It’s hard to believe how fast our time in Tanzania has gone! In some ways it feels like we just got here (our bartering skills have at least improved a little since our arrival, especially for Ian, who could only get better after that first day in Arusha), yet we are also all looking forward to what comes next (home for some, Europe for others). Our last week has definitely been bitter sweet. We hope you enjoy our last blog post and we thank you for following along on our journey!
We spent the majority of our last week working at Amani’s Children’s Home. On Monday, we all went to Amani’s in the morning. When we arrived, there was a large staff meeting going, which meant we got to spend the morning getting to know the children at the home more. The kids at the home are all so extremely sweet that would never guess some of the challenges they have encountered in their lives. We met many of the kids in the yard, where they were practicing their acrobatics skills. Although all of us tried our acrobatic skills, some had more success than others (aka Andrew, with his gymnastics background). While Andrew continued to show the kids new moves, Lauren and Ian joined in on another soccer game (and got out-played and out-ran), and Jennifer had fun talking with some of the girls.
After the staff meeting was over, we got to work on our project. As explained in our last post, the project we were working on was to create a data metrics display board, with the capability of displaying real time statistics of the organization (number of children rescued in a month or year, number of children reunified with their family, etc.). On Friday last week, we had come up with two potential methods of accomplishing this task. The first was to use Microsoft exclusively, however the problem with this was that Amani is currently transferring their database from Microsoft Excel to another software. Our intent with this plan was to bring the project back to Michigan Tech to get some help from some computer science students, but this would have taken more time and would have possibly led to more work required for the Amani staff. The second option was to use a software that has the compatibility to work with both excel and the database software they are working with. On Monday, we proposed both of these options to the Executive Director of Amani’s, Meindert Schapp. We also showed him a prototype PowerPoint in order to make sure that we were on the right track. After showing him the options, he decided that it would be best to use the more advanced software. Now that we knew how they wanted us to proceed, we were able to get to work on actually implementing the project. As Lauren and Ian got to work on that in the afternoon, Andrew and Jennifer went to the technical college (yes, we still had to be at two places at once again). Last week, we agreed with the principal that we would be assisting in a computer class. However, when we got to the college, we were informed that the computer teacher was not at the college that day, so the computer class was cancelled. Luckily, we were prepared for this outcome (after being in the schools in Boma for three weeks, we had picked up on a few things). We asked the principal which other class we could assist with, and he pointed us to the math class. However, when we got to that class, it turned out that the math teacher wasn’t there either (unfortunately, we were not as prepared for this second setback). We ended up just spending 15 minutes just asking the students questions on what math topics they knew so that we could better prepare for the physics lecture on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, we all headed to Amani’s and continued to work on the PowerPoint. We spent the morning getting more familiar with the software we would be using and working on a project proposal to keep Amani’s informed on the work we were doing. At this point, the main challenge was that we hadn’t yet received the statistics or data we needed to display on the PowerPoint (Amani’s was working on compiling this information for us). This meant that we had some extra downtime in the afternoon, so we got to spend some more time playing with the kids. Andrew continued to make new friends by impressing all the kids (and everyone else) with his backflip skills. He was also able to assist in the kids’ acrobatics class with a coach that comes in weekly. Lauren and Ian spent some time losing to the kids in arm and thumb wrestling (while also being laughed at for having small muscles). Ian also learned how to play tag (and was again outran). While everyone else was playing with the kids, Jennifer had the opportunity to talk with one of the counselors about cultural phycological differences between the US and Tanzania.
Wednesday was a busy for everyone. In the morning, Andrew and Lauren headed off to the technical college for the last time to lecture in an Engineering Science class. That day they taught physics, specifically the topic of work and energy. Physics proved to be a much easier subject to teach than technical drawing (if you ever find yourself teaching a college level class in Tanzania, stick to subjects that are math based). The kids even asked for homework at the end of class (we could learn something from their enthusiasm about receiving homework). While Andrew and Lauren were teaching, Jennifer and Ian went to Amani’s and continued to work on the project. Andrew and Lauren then joined them at Amani’s in the afternoon. That afternoon, Ian and Lauren went with an Amani IT employee to local shops to look at monitors for the project. They looked at two different types of monitors, one with a computer integrated into the monitor and one that was just basically a TV screen. They decided that the monitor with the computer would be the most cost-effective option while also best serving the needs of the project. Once back at Amani’s, they shared what they had found and made a plan to buy the monitor in the upcoming days.
On Thursday and Friday, we continued working on the PowerPoint while also testing our graphic design skills. Thursday morning, we received some of the statistics and we were able to start finalizing some of the slides. We quickly learned that designing PowerPoint slides that are visually appealing is a lot easier said than done (keep in mind 3 of the 4 of us are engineering students so we really have no idea what shapes and colors look good together). On Friday after tea, Ian and Lauren headed back to the shop to buy the monitor. This proved to be a much bigger challenge than we had anticipated (we had never missed set prices so much in our lives, except for maybe when Ian ended up with his elephant shirt. See blog 1). The story of the price of the monitor is one for another day, but it was not our favorite Tanzanian experience to say the least. We did get the monitor though and brought it back to Amani’s to get to work on setting it up. Unfortunately, the IT employee only works half days on Friday so we weren’t able to get the PowerPoint software on the monitor but we are excited to see pictures of the working monitor when it is all up and running. After finalizing the initial version of the PowerPoint, we had a short goodbye ceremony with the kids and the staff of Amani.
During our final weekend in Tanzania, we learned how to make Tanzanian Guacamole (apparently Mexico isn’t the only country with amazing Guac) and Chipati (a Tanzanian bread), which proved to be much more challenging than we anticipated, as it took us almost two hours to make. Although after tasting our food, we all agreed that it was definitely worth this amount of effort, as well as some minor skin burns. We also visited Msamaria children’s center, where we gave at least twenty piggy back rides—each. After this visit, we then made it to the airport (surprisingly without losing any luggage) and said our final goodbyes to this amazing country.
Final Blooper Reel (and other humorous and slightly painful events)
1. It was fitting that our very last interaction with the kids at Amani was them pointing at our hand sanitizer bottles attached to our backpacks and asking, “What’s this?” (We got asked this question by anyone, of any age, and at anytime during this trip)
2. Ian died again, although this time it was Lauren’s fault (since she introduced all of us to a flu, which Ian couldn’t shake for the last two weeks of the trip)
3. When some of the children would try to talk to us in English, they would ask us, “My name is?”. It was very cute. Although to be fair, we probably made that exact same mistake when we tried to talk to them in Swahili.
4. We (intentionally) forgot to mention in the second blog that Lauren, Andrew, and their translator, Sadick, all technically hitch-hiked back to downtown Boma from Nkwamakuu Primary School during one of the days when busses weren’t running. (We chose to wait to disclose this blooper to not scare our parents. Sorry Mom and Dad.)
5. Apparently contact lenses are not only uncommon, but completely unheard of here. We learned this the hard way when Andrew started touching his eyeball to take out his contacts one day, which immediately caused mass confusion and concern from everyone at Nkwamakuu.
6. People in Tanzania still haven’t gotten painstakingly sick of those late 90’s boybands by now like the U.S. has, which is something we learned after listening to “Queen of my Heart” by Westlife for four entire hours on repeat while waiting at our favorite restaurant (and source of free wifi) in Boma.
7. The children LOVE touching the hair of wazungu (white foreigners), and will even rub their faces against our arms to feel our arm hair.
Finally, we would like to thank you all for taking the time to attempt to comprehend our incoherent blog posts each week. Our trip has been overall amazing and we feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to spend 5 weeks in Tanzania. We hope you enjoyed reading about our (mis)adventures and welcome you to make any comments you would like to share with us!
Asante sana na kwa heri!
(Thank you very much and goodbye!)