The Long, Bumpy Road through Tanga

This past week, L and I took a road trip through the Northeastern region of Tanzania called Tanga. This is a huge country, and varies so much between regions– I had really only seen a snippit of it. We set off with some carefully planned tools at hand: a to-go roll of toilet paper, swiss army knife, hand sanitizer, spare tire, lots of water, and plenty of snacks. Our first stop was a town called Mambo, which lies beyond the larger town of Lushoto. Lushoto district is known for its cooler temperatures and stunning views with lush greenery and, depending on the season, gorgeous waterfalls. During the time of German colonization, these overheated Europeans summered in these high hills to escape the overwhelming heat and humidity of Bagamoyo and Dar es Salaam. I know what they were running from. It took over eight hours to get to Lushoto town, largely due to the winding roads and sudden downpours. Little did we know we had not yet seen REAL Tanzanian roads. We were still on the good stuff. I had hoped to find an elusive Montessori training center and school up in the hills and happened to spot the sign as we passed. Lushoto Montessori Training CenterRemember, this is the kind of place where there is A road, so the odds were in our favor. All Montessori sites in Tanzania are supported by the Anglican Archdiocese, so nuns run the show and religious education plays a large part in everyday activity, unlike in most of Europe and the US. A large group of training teachers were sitting through a lecture about avoiding darkness in life, but there were no students working in the classroom. I was banking on its being a boarding school, but didn’t think about the children going home for Easter. I at least got to walk around the classroom, which was large, dark, and full of mostly handmade materials. Trays were precisely cut from cardboard, glued together and painted a bright, cheery turquoise. I was very impressed with the number of traditional materials they had on hand. We bought banana wine, cheese, and honey prepared by the nuns and headed on our way.

Soon after Lushoto, the road took a ferocious turn from decent pavement to ROUGH earth. Calling it bumpy would be like calling the past couple of months in Dar warm. We crept along, cringing every time the low-hanging guts of our 4-wheel drive Isuzu smacked or scraped along the lip of a mud pit. It took almost three hours to get to Mambo, just as the sun was setting. Children chased our car (not a hard feat given our creeping speed), shouting “WAZUNGU!” (foreigners!) and waving. Throughout the entire trip, children looked consistently excited to see us. Some even shouted phrases they had clearly tried out before such as, “GIVE ME MONEY!” in English. There are very few white people in this area, that much was clear- we were OUT THERE. We stayed in an ecolodge owned by a Dutch couple. We had a great cottage on the tip-top of the mountain peak. We took a hike with a guide from the town, Ali, who took us to caves that are thought to hold markings made by humans 1.5 million years ago. We’re talking steep, y’all. Probably more interesting than the caves was just passing villagers and talking with them. Every tiny plot of land was farmed on, even the steepest, rockiest bit that you or I might look over as an area that would be washed/eroded away in no time. Potatoes, beans, corn- you name it, they’ll try it. People here do not have much; the Lushoto district is where we get our farmshare vegetables from, and gorgeous veggies come out of the region, but it means that because they’re worth more sold, villagers here do not eat them. They live off mainly starches and are often malnourished as a consequence. My next batch of veg will taste all that much better out of gratitude… Or should I not support this? Arg.

After two nights of very welcomed, colder temperatures (it had been a full year since we felt autumn-like breezes), we headed down the mountain toward the ocean. We took the “back way” down, which we were told would be fine as long as we had 4×4 capability on our car. I do not have pictures of some of the switchbacks my brave husband maneuvered down because I was entirely too busy praying. I later found out he was too. Talk about slow, we were inching down this mountain like a cautious worm. When we finally made it down to flatter land, we had no road to follow but instead, the loose guidings of our hosts. We came down a muddy slope and immediately knew we were dragging something and that that something was rather large. We got out to find that a large branch was lodged between two pieces of metal (I don’t know enough about cars to go beyond that). We could neither pull nor push the thing through, so L got his dad’s trusty Swiss Army knife out and started to widdle while I twisted and yanked. I heard giggling from a way’s off, and soon thereafter, a group of women walked by. We greeted them excitedly, and proceeded through the large number of greetings common to Swahili-speaking cultures. “How’s work, how’re the kids, how’s home”… all before acknowledging the purple elephant of a tree under our car. We casually get into why we are sitting in a dried-up river bed, and the women whip out their machetes. In no time, the women were on their stomachs in the dirt and mud, but not after one half-jokingly asks, “Shilingi ngapi?” (“How many shillings?”) Everyone laughed, but this was not a joke. With their help, L yanked the branch out and gave the women 10,000 shillings, about six dollars, which sent them into a fit of joy. They probably hadn’t seen money like this in a while. At least not for something it took minutes to do. Onward we went through the river bed, leaving the concepts of roads behind.

After hours of avoiding cattle and goats, children, and staring elders, we made it to Pangani, south of Tanga town. We found our tented lodge and I promptly felt the effects of the rough road. Never in my life have I been truly carsick, but I spent the entire afternoon and night horizontal and not a happy camper. That being a blur, I’ll proceed. But go if you can, it’s lovely…:/

I drove the next day, in an attempt to keep control over the bumps, which actually seemed to help. We drove into Saadani National Park, the only one in Tanzania to be on the coast and therefore, have beach, river, and bush to explore. We were supposed to stay at a lodge on the river, but it turns out we had come from the wrong direction and it was going to take a lot of fees (read: bribes) to get there. We had made it to a sister lodge, who clarified the situation, and graciously agreed to take us in instead. We weren’t expecting much, but she gave us the… honeymoon suite! All others were booked, so we reluctantly accepted. This place was swank-Y. The entire lodge was made of little treehouse-like places to sit and read, play games, swim, all connected by winding boardwalks. Lucky for us, we had booked two nights at the other lodge! We went out on a sunrise safari drive the next morning and saw a few birds and bigger game, but the best part was probably the savannah itself. I don’t see how anyone could get tired of these vast grasslands, life hiding in every corner and winds steadily whispering. It’s wonderfully peaceful.

This trip was a reminder of how much there is to see and do, people to exchange stories with, lessons to learn. I don’t have to be in Tanzania to do it, but it helps motivate me to keep seeing and trying and learning. I feel awfully grateful to have this opportunity.  I will close with a few animal shots: waterbuck, baboons (including the smallest I have ever seen), a donkey we temporarily helped escape, and L’s favorite guinea fowl, who we chased to banjo music down the road for quite awhile. 

One ferocious baby shower

I feel I have seriously lagged on all the non-work/school related things I’ve been busy with lately. I for one need to set Maria aside for a minute. Recently, two friends and I threw a baby shower for our friend who has just left for the States to have her second child. My co-hosts are seriously crafty and honestly, I think I served as apprentice, but we all worked very hard for the big day. It was so wonderful and fun to put together. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. A special thank you to my dear Eliza who didn’t even know the guest of honor but helped hugely anyway… on her honeymoon no less! Good friends make the world go round. Enjoy!

Thank you yet again, Ina Garten.

I mean come on. What is cuter?

 

The dessert table.

I covered these books with cool paper. The theme was children's books.

A crib held the gifts and everyone gave advice for raising a little girl.

Lows, Highs, and the Joy of a Multi-Age Classroom

The face of determination.

Holy smokes, sorry folks. Rather than mention how long it’s been since I’ve written, I’ll just jump in and prove why it’s been so long. I am in school as well as teaching right now, so I have had classes to attend via skype, papers to write, lessons to plan, etc. I have since started my sixth student, a five and a half year old girl, who has rather dramatically changed the energy in the room. It was good before but now it’s pretty darn great. I get to give really long, juicy lessons during which time I purposefully make myself unavailable to the little guys. I make myself look busier than I am to see what they’ll do without me. And it goes so well! They find work to do (self-chosen) and sink in. They sing as they work, a mark of truly joyful learning I believe.

Before this wise little woman started last month, we had one of those days when things appeared to be falling apart at an inopportune moment. This phenomenon is called “false fatigue,” when children’s energy collectively goes haywire and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. Normally it is contained and safe enough. In training, we were told the best way to respond is to put on an apron and start scrubbing a table. It works. Someone had shown up unannounced to supervise some work on the house. This person technically has a big say in my operating or not, and unfortunately, what he walked into was quite baffling. We had been outside when E screamed out, “I have to poop! I have to poop!” When I let E inside to go to the bathroom (with me standing at the front door), U snuck inside too and dumped out a container of work on the floor. Cue important unexpected visitors. The boys won’t come inside and are now on the other side of the house. Luckily, the entire first floor is practically windows, so I could see they were fine. The supervisor asks to see the bathroom. I say, “weeellll….” just as E shouts out, “there’s poopy in my pants!” and runs out naked from the waist down. This man either has no children or avoided this arena of child-rearing entirely, because he looked like he’d been smacked in the face. Still no boys, and U is facing into a corner struck with stranger danger and won’t respond either. F is upset and refuses to come inside. “So, I’d say things here are running pretty smoothly! Thanks for stopping by!” This is why visitors can be a huge disturbance until the group is prepared for them!

To contrast that less than peaceful snippet, so many wonderful moments have passed since I wrote last, but I’ll give you just a couple. We are lucky enough to have multiple coconut trees at our house, and one day our gardener told me he wanted to collect some of them. Montessori teachers should always recognize a teachable moment and know when it is worthwhile to call children over (away from other work). This was one of those time. Dominic climbed a coconut tree, tossed down coconuts,

 

and the children ran to collect them. He then showed us how to pull the husk off

and crack open the coconut and drink the refreshing water inside. Every child got a coconut and were absolutely delighted by the discovery.

I’ve been loving creating new work, both for curriculum at large, and also for a year-long project I am designing on Tanzania. I created this work with free paint swatches and an old carton that once held chocolates. The whole thing cost about fifty cents for the clothespins.   The child matches the shade of each hue and strengthens their pincer grip when squeezing the clothespin.

 

 

 

 

 

This work goes in conjuntion with the book, We All Went on Safari, which has taught all the students to count in Swahili (effortlessly I might add). The story describes coming across one leopard, two ostriches, etc., so I found handmade carvings of each of the animals plus cards with different numbers of traditional fabric squares on them from 1-10. It has been a big success.

 

 

 

 

 

In this material, children smell different spices grown in Tanzania and match them to the vile of the spice as it is found in nature. The scents and spices are color coded so the child can verify his work himself.

 

 

 

So see? I’ve been very busy! We have dear old friends in town now so it has been nice to step away from the classroom a bit and appreciate our surroundings. Having visitors always makes our life abroad feel less like a dream. I hope to be a little more vigilant about writing and sharing pictures, ideas, and hilarious quotes. Here’s one to go out on. My oldest student was on her way to school yesterday and her dad told me she said, “I can almost smell Ms. Molly now!” Nervously I asked if that was a good thing. Lucky for me, it was. Love comes in surprising forms!

Come on, normalization, I need your help here!

Early in a school year (or in this case, the existence of a class), Mondays can sometimes be a slap in the face to children. Yesterday I felt like I could barely give the simplest lesson before I had to put out a fire or help a child who’d had an accident (luckily not on the carpet). I didn’t feel like a teacher, I felt like a caretaker– much less fun. Later in the year, I find that Mondays are great because after a weekend, the child is really ready to get back to their work and do so attentively. We are not yet at that point. So needless to say, I was whooped. Determined to have a smoother day today, I started with a number of simple but great lessons so they would have options for self-chosen work. Successes included the knobbed cylinders, cutting strips, and spindle box for our recently added four year old. Anything having to do with food preparation is always a hit. Tomorrow we will juice oranges.

I have established how I expect the room to be set up, but the children establish their own ways too. Without fail, certain things are relocated in precisely the same manner and locations every day. The smallest cube of the Pink Tower is inevitably behind the curtain. There is consistently a pool of drool in the right coconut half of the transferring work (see below). The Stamp Game apparently prefers to be dumped on the floor instead of in its box on the shelf. Who knew. All those little pieces are enticing, I realize. Most things are licked and sucked on. I dread the day I’ll have to send a note home asking a parent to check poop for a certain item. Not that I want it back, just to make sure it moves on to greener pastures. This is my every day. One day, we will get to long, involved work, but today’s work is another animal entirely.

 

 

 

We have really lovely moments inside, but being outside is such a fun and peaceful time. This morning I was collecting fallen flowers in a basket (maybe others would want to join me?). I looked over and all five students were holding hands, promenading in a line silently. Due entirely to their own will, they started walking laps around the house, through the garden, and wherever their group mentality led them. It went on for a good fifteen minutes! It was so nice to see them so content with what they were doing. I think maybe if the heat in Dar weren’t so intense right now, even at 8 AM, we’d do almost everything outside. After about half an hour, we all need a bit of relief. In another month, the heat should subside a little and we’ll be out even more. Summer will be passing before long.

In other news, the tomatoes are coming in and we are sprouting a whole new stick of goodies to plant. The kids enjoy tracking their progress. Sometimes with a magnifying glass.

Sprouting seeds!

J always asks for water and then gives the full can to someone else to pour. Small acts of kindness!

The More the Merrier

I’m eight days in. Today was a particularly good day. Nothing special happened, they just flowed well from one work to the next. Not all were self-chosen, not that I expect them to be able to do that already. I am giving tons of preliminary lessons over and over, sometimes indirectly by just doing it the correct way myself. Often that is enough. Never forget, parents, children see and hear things you’d never think they’d catch! Because this ability to choose, to initiate and concentrate, is such a big goal of mine, I’m constantly looking self-critically at ways to increase the odds of them succeeding at it. I have come to a strong realization that I need more in our small community. More young minds to make choices and develop their will. More hands to work. More!

Right now the four (soon to be five) I have started with look to me for direction. This makes sense early on, but the last thing I am is an entertainer. I demonstrate and yes, I make a fool out of myself quite frequently, but I do not dictate what they do. They lead and I (as long as it’s acceptable) observe and follow them. I have plenty of parents of older children interested and ready to join us, but I am quite limited in terms of the numbers I can take. I’d like to bring in a few older students to help guide the three year olds and also because I miss the juicy, in-depth work you can do with that age. If the young ones see that, they’ll see what they are working towards. And they won’t look to me as much because I won’t be as available!

I’m learning a lot every day; mostly I am continually in awe of the physical materials Montessori designed. I’ve been around these objects for years, but when you see how intuitively children can just soak in the intended aim of each work unaided, it’s pretty astounding. God Bless the Pink Tower, which really gets more than its fair share of use and love. It’s the iconic material for good reason! Individual, self-chosen activity just works so much more smoothly than trying to corral a group of this age together- they could care less and rightly so! They’re busy, they’re learning, leave them be! This is what I tell myself every day when I want to redirect a child. Many times, the child comes up with something interesting and non-harmful, so I do my best to make sure I’m only intervening when necessary.

I remind myself about “false fatigue” when the group hits that point of madness. They are not actually tired, but their energy just gets a bit out of whack and there’s nothing you can do about it. I have been able to pique their interest in watering the garden when this happens. Our outdoor time has been some of the most peaceful, not surprisingly. Yesterday, a little boy jumped off a foot-high ledge around our water tank and rolled in the grass. He then lay on his back and looked up completely relaxed. I quietly lay down beside him and we watched the birds and leaves above us. Others joined. It was such a sweet moment.

Most days there have been very frustrating moments, as I know any of you with young children or fellow early childhood educators are familiar with. Intentionally doing what I ask a child not to (read: a test of my response and demeanor), disturbing others’ work with pleasure, and other inappropriate choices make it challenging to keep my patience. The massive amounts of reading I’m doing give productive ideas, many of which have worked. To get a parent’s perspective, I read Trevor Eissler’s Montessori Madness: A Parent to Parent Argument for Montessori Education. I recommend this light read for anyone interested in Montessori, parents or otherwise, because of its approachable language and thoughtful explanations of the philosophy and method. The most helpful thing I have found is to always look back to the classroom environment. I removing myself from the equation (hopefully eliminating the chance of them fighting with me) by removing certain materials or adding odds and ends that will encourage what I want to see. None of this is my original thinking, so thank you to Maria and all those I’ve worked with so far for the pointers.

I have lots of pictures, but few without the children’s faces, so I’ll try to show their work with different images soon. One highlight of conversation to send you into the weekend:

U (3 years old, Finnish): (Something in Finnish, to herself or to us, I’m not sure)

E (3 years old, American): Shamanalalafoo.

Me: What language is that, E?

E: It’s a new one.

Day One

Build it and they will come. And come they have. Today was the first day of official class. All in all, I think it went well despite my occasionally thinking, “Maria, what have I done?” I started today with 3 three year old girls. Tomorrow one of our two boys will join us. Our final boy will complete the group next week.

Montessori education is based on many things, one being the meticulously prepared environment. I have spent every day and many evenings going over every detail of the room. This isn’t interesting enough. This is too close the size of a nostril for me to deal with early on. This is beautiful and simple. How could a child NOT love this precious gem?? Although I knew reality would be a light slap in the face, I had the ideal in my head. Children using one work at a time (ha!), not snatching out of others’ hands (ha!), and not trying to sneak upstairs. A dear Montessori instructor of mine, Sister Anita, epitomizes Montessori’s calm and peaceful ways so well and I tried all morning to pretend I was her. 

Originally, I built my ideal for children through five, with all the good juicy work that takes a long time and inspires such concentration and pride. Then I removed the things I will obviously not use with three year olds in the least. I thought this was a big decrease. But after this morning, I learned how much more still needs to come out. So we’re going to simplify even more!

I started the morning with the first student to arrive, a Tanzanian peach of a little lady. She met me yesterday, but she walked right up and gently gave me a hug. We started outside, drawing with chalk and collecting jasmine flowers. As the other two arrived, we watered the garden with a child-sized watering can. It felt like an ideal start. There were little bumps (see below) but all in all, I think it went well.  

Some stats:

Tears cried: A very quiet and brief 2 (from one student).

Native English speakers: 1 of 3

Times I was probably scolded in Finnish: 6

Poop rate: 100% 

Poop in toilet rate: 33%

Books read and largely ignored: 1

Songs I danced to enthusiastically as if performing for three puzzled children, two of whom didn’t know what the heck I was doing, the other apparently enjoying watching me act afool: 8

Mini sandwiches consumed: 12  

Number of times the Pink Tower was knocked down by a non-building child: I lost count.

Favorite quote: (American child to me regarding Finnish child) “What is she TALKING about?”

Emergency pack of homemade PINK play dough broken out: zero (that’s for tomorrow when they realize this is a regular thing.)

How to repair your Olevia 237T-11 HDTV in Tanzania in 100 easy steps.

1.) Return home from work

2.) When your wife says, “For some reason, the TV doesn’t seem to want to turn on,” go and see for yourself.

3.) Try to turn on the TV with the remote.

4.) Try to turn on the TV using the power button.

5.) Unplug the TV, wait 30 seconds, then repeat steps 3 and 4.

6.) Turn off the Ted Nugent jams, because you’ve realized this could be a serious issue.

7.) Repeatedly try versions of steps 3, 4 and 5 while uttering things like “Hmm…” and “Oh?” to suggest that you are both intrigued and challenged by the problem.

8.) Go to Google and type in something like “My Olevia 237T-11 won’t turn on.”

9.) Read enough random posts by other completely reasonable people to reaffirm your initial suspicion that there’s probably nothing broken.

10.) Unplug the TV and go to bed.

11.) Wake up the next morning, plug in the TV, and repeat steps 3, 4, and 5.

12.) Curse audibly.

13.) Go to work.

14.) Repeat steps 1, 3, 4, and 5.

15.) Repeat step 12, but louder.

16.) Go to Google and try searching something akin to “There is something bad wrong with my Olevia 237T-11.”

17.) Read enough random posts by other frustrated individuals to decide that something inside the TV has been fried due to the wildly erratic voltage levels of Tanzanian electricity.

18.) Convince yourself that you are smart enough and maybe even genetically predisposed to be able to figure this out yourself.

19.) Eat a sandwich.

20.) Gather the implements belonging to your pitiful Ikea tool set “Fixa” and march into the living room with purpose.

21.) Take the TV off of the TV stand, and place it on the floor.

22.) Start unscrewing stuff with reckless abandon.

23.) When it seems like you’ve gotten enough screws out to be able to take the back panel off the TV, start prying the back panel from the backside of the screen.

24.) After realizing that you’re applying enough pressure to snap the back panel in two, look around for some more screws to undo.

25.) After loosening the screws in the stand, repeat steps 23 and 24.

26.) Decide that indeed you have found all of the screws to undo.

27.) Keep trying to pry the back panel from the backside of the screen, breaking one of the plastic brackets holding the final, sneaky panel screw in place.

28.) While looking at the tangle of circuitry, capacitors, and wiring in the back of the TV, try to recall why you thought yourself qualified enough to do this.

29.) After looking around for half an hour or so, decide that the little glass tube with metal ends is the fuse.

30.) Take out the fuse and try to find a means of testing it.

31.) Since you don’t own a voltmeter, create a circuit using the fuse, two AA batteries, and a ghost flashlight that your Mom gave you for Halloween.

32.) Try to get the light to come on.

33.) When the light doesn’t come on, decide triumphantly that the fuse is the problem.

34.) Get on Amazon.com and figure out that fuses are pretty inexpensive.

35.) Go to bed satisfied that you can replace a fuse.

36.) The next day, take the fuse to an electrician to be tested with a voltmeter.

37.) Hope to God that the voltmeter confirms the fuse to be bad.

38.) When the electrician tells you the fuse is perfectly fine, think of a really good curse word to say, but don’t say it out loud.

39.) Ask the electrician to come over and scope out your Olevia 237T-11.

40.) Wait around for a week or so until the electrician actually shows up.

41.) When the electrician comes, sit around with him for about an hour looking at the disassembled TV.

42.) Secretly worry that the electrician is back at step 28.

43.) When the electrician decides this job is too big for him, consider his recommendation of a TV repairman.

44.) Ask him how much the TV repairman will charge, but don’t expect a straight answer.

45.) Get the TV repairman’s number, and ask him to come take a look at the TV.

46.) Repeat step 40, substituting “electrician” for “TV repairman.”

47.) When the TV repairman finally comes (accompanied by the electrician for some reason), show him the problem and explain the steps you’ve already gone through.

48.) Realize that your Swahili may be somewhat limited when it comes to technical topics.

49.) Ask the TV repairman how much it will cost to fix the TV.

50.) When he says the price will depend on the problem, assume this is reasonable.

51.) When he says even if the TV needs an entirely new power supply, it would be less than $200, make a note of this.

51.) Without the benefit of hindsight, allow the TV repairman to kidnap the power supply, ostensibly to fix it.

52.) Go away some place for the weekend and don’t think about the stupid TV.

53.) Return from your trip, and give the TV repairman a call.

54.) When the repairman tells you he has worked on the power supply and wants to come try it out in the TV, ask how much he will charge.

55.) When he says he’s not sure since he doesn’t know if it works yet, ask him to give you a breakdown of parts and labor thus far.

56.) Understand that “I’ll have to call you back” is not the right answer.

57.) When the repairman doesn’t call back, go online and figure out you can buy an entirely new power supply for around $80.

58.) When you finally reach the repairman by phone two days later, ask him for his price.

59.) When he says $100 for parts and $80 for labor, ask him why you would want to pay him that when you can get a new power supply for $80.

60.) If he asks, “How do you know you’ve found the right part?” inform him that it’s not so hard to look up part model numbers on the internet.

61.) Tell the repairman that if he can do the job for less than $100, you’ll be happy to pay him.

62.) When he refuses, kindly ask for your old power supply back.

63.) Tell the repairman you’ll order a new power supply yourself.

64.) If he offers to let you pay him to install it for you, politely decline.

65.) Start trying to bid on power supplies on eBay.

66.) While you’re sound asleep at about 4:00am three days later, just before the auction closes on the power supply you bid on, get outbid by some other bozo with the same problem.

67.) Find another power supply on eBay and “Buy it Now” for a higher price.

68.) Spend three days trying to reactive the PayPal account you haven’t used in five years.

69.) Realize that a week has passed and the TV repairman is still holding your old power supply for ransom.

70.) Call the TV repairman, but don’t expect him to actually pick up.

71.) After paying for the power supply through PayPal, start tracking the shipment through the USPS website.

72.) When the repairman randomly shows up at your house to return the old power supply, don’t feel bad if a coconut falls out of the tree and hits him in the head.

72.) A month later, wonder why the new power supply hasn’t arrived in the mail.

73.) When the power supply finally, shows up, tear open the back of the TV, put the new power supply in place, and double check the wiring with schematics found online.

74.) Plug the TV up, and repeat steps 3, 4, and 5.

75.) Realize that putting a new power supply in the TV HAS MADE NO DIFFERENCE WHATSOEVER.

76.) Stomp around for awhile before going back to Google and searching for something like “I put a new power supply in my Olevia 237T-11 and my shit STILL don’t work.”

77.) Read enough ignorant posts by other complete dingdongs to convince yourself you have a software issue and not a hardware issue.

78.) Search for an updated version of the firmware for an Olevia 237T-11.

79.) When you come to the realization that Olevia has been out of business since 2008, repeat some combination of steps 15 and 76.

80.) Happen upon a bulletin board where someone has posted the last version of the firmware for an Olevia 237T-11.

81.) Download the firmware, only to realize that it is incompatible with Mac.

82.) Email the link for the firmware to yourself.

83.) Open up your corrupted PC laptop, download the firmware again, and read the instructions.

84.) Realize you need a USB-A to USB-B cord to connect the laptop and the TV.

85.) Even though only about 13 people in the world have such a cord, recall that you used to have one that went with your old digital camera that broke when your brother dropped it on the ground and did a little dance on it.

86.) Dig through your box full of wires, video game controllers, and whammy bars only to decide the cord in question is in Tennessee someplace.

87.) Greedily steal your wife’s USB-A to USB-B cord that you stumble upon elsewhere.

88.) Connect your corrupted PC laptop to your Olevia 237T-11 with the USB-A to USB-B cord.

89.) Try to install the firmware you downloaded.

90.) When your corrupted PC laptop doesn’t recognize the stupid USB cord, try to install the driver included with the firmware download.

91.) When the driver won’t install, try to auto-install a generic Windows driver for the USB cord.

92.) If the driver works, repeat step 89.

93.) Realize that the computer is already one step ahead of you on step 90.

94.) Go through an irrational spat of unplugging things, plugging them back in, resetting stuff, turning crap off, and reinstalling the aforementioned software.

95.) Pump your fists triumphantly when the install screen for the firmware miraculously appears on your corrupted PC laptop.

96.) Let the installation run its course.

97.) When the screen reports that the installation has failed, pretend like you didn’t see it.

98.) Repeat step 4.

99.) THE TV FINALLY TURNS ON!

100.) Put the TV back together and stay up all night watching cartoons, because who knows how long it will take for your luck to run out.

Broken, fried, leaking, and drained.

My goodness where have the last few weeks gone?! So much has happened and I’ve not been able to sit and write about it. Does everyone feel a few steps behind as often as I do? A couple of weeks ago (time is really blurring together over here… am I “going native”?), I woke up to our gardener and guard knocking on the door to tell me there was a problem. There was no water coming out of the hoses and water was pouring out of the guardhouse faucet and the yard seemed to be flooding from underneath. Happy Monday morning indeed! I won’t go into detail about the next trying twelve hours, but suffice it to say that it took a posse of plumbers, electricians, supervisors, and other guys standing around to realize that our tanks had been emptied by this leak and to initiate getting a water truck over to fill the tanks back up. Unfortunately, this new water kicked up all the muck at the bottom of the tank (why oh why did I ever look down into that tank?) and stained a load of laundry a lovely muddy brown. When I mentioned the water coming into the underground tank looked a little murky, I was reassured that it “goes through an extensive filtration system” first. Bananas, I tell you! I’m still figuring out how to tell when someone is just trying to save face by politely lying to me. I recall this well from living in Japan. There is no malicious intent here, it is just a cultural difference. The next day, a new crew came over to clean the tank. If you’re wondering, “hey wouldn’t this have been easier when the tank was…. EMPTY?” so was I. Water is back. I apologize to all those I have hurt and screamed at in the process. Sort of.

Our HHE (household effects) from DC arrived last week and I spent four solid days unpacking, inventorying, and setting up. I went through every Montessori lesson I have, loving every minute of it, until I knew precisely what I had and what I didn’t. I have most of my students ready to start in January. It looks like it will be a young group, but that just means I’ll have longer with them! This is feeling pretty real! Of course I need shelves for all of this gorgeous work. About three weeks ago, I ventured out to the Woodcarver’s Market. I geared myself up mentally to not use a single word of English in the whole interaction, both for practice and to get a better deal. Case in point, I now know how to say “don’t jerk me around”– “usichakachue.” I am working on my “I don’t care if I leave with that or not” face and my “what the WHAT! 2,000 Shillings!” face. The latter is accompanied with a high-pitched “eh!” Now you too are ready for the market!

I found a guy on the side of the road in a shop (everything here is “a guy on the side of the road who __”). I showed him my drawings and eventually got him down to a third of his initial asking price. I felt proud of handling this myself with a feigned air of confidence. This good feeling waned significantly when he stopped returning my calls. I went out to find him last week and he had made two shelves. Incorrectly. After he refused to fix them, I very maturely stormed out, guaranteeing that I would actively keep anyone from our embassy from giving him business. See how mature and peaceful I am? I have since found a new guy, Deo, who seems very promising. I will be getting nine custom-made shelves for $260 bucks. And they’ll be ready next week! You got a deal! Cross your fingers for me, folks.

Coming soon, the ol’ husband will be making a guest writer appearance with his tales of how our TV was fried weeks and weeks ago and the hilarious number of steps it has taken to restore its entertaining powers. Stay tuned and cover your children’s ears. Also stay tuned for pictures of our house and the new classroom!

But fear not, I vow to not let this blog become a list of things that have been damaged and/or destroyed, so I will close with some tidbits from our weekend on Mafia Island a week ago. The five of us friends were the only five staying at the whole hotel. We stayed in bandas with canvas “walls.” We slept under the mosquito net and let the pounding rain and waves lull us to sleep.

One day we took a boat out to snorkel over some shallow coral. The owner of the hotel was sure to get us out before the tide stranded us on shore and we headed out with three guys (one to drive the boat, two to……). After snorkeling for some time, a storm rolled in and our guides decided it was time to go back for the day. After puttering along for what seemed like a very long time, we stopped because according to the three amigos, we needed to wait on the water to come back in because it was getting too shallow. (Yes we were waiting on the TIDE which apparently could not be predicted.) They then laid down and went to sleep. Rather dumbfounded by this, we got out and walked around in the shallow water for a while, played some games, made some Somali pirate jokes, and felt proud of how well we were handling the situation. You know, really rolling with it, going with the current! Cue irony.

Yessir, life is hard. Ours is the boat pictured.

The tide eventually came back in enough for the slumber to wash away and for us to head back. And don’t you know, the engine wouldn’t start. After another hour, a man brought two kayaks out (he was in one). Three friends pile into one and take off. L sits in the back of the second while the guy who brought them out to us, still planted in the boat, actually waves goodbye to me. I politely informed him that I was getting in that boat come Hell or high water. We start to paddle back and the rain kicks in. The current is pulling us out hard and after aiming towards the hotel for a while and barely moving, we decide to not fight the current and just get to shore somewhere and walk the rest of the way. As it turns out, this works. If you don’t fight it, just roll with the punches, most likely, things will work out.

View from the cockpit. I love sitting in the front of an 11-person plane.

Long exposure shot of the moon.

The Everyday Mundane.

Life in the Foreign Service affords an amazing number of opportunities that one might never have the chance to experience otherwise. L and I have crawled through abandoned castles in Georgia when roadtripping across the border from Armenia. We have danced in the snow in Red Square. We have wandered the streets of Prague, island-hopped around Greece and Turkey, I mean, we’ve done some cool stuff! But life is not always about this level of excitement and exploration.

Today I wrote up a list of all the things that need work on our house. It was overwhelming. It might appear that in choosing a lifestyle of nearly constant locale changes, the notion of home is less meaningful to us. Boy, this could be further from the truth. In fact, because we move a lot, the nesting process is absolutely crucial to my emotional well-being. I often wonder where all of our stuff is, then I remind myself that we are coming from a 1.5 bedroom apartment in a highrise of Moscow to a 4 bed 4 bath large house that still looks empty. I could have sworn we had more stuff! Maybe part of growing up means acquiring things large than 2 cubic feet. We’ll send out a notice when we hit that mark.

Some great fellow Foreign Service spouses out there, whom I look to for guidance from time to time, claim to still be figuring this whole thing out. I think they are being modest, but I suppose that’s a good attitude to carry. As spouses of servicemen and women in the military and other lines of work demanding repeated relocation can attest, it is no small sacrifice to mold one’s career, family life, and heck, everything around this frequent moving. If you ever meet a Foreign Service spouse (or military spouse), please try not make the following mistakes: 1) referring only to the government employee‘s being in the Foreign Service, forgetting to mention the service of the spouse, or 2) using the term “trailing spouse.” Eww, I cringe just typing it. I trail no one. I move beside him. Some may not care, but I do. Don’t say it. I’m proud to say that President Obama, when visiting us in Moscow (yes, us) made a point to profusely thank the family members at post for their sacrifice. I’m not trying to toot the horn of all FS spouses out there (well, maybe I am a little), but rather to say that this is a crazy world and I have yet to fully comprehend my place in it. Especially before any children have entered the picture and I am trying to actually build a career, not just take whatever brainless job is available. Here’s to you, ladies and ‘gents not trailing anyone!

My everyday activities have involved a lot of having technicians/plumbers etc. in to do things like fix the stove which was not GROUNDED and was SHOCKING us. (sidenote: This work order request went untouched for 28 days before someone finally got screamed at by his supervisor enough to do something about it.) We finally got a push mower that works and a one-dollar broom made from a stick and some twigs for the driveway. I have spent time talking to artists and “mamas” at markets, looking for Practical Life work for the future classroom. They always compliment my Swahili, which after living in Japan, I learned only happens when your language skills are not that good but people want you to feel like “yay, I’m really getting by!” One woman told me, “wow you even used the past tense!” Thank you, thank you, shall I sign this coconut for you?

In one such market, I walked by some random trinkets and was looking through them after greeting the woman running the place. Another woman who worked nearby returned perhaps from getting some lunch and said in Swahili, “Hey, how’re things? How’s work? How’re the wazungu (foreigners) doin’ today?” As if to say, “Are they biting this new kind of bait we put out?” I laughed and tried to quickly come up with some kind of fish joke but I think simply my laughing served to embarrass/impress the women enough to understand my putting down their bracelet and walking away.

After the simply ridiculous pricing in Moscow ($30 for a drink in a nice hotel–whaa?), I am still blown away by the good deals here. Dar is expensive for East Africa’s standards, and so for folks coming from other places in this part of the world, it seems a little pricey. But when I ask how much a 3′ by 2′ painting is and the artist’s starting price (before inevitable negotiations) is about $20, a part of me wants to say, “here, take 40” not, “eeeeeeh! I’ll give you 10.” Maybe in two years I’ll no longer be able to buy $3 coffee in the States.

So while I do love a grand adventure, but I also think the quiet, mundane times are pretty great, if not greater. Case in point, the other day, I hunted down a burger place that was essentially in a gas station parking lot with no sign, only red painted sheet metal siding. They had no menu, no pricing, no seating. Just burgers. In a parking lot. “You want one?” Always say yes. Always. And it was perfectly fine as far as burgers go. And no, I’m not obsessed with burgers. I’ve just written about the two burgers I’ve eaten in almost three months because they were funny stories. And by the way, I did go back and return the bottles to the Burger Palace. The mama in charge couldn’t have cared less.

Happy Halloween to all. We spent our’s scaring the guards at our house and that of our neighbors by carrying around Logan’s wonderfully carved and lit pumpkin and shining through a ghost on the end of a flashlight. They all laughed very awkwardly and opened the gate quickly, hoping we’d leave them alone with all this weird, haunting business. For a people who very much believe in black magic and evil spirits, this tradition does not sit well.

I suppose nothing is ever truly mundane if looked at the right way. I just don’t want you all think I’m going out and climbing Kilimanjaro every day or something crazy like that.

The Cardboard Cameraman Takes the Cake

Sunday morning I walked in the Race for the Cure Breast Cancer event here in Dar es Salaam. There is an unfortunate stigma around having breast cancer and not nearly enough education around self exams, etc. Six hundred people flooded through the downtown streets of Dar es Salaam, marching and dancing to jubilant music provided by a lively brass band. There was not a somber particle in the air. Survivors were laughing and dancing, it was wonderful. Although unrelated to the purpose of the event, the man you see below made my day. Many TV crews etc. were covering the event and made sure they got plenty of footage of the participants as we passed. So did the Cardboard Cameraman. This man, God Bless him, seemed to think he had the most important job on Earth that day. He was working his tail off to get the good shots, interviewing people with his cardboard microphone attached to his camera with a string (seen in his left hand). He poured sweat even though it was just 7 AM because he was working so hard. A crew of teenagers walked in front of the brass band and led grooves resembling one of my favorite clips in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. (You know what I mean, I hope. And if you don’t, here’s your excuse to watch it again.) The CC got some low shots of them while walking backwards, avoiding pot holes and small children.

I just loved how much joy it seemed to bring this man to do this job. He had clearly spent a good deal of time on the camera and put his all into it. He never cracked a smile, leading me to believe he was just that good, or that he actually thought it was real. I don’t care to find an answer to that– I enjoy thinking about him either way. This man is an interesting representative for the people of Tanzania: full of life and energy, making the best from what they have, no matter how they acquire it. There is no shortage of spirit here.

A “non-cardboard” cameraman looks on as the CC nearly bites it.

As a sidenote, I am realizing over time all the things that I have not been able to report on, and I’m sorry, because there’s good stuff in there. Between writing grad school papers, having plumbers show up (unscheduled of course) to fill holes in the wall, culinary experiments, trying to make a house a home, and starting a school, energy is needed in many places- you may just have to visit to get the full picture! Enjoy the little snippets and thanks for following, folks.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.