Friday, January 28, 2011

Travel TidBits: Life at GTHA

Home visit to Kombo (Tuesday, 25 Jan)

Kombo is one of the male students who has invited Linda to visit his home.  After we did our errands in town, we call Tunda, a young fellow with a car who acts as GTHA’s driver when needed,  to drive us to Kombo’s house.  GTHA seems to use to different drivers to support their budding businesses.  Kombo lives in Soweto, a suburb of Moshi.  The area has small houses (like 2 room house) built around a small courtyard.  As the car drives up to Kombo’s house, several small children run to the street to greet us followed by Kombo and his wife.  We are invited into their home:  2 rooms with a toilet/bath (?).  The front room is basically filled with a couch, love seat and big chair, there is a TV and refrigerator on the far end.  We are invited to sit and the children pile in.  Kombo has 4 children:  a 7-year old boy, 2 younger girls and a 2-year old boy.  They named him GoodLuck;  he was conceived when the birth control pills ‘did not work’.  Kombo’s wife is Muslim from Pemba, an Island close to Zanzibar on the Eastern coast of Tanzania, while Kombo is Christian like the majority of people here in Moshi.  Due to traditional custom, a brides-price is still paid by the groom to the brides parents, but Kombo tells us that he did not have the money.  Kombo’s wife was an orphan from early age and brought up by her siblings.  Kombo’s wife is at home tending to the children while Kombo is a security guard in town.  Due to traditions and culture, the husband rules the house and the family. 

Since Kombo has been coming to GTHA, his horizon has broadened and he tells us that he wants to give his wife more ‘say’ in the family’s affairs.  Unfortunately, his wife does not speak or understand English so she listens and smiles.  It would be nice to hear her side of the story.  She would like to get more education but for now there is no money and the children need her.  Kombo works as a security guard at night and during the day/mornings, he attends classes at GTHA.  Kombo and his wife would like to start a business but he does not tell us his ideas for such an endeavor and for now, the security guard job pays the bills.  It also would be important for his wife to learn English, an essential skill for conducting business in Tanzania.

At one point, another young man enters the home and it introduced as Kombo’s brother who is studying in the near by university.  He is quiet and does not speak to us.  He lives with Kombo’s family.  So we have 7 people housing here with the second room bare except for 2 double beds.  Kombo tells that the rent is 20,000 Tanzania Shilling TSh (about $ 14) per room, 40,000 TSh total.

When Kombo’s wife disappears and later comes back with milk tea (hot milk with a tea bag) and some cookies, we learn that all cooking is done in the courtyard over an open coal fire.  Gas is too expensive.  All families around this courtyard cook outside, wash laundry and hang it to dry there and the children play in the dirt.  I wonder what this is like when the rains come and the dirt courtyard turns into a red muddy mess?!?

For our ride home, we call Tunda again and for 4,000 TSh ($2.80) he takes us to the GTHA home again where dinner preparation are in full swing.

Thursday, 27 Jan
English Debate class and Conversation Class
Today I am participating in the English class and Thursdays is conversation day.  This exercise encourages students to practice their spoken language.  For the 2nd level class, Linda and Alex, the English teachers, have decided to have a debate on 2 topics:  ‘Is brideprice important to be paid’ and a topic on traffic accidents and who is at fault, the drivers or the police.  I will tell a bit more about the first topic since this is certainly a tradition very foreign to us.

As a bit of background, it is the culture and tradition here that the groom pays a ‘brideprice’ to the parents of the women he wants to marry.  This can be paid in goods, such as cows, or in money.  The price is negotiated between the groom and the parents.  I don’t know whether Tanzania still practices the culture of arranged marriages where the parents choose the groom and bride – as is still the culture in the Masai and probably other tribes.

Frieda, Mary and Dakota in Debate Class

For this debate, the 18-student class was asked decide which site of the debate they want to be [or what they believe in] and to sit either on the ’yes’ or ‘no’ side and everyone was encouraged to tell us the reason for being for or against the tradition of brideprice.  Dakota is the debate leader and is asked to come in front of the class to conduct the debate.  The reasons given by the students – to practice their English - for following the tradition and culture were varied but centered around the following:

Reasons to continued brideprice:
  • to show respect for the family,
  • to maintain the cultural tradition,
  • to compensate the family for the loss of the daughter (workforce),
  • it shows that the parents agree to the marriage,
  • it is a religious practice,
  • it is a symbolic gift out of respect, it can be given to the bride, e.g. a book of the Koran (this answer was given my Mohamed, a Muslim);

Reasons against it:
  • This tradition leaves the new husband and thus couple without money and can lead to poverty,
  • It demeans the bride as if she is being bought (control issues, property of the husband, etc.)
  • This transaction gives the husband control and power over his wife because he paid for her,
  • It is a form of discrimination since a correspondent ‘groomprice’ is non existent.

The students were then asked to discuss the various points and in the end asked whether  anyone would like to change their initial position – but no one does.  I had hoped for some lively discussion but that was not forthcoming.  I am noticing more and more that the culture and school system here do not encourage speaking out, plus the fact that this was an English class and the students had to practice their language was part of the slow conversation as well.  From my Western point of view, it was intriguing to see an almost equal distribution in the groups with both men and women for and against the brideprice with no one changing position at the end of it.

English Class Room

In the following 1st level class, Linda had brought in a book ‘Peace is…  Women imagine a peaceful world” by Jennifer Grooth, 2000, [ISBN978-0-9784469-0-1] for the students to read and then discuss issues pertaining to women’s freedom and equal rights.  Quoting just one spread from the book – beautifully laid out with images of women –

Across the world
The most dangerous place
For a women to be
Is in her home.

Peace is…
A world in which women are safe
within their own homes and
free to come and go at will.

Linda, one of the English Teachers, reading from 'Peace is...'

On the topic of equality, there were many voices from the women that equality is not a reality in Tanzania and yet the 2 men, John and Peter (both under 30) seem to indicate that they are.  It appears that under Tanzanian Law there is equality but due to lack of education of women and cultural position of women, inequality is not challenged.   Again the conversation was hampered by language difficulties but also that sharing of quite sensitive topics was not easy for the class.


After class, I talked with Mary, a student whom I helped in computer class and who was today in the English class.  She is a bright your women and eager to learn.  Mary is 23 years old and lives at home with her mother and grandmother.  She has an older brother who is in college in Dodorma, Tanzania’s capital.  Her father left and is remarried in Arusha (50 km from Moshi) and does not support his first family.  Mary speaks English quite well since she worked in a missionary where she learned to cook the Western way.  After the mission closed, she went back to her mother’s house.  Due her mother’s eyesight deterioration, she can no longer work in the fabric factory in Moshi and it is unclear to me where the money is coming from for the 3 women to life on?  Now, Mary is at GTHA to further her skills, and to make up for her lack of secondary school education.  In the excel class, I noticed that she is fast catching on to what the program has to offer but I wonder how much she really can learn with no computer or practice at home.  Mary’s aspiration are to work in the tourism industry and she would like to go to a program preparing for a good job in that industry, but again where will the money come from to support her in her further education?  GTHA offers the ½ year program free of charge to give students a springboard.

After teaching the computer classes in the morning, I spend the afternoon quietly at the volunteer house, catching up with my notes while everyone is out in town for errands.
The silence is broken when I hear the gate and a slim girl and small boy say Hello at the open living room door.  It is Lucy, a 14-year old girl, who wants to visit Alex, another volunteer from Canada.  As we talk her little brother, about 3-years old according to Lucy but I suspect he is older, finds some small toys and starts playing.  Lucy has 2 older brother and sister who are both in secondary school.  When Lucy wants to go, the boy does not want to leave and she tells me that she will be back later leaving her brother with me.  So here goes my quiet reading:  Dead Aid, by Dambisa Moyo (2009).  The boy peppers me with questions:  Teacher, what is this?  But I doubt that he understands my answers.  He roams through the house, but is respectful of things.  After a while, I return to my reading and he plays with some plastic toys until Lucy returns.  She sits down and starts looking at the books on the table.  She tells me that she is in 6 grade and learning English.  She also says that she had been at Monika’s school but I am not sure whether this is correct.  Quiet return when she and her brother leave.  I later learn that both Lucy and her brother had come to GTHA for the afternoon children’s lay hour that happens several afternoons per week.

At the volunteer house, it is apparently tradition to celebrate the various holiday customs from the home countries of the volunteers.  Today is Australia Day and Renee tells us over dinner that this celebrates the creation of the Australian State.  She decorated the room with yellow and green ribbons and an Australian flag adorns the window.  Margaret, our cook, had prepared a yummy meal with potato salad, rice and a bit of fried fish and as we sit down, the electricity goes out. 

We scramble for candles – readily available – and flash lights and continue with a nice conversation flowing.  After dinner we play a game similar to pictionary:  each person represents someone – often famous – without knowing who it is and through questions, we need to find out who we are.  With much laughter we play 2 rounds before everyone trails off.  Some read with a flashlight, we quietly talk in the living room and eventually retire to our rooms after a cold shower.  The night is clear with a sliver of a moon and stars in the sky.

Signing off and sending greetings from Africa,