Friday, November 21, 2008


I'm sitting in the Peace Corps Lounge now, waiting to get the last of my forms signed so that I can stick the R (for Returned) on the front of my PCV title. In a few hours I'll be on a plane to Greece.

Everything got wrapped up nicely at my site. It was hectic, but everything that needed to get done got done. Here in Dar I was able to attend the site announcements for the new training class, so I got to talk to my replacement for an hour or so, which was a nice opportunity.

I really can't believe the time is up, I've gotten very accustomed to life here, and I think being back in America will be strange. Most RPCVs say that readjusting to America is more difficult than adjusting to life in the country of service.

I especially want to thank those of you who helped with my project at Itundu Primary School. They were rushed to finish everything before I left, but they came through and got it all completed. I'm trying to upload some photos to accompany this blog entry of the construction process and completed houses, but even here the Internet is slow. Before renovations, the houses were awful, you can find "before" pictures here, during and after scattered through this post. Now the houses are in about the same condition as the house I've been living in for the past 2 years, which is to say pretty nice, and excellent for the area we're in. One of the teachers said that he used to be keeping his eyes open for other work that might come along, but with such a nice house he's now content to continue teaching.

The teachers (and whole community) are absolutely thrilled with the houses. Walking around the village I was being thanked constantly. They threw me a lovely going-away party and repeatedly entreated me to pass along many many greetings and thanks to everyone who supported the project. Tunashukuru sana (we are very thankful).

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Election Part 2

And he won. McCain resigned just after 7:00 am here. During the night we made a victory cake--I'll post some pictures on Tuesday or Wednesday. At 7:30 I got on a bus and came to Njombe. There's a Kenyan Obama song that was playing on all the radio stations, and everyone was talking about it. I've never been so proud to be American.

Lots of people here were aware of Obama. A pretty common opinion was that it was almost like a joke, that he could never win. I've had conversations now with several people where they said something along the lines of "America has shown us that true democracy is possible." I think that this election has done more for spreading Freedom and Democracy around the world than all the foreign policy of the last 50 years. Leading by example.

I've left my village now. The project at Itundu Elementary School was completed in my last week. I'll write a longer post about that (and put up some pictures) when I get to Dar, Tuesday or Wednesday. Thanks again to everyone who helped with that. I can't tell you how grateful the entire village is.

It's strange to think that I'm not going to turn around and go back to school on Monday. My last week was incredibly busy, wrapping things up, 2 goodbye parties, getting things set for the next volunteer, and trying to pack and say goodbye to everyone. And now I'm done.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A massive election

...or as the r/l mixing Tanzanians are calling it, a massive erection. As in, "It seems there at your home you are have a massive erection today, Mr. Gregor." Yes. Almost. Something like that.

But I'm hopeful. I'm updating my blog at 4:00 am, having gone to another volunteer's site to follow the election coverage in his school's computer lab. We're also making a victory cake for dear Mr. Obama, though hopefully we're not too premature.

I can only imagine it's very different following the election from outside of America, especially this year. In America, things are so split, so even. Outside America, every African (of course) but it seems every Peace Corps volunteer, staff member, every volunteer of any sort from other organizations, every UN employee, every ex-pat I've talked to, are unanimous in their support for Obama.

And all I can think of is how nice it would be to come home to a president-elect I could be proud of. One that doesn't make fun of bombing other countries. One that didn't pick a running mate based on gender instead of qualifications. One that might actually make healthcare affordable for average Americans, bring an expensive and pointless war to a close, one that can lead America and lead in the world...

Happy election day, everyone.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Work Has Begun!

It's been an exciting and busy time since my last post. I'm not quite sure when I last posted, and the computer I'm on doesn't want to let me check, but here's a bit of what's happened:
In September I was visited by Jesse, my old roommate from Budapest. Among other tings, we went to Uganda and rafted the Nile with another PCV, Peter. It was really cool, we did lots of big rapids (4 class V's!), saw monkeys and lots of birds, even a fish eagle making a catch.
Prior to that there was some excitement--trouble, rather--at my school. The O-Level (forms 1-4) kids got in a fight with the A-Level (forms 5 and 6, my kids) over a soccer game. Things got hugely out of hand. The A-level kids, who are all boarders, went to the village where most of the O-Level kids live, and threw rocks at their houses, breaking some windows and scaring everyone. They even burned some clothes and a mattress of some of the O-level kids. This all happened about 2 weeks before the end of the A-level term, and we ended up closing the A-Level early and sending the kids home. We expelled ringleaders and the more flagrant participants, and just last week the kids came back from their September Vacation. So this week they are finally getting the final exams they should have taken at the end of August...
I'm a bit disappointed that I didn't actaully see any of the riot. It took place on a Sunday evening while I was working in my office, and I didn't know anything had happened until it was almost over. I did hear a bit of shouting, but that's pretty normal when there's a soccer game. These days, most everyone seems very comfortable pretending nothing happened.

There is some undoubtedly good news. Thanks to help from you, the funding has been completed on my grant to renovate teacher's houses at a local elementary school! I got the money a couple weeks ago, and on Friday 17 October, the construction was started. We are cutting it a bit close timewise, but the villagers understand the constraints and assure me that everything will be completed even a week early.

What time constraints? Well, it's been more than 2 years I've been here, and my time is nearly up. I was in town this weekend for a goodbye party as the members of my group are beginning to leave. My official Close of Service date is 20 Nov, and the next day I'm flying to Greece to meet Annie, and then on 6 Dec I'll land in Houston. It seems unbelievable. In between now and then I need to give and grade these final exams, monitor and finish the construction work and Itundu Primary School, and finish the last edits on the math book I wrote for the course I'm teaching. Buybusybusy.

Thanks to everyone who helped with the project!

Monday, August 11, 2008


I just finished up my COS (Close of Service) Conference, a preparation for returning to America, and probably the last time I'll see all the members of my Peace Corps group together. It was a good time, and a sad time. It does not feel like two years are almost up, but come December I'll be back in America.

All that makes me feel like I have almost no time left to finish up lots of things that I want to finish. I mentioned in my last blog that I wrote a grant to renovate a local elementary school. My parents have kindly posted some pictures of the school to my flickr site: If you think you'd like to help with this, you can donate to my project here. Unfortunately the site seems to be quite slow about updating how much money has been donated (it's the government, after all), so even I can't be sure how much more is needed.

The other big project I'm working on is writing a math book for the course I'm teaching. There aren't any books published in Tanzania for A-Level subjects, A-Level being the last two years of secondary school that serve as college prep. For most subjects there are British textbooks that fit the course rather well, but I've found that for Basic Applied Mathematics, those books don't match the Tanzanian syllabus very well. So I decided to write one. My book is going very well; at 132 pages it's nearly finished. I'm hoping to have a good draft and some student feedback by the end of the month, and maybe I can print it in September.

While here, my parents were really surprised that I speak a bit of Pangwa, the tribal language in my area. I actually can greet in quite a few tribal languages: Pangwa, Benna, Nyekyusa, Kinga, and Hehe. (A lot of them are very similar, so it's not too hard.) When I travel in Tanzania I always try to learn the local language in that area (Tanzania has around 200 of them!), and it's a nice way to make people smile (or guffaw) because an Mzungu (white person) is speaking their tribal language. It also helps show that I know what I'm doing and that--at least a little bit--I belong. In my area, I think it shows the people that I'm respectful and trying to fit in to their community. And they love it.

Until next time,

Sunday, July 06, 2008

A Grant!

My project is going through! I wrote a grant what seems like ages ago, but I've heard that it's finally reached some of your in-boxes and mailboxes.

For those that haven't seen, the project is to renovate 3 teacher's houses at my local elementary school. They are in very poor shape. My grant ought to include pictures, and my parents have visited the school and can tell your firsthand about the need there. There are holes in the roofs, the floors are mud, the walls are falling apart... it doesn't make for a home environment conducive to good teaching.

You ought to be able to make donations through the Peace Corps Website here, as well as view part of my project proposal. The website was down yesterday afternoon when I first wrote this post, but this morning it looks to be working just fine. The next time I come to town I'll put up some pictures and a more detailed grant for anyone interested. That probably won't be for a few weeks, though.

Aside from that, I had a lovely visit with my parents. We went many places around the country, including a safari in the extremely remote Katavi National Park where we saw herds of water buffalo and lots of giraffe, elephants, hippos, and crocs. We also spent a full week at my site. Maybe when they put some pictures up, my parents will link to it in the comments.

Other than that, things are busy, but going well. This semester is being much more manageable than last year. I'm grading exams now, in general my Form 5 Math students (that I'm grading right now) seem to be doing very well. That said, I'm still very busy, but I'll try to put up a good long blog entry near the end of the month. Topics to look forward to: tribal languages and the math book I'm writing.


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Back to School

It's been an exciting few weeks. Students are beginning to arrive at school to begin the new school year. Our official opening day was Friday, April 4. They're coming quickly enough that I think enough will be here on Monday, April 14 for me to start teaching. The big news is that we finished building a second dorm, so the A-Level is co-ed now. It used to be that just the O-Level was co-ed, the A-Level was boys only. Already it's strange. In just a few interactions with the A-Level girls it's apparent how different they are from the average village girl. I'm no longer used to interacting with young girls who have self-confidence, but these girls have plenty.

There are two dorms, one for each gender, this is where all the A-Level students live. Each dorm has a teacher in charge of it, for the students to go to if there is a problem, but I they mostly manage themselves. The dorms are very community, each has 4 big rooms full of bunk beds, though the showers and toilets are each in their own separate room. (And, in both cases, pretty nice. A lot better than the concrete-framed hole I have for a toilet and the bucket-baths I take in my house.) Some O-Level students live in some not-quite-completed teachers' houses. The school tries to pick needy kids who are well-behaved. Administration would much rather have trustworthy students living in the houses rather than letting them be vulnerable to theft and vandalism. Most teachers also have some O-Level students living with them to help out to different extents with chores, farming, etc. Typically a teacher with a small family (perhaps with only very young children) will have one student live with them, and teacher with a bigger family and older children has no need for this, and an unmarried teacher may have 2 or 3 students living with them. These kids the teachers choose themselves.

The school life is pretty different for the kids from an American school. One of the biggest differences is that the school has no janitors, groundskeepers, etc. This morning (Wed April 9 as I write this), most of the new Form 5 arrivals were "slashing," using a long machete that's bent at about 150 degrees for the last few inches to slash the grass. There are no lawn mowers. Slashing is a whole lot of work, usually it's used as punishment, but these kids were doing it of their own accord because they thought (correctly) that when enough of them got there to start being taught, if the environment wasn't "clean," we (teachers) wouldn't start teaching. Last year, we had a small teachers meeting and agreed to start teaching the following Monday. I showed up ready for my first class to find the other teachers telling the students that they wanted to start teaching, but that the grass was too long. So the students slashed and cleaned, and we started teaching the next day.

The students range in age from about 17 to 22, at A-Level. Most of them, I think, are 18 to 20. I haven't seen or heard of any sorts of hazing.

The area is very safe and peaceful. I don't regularly leave school grounds at night, but when I have I feel perfectly safe. Theft is common, but all the incidents I have heard of nearby are when nobody was home. I've been robbed of my leatherman and my watch, both probably by former Form 6 students. The leatherman was lying out in the room between my office and the physics laboratory, and many students were passing in coming to see me. My watch, I let a student use as a stopwatch for a physics experiment. When the experiment was done he returned the watch and I locked the room and went to have tea. When I got back another teacher had opened the room to make some announcements to all 80 Form 6 students, and of course someone had taken it. Over the Easter holiday, also, it looks like someone tried to break into the outdoor room where I keep my bike, but they didn't get in.

Most people living around here are more cautious than I am. They think I shouldn't go walking at night because I'll be targeted because I'm white. When I go walking at night the only thing of any value I have is a cell phone, and I don't think anything will happen. Women, especially, will try to walk in groups. The attitude I've encountered in several people is that here in Tanzania, there is no rape. If a women is walking at night, alone, in an isolated area, and something happens, that's her fault for not being strong enough and putting herself in a dangerous situation. They acknowledge that in other places that are more violent, where guns are common, maybe then it could be considered rape, but here, no. In the words of another PCV's headmaster, "If you put meat out, you cannot blame the cat for eating it." This attitude isn't held as strongly by younger, urban, educated people, but even their attitudes are probably different from yours and mine.

I also want to tell you about one of the coolest things I've seen in country. I heard about some villager who had built a dam by his house a little way up one of the hills, so last weekend my (awesome) new counterpart went to go check it out. And it's really cool. This is a retired guy. He's village-wealthy, which is to say he used to be a tailor and now has a decently big farm, and that supports him well enough he could retire. He's above average for the village, but that's not saying much. He has about a 5th grade education, and last year he heard about a guy in a neighboring village who was trying to get electricity from water. His house is by a creek, so he thought "I could do that!" and went to see what the other guy was doing. He didn't like the other guy's method but he understood the idea and came back and did it himself. He got a metalworker to make a waterwheel (he said it took about 3 attempts), build a little reservoir right above a decent elevation drop, and ran a pipe down to power the waterwheel. He's using a bicycle wheel as a gear and belts made from discarded truck tires to take the power to a tiny little generator, and then he runs wire for the 400 m to his house. He didn't have enough money for nice wire for half the way, so about half of it is this horrible aluminum wire that I think is used for construction.

But now he's got power in his house, he bought a TV from a teacher who got transferred away from my school, he got a satellite dish, and he's making lots of money (comparatively) by charging people's cell phones and batteries. (Seeing his line for charging, a lot more people than I would have guessed in my area have car batteries that they take to their houses for a little bit of power.) And his only power costs now are maintenance. He's also got very realistic plans for improving it, he wants to get a bigger generator, finish buying good wire, and maybe even expand his reservoir. All-in-all it was a really inspiring trip. I very rarely see people here being innovative, experimental, or taking development into their own hands, and seeing this guy was extremely refreshing.