As I sit here with Dawes loudly flooding my ears through headphones in an attempt to drown out the sound of children playfully splashing and giggling in the pool, I can't help but wish I had a Corona in my hand and a group of buddies to yell "cheers!" with. Of course, I had purposefully walked the hour and a half to the Royal Village Hotel for the sole purpose of relaxing solitude. That's a lie: The main purpose was to even out my tanlines, since only my arms and feet see the sun daily. But that's beside the point. Why am I pining for alone time and company simulataneously? Because I am now half way through my internship and I want to both reflect quietly on the experience thus far and also to celebrate with the great people I have met along the way.
As it turned out, the pool was not the place to reflect. The sun was simply too damn hot. Instead of thinking about life or even concentrating on my most recent novel, Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler, I could not strain my thoughts away from the tingling sensation that resembled the feeling of being burned alive. Now, dark has fallen. Every night, the golden hour streams through my windows and the light disappears before 6:30. The heat subsides and I find comfort with a cup of chai, a spoonful of dehydrated milk thrown in there to add some sense of creaminess, and a book. Much more comfortable than the pool. And thus, my blog shifts gears to a angsty topic.
It is much easier to think when you are comfortable. I just finished the novel 1984 by George Orwell which is a classic dystopian story relating to an increase of government control and decrease in public comfort. There are microphones and television screens to stalk everyone's movements and words and food is rationed to deliberately keep people hungry. There is never a chance for a powerful revolution in the world of Oceania because of the systematic discomfort and fear instilled within everyone. Real world shit. When someone's life revolves around survival, trying to scrounge up enough food or fear of keeping children safe in a violent neighborhood, the effort to think deeply about underlying problems is exhausted. There lies the problem of empowerment. How do communities without the luxuries of daydreaming ever break the cycle of poverty?
Sijui (I don't know).
So let's talk about education. In addition to visiting villages, I have been attending a few English classes at Msalato Theological School. It is an associates degree program owned by the Diocese of Central Tanganyika. I've mentioned the teacher, Karen, in an earlier blog post. I believe I described her with something like... a woman from Chicago with a personality as bold as the hats that she makes? Last week I played Teacher's Assistant to help her finish grades before jetting off for her winter vacation. She gave me a stack of thirty essays and told me to grade them. From my time with them, I knew that her students were inquisitive and had blossoming ideas within their skull, or heart, or wherever ideas are generated. I had seen it on our class visit to Mchemwa Village, when the students rapidly asked questions I did not understand (Swahili my first week, ya know) and in their creative arguements during class debates. So I sat down with the stack of papers, ready to learn.
I was disappointed. Their essays did not reflect the minds I knew they had. Most of them were plagerised, either from the internet or were an essay that they'd written for another class and tactlessly resubmitted, some still had the other teacher's name on the cover page. I understood the reason why Karen had me grade them instead of her is because she was heartbroken. She really thought she was making an impact, but clearly was not inspiring the students to perform their best work. But then I realized that the papers were a reflection of more than laziness.
They never learned the details of plagerism. They never learned the value of their original thoughts, because instead, they've been learning how to survive. These young men and women (although a lot fewer women) came from poor villages and have excelled enough to make it higher education. Karen had only been at Msalato for a year. Inspiration, and a strong understanding of the English language, can take a lifetime. Heaven knows I haven't mastered it and I shudder to think what an essay Kiswahili would look like written by me. The fact is that these students are the face of the future. Their background and lack of consistent English instruction has deterred them, but I hope that they will graduate as leaders for their communities.
In addition to my Msalato visit, last week I also went to Mvumi, a general hospital owned by the DCT, for the opening of a maternity hostel. It is a comfortable place where pregnant women who travel far distances can stay in case or emergency procedures. Most emergencies occur in young mothers, and when I looked among the giant crowd of ladies anticipating the opening, I saw so many young faces. Like 13-15 years old. There's a general pattern in terms of population that says: uneducated women have more children. More children to feed. The chances of healthcare and education costs covering the next generation plummets with each child born.
I have no solutions to offer in this post. Especially because I didn't need to travel all the way to Africa to see these patterns. It's happening right down the road from my house and from my school. People always plaster the word "education" on the metaphorical wall of solutions to every social problem. But education itself is a social problem, trapped in a broken system. The solutions I have seen at the DCT are better schools for with heavy scholarship, such as Msalato and CAMS (DCT primary school), better care for poor mothers at Mvumi, educational workshops for older farmers that were unable to attend horticulture school, and also the mobilization towards VSL (Village Savings and Lending) groups to help struggling families save and invest in their children's future.