they would wait until the rain eased off. So we went to the computer room where it became clear that the computer skills of most were very basic, although a couple were quite advanced. Several of the teachers had never switched on a computer before, & most of the rest needed help with navigating, clicking, saving, typing, etc! At 12 noon, the others arrived, so we all had tea or coffee. We finally started at 12.20. After 5 minutes of John’s presentation, there was a power cut! We moved to the computer room. The rest of the day continued more or less as planned, and it was after 5pm before we finished tidying up.

Life really is very difficult trying to teach in Tanzania, but you just have to shrug your shoulders and accept the way it is. Babs has taught 3 lessons on Refuse Disposal to the 1st years (43 in a class and you could hear a pin drop) and it was really weird. The girls are so polite and friendly, but, for many in the 1st year, their English is poor. During primary school, most are taught in Swahili and then, when they reach secondary school at about the age of 14, they have to change and learn in English. Babs’ main teaching starts in January but she has plenty of work to prepare for. Her practical session last week was cancelled because the custard powder was out of date; the mind boggles.

Sr Esther has been an excellent host, employer, information deliverer and friend. She is firm but fair with both students and staff, and we are beginning to realise what a difficult job she has. We have had a good introduction to the school, the region and how things work here.

Hekima School
Some of the girls gardening near our home

We are also starting to understand what life is like for the girls here. There are about 90 in each year group, or Form, in 2 streams, although there are over 130 in 3 streams in Form I. They all wear identical school uniform: white blouse, green skirt, white ankle socks, black shoes and are sometimes allowed to wear a green jumper. All have very short-cropped hair and, overall, this makes recognition of individuals very difficult. When not in lessons, they change into regulation dresses – green for Form I, purple for Form II, yellow for Form III and Form IV had blue; most have flip-flops or bare feet. The form rooms are austere, with irregular stone floors and some lighting when there are no power cuts. There are desks or narrow tables for the 45 students in the class, with some room in front of the 2 worn out blackboards for the teacher. The girls have all their lessons in the form room, although they are occasionally moved to labs, cookery room or sewing room. The form room also seems to be their ‘common room’, where they are based out of lessons. They seem to be there from 7am, when the dormitories are locked. Lessons start at 7.45am on Monday to Friday and continue to 2.15pm with breaks of 5, 20 and 5 minutes: 9 x 40 minute lessons in all, with a real bell to indicate times. Saturday (!) lessons start slightly later, at 8am, and can continue until 1pm. After lunch on weekdays, there are activities, which include gardening, looking after farm crops and animals, sport (although we haven’t seen any yet), tidying up, etc, and there is time to do washing. The girls are in form rooms before 7pm, and stay there, unsupervised, until the 10pm bell, doing homework. They seem very happy, are well behaved and love the life here, partly because they like to be kept busy.

We will add a timetable of a typical day’s events, for students and for staff, and a year calendar, when we have sufficient information. Form IV sat National O-level-equivalent exams before we arrived, and have already left. Form II did official regional exams in the last couple of weeks, and have just left. Forms I and III are now doing internal exams – we’ll write about these in due course.

As we settle into our new home and jobs we are very happy and everyone is very helpful. The food, however, is causing us bigger problems. We are fed at the canteen at lunch time; this is usually savoury bananas (plantain) and beans, often with fish, or rice and beans, sometimes with pieces of meat and gravy, and so can be rather monotonous. The lack of transport for shopping and storage space in the house means that, on a couple of occasions, we have had either jam or banana sandwiches for tea, with wine of course! We are into the routine of our weekly Lariam tablets and hope that these will prevent malaria.

Communication is also proving difficult. We hardly ever get a mobile phone signal anywhere in or near the school, and certainly can’t co-ordinate those moments with sending texts. The internet is not at all reliable; it depends on a wireless link to a nearby hub and, so far, has been off more than it’s been on; it keeps being repaired but then breaking down again, at one time, for over a week. We’ll keep hoping things will improve.

This is just the start of our adventure; hopefully the next news bulletins will be shorter but more regular!

More to come from John and Babs in Tanzania soon.